Give Thanks in All Things?
Today is a day to sing of blessings, and yet we are in such perilous times, as a nation as human beings.
How do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
You have lost family members to COVID, others of your kin are sick and nearing their end. Or maybe you are among those who have lost work or have young people at home from school. Life is unsettled, uncertain. Everything, even simple things, requires a decision.
For over 100 years, people have gathered in this church on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
In November 1918, we were not yet chartered but they were already meeting here on this corner and would have gathered for Thanksgiving Sunday, just two weeks after the Armistice that ended the first world war. They sang: We Gather Together with gladness yet remembering those who would never come home.
A decade or so later at Thanksgiving, 1929; the stock market was still crashing, and the Great Depression was on and the people would have gathered and sang with uncertainty and dread and faith Now Thank we All Our God.
In 1963, we gathered two days after the assassination of the President, frightened and sad, we gathered here sought to make sense of tragedy, Through the Civil Rights past and present, we gathered and sang.
Flu, Polio, Diphtheria, AIDS, plagued us. Addictions took the lives of loved ones. Miraculous vaccines and treatments came and Thanksgiving Sunday, the congregation gathered and sang.
And each person in their personal histories. as complicated as our own came those Sundays, as we do today, each to this place in our way prepared to sing and praise the God of life
It is hard to fathom.
When John Wesley was a student at University, he had a conversation with a porter, a servant, at the college. He had only one coat. He had eaten no food that day and yet he shared that his heart was full of gratitude to God.
Wesley asked him “You thank God when you have nothing to wear, nothing to eat, and no bed to lie upon? What else do you thank him for?” “I thank him,” answered the porter, “that He has given me my life and being, and a heart to love Him, and a desire to serve Him.”
(A. Skevington Wood, The Inextinguishable Blaze [Eerdmans], p. 100)
It rings with the notes of the oldest writing of the New Testament, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians written about 17 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. With some of the shortest and most impossible verses in the whole bible.
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this, says Paul, is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Paul knows suffering himself, and he knows that the people of Thessalonica are hunted, persecuted and know insecurity, but he knows, too, that more than this is a sense of life and being, a heart to love God and a desire to serve.
We cannot condemn those who cannot find that joy who cannot thank God, all those whose deaths, by self-inflicted we mourn.
God understands those too, its we forget the source of our blessings that the scriptures teach we’ve lost our mooring
Here’s a picture of a fragment of an ancient manuscript maybe 8000 years old, from Deuteronomy. The people had emerged from exile, But as life got easier, they forgot whom to thank.
Deuteronomy 8: 11-18a
Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God,
When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting
the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, God made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna to humble you and check you and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember it is the LORD your God who gives.
When we forget the source of all we have, and more, forget to be grateful at all that the prophets call us back to remember. It is really what this day is for.
Especially when it seems almost required, if we are aware, to carry our present heavily, to face the future grimly.
We are called to give thanks, not for all things, but in all circumstances,
And we are thankful in this year of our Lord, 2020 for frontline workers, for friends and family and pets, for jobs and coworkers, technology that keeps us connected, for nature and fresh air, for the opportunity to help others and for those who help us.
We have been called, over the millennia, rather than hate our troubled days, to embrace the full reality of our lives and enter into the now, with God, who is bringing forth a new thing, always. To stay open as life unfolds in God’s presence.
We see and proclaim the blessings we have known, as the teary nurse did on television the other night, when she recalled the finest doctor she ever knew, whose goodness inspires her to carry on.
To be willing to risk this day and the days to come, to be fully alive, awake and ready, sure that the one who calls us is faithful.
And so one day, on some future Anniversary they will remember that in that hard, harsh year of 2020, their forebearers gathered virtually on their 100th years and sang the songs of Thanksgiving.
Thanks be to God, Amen.