Good morning, Friends!
This is Thanksgiving week, and this year it caught many of us with a rush! Like most of you, my wife and I have so much to do, and at the same time we feel so isolated. We don’t know where November has gone. It doesn’t feel like it could be time yet for Thanksgiving!
Even more, this is a hard time for people to feel thankful. I won’t go into all the bad things that have happened in 2020. We all know about them. But it hurt me this week, when I saw somebody post a message saying, “Thanks for nothing, 2020!”
Do we really have nothing to be thankful for this year? Is there really nothing that God has done for us?
Do the words we’ve all said so many times – “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” – do those words mean nothing any more?
We are always reminded at this time of year to be thankful. Most of the time, it’s pretty easy. The seasons of the year, and the seasons of life, come and go. Even if we or our families have some individual problems, we’ve always felt that in the big picture, things are going to be OK.
This year’s been different. Things have been breaking down, all across the system. I’ve heard so many people say that they’re going to be so glad when 2020 is finally over.
I’m not saying that’s not a natural feeling. But part of why we come to worship is to remember we need to be aware of more than just our natural feelings.
I’m not grateful at all for the COVID-19 epidemic. Who would be? But I’m grateful for the gift of life. I’m grateful for all the friendships that are still there, the relationships that mean more than ever.
I’m grateful for good people who are working around the clock to develop a vaccine. I’m grateful for all the people at the hospitals who are working their hearts out to save lives against impossible odds.
I’m grateful for all the good people, who keep the things we need flowing – food, water and fuel. The pharmacists and grocery workers, the city workers and the people who come and fix things when we need them.
I’m grateful more than ever to all the people who are out on the front lines, who put their lives at risk every day for our physical safety.
I’m not grateful for the hard economic times, but I am grateful for the opportunity to learn again that we don’t need all those things we think we do. I’m grateful for living a little more simply, for a little less pressure in some areas of my life.
We can all be thankful, for these and so many other things, if we just try.
Today’s scripture is from one of the many letters Paul wrote. It’s part of a letter he wrote to one of the young churches he started, in the city of Salonika. Here’s what he said.
Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.
Live in peace with each other.
Warn those who are idle and disruptive.
Encourage the disheartened.
Help the weak.
Be patient with everyone.
Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Holy Spirit.
Do not treat messages from the Spirit with contempt but test them all.
Hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.I Thessalonians 5:12-23
Those words could have been written today. They say so much that is still worth hearing. In the midst of all the craziness, we are still called to be thankful, to live in peace, to be productive, to be encouraging and patient
We may have different things to do now, and we’ve had to make many changes. But our basic job is still the same.
You’ve heard people talk about fair weather friends. Those are friends who only stick around when it’s nice out. They only want to come to the beach with you and party.
There’s nothing wrong with partying. But the Bible says, “A true friend is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)
God is our best friend that way. Jesus is our best friend forever. God is the friend who walks with us through the dark valley, the valley of the shadow of death, and Jesus never leaves our side. We know that.
But if that’s who God is, if that’s who Jesus is, then it’s on us to be like that. Part of what we do, is to inspire and lift up other people by the thanks that we give.
When we are thankful, when we are patient, when we do all those things Paul talked about, we are lifting up and encouraging people all around us who might be ready to fall.
When we thank God, when we dig down deep and find something, even something small and unlikely, to be thankful for, we are showing by our prayers and by our example, that we have put our hope in God, and that nothing will make us ever give up.
One of my favorite writers is C.S. Lewis, and I’ve read his books, The Chronicles of Narnia, many times through, from cover to cover.
Narnia is a magical place where animals talk, where trees dance, where the rivers are alive, and where human beings know their real role in life is to preserve their world and keep it safe.
Four children from England manage to break in to Narnia by climbing in through a magic wardrobe closet. And much to their surprise, they are made kings and queens of Narnia, and have to rule it wisely.
At one point, they’re given this job description:
“This is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than anyone else in your land.”
Translated over from the Bible, this is very similar to what Paul is telling us today.
Rejoice always. Pray continually.
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.
Other people are depending on us. The thanks we give are our encouragement to them. Our thanks help them to be strong.
And our thanks are really a prayer to God.
We are thankful that we are surviving this far.
If God is with us, then fear, division, and disaster do not have the last word. We may be anxious, but we are still thankful. And hearing the thankfulness of each other gives us renewed strength and hope.
As the old hymn says:
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things has done, in whom his world rejoices.
Who, from our mother’s arms has blessed us on our way,
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!
God has been with us this far. God has said he will never forsake us. As Paul says, “If God is with us, who can be against us?
Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Not hardship, or distress. Not danger, or nakedness.
Nothing in life, and nothing in death – not angels, not earthly rulers, not things present nor things to come, no power, no height, depth, or anything in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:31, 35, 38-39)
We stand this week on our thanks to God. Without God, we would have been lost. But with God, we are saved. And we trust that God will be with us, this week and always.