Thursday, November 24, 2022

Giving Thanks

 1 Timothy 2:1-8

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time.  And for this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.  Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.

Sermon for Thanksgiving Day                                          11/24/22

Giving Thanks

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

When Christians give thanks, it is a different sort of activity than when others give thanks.  That assertion can be confusing to someone who doesn't understand the difference between Christians and others - including Christians who do not understand the difference.  First, we Christians give thanks with sincerity, not as though the thanksgiving is extorted from our lips because of some national holiday.  We know that God is the Creator and the Giver of all things, and so we give thanks for everything, not just the things we particularly enjoy and find pleasing to our flesh.  God gives us air and muscle tissue.  He gives light and the power of thought and hearing, and the pleasures associated with our senses.  He also presents us with the challenges we face and with our sorrows, all for our maturing and growth.  It is often in thanksgiving for the hard things and in the midst of the controversies that sorts out who belongs to God, and who is hanging around just for the treats.

Another difference between Christians and others, even observed in thanksgiving, is that everything is not about us, primarily.  Our thanksgiving, as noted by Paul in First Timothy, is on behalf of and for the welfare of others as much as for our own.  The world knows nothing about such things.  The only time the unbeliever truly thinks about others is when it will profit him or her personally.  Otherwise, everything always seems to be all about them.  But our life is never rightly merely about us.  We are called to be like our heavenly Father, concerned about others.  We are also to live out our faith, which means that we live in a way that reflects that we know that we already possess everything we will need, and everything we will genuinely want, so even when we give thanks, it needs to be in that context.

With those few thoughts, let us look at what Paul wrote to the young Pastor, Timothy, with the theme, "Giving Thanks for the Good Stuff."

First, there has never been a time in history quite like the days in which we live.  I don't mean to suggest that these are the best of days or the worst of days.  I imagine how you might judge that would depend on what is happening in your life when you make the judgment.  What is true, is that this time in history is different from any other time.  Of course, some people are looking back on "the good old days".  That phrase, oddly enough, was coined by a 64-year-old former mayor of New York named Philip Hone in the middle of the nineteenth century.  He wrote "This world is going too fast, . . . Railroads, steamers, packets, race against time.  .  .  .  Oh, for the good old days of heavy post coaches and speed at the rate of six miles an hour!"   That should put our "good old days" in perspective, of a sort, but when we speak of the good old days, we still imagine that it was when life was simple and people were honest and decent, and prices were down where they ‘belong'.  Those "good old days" are, of course, more myth than reality.

On the other hand, we have the very modern future before us.  How it looks to you probably depends on who you have been listening to.  We have weird weather, only now they are calling it "climate change" instead of "Global Warming".  We have the MAGA Republican revolution and the big changes that come at us from Washington.  The economy is changing, and people are still talking about run-away inflation.  We have the scandal of the day - this time it is with the election fraud, and, well, the future looks downright spooky to many people.

We stand here, today, on Thanksgiving, sandwiched in between the good old days of yesteryear, and the disquieting possibilities of the future.  Today we are supposed to give thanks.  I am suggesting that we should be giving thanks for the good stuff - but I would describe ‘the good stuff' differently than you might.

To begin with, the life of a Christian is to be a life of thanksgiving.  In our text, St. Paul is urging us to give thanks.  In other places the exhortation becomes a command, as in 1 Thessalonians 5:18:  In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  But notice that in our text, our thanksgivings are not alone - they are coupled with "entreaties, and prayers,. . . and petitions on behalf of all men."  We are to pray for the sake of all men everywhere - and especially for the blessing and benefit of those who are charged by God with governing and protecting us - "for kings and all who are in authority".

We are offering these prayers not just to be praying, but with the goal of being able to lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity.  Hidden behind this command is the truth stated clearly elsewhere, that the world exists for our sakes, and for calling the lost and erring into fellowship with Christ.  Luther wrote "The world continues to exist because the Church is in the world.  Otherwise heaven and earth would burst into a conflagration in a moment; for the world, being full of blasphemy and godlessness, is not worth one grain of wheat.  But because the Church is in the midst of the godless, God for her sake permits them also to enjoy the common blessings of this life; and whatever the world has, it has for the sake of the Church.  Thus the angel says to Paul in Acts 27:24, ‘Behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you' though they were certainly idolatrous and godless people."

We give thanks, not because it is a holiday - that only provides us with the day for the special service.  We give thanks constantly, as though we breathe in blessings and breathe out thanksgivings.  We give thanks because are among those chosen by God to be His holy people.  And because we are His people, we give thanks because it is the will of our God and Father that we do so.  St. Paul writes to Timothy that these thanksgivings and entreaties and petitions are good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.  What other reason do we need?  God heartily approves of this simple thing.

And such a concern for others, rather than just for ourselves, is so like our heavenly Father, who causes the sun to shine on the good and the evil, and the rain to fll on the just and the unjust alike.  Unlike so much of the world around us, we don't merely say "thank-you" on the way to the TV and football games - we give thanks and we pray for men and women everywhere.  We ask God to create the conditions favorable to life and godliness for all of us.  We thank Him as we entreat Him for those blessings for ourselves and others, because we know that God is listening, and that when we pray as our faith would urge us to pray, "not my will but Thine be done," our heavenly Father smiles and answers each time, "Yes, my beloved child, I shall accomplish my good and gracious will."  Men will climb mountains, travel great distances, beat themselves and deny themselves and starve themselves, trying to do a good work and please God.  Men and women give up their right to marriage and even take vows of poverty for the sake of doing something they believe will look good to God.  Yet none of those things are specifically commanded by God.

Thanksgiving is commanded, along with intercession of behalf of all men everywhere, and it is declared by God Himself through the Apostle to be good and acceptable to God.  Here is something we can do, that God has set before us as pleasing to Him.  This is something the weakest and smallest, the poorest and least talented among us can do that is pleasing to God and acceptable to Him, and we are assured of the good pleasure of our God.  We can give thanks.

Not only does God tell us that this is pleasing to Him, but He provides us a rewarding goal for all of these entreaties and petitions, prayers and thanksgivings, that we might have a life of tranquillity and quietness in all godliness and dignity.

Have you ever wondered why life goes haywire?  One reason, suggested by our text, is that we fail to recognize the Giver of all things and we forget or neglect to give Him thanks, or to ask Him to bless us.  James, the half-brother of our Lord Jesus, tells us by the Word of God about this truth.  He writes, "You lust and do not have; so you commit murder.  And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.  You do not have because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motive, so that you may spend it on your pleasures."  See, it is not supposed to be just about us!

What James and Paul are focusing on is that we, of all people, ought to recognize where our blessings come from.  Some people think that they are the source of every good they have, or the processes of life in this world just work the way we observe them working –  rather automatically, as if nothing else could naturally happen. Strangely enough, when people do think of God they often think of Him as the source not of their blessings, but as the source of their troubles.  Some even blame God when things go wrong, when life hurts, and when they suffer sorrow.  "It must be the will of God."  But then, when times are good and abundant, such people tend to forget God, and revel in the THINGS and the PLEASURES of the moment.  But that is not the part of God's holy people.

What do we have to give thanks for?  Whether your immediate circumstances seem pleasant or difficult, we have Jesus Christ and salvation to be thankful for.  That is the primary "good stuff".  No matter what happens in this life, or how we choose to perceive it, we can give thanks for salvation and we can ask God to extend His grace to others.  Remember, this world, as real as it is, is not the main event.  If life is good today, we know that this goodness is a passing condition.  If life is bad or our health is falling, we know that our troubles are temporary at worst.  Resurrection from the dead, eternal life and salvation are going to be vitally important and of ultimate significance for each of us.

We owe God thanks for the gift of His Son.  The world around us gathers to offer up a generic thanksgiving to an unspecified deity.  We gather because of Jesus, to give thanks to the God that really exists – the Triune God.  Think about this; Jesus died in our place.  Now, people visit the graves of those who die for them or lose their lives saving others.  Some visit every year for the rest of their lives.  It is a duty.  They say, "It's the least we can do!"

You and I cannot gather at the grave of Jesus, because He is risen!  No grave holds Him!  We can, however, gather each week to speak aloud our great thanks to God for His gift of forgiveness and life through His Son!  Jesus took our punishment, Thank God!  Jesus died in our place, thanks be to God!  We shall rise from our graves to everlasting life of joy and peace and glory, all thanks be to our God!

Even more, we have a High Priest who stands as Mediator for us with God.  Our text says, "For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time."  He is not some unrealistic and unknowable God-figure who cannot understand or sympathize with us in our lives, but one who has been here and done all that we must do.  He knows our weaknesses and our sorrows. He cares deeply for us.  He hears our prayers and He loves us so deeply that in all things, He works for our blessing and good.  We can be just like Him - we want to be just like Him - righteous, and holy, and filled with love for those who do not deserve it.  Just as He lived and died for us, we can live for others, and pray for them because we understand by faith that all we need is ours in Jesus Christ - and we have no needs He will not meet.  So we can pray and give thanks on behalf of others, a very Jesus-like thing to do.

We can see the signs of His goodness toward us all around us in our rich and abundant blessings.  We have all that we have from Him, but even if that were all gone, we would still have the bright and certain assurance of salvation.  

Times are generally good, but even if they were not, our salvation is sure, and we have the proven love of God with us.  So let us lift up holy hands, as Paul says, in prayer, petition entreaty and thanksgivings on behalf of all men.  Let us give thanks for the good stuff this Thanksgiving Day, and every day.

Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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