Sermon for 20 Pentecost, Year A/Thanksgiving Sunday
Based on Phil. 4:4-9
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
"Giving our Thanks"
Some time ago, I heard the following joke: A woman got onto a C-train, which was very full. She desperately needed to sit down. Out of the blue, a polite gentleman offered her his seat. She was so shocked at his kindness that she fainted. When she gained her composure, she got up and sat on the seat which the man had offered her, and expressed her thanks to him. In response, the man was so shocked that the woman actually accepted his seat and expressed her thank you to him, that he fainted!
Sometimes people are reluctant to~or forget to say thank you. Sometimes we may feel like fainting when someone thanks us, because it's such a rare occurrence. In contrast to this, J.S. Hewett tells the following story, which helps shed light on how we might be thankful always, in everything: "Matthew Henry, the famous Bible scholar, was once mugged by thieves and robbed of his purse. He wrote these words in his diary about the incident: "Let me be thankful first because I never was robbed before; second, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed; and fifth, because it was I who was robbed, and not someone else."
Would that we too might have the eyes, the ears, the hearts and minds to live our lives as Matthew Henry did~in the context of thanksgiving.
A few years ago, Dr. Nick Stinnett of the University of Nebraska conducted a series of studies called the "Family Strengths Research Project." Stinnett and his researchers identified six qualities that make for strong families. The first quality and one of the most important to be found in strong families was the quality of appreciation. Families that are strong, are strong in part, Dr. Stinnett concludes, because family members express to each other their appreciation for what the other members DO and for who they ARE.
In a similar study, another researcher looked into the effect of praise in the workplace. His study showed that the ratio of praise to criticism in the workplace needs to be four to one before employees feel that there is a balance~that there must be four times as much praise as there is criticism before they feel good about their work and about the environment they work in.
It is rather interesting the recent studies reveal these conclusions about praise and thanks. People like the Apostle Paul knew the significance of praise and thanks long ago, when he admonished the Christians in Philippi to: "Rejoice in the Lord always…" and: "in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Paul was so grateful to God for what Christ had done for him that is endeavoured to give God thanks always, for everyone and everything.
R. Andersen and D. Defner tell the following story: "A woman, a former surgeon on the staff of the hospital where she now lay as a patient, said, "This may sound strange, but I thank God for giving me tuberculosis these last thirty months. In the last ten years, although I was brought up in the church, I had totally forgotten about God in my daily life. Lying on my back these many months has given me plenty of opportunity to re-examine my faith and to get my feet planted again, with God's help, on the road back to God."
The Apostle Paul knew what it was like to go through tough times. Writing from prison to the Philippians, he instructs them again in the form of a hymn, to give God thanks in everything! Did you get those last two words? In everything, says Paul, give thanks to God. Now, you're probably wondering: how we are able to reach a point in our faith journey where we can actually give thanks to God for everything? Isn't that beyond our reach? Isn't that too tough to do in a world like ours? How is it possible anyway?
When you reflect on your life, how perceptive are you of the presence of God in it each moment of each day? Do you perceive that God has walked with you every step of the way? It is utterly overwhelming to stop and realize just how much God has done for you. That's also good reason to remember to spend your lifetime thanking God for everything, in everything. Life really is good because it is God-given.
Thankfulness causes us to hold God in reverence. Reverence follows thankfulness. When we lack reverence; when we lack thankfulness~life is no longer a gift but a problem. Imagine where we would be or if we would be without God. Without God, we would have nothing and be nothing. Without God, everything would be drudgery, depressing, temporary~because it would end in decay and death. With God, we too, with Paul can rejoice in the Lord always; we too can offer our thanks to God in everything.
One of the ways we do this every Sunday, here in our congregation, is by celebrating Holy Communion. This wonderful sacrament, is also called the Eucharist. Eucharist comes from the Greek, meaning to give thanks, to be thankful. Every week, as we celebrate the Eucharist, we acknowledge the good gifts of God's creation~the gifts of bread and wine, which are also the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The body and blood of Christ, which heals us emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually; which makes us whole and at peace with God, the world and each other; which offers us God's unconditional acceptance and forgiveness; which has won for us God's eternal salvation; which offers to us the greatest gift of all-the gift of God's own Self in the person of Jesus Christ. No wonder we can respond to our Triune God with hearts full to overflowing with thanksgiving and praise.
May we on this day of Thanksgiving be able to pray with John Oxenham, the following prayer: "For all things beautiful, and good, and true; For things that seemed not good yet turned to good For all the sweet compulsions of Thy will That chased, and tried, and wrought us to thy shape; For things unnumbered that we take of right, And value first when first they are withheld; For light and air; sweet sense of sound and smell; For ears to hear the heavenly harmonies; For eyes to see the unseen in the seen; For vision of The Worker in the work; For hearts that apprehend Thee everywhere; We thank Thee Lord!"
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