Sermon for Thanksgiving: November 22, 2017

Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California
✝ sdg ✝



St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, in all likelihood was not among Paul’s first epistles. Guided as he was by the Holy Spirit, Paul also demonstrates in the verses of Philippians some life-hardened wisdom when he wrote this letter. Clearly, by this time, he was no new recruit nor some starry-eyed idealist. Instead, Paul wrote this letter while in captivity – most likely under house arrest in Rome. Paul wrote this letter as someone who had traversed the known world not just once, but three times. He had experienced his fair share of suffering, both by watching it in others, and by feeling it himself. Paul, as a hardy veteran of the cross, was able to see and understand things he could never have fully appreciated in the days of his youth. There was no naïve idealism in his words when he wrote: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

And this is no self-confident boast, rather it’s the experienced voice of a man who knew what it was to be down but not out. It’s a scarred, calloused old man who speaks to us on this occasion of Thanksgiving, but yet he still speaks with a voice of firm conviction when he says: “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” You could imagine that he’s like the younger sibling who has no doubt that his big brother will be able to handle just about anything anyone tries to dish out. Notice also that he doesn’t say: “Your God will supply every need of yours,” as if he was some rabbi speaking from an antiseptic, ivory tower – as if he had never winced with fear, or spread his feet to shoulder a heavy load. Nor does he say: “Our God will supply every need of yours,” as if he was pretending to be in the same boat with the rest of his audience.

I say that not because Paul wasn’t a sinner like the rest of us – for he most certainly was – but because his fears might not be the same as yours and mine. In spite of the fact that he had to confront a great number of challenges we haven’t had to face, at the same time he probably didn’t have to confront many of the challenges specific to our age. Paul makes no pious claim here to somehow know personally how you and I feel. He had his own cross to bear – even as you and I have our own crosses to bear. So Thanksgiving is a good time for you and me to take an inventory of our lives. And the unbelieving world might join with us, at least in part. After all, most of the heathens around us are quite happy to survey their possessions and their joys, and on this holiday to feel thankful for the good things they’ve been fortunate to receive. Even the most ardent deniers of God still feel some sense of appreciation for the many blessings of this life – even if they don’t think any of those blessings actually came from God!

But there ought to be more to Thanksgiving than simply recognizing that our Triune God has supplied us with an abundance of the things needed to sustain us, body and soul, through earthly life unto eternal life. There’s a great deal more that separates us from the world than our saying what the heathen won’t say, namely, that “every good gift is from above, and comes down to us from the Father of lights.” Our Thanksgiving and the expression of it should concern itself with more than just what we’ve been given. What I mean is: As you inventory your life this Thanksgiving, don’t merely take note of the things you have, but also catalogue those things that may have been taken away. I’ll say it this way: draw up an account of what you no longer have.

Review that for which you’ve suffered loss, and take careful note of those things under which you now suffer. Look carefully at all this, and then remind yourself that “every good gift is from above, and comes down to us from the Father of lights.” Be bold enough to pray: “I thank you, dear heavenly Father, for those things which You’ve taken away, and will yet take away.” This is where we leave the unbelievers behind on Thanksgiving Day. Here we do more than just simply name our Provider and Benefactor. Here we speak a divine truth which has been handed down to us through the saints of every time and age when we say with confidence: “My God will supply our every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

We can say that because in Christ – along with St. Paul and all the true heroes of the faith – we know how to be brought low, and how to abound. In any and every circumstance, we have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. Not a one of us knows what the future might hold – for us or for our dearest loved ones. But really, who cares? The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away – and for each of these actions we are to bless and praise His holy name – even as Job reminds us. He who has provided us with forgiveness and life in Christ Jesus will most certainly not fail us in those other things we need, as well.

So when you pray: “Give us this day our daily bread,” remember, these words are more than just a plea – and more than just a reminder of what you may already have received. In actuality, they’re a confession of the steadfast faith which God has already given you. Because when you pray to God that He give us all our daily bread, what you’re also doing is reassuring your fellow Christians – including your dearest loved ones – that God will do this in every circumstance, yes, even in the midst of trial, pain, and hardship. No matter how world-weary or battle-scarred you might become, when you pray this petition you’re speaking these words with a child’s indefatigable admiration and confidence that God will do what He has promised for those who are His own. You’re saying: “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

In the Name of the Father and of the ✝ Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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