Skip to comments."Giving Thanks in--and for--2020" (Sermon for the Day of National Thanksgiving, on Philippians 4:6-20)
Posted on 11/25/2020 3:04:19 PM PST by Charles Henrickson
“Giving Thanks in--and for--2020” (Philippians 4:6-20)
We have come together today to celebrate America’s Day of National Thanksgiving. This is the time every year when we gather in our churches to give thanks to God for his blessings on our country. However, this year is 2020. And if you listen to most folks, you would think there is nothing to be thankful for this year. But is that really the case? Today I want to tell you that it is possible to have a happy Thanksgiving this year, under the theme, “Giving Thanks in--and for--2020.”
All of our readings today support this theme. But if I had to pick one text to cover it, it is the portion of Philippians 4 where Paul writes: “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 him who strengthens me.”
Being brought low, facing need--America has been experiencing these things this year. And for some people, that’s all they can think about. That’s all they can talk about. How bad it is. What a lousy year this is. No way they are feeling thankful right now. So, what are the complaints that people have about this year, that they think they can’t be thankful? Well, some of them are obvious. The Coronavirus to begin with. Certainly, that has made our country more nervous and more fearful at a minimum, even if people have not been personally affected by the virus. They’re still thinking about the chances of getting it, for themselves or their loved ones. And then, even more distressing, many in our country have gotten the virus. They’ve tested positive, and they wonder how bad it’s going to hit them. Many of our elderly are confined to nursing homes, and we can’t even get in to visit them. That’s an awful feeling. And, of course, many of our countrymen have gotten very sick and many have died. Just the virus itself makes this a very miserable year.
But on top of that, there are all the changes and losses and restrictions that have resulted from the virus. People have lost jobs. People have lost businesses. Savings have had to be tapped into and depleted. People are on edge about the economy. Then there are all the restrictions, the mask mandates, the limits on gatherings, the changes in how we are being allowed to live. None of this is pleasant. Americans are in a grumpy mood. We’re not feeling very thankful.
And then there are the elections. More consternation. No matter which side of the political aisle people are on, most Americans seem to be angry about something. Either they’re angry the President hasn’t conceded the election yet, or they’re angry because they think the election was stolen by fraud. Gotta be angry about something, I guess.
So where is the cause for thanksgiving in all of this? And furthermore, are most Americans even interested in giving thanks? Because giving thanks means giving thanks to God, and in an increasingly secularized America, more and more people are not even thinking about God. God is not a relevant part of their life. They don’t live as though they know God or would want to give thanks to him even in a good year, much less in 2020. If they observe Thanksgiving at all, for them it’s just a day off of work, a day to eat turkey and watch football, or time to get an early start on their Christmas shopping. Gathering in church to thank God for his blessings on our country--that doesn’t even enter into their thinking.
But I want to tell you that there is much to be thankful for this year. For lots of people, they still have been enjoying many blessings this year. Not everyone has gotten sick. Not everyone has lost a loved one. Not everyone has lost their job. If God has still been blessing you with his gifts of food and clothing and family, well, give thanks to God for that. For myself, this year I got married. I have a good and faithful wife. I have a beautiful daughter, who is doing well. This year I didn’t lose work. In fact, I had all the work I could handle, between my regular call to St. Matthew’s and, in the first half of the year, the visiting professorship in Chicago, and then, when that ended, taking on a second congregation at Grace. So, my income did not suffer. Perhaps like me, in spite of it being this awful year of 2020, you may still have many personal blessings to thank God for.
And besides these First-Article gifts--clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, etc.--besides these, there are the even greater gifts of the gospel! Jesus Christ is still your Savior! You are baptized! You are a child of God! You have forgiveness of your sins and the sure hope of everlasting life! The Holy Spirit is at work to strengthen your faith in God and to kindle in you your love for God and for others! You have a church where the gospel is being preached in its truth and purity! Not everyone can say that. You have the means of grace, Word and Sacrament, to sustain you! Brothers and sisters, you have riches beyond compare in these incalculable gospel gifts! Thank God most of all for these things, and never take them for granted.
And so, you do have cause to be thanking God in this year of 2020. But can we go even further and say that there is cause to thank God even for this awful year of 2020? Shockingly, I will say yes! Because God is blessing us even in the bad things about this year. God works through miserable circumstances to draw us closer to him. Our faith is strengthened through suffering. It’s like how metal is refined through fire. The impurities, the dross, are melted away, and the metal gains a tested quality. It’s stronger as a result. Suffering produces endurance in us. When everything is going swimmingly, we are tempted to not rely on God. But when the tough times come, often we have nowhere to turn but to God. And that’s a good thing. I know this sounds strange to the world, but it’s true. It is a secret of Christian maturity to recognize how God is blessing you even when you’re going through adverse circumstances. It increases your hope for Christ’s return and your hope of heaven. Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly! We need you! Visit us in your mercy! Sometimes distress is what it takes for us to cry out to God. Otherwise, we become complacent and think we don’t need God. But we do.
Listen, friends, God has not left us. God is still good, all the time. How exactly God is blessing us in the midst of difficulties--that we don’t always see at the time. But know that our gracious God always does care for us, even in the midst of the storm. It’s true. And the way you can know for certain that God is for you and with you in all circumstances is because of the cross of Christ. If God loved you enough to send his own Son to redeem you from sin and death and hell--which he did in Jesus Christ your Savior--if God did that, then surely you can know that he is with you every step of the way through life, through the good times and the bad.
It’s Thanksgiving, people! Instead of only looking at all the bad things about 2020, focus your vision on how God is indeed blessing you this year. Seeing God at work for your good, seeing with the eyes of faith, seeing all that you do have to be thankful for--that is real 20/20 vision!
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all under-standing, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for 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 him who strengthens me. Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
I am giving a similar message in my home church this Sunday.
Some bullet points:
* Many of us are learning to be thankful for blessings we formerly took for granted. Or, as my sister told me, “I never thought I could get emotional over buying a roll of toilet paper.”
* Many for the first time, seriously considered their own mortality. God certainly led some of these to salvation who, previously, were too busy or couldn’t be bothered with understanding the need for a Savior.
* I am thankful for new technology that allowed me to ride out the lockdown with a robust homemade Sunday service including, music, prayer, worship and my pastor’s online sermon. I also participated in up to three Bible study groups per week on ZOOM, two of which were with members of churches I attended before moving away.
* I also felt the “peace that surpasses all understanding” during this virus. I believe in God’s sovereignty and understand that whether I stayed healthy or whether I got sick and died, I was squarely in God’s will for my life and could face the crisis with no fear.
* I was blessed by God to have opportunities to be generous, opportunities to serve, opportunities to share, opportunities to pray for others and opportunities to grow in Christ.
This is just the shortlist. Yeah, 2020 has been downright awful but my continual prayer is “not my will but Thy will be done” and I try my best to walk in this manner. My heart goes out to everyone who lost loved ones or suffered job losses or were made prisoners in their own home. God has His plan and we simply must trust Him to have the best interests of us all in the events of this year.
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