The Day of Thanksgiving—11 October 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Reading from Holy Scripture: Philippians 4:6–20 (ESV)
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 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. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
10 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. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 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. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 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. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
If you could take a first-century Roman pagan and time-travel him into this morning’s service, he would be struck by something you and I take for granted: the peace of God. We have grown so accustomed to the Divine Service that we have lost the wonder of the great gift of peace that God gives us here. But God’s peace is writ large all over the liturgy:
Glory be to God on high: and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.
The peace of the Lord be with you always.
O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, grant us Thy peace.
Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word.
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.
And of course, at the end of his sermon, the pastor speaks the blessing of peace that passes all understanding.
We take this divine peace for granted, but that Roman pagan would be quite amazed. You see, in the ancient pagan world, anxiety was a way of life. The pagans worshipped so many gods and goddesses, all of whom were potentially out to get you for some offence you might not even know about. And so you never knew whether some punishment from the gods was waiting for you just round the corner. What a startling and refreshing contrast to worship the one true God, Who freely gives peace to those who bear His Name.
And such are you, who are baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are recipients of God’s peace in Christ Jesus. That is not to say your life is free from suffering. After all, the Bible does not promise you a trouble-free, sorrow-free, stress-free life. But the Bible does promise that God is in control and that He gives His children a deep peace in the middle of life’s problems and storms. As our Lord Jesus said to the apostles on the eve of His crucifixion: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.…In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 14:27; 16:33).
On this Day of Thanksgiving, we would do well to keep and treasure in our hearts these words of Holy Scripture: Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid[, and] do not be anxious about anything. For when we are troubled, afraid, and anxious, it is a sure sign that we are living like pagans who live in constant dread of the gods unleashing their wrath. At times, we all act like pagans, allowing our fears to keep us awake at night, tossing and turning. And even our waking moments are consumed with anxious thoughts. To stop living the high-anxiety lifestyle of a pagan, we must give our minds and hearts over to thinking and cherishing whatever is true,… honourable,… just,… pure,… lovely,…commendable,… [excellent, and] worthy of praise.
Which means that we are to direct our minds and hearts to focusing on the peace God gives us in our Lord Jesus Christ. For truly nothing is more true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise than Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Who laid down His life to establish eternal peace between God the Father and you, who once were His enemies but who now are His holy children.
Jesus has brought peace to this world, ironically, through a violent death. On the cross He was torn away from His Father. He suffered violence at the hand of an angry crowd. He endured internal peacelessness and agony on the Mount of Olives as He prayed, Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done (Luke 22:42). Jesus, true God and true Man, endured both external and internal conflict in the place of us sinners and He suffered the condemnation we deserved. As a result, He brought about peace between us and our heavenly Father.
Christ Jesus our Saviour does more than give us peace. He IS our peace. This peace that Christ is and brings is greater than our suffering, even greater than our sins. The peace that Christ is and brings is the peace rooted in God’s love.
You and I had cut ourselves off from God by our sin. But God show[ed] His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.…[Now,] if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, [how] much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. [And so we have every reason to live lives of thanksgiving to] God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Romans 5:8,10-11). This reconciliation which we have with God does not depend on our feelings or circumstances. Rather, God’s peace to us is real and objective because Christ, our Prince of Peace, has made it real through His suffering on the cross. As real as is Christ’s blood staining and soaking into the wood of the cross, so real is the peace we now have with God. And this peace is the foundation for our lives of thanksgiving.
The peace of God in Christ Jesus is the reason we can stop living like anxious pagans and start living like thankful children of God. In fact, God’s peace in Christ and our thanksgiving in Christ always go together, even in the face of suffering. When St. Paul affirms: I can do all things through him who strengthens me, what he really means is that he can endure all suffering in the strength he receives in Christ.
And you and I make the same confession of faith. We can endure poor health; we can endure this pandemic; we can endure various kinds of hardships; yes, we can endure all things in a spirit of thanksgiving through faith in Christ Jesus, who is our Eternal Peace.
As an anxious heart is a sign that we are living like pagans, so a thankful heart is a sign that we are living in Christ. Therefore, as you and I live in Christ, let us counter our fears and worries with prayers saturated with thanksgiving. Yes, in our prayers, let us give God our fears and worries, our hopes and desires, wrapping them all up in thanksgiving. A prayer without thanksgiving is like a bird without wings; it has trouble rising upward. When we try to pray without thanksgiving, then we often stop praying entirely and we get bogged down again with an anxious heart. And so let us fill our prayers with thanksgiving for God and all things that God gives us in Christ Jesus—for eternal salvation and also for temporal blessings.
We ought to give God thanks for everything, even for what seems grievous to us, for that is the mark of one who is truly thankful. Oh, it is true that grief comes out of adversities and afflictions. But even then, thanksgiving comes from a soul that loves God and that has true insight into God’s character.
When we live like pagans, we live in fear, thinking that God is out to get us. With such an attitude, there is no room for thanksgiving in our lives. But in Christ, we repent of such unbelief, and God forgives us and renews us in the Holy Spirit, so that with thankful hearts, we confess God’s true character, as we confess each Lord’s day: Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good. And His mercy endureth forever.
To go through life confessing the Lord’s goodness and mercy does not come to us naturally. We allow life’s adversities to convince us that God is cruel and indifferent to our suffering and that His love and mercy do not exist; the great temptation here is to allow fear and worry to govern our thoughts, words, and actions. But as those who are baptized, we know that the true Ruler of our hearts is Christ, Who is and Who gives a peace that surpasses all human comprehension. And this peace of God is ever guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, like a squadron of soldiers looking after a treasure chest. Yes, God’s peace is standing watch over you, defending you from all temptations that want to rob you of the joy of knowing that the Lord is good; that His love is greater than your suffering; and that His mercy does indeed endure forever. Do you see? God has reconciled you to Himself through the death of His Son. How much more will He keep you in His peace even in the presence of your afflictions. In Christ, then, do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Amen.