Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving as a Way of Life

Preached in Kahlotus only, on Sunday November 18, 2012

Scripture readings: Ephesians 5:15-21; John 11:1-15

Canal near Live Oak, CA
A family was sitting down for supper, and the parents asked one of their young kids to give thanks for the food. Everyone bowed their heads, and sat silently: and they sat, and they sat, and the child finally looked up and said, “If I thank God for the broccoli, won’t he know I’m lying?”

Paul writes about, “…always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20) Is Paul telling us to give thanks even for the broccoli?

I try to always be thankful. But I don’t always succeed. Some things make it hard to be thankful. I have a lot to learn.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul writes, “Rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” Here, Paul does not say, “for everything give thanks,” but “in everything give thanks.” He means “give thanks under all circumstances” which means that even though, sometimes, everything seems to be going wrong, yet there is one thing that is not going wrong. Somehow the Lord is at work, and we need to be able to see this, or trust that this is true.

In Romans chapter 12, verse 9, Paul says, “Hate what is evil, love what is good.” If we were to thank God for something evil, then we would be tempted to talk about God as if he had an evil streak in him.

A little later, in the twelfth chapter of Romans (12:21), Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” If something bad were going on around us, and we put our energy into overcoming that evil by doing good, then, in those circumstances, good people would not be thankful for the evil going on, but they would be thankful for those who were trying to overcome evil with good.

Well given thanks requires perception and understanding. It is an art.
Canal near Live Oak CA

In the eighth chapter of Romans (8:28), Paul says, “We know that in everything God works for good for those who love him….” Even when times are hard, and even when evil seems to have the upper hand; we are to trust that God is working for good, overcoming evil with good. We trust that evil may be evil, but we also need to trust God is Good, and that God is God; and that God will be proved to be God, as well as good.

It is like when the two Dutch sisters, Corrie and Betsie ten Boom, were enslaved in a Nazi work camp. It was hell on earth, but Betsie tried to live a thankful life. Of all the hellish things about her living hell, she even gave thanks to God for all the tiny lice that infested the barracks where the prisoners lived: the lice that lived in their hair, and their clothes; the lice that covered their bodies.

Betsie told Corrie, one day, that she gave thanks to God for all those lice, and Corrie thought her sister was crazy. How could lice be a gift from God? But Betsie explained that it had dawned on her that their lice were the reason why the guards never came into their barracks. Lice were the reason the guards never discovered that the prisoners were illegally having a Bible study, and praying together. The guards never disturbed their Bible study because of the lice.

The guards who were so powerful, who were so frightening and brutal to these poor women, were afraid of catching their lice. Betsie had formed a habit of giving thanks to God for everything. But really her discipline taught her to look for God in everything, in all circumstances.

I have not found that Jesus said to give thanks for everything, or (even) “in” everything. But he seems to have managed to act thankfully in the darkest times. Jesus seems to have recommended the same habit of mind to those who follow him.
Canal near Live Oak CA

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed (or happy) are you, when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

In the Gospel of John, when Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, Jesus gave thanks (at least he said he was glad that he was not there to save his friend from dying). Jesus did not give thanks for his friend’s death. Jesus gave thanks because his disciples were going to see something that would help them to believe in him; even in the darkest and most evil times.

At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus gave thanks that his Father always heard him. Jesus didn’t give thanks for everything that day, but he did give thanks under the circumstances of that day, because God’s plan was unfolding.

When Paul tells us to be, “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of Jesus Christ,” he is really telling us that, whatever happens, always look for Jesus, always look for the Savior.

The name of Jesus is the ownership, the authority of Jesus. The ownership and the authority of Jesus is what we have to be thankful for. It is as if Paul is saying, “Whatever happens, the Father, who made you, is working through his Son, who died for you, to help you, and to bring you through it.”

Canal near Live Oak, CA
Paul is saying the same thing here as he said in Romans chapter eight, toward the end of the chapter, after listing all the possible disasters of life. He wrote, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities; nor things present, nor things to come; nor power; nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37, 39)

Paul is not telling us to give thanks as a condition for receiving some kind of reward. Paul is telling us to give thanks because we have already received gifts beyond our imagining. We have received Christ and, with his help, we will be more than conquerors through him who loved us. So, whatever happens, we give thanks in his name; not “for what ever happens”, but “for Christ who is Lord, whatever happens”.

Another thing helps us to see this.

Paul writes, “speak to one another with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing, and make melody in your heart to the Lord.” This is not about an obligation to sing. It is about having something to sing about.
“Be filled with the Spirit…” Paul is telling us about the difference between emptiness and fullness. He is saying that the Spirit of God makes us full, and this is what we sing about.

We can either see these verses as a checklist of rules and chores to do. Or we can see them as signs of fullness. Always giving thanks is not our job description. It is more like the marks on a rain gauge. It shows where we are at. It shows our awareness of Jesus.

Feather River near Live Oak, CA
One of the most important facts about being a Christian is that we have a personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus suffered and died for us on the cross, and he rose from death for us. Jesus overcame the worst things that could happen and he came back from it all.

Jesus lives in our hearts. We have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and Jesus makes us full. His love replaces our emptiness.

A big cause of the human evil in this world is spiritual emptiness. There is an empty space within human hearts that people will try to fill in every way they can, without the Lord’s help. They try to fill the emptiness through power, or lust, or violence, or abuse, or money, or self-destructive behavior. All the while, God himself is reaching out to them, to give himself to them and replace their emptiness with his fullness.

The verses of our scripture reading in Ephesians tell us what our life is like when we open our lives to the fullness of God. When we are filled with the Spirit we simply see life differently.

We see time differently. Time is not our enemy. Time is a gift from God, and we are thankful for it. Paul’s advice is, “making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”

But the word for time here is time as opportunity: not time as hours and days, but time as quality. Some people say that time is money. Paul says that time is opportunity.

Many people are afraid of the times we live in. We live in a time of fear and great danger. Nature itself seems full of warnings.

Paul lived in evil times and saw, in his time, the opportunities he had to serve the kingdom of God and to live the kingdom way of life, in his love and care for others. If we do not claim today as a gift from God, it may be a very bad day indeed. But we can “redeem the time.” We can make our time an opportunity for God.

Paul teaches us when he says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which is debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit.” The alternatives here escape or fullness: which one do you want?

For instance, if you take a vacation for a reunion with family, or to play, or to rest, or to see great things, your vacation will probably accomplish what you want; if there are no mishaps. But if you take a vacation to escape, when you come back, it will be just as if you never had a vacation at all, because you cannot ever, really escape.

Feather River near Live Oak, CA
Even if you escaped by not ever coming back from your vacation, you still might not really escape. A lot of what drives us to want to escape really comes from inside ourselves, and we can never get away from ourselves for long. We keep coming back and getting in the way. We can’t escape from ourselves.

Jesus doesn’t give us an escape. He gives us a new heart, a new mind, a spirit of faith, hope, and thanksgiving.

When we are full of the Spirit of God, we can face what we need to be able to face. We can live the way of Jesus, and we can live from his strength and fullness, so that we do not have to run away any more. Fullness of the Spirit gives us fullness of life.

Paul says says, “Submit to one another, out of reverence for Christ.” (5:21) When we are filled with the Spirit, we are thankful for other people. We share life with others in a new way: in reverence. They belong to Christ. Or Christ wants them to belong. What a great thing it would be if we lived in a world where everyone was important to Jesus. But that is exactly the world where we do live, when we are filled with the Spirit.

Paul says, “Be very careful how you live…” and he says, “…do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” He says this because it seems so hard for us to absorb the fact that the Lord wants to claim our whole life.
The Lord wants to fill us. Look at all the ways we are tempted to forget, to leave God out, to worry, to run away, to give up, to lower our sights and our aim. 

Don’t do that. See the opportunities. Avoid the escapes. Be part of God’s plan for other people’s lives. This is the way to a full life. This is the way to a life full of the Spirit. This is the way to a life that is full of thankfulness.


  1. I really love that you mentioned Corrie Ten Boom here, so many people have never heard of her.
    I am sorry to keep repeating myself and say that this is a very good sermon, but it is!

  2. Have perople forgotten about Corrie ten Boom? Wow, that must be it. She wrote her book in the early '70's.... But there is so much to learn from her and her family.