Thanksgiving Day, (November 26, 2015)
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
TITLE: “Thanksgiving in a Time of Anxiety”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from Philippians chapter four. Our theme for this morning is thanksgiving in the face of anxiety.
I think it would be fair to say that our world is in a time of great anxiety and stress right now. I’m not sure if I would say it is more than other times, but the general angst and fear that we seem to face as a people has never been higher. Why is it that everywhere we turn there is such uncertainty? And what does God’s Word, specifically St. Paul, have to teach us about such fears along the way?
At first glance, St. Paul doesn’t seem very sympathetic. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:4). Don’t worry, take it up with the man upstairs. It is almost as if he is saying, “don’t argue with me, just put it in the complaints box at the end of the hall!” We have all had those moments of doubt, when you feel like no one is in charge, or maybe even worse, when the person in charge doesn’t seem to care what is going on.
But St. Paul knew a little bit about anxiety and worry. Writing from prison in Rome, Paul had led a life that had more than it’s share of bumps and bruises. Do you remember his words from 2nd Corinthians?
“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:24–28 ESV)
Now I don’t know about you, but that leads me to worry and anxiety just hearing about it! And yet in all of this, while writing in chains, Paul writes to the Philippians not to worry or be anxious. What is his secret? How does He do it?
In order to answer this question, we have to look for a moment at anxiety, and the relationship between it and thanksgiving. Why are we anxious, why do we worry? We worry and are anxious because we don’t know the future. We worry because we know the past, and that things haven’t always gone as planned in life or in death. We worry because our world is sometimes gray and dark, no matter how hard we try to make it otherwise. We worry because if all that is true is what youknow, that is, what you see and feel and experience, if that is all that is true, then you have good cause to worry.
But that is not all that is true.
Remember the words from Hebrews, ones that ring so true in these gray and latter days:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2 ESV)
Here is the picture I want you to have in your head as we consider worry and thanksgiving. Jesus is going to die. He is on the cross, betrayed by sinful men like you and me. He has been left alone, truly alone, so much so that he cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And when He is at that point, the very lowest point in the history of the world, it is then that He says with a loud voice, ““Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”” (Luke 23:46 ESV)
Jesus Christ, the one who committed His soul to the Father even in the face of death itself, He is the one who teaches us true thanksgiving. He gives thanks to God even when death is staring Him in the face. He cries out with Job, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him…” (Job 13:15 ESV)
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to be morbid here. The point of all of this is simple. Jesus Christ binds Himself to you in such a way that your pains and sorrows are His, your joys are His, your very life is His. He is sympathetic to your weaknesses in a way that we can never fully understand, and so ties His prayers to yours, so that they go up to God the Father together, always a package deal, never alone.
Thanksgiving isn’t just about turkeys and dressing, potatoes and pie. It is about recognizing who you are before God, and that everything, everything in your life is a gift from Him through Jesus Christ. So what this means is that when the dark times are upon you, you are now free to go to the Father with boldness and confidence, because you go before the Father in the life of the Son, given for you.
Does that mean the gunk of this life is no longer here? No. You still have trials and crosses, sins and sorrows to face. But you also have joy, real joy, because Jesus Christ faces these trials for you and with you. And that means that giving thanks to the Father isn’t just a laundry list of things. Giving thanks to the Father means recognizing that you have all things in Christ, who has saved you, and that nothin, not death, not messy families, tough jobs, bad decisions, not your sins or anyone else’s, not even death itself can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Remember again the final words from St. Paul in our text:
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. (Philippians 4:19–20)
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.