Topic: Biblical Verse: Philippians 4:6–4:20
Eve of the National Day of Thanksgiving
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
This past weekend, we looked ahead to Thanksgiving Day, but tonight, let’s begin by looking back. A few weeks ago, we were getting ready for then-Hurricane Sandy, considering the very real possibility that the storm would knock out power, or that the wind and rain would be so severe that we’d have to stay at home for at least a couple of days. We went out to the stores to stock up on drinking water and nonperishable food. For most of us in northern Virginia, as it turned out, the storm was only a passing disruption. Many didn’t even lose power, thanks, in part, to the utility workers who were doing what they could to keep systems up and running. Others, however, saw their homes damaged by falling trees, including at least a couple of families in our congregation here at St. John’s. Once the power’s out, or you’re low on supplies, or there’s no longer a solid roof over your head, you start to realize just how much you’ve taken for granted. There’s a reason people say that “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” It shouldn’t take a disaster or other disruption to remind you or me how accustomed we’ve become to having so many conveniences, but deprivation usually drives the point home.
Tomorrow, our country will celebrate a National Day of Thanksgiving. It’s not a church holiday, but it’s still a good time for us to pause and reflect on just what we’ve got. You could ask yourself, “For what am I thankful?”, but what does that even mean? Do you just make a mental list of all the things in your life that you like or find useful? That’s a kind of thankfulness, I suppose, but it feels a bit thin. Especially for us as Christians, we know that while life isn’t meant to be lived in the pursuit of “stuff,” we do need some “stuff” to survive. Thanksgiving is about more than thinking of the things that you like, or even the “stuff” you we need. You can be thankful when you’ve got a lot, but you could also be thankful with a little, even nothing. Thanksgiving isn’t merely about appreciating “stuff.” It’s more about the recognition of provision.
Take a look at the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed. In it, we say, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” Pretty straightforward, right? Consider Martin Luther’s explanation for this Article, though:
I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.
He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.
He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.
This is most certainly true.
Our statement of faith as Christians begins with recognition of God’s provision for us. It’s about thanksgiving, acknowledging the scope of God’s work in our lives. That divine work, which the Lord does through myriad means, provides for everything that you and I need. God’s provision makes life happen. Without His ongoing care, neither you nor I would be. And yet, how often do you consider God’s provision coming to you through your family or employer, the farmer or soldier, the police officer or factory worker? Our sin causes us to lose sight of God’s care for us, and we fail to recognize His daily provision for us and for our world. But tonight, God’s Word calls us to pause and reflect – and then to move out in community.
In his letter to the church in Philippi, the first church that he has founded in Europe, Paul points them and us to the connection between real thanksgiving and community. The Christians there had provided for Paul in his ministry, both spiritually and financially, and in his recognition of their provision – and God’s provision through them – he encourages them in return. It might sound kind of odd, but Paul asserts that the Philippians’ support of Paul’s work benefits them, too. They recognized God’s great provision in Jesus: the forgiveness of sin, including that sin that causes us to lose sight of God’s care for us. In thanksgiving – recognition of God’s provision – they used what they had to serve others. That’s community. That’s fellowship. That’s koinonia.
That word might sound familiar to you if you’ve spent any time around St. John’s. We partner with Koinonia, our neighborhood foundation that reaches out with Christ’s love, providing emergency assistance and guidance counseling to those in need in our local neighborhoods. “Koinonia” is the biblical Greek word meaning, in part, “fellowship / sharing / generosity.” In this evening’s worship service, we will present Thanksgiving Bags at the altar, bags filled with foodstuffs to support the work of Koinonia and other local service agencies. Recognizing God’s constant provision for us, you and I are called by the Holy Spirit to use what we have to serve others. Koinonia – both the foundation and the spirit of community from which it takes its name – is empowered by the good news of God’s great provision for mankind and all creation in Jesus. Yet koinonia serves the gospel, too. You might give to support a wide variety of community service agencies; however, as Christians, especially consider how you might support those organizations that seek to care for people by sharing our faith along with our food. We’re not looking to merely offer relief to people in need, we’re looking to connect them with Christ, and through him, with that First Article God who “richly and daily provides [us] with all that [we] need to support this body and life.” Such thanksgiving-prompted sharing benefits us in the Church as the Holy Spirit builds our fellowship, our koinonia, by bringing more people into our family of faith.
Psalm 67, which we read together as this evening’s psalmody, is not just a hymn of thanksgiving. There, the psalmist asks the Lord to continue to bless Israel – to the end that all nations may know that He is indeed God. This Thanksgiving, may that be our prayer, as well, recognizing God’s provision and sharing it in turn, that everyone who we serve may know God’s love for them through Jesus and enter into the koinonia that He brings.