Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus. Paul‘s Letter to the Christians at Philippi 1:1–6.
Thanksgiving! A time to be thankful… but for what? For turkey and dressing and all the other things that go with it? For the family gathering together and enjoying a feast as well as a get-together?
Well how did our forefathers understand it, why did they celebrate it? (Who after all, started this celebration.) The history is that they were thankful to God for being alive after such a harsh winter, when half of them had died, and were thankful for a good harvest, having almost starved during that harsh winter! Thankful also for the native Americans who had been so kind and helpful. It was as the hymn says: Now thank we all our God With hearts and hands and voices, Who wondrous things hath done, In whom his earth rejoices; Who, from our mothers’ arms, Hath blessed us on our way. With countless gifts of love. And still is ours today.
A Thanksgiving without God is like Christmas without Jesus! And yet, sadly, both not only happen, but today this is the way the majority of our fellow Americans celebrate both holidays. Indeed the turkey is king of Thanksgiving and Santa Claus is the king of Christmas—or shall I say, Xmas?
Well, rather than lament the negative—over things we cannot change, let’s turn to St Paul and our text. He greets these people who either are or will be facing the persecution, to these people, who like us, had their aches and pains, trials and illnesses and disappointments as well as all the good things in life and says, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Grace! That undeserved love and peace “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” They, like we, had (and we have) faults, mistakes and short-comings. Add to that sins, for indeed “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Again, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Nevertheless, God is love and God loves the world, the world from the best of us to the worse of us, God is love.
God’s love is also reflective. You know the New Commandment, “Love one another, even as I have loved you.” Evidently the early Church understood this and practiced it, for we heard from history: Early Christians were made recognizable by their actions. Aristedes, sent by Emperor Hadrian during the days of the early Church to scope out those known as “Christians,” gave a report and these ending words have stood the test of time. “Behold, how they love one another.”
St Paul wrote: In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” He loved these people, not just because they worked with him to spread the Gospel but because they were Christians, fellow Christians, who with him, loved the Lord Jesus Christ. He and they were following the Great Commandment, “Love one another, even as I have loved you.”
Jesus called this a commandment. I suppose if you find a person difficult to like, then it is a commandment. (And we have those, too!) However, in most cases, it is not a commandment; it is a natural thing that flows out of us and onto our fellow believers. Nobody has to tell you to love what you already love—whether it be apple pie or your sweetheart. St Paul loved these Philippians and they loved him.
As you and I look back at those times gone by, considering our friends and family and also fellow church members, we recall so many with great affection.
Sure, there were some people who were less than pleasant. And we had some unpleasant moments even with the best of them, but the bad fades away in time, and we remember so fondly the better moments. Some of these people we are still in contact with, some have joined the Church Triumphant!
But that is history—today and this evening is the present. I know how I feel when I see you and I see how you react to one another here in the church as well as in other places. Inasmuch as we are a small congregation, we know each other and we love each other. We are glad to see each other when we get together and we miss those who are not here, when they cannot make it.
So many times we have heard visitors say that we are a warm and friendly congregation. That is just another way of saying, “See how they love one another.”
St John says, “We love, because He first loved us.” Love! “For God so loved the world…(John 3:16).” In another place John goes on to say, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [basically, the covering) for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
And we do!
And just like the Pilgrims on their first thanksgiving were thankful for their harvest and for the friendly Indians, but mostly for each other who survived that first terrible year, so are we thankful—to God almighty for sending Jesus, for forgiving our sins and for each other.
The word “propitiation” means covering. It goes back to the Old Testament where the blood sprinkled on the altar covered the sins of Israel. Now in the New Testament Jesus’ shed blood on the cross covers all who believe in Him. Our sins are forgiven; we have access to the throne of grace and that is why St Paul said to them and now says to us, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”
Grace! We need it too because:
#1. We are a people who have aches and pains. worries and frustrations, disappointments. We also need it…
#2. Because we have sinned by thought word and deed and we need these sins to be taken away from us—to be covered by the Blood of the Lamb. We cannot cover them ourselves. We cannot work them off. We need help and that is where this also from St John comes in: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us., But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
For this I am thankful, for this you are thankful and this then is our main Thanksgiving! But close to it is the New Commandment put into action: I am very thankful for you and you are thankful for each other. Dare I say it? You are also thankful for me!
Thanksgiving—for all those wonderful people in our past and for those in our present—including you! Thanks be to God! Amen!
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