For the first time in many years, I failed to produce a newsletter last month. You have my deepest apologies. I am getting old and slow, I guess. I consider every newsletter an opportunity to teach something or at least turn your minds toward Christ. Failing to utilize an opportunity is a sore spot with me. I am truly sorry.
Now we hang between Reformation day, All Saints Day, Thanksgiving and Advent. All of them share one theme, thanksgiving. Reformation Day reminds us to give thanks for the restoration of the clear proclamation of the Gospel to the Church. Thanksgiving is that secular holiday with a religious purpose encouraging thanksgiving to whomever we may worship. All Saints Day is set aside by the Church to give thanks for those who have gone before us in the faith and have entered glory while we in the Church Militant continue to fight the good fight of faith, remembering the centuries of God's goodness to His people. Some congregations have reading of the roll call of those members of their parish summoned out of this life to eternity in the past year. Advent is a season to remember and give thanks for the gift of the Gospel itself and miracle of the Incarnation and of the love which brought our heavenly Father to do such a wonderful and impossible thing.
No wonder the Word of God encourages us to give thanks so frequently. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. That's Philippians 4:4-7. Rejoice in the Lord always, give thanks with your every prayer, and don't allow anything to make you anxious, but pray. Good words.
I have always been partial to the verses I use at ordinations and installations from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. What a marvelous and unexpected message! There is no detail of the Gospel in these few words, but every bit of it is there because it tells us of the good and gracious will of God and it connects it to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Think about the wonder of it. God wants you to enjoy life. When was the last time you heard that clearly in a sermon? Rejoice always! You cannot do that if you are not enjoying life. Even when things are not so pleasant, we are to rejoice. Of course that does not come without a context. We rejoice always and we pray constantly. Pray without ceasing, doesn't mean the prayer can never come to an end, but that we can never be finished with talking to God. If prayers were cigarettes, God would have us all be chain-smokers, so to speak. Fortunately for the non-smoking crowd, they are not, but you get the idea. Always be in communication and conversation with God. And since He has the answers and we have the questions, our prayer usually will be seeking something - knowledge, stronger faith, peace, patience, a fuller measure of the Holy Spirit .
I like to tell God about what going on and how it strikes me and what I think He should do, or what I wish He would do. I always acknowledge that He is God and I am definitely not, and ask Him to do according to His good and gracious will, but I talk to God about life - my life, your life, world affairs, the troubles and sorrow I see around me, and the wonderful things I see. And then I take everything as a cause for thanksgiving. I am not as good at this as I would like to be, but this is the focus of my prayers. Give thanks in everything, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Not only does He tell us to give thanks in everything, good, bad or indifferent, but that this is God's will for us! That is how I know God wants us to enjoy life. He want us to enjoy life without sin and because we know we have the victory both in this world and beyond the grave in Jesus Christ.
Now and again I think about it, about giving thanks in everything. I stop to ponder reality. My old body is a tremendously complex thing. Each cell is a wonder, and as I read about the gathering knowledge of mankind about how the cell works, and the myriad of things that could go wrong and do not, I am staggered! The world around me is just as complex with different life-forms as my body is with cells and organs and all those chemical that are kept in such magnificent balance to provide health and strength and energy for living. My sainted brother Paul Bartz spent decades chronicling the wonder of creation and the work of God for the Creation Moments broadcasts. The wonders of God's work may be measured on microscoping or megascopic scales.
Look at universe with all of the galaxies we think we are aware of. Look just at the Milky Way, our home galaxy. Look at our solar system, or just the planet we live on, and the complexity and beauty and precision of it will amaze you. Unbelievers mock and say, "How can God keep track of all these people?" I respond with the thought that the complexity of any one person is so deep and precise - from sub-cellular systems to organs and the functioning of the entire body. Who can comprehend it?
I pause for a drink of a chemical concoction as I write this, known as a diet cola. How does it achieve its pleasing taste? How does my body process it? Where does "sweet" come from? How does it work within me and to my benefit instead of to my detriment? It is a little thing, easily taken for granted, and I would guess there are scientists who would imagine they could explain the answers to those questions, but this is an insignificant thing in the midst of bigger and more important things and every step along the way is filled with God's blessing an goodness. How could we not give thanks in everything? But this is all physical, this world stuff. When we give thanks in Christ, we must also and particularly give thanks because of Jesus Christ and what He has done, and what He has revealed to us.
We can rejoice always and pray without ceasing and give thanks in everything because we know, through Jesus Christ and the Gospel that the will of God toward us is good, blessing, salvation, and eternal life in His presence. So, the will of God is that we know Him and His love and take joy in this life and rejoice in His goodness and in the abundance of His blessings in which we live and move and have our being.
Or this from the Old Testament, from 1 Chronicles 16: Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples. Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; Speak of all His wonders. Glory in His holy name; Let the heart of those who seek the LORD be glad. Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually. Remember His wonderful deeds which He has done, His marvels and the judgments from His mouth. Knowing Him is supposed to make us glad. For the knowledge of God to do that, we need to be in prayer, continually.
O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is Good, for His mercy - lovingkindness - endures forever. This refrain repeats throughout the Old Testament. It is echoed, of course, in the New, as in Hebrews 13:15-16: Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Somewhere when I was a child I was given the impression that the life of a child of God was a burdensome thing that required doing stuff - good works and so forth. But when I studied to become a pastor, I kept running into this thing called the freedom of the Gospel, God doesn't demand great things from me, and when He wants them, He will make them possible. What God wants is that I know Him and His will for me, which is good, love, living life in His presence and in the joyful confidence that God is with me for blessings and salvation.
The challenge of these things is that I cannot by own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him. He has placed me in life in situations that I don't want to be in, situations that challenge me, frustrate me, and disappoint me, that is, my flesh. I want to be great. I want to be beloved. I want to be inspiring and awesome. In other words, my flesh wants to be God, and have control over stuff like God does. God doesn't just make me feel wonderful and ask me to give thanks. He puts me in real life with aging and pains and frustrations, and asks me to remember, He knows what He is doing, and He still loves me even if I don't love the moment I am in.
Holding fast and faithful is something I (and you) can only do by His power and assistance. That is where the non-stop prayer comes in. Every moment of this life is to be lives conscious of the truth that we live it in the presence of God, and because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, He is not there to judge and condemn us but to love us, bless us, guide us, and help us through everything He places in our path.
Our flesh, which we must deal with, is so fickle that we cannot depend on the feeling of God's grace. We have to depend on the Word of God's grace. We need to be turning to it all of the time and reminding ourselves that this is the truth and how it appears and feels to us is probably a lie. I say "probably" because sometimes it feels pretty good. Just not often enough to depend on how it seems.
The Reformation celebration is a reminder of how God brought a long ignored Gospel back into prominence. He hasn't forgotten us, even when it looks like we are losing the battle, because, as the Bible clearly says, the battle does not belong to the strong, not the race to the swift, but it is all in the hands of the Lord. He can take a self-described "bag of worms" like Luther and do great things. He can and He does work through us, and often in ways we don't see and cannot identify. The Reformation reminds us of the goodness of God and His power to work amazing things when and where He chooses.
All Saints day is our opportunity to mark all the cases we have seen where God has preserved His faithful ones through life and into death for everlasting life. We celebrate those we have known and loved who have made it to the goal in the faith, and the faithfulness of God in preserving them in the faith through life and into life eternal. We confess that we are part of something bigger than the congregation we see on Sunday, something called the Church Triumphant, although we are not yet in the triumphant part, we acknowledge them to still be part of the church and of our fellowship. The prayer says, "with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious name, evermore praising Thee and saying . . ." Every week when I pray that prayer, in my mind's eye I see my father and mother, my grandmother and grandfather standing above me and behind me joining in our worship. Sometimes is hard to keep speaking, so powerful is the image that our confession creates.
Advent invites us to meditate on the wonder of Christmas. God became a man. He did not stop being God, He just took a human body and soul for Himself and walked among men, taught among men, and then suffered and died in the place of all men. The picture of Christmas is great drama, with the angels and the wise men and the shepherds, and the manger. It fills in the details of the inexplicable and wonderful story of the love of God in doing those things on our behalf. It derives its power and meaning from Easter, as does all of our faith, but it illustrates in the graphic fashion the lengths God went to out of love for us. He became a man, He bore poverty, He took on humility like a cloak. The God who created everything and can do anything made Himself a helpless child, dependent on a young girl and her husband. That much God loves us. There was nothing He would not do for us to save us. Easter tells us one end of the story, but Christmas starts the whole thing for us with incredible self-giving by God.
And Advent tells us to consider our sins, that brought us to need such intervention, and repent. It also reminds us of the other end of the story, that He shall come again and receive us all to Himself. All of the holidays of October and November call on us to remember, and give thanks!
Yours in the Lord,
These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due.
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.
Send Pastor Robin Fish an email.