Thanksgiving – 2014 LSB #753 (to the tune of #427)
Text – Philippians 4:12
I know how to be brought low, & I know how to abound. In any & every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty & hunger, abundance & need.
“Dear God, you made many, many poor people. I realize, of course, that it’s no shame to be poor. But it’s no great honor either! So, what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune?”
If I were a rich man, Ya ba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dum. All day long I’d biddy biddy bum. If I were a wealthy man. I wouldn’t have to work hard. Ya ba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dum. If I were a biddy biddy rich, yidle-diddle-didle-didle man.
“Lord who made the lion & the lamb, You decreed I should be what I am. Would it spoil some vast eternal plan? If I were a wealthy man.”
Those are the words of Tevye, the lead role in the play Fiddler on the Roof. He is a peasant farmer in Russia, of the year 1905, & he sings those lyrics from the song If I Were A Rich Man. It’s a common dream among mankind – to be rich.
The multimillionaire, John D. Rockefeller, was once asked the question, “How much money is enough?” He answered quite transparently, “Just a little bit more.” Satan well knows that the temptation of wealth is a powerful one. In fact, the Word of God in 1 Timothy tells us, “…the love of money is a root of sorts of evil...”
It continues by adding, “…and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith…” (1 Timothy 6:10 NAS) The devil’s work has often been accomplished through the simple temptation of greed. Wealth provides so dangerous a temptation that Jesus told us, “…for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle is easier than for a rich person to enter the reign of God.” (Matthew 19:24) You see, entering the reign of God means submitting to His authority in all respects. It means putting your own will last, & putting the heavenly Father’s will first, at every single opportunity.
To enter the reign of God means that humility & repentance must be your first reaction to each & every single one of your circumstances. Yet the wealthier a person becomes the more they’re tempted to use that wealth in buying their way out of being repentant & humble.
The wealthier we become, the more independent we become, & the danger of that is losing sight of the fact that no human being can ever become independent of our heavenly Father & live. By that I’m using the Bible’s definition of heaven as life & it’s definition of hell as death. No human being can become independent of God & live.
Can you survive abundance? Can we as American Christians survive the abundance our Lord has given us? That is truly a question for every man, woman & child in our nation today. I remember a guest preacher who from some years ago. He made this statement, “The average American pet dog has better nutrition & health care than 75% of the world’s population.”
Will you survive abundance? The answer to that question will finally be known on Judgment Day, for all the world to see. St. Paul well knows the gravity of it thus he writes to the church at Philippi: “I know how to be brought low, & I know how to abound. In any & every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty & hunger, abundance & need.”
What is the secret Paul has learned? That is the question of the evening. It should be the question that consumes our thoughts on this national day of thanksgiving. Instead, most Americans focus their time & energy on consuming a meal. Somehow, stuffing our belly full of food has become the manner in which we express our thanks, while rarely anymore do most of us thank our heavenly Father in prayer before any meal, let alone before every single meal. The secret Paul has learned he expressed two verses before the sermon text: “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me.”
The church at Philippi had sent Paul a gift of money to strengthen & encourage him, as well as to supply his needs. In fact, the entire letter to the Philippians was to thank them for that gift. Maybe the fact that Paul was in prison enabled him to write an entire letter that literally overflows with joy & thanksgiving, quite unlike our lives today.
Are we surviving our abundance? “Lord who made the lion & the lamb, You decreed I should be what I am. Would it spoil some vast eternal plan? If I were a wealthy man.” Few Americans are peasant farmers anymore. Our nation became great while many of our citizens were.
It appears that God would have answered Tevye’s question with the word, “Yes, it would.” Wealth is a temptation to leave our heavenly Father behind as Holy Scripture informs us: “…the love of money is a root of sorts of evil, & some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith…” Those too are the words of St. Paul as he wrote to Timothy.
It seems that Paul’s point, under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, is to direct our hearts & minds to thanksgiving in order to survive abundance & need, plenty & hunger.
If our thanking God is only because He has given blessings to us, if our focus is simply on the words ‘to us,’ then it is still a selfish & self-centered thanksgiving, not especially pleasing to our Lord. St. Paul’s entire ministry is a demonstration of the opposite. Consider the common table prayer: “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, & let Thy gifts ‘to us’ be blessed.”
When you consciously (I know that doesn’t always happen); when you consciously think the thoughts of that prayer, where do you see the movement of the blessings? Where are God’s gifts moving to? Are they moving simply & only from our Lord Jesus to us? – “…and let Thy gifts to us be blessed.” Are you where His gifts end? Do His gifts disappear there in the black hole of our heart? Do His gifts disappear there in the black hole of indifference & ingratitude? Is our thanksgiving ultimately centered only on ourselves – a self-centered thanksgiving?
You see, there’s another way to see the movement in that simple prayer, & it makes all the difference between heaven & hell, between being truly alive & being truly dead. In the phrase, “…and let Thy gifts to us be blessed” we can also see the movement of God’s gifts as coming to us, yet not stopping there.
Thy gifts can instead go through us, to our neighbor around us, & that is what we are asking God to bless. “…and let Thy gifts to us be blessed.” In that vision of the prayer, the movement of God’s gifts is to us & then away from us. When we consciously think of the prayer in that way, we are asking that God bless His gifts as we share them with others.
It takes faith in Jesus; it takes faith that He will not stop giving, in order to share every thing we have with others. That runs counter to how the world thinks you become wealthy. The world, our culture, even our own sinful nature, think we become wealthy men by keeping a hold on everything we get. As the rich fool said:
“I will tear down my barns & build larger ones, & there I will store all my grain & my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ (That sounds like our thanksgiving celebrations) But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, & the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Luke 12:18-20 ESV)
St. Paul’s entire ministry was one of giving. He lived in Christ. He gave in Christ, & finally, he died in Christ. In the gospel reading about the ten lepers, I doubt that only one of them was grateful & thankful for being healed. Yet Jesus says only one of them turned back praising God with a loud voice & giving Him thanks. The key difference between the Samaritan & the other nine is in the last sentence, “Rise & go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Because the Samaritan believed in Jesus he was healed in a way the other nine were not. Remember this line from earlier in the sermon, “No human being can become independent of God & live.” The Samaritan was truly alive, & thus truly healed, because he did not think of himself as independent of God. He trusted in Yahweh & had faith in Jesus.
He was not merely thankful that He was healed physically. He was thankful that Jesus is the One who healed him. The other nine did not survive the abundance of their healing, & almost instantly it had an adverse effect.
Is surviving abundance easy? Not on your life, but the apostle Paul’s answer is to give thanks. Now, is giving thanks easy? No! Our sinful nature fights it every step of the way. And if you think of it in this way, that in giving thanks to God & praising His name, we are waging war against the devil, then it’s clear why giving thanks is not a simple matter.
Waging war against Satan is far beyond our human strength & wisdom. We should never think of the act of saying thank you as mere child’s play. Nevertheless, as Paul wrote:
“…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer & supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Surviving abundance is something we cannot do without the help of our Lord & Savior. After this evening’s sermon text, Paul says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” That’s why it never works to be independent of Christ. “Apart from Him we can do nothing.” The more we despair of our own power & strength & wisdom, the more is Christ’s
strength & power & wisdom effective in us, & the more His gifts to us are blessed as we share them with our neighbor. Amen.
All for Christ I have forsaken & have taken up my cross; worldly joy, its fame & fortune, now I count as worthless dross. Who is sweeter than Christ Jesus? No good thing in Him I lack! Hand to plow, at peace I follow where He leads me why look back? Gone the past, unknown the future – grace supplies my daily breath; strong in Christ through death’s dark valley, firm & faithful unto death. Though the road ahead be thorny, though dark clouds all light obscure, though my cross-shaped path grows steeper, with the Lord, I am secure. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet