Thanksgiving Eve
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Philippians 4:4-9 Sermon

November 27, 2013

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Hymns (printed in bulletin):
We Praise Thee, O God, Our Redeemer, Creator
How Great Thou Art
Now Thank We All Our God
Come Ye Thankful People Come 
For The Beauty Of The Earth
Abide With Me      


TEXT (vs. 4-7):  “ 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

            This evening, I have a confession to make.  I probably eat way too many meals in restaurants.  But in doing so, I have developed places that I frequent.  One of those places is Valentino's Grand Italian Buffet, and I'll usually go on Monday.  The reason for that, is because that's seniors day, and I get a 25 percent discount on my meal.  I can eat my fill, and do so for under ten dollars.  And yes, I'm very thankful for that!

            This past Monday, I was at Valentino's again.  And I noticed four young girls sitting together a couple of tables away from me.  They appeared to be probably early middle school age.  And there were no adults sitting at that table either.

            The girls were having a good time, chatting away with each other, laughing, and enjoying each other's company.  Now I have no idea what they were talking about; but the thing I did notice was that each time the waitress came to the table, I heard each one of those girls use the words "please" and "thank-you."  And when they got up from the table to go to the buffet line, they pushed their chairs back up to the table before leaving.

            This is something these girls were doing on their own.  There weren't any adults at the table prodding them to do any of this.  It appeared like they were doing everything almost automatically; it was a way of life for them, and they simply did what they were used to doing.  Incidentally, I did note as they were leaving that there were adults with them, because the man left a nice tip on the girls' table; but when the adults were eating, they were sitting in a booth behind me.  They trusted the girls to behave themselves at their own table, which they certainly did.

            It doesn't really seem like much, does it?  How many times do we take notice of children behaving themselves?  It's easy to notice children when they're acting up, fighting, crying, or throwing a temper tantrum.  We think to ourselves, "Where are their parents?  Why aren't they doing something?"  But I feel that good and proper behavior is something worth noting; and even though I didn't say anything, I certainly appreciated it.  And I'm sure that the waitress did too.

            Believe it or not, showing others thankfulness is something that has to be learned.  It doesn't come automatically.  When we are driven by sin and the ways of Satan, then our attitudes reflect that.  We become selfish.  We take things for granted.  We develop the attitude that somebody owes it to us.  We complain.  And we're anything but thankful.

            As we look at our text for this evening, the Apostle Paul teaches us a very good lesson in thanksgiving.  Paul's letter to the church at Philippi is filled with expressions of thanks.  And if anybody had a reason to complain, Paul certainly did.

            So let's look at a bit of history here.  The church at Philippi was the first Christian congregation in Europe.  Paul visited there on his second missionary journey, somewhere between the years of A. D. 49-51.  Paul would have written this letter sometime after that.

            The Philippians provided monetary gifts for Paul's ministry.  So they sent a courier, a man by the name of Epaphroditis with their gift, expressing both their partnership with Paul as well as their concern.

            Somewhere along the way, Epaphroditis becomes very ill, almost to the point of death.  Because of this, he winds up spending more time with Paul than he originally planned so he could convalesce.  This was very helpful to Paul, because they were able to discuss various issues in the congregation, thereby allowing Paul to talk directly about these matters.

            Paul himself was preparing to be sentenced by the Roman Government.  The prospect of persecution and death was staring him right in the face.  With this in mind, Paul writes these words in verses 11-13 of our text:   "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.   I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

            Those don't sound like the words of somebody who is in the cross hairs of the Roman government.  This isn't what people who are suffering adversity usually say.  Just prior to this, Paul writes in verses 4 and 6: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.... do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. "  That's pretty incredible, wouldn't you say?

            I have a story to share with you this evening.  Some of you might recall me talking about a member of one of my former congregations in Australia, Bernie Hartwig.  To give you a brief recap, Bernie was a farmer; and his farm was situated on a rather steep hillside.  He used to joke about having more acres up and down than across.  He and his family were very active in our congregation.  This wasn't an easy task for them, considering they had to drive 65 miles one way to come to church.

            Bernie had worked out a plan to do some remodeling and other improvements at the church.  In order to pay for this, he was selling off some of the timber on his land.  One day, he was out cutting down the trees to send to the sawmill.  After he had completed felling the trees necessary for the church, he was cutting down a silky oak tree to make a piece of furniture for his wife.  The silky oak fell to the ground in a place where Bernie didn't reckon it would land.  The tree fell on him and killed him instantly.  He was 45 years old.  The church project did finally get done, but it was done in his memory.  It was a sad situation indeed, and it was the largest funeral I've ever conducted. 

            Okay, that's a recap of what I've talked about in the past; now to continue with the story about Bernie and his stewardship principle.  For this, I'm going to direct you to our Old Testament Lesson for this evening.  Listen again to verses 10 and 11 of Deuteronomy 26:   "And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God. 11 And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house."        

            And so, based upon this Scripture, the first fruits of Bernie's farm always went to the church.  Since he grew mostly fruits and vegetables, he was able to get more than one picking.  The first picking went into specially marked boxes that said "St. Paul's Lutheran Church" on the side.  When they were taken to market, a commodity check was mailed directly to the church.  That was how Bernie put this Scripture into practice.

            I'll never forget the time that Bernie planted a whole bunch of Paw-Paw trees.  Now if you don't know what a Paw-Paw is, in the United States we use the Spanish word for this fruit, which is Papaya.  And like I said, Bernie had a lot of these trees.

            The fruit came on the trees in abundance.  And true to form, the first picking was packed into the boxes with the church's name on it.  The check we received was a sizeable one too.

            But then there were problems.  Shortly after the first picking, the trees got a disease, and every single one of them died.  Bernie didn't get so much as a penny out of them.  Can you guess what Bernie did?  He quoted the words of Job chapter 1 verse 21:  "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."

            I must admit that I would have a lot of trouble saying that under those circumstances.  My attitude would certainly wane after seeing all my hard work just disappear, and I got nothing, especially since the Lord got his share first.  Somehow that just doesn't seem fair.  But Bernie focused his attention upon what the Lord had given to him, and not what was taken away from him.  He wasn't angry at God; instead he praised God and gave him thanks, even in this situation.  It's kind of amazing, isn't it?

            In our text for this evening, Paul writes in verse 8:   "What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."   And then Paul continues in verses 12-13:  "I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me."  Yes, we learn about giving thanks from the example and exhortation of the Apostle Paul.  Thanksgiving may be something that's learned, but for the Christian, what is learned becomes an automatic response.  That's the kind of thing I witnessed at that restaurant.

            What we focus upon this evening is the primary reason for being thankful.  If we look at 1 Corinthians 15, which is the great resurrection chapter, Paul ends this chapter in verses 57 and 58 with these words:  "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."

               Immediately following the sermon, our hymn of the day has this line in the last verse:  "For thyself, best gift divine, to the world so freely given, for that great, great love of thine, peace on earth and joy in heaven."  This reminds us about what is really important in our lives.

            The same Lord that provides so well for our earthly needs is the same Lord that provides for our spiritual needs.  God's love and forgiveness are evident in everything he does for us.  That's why we give thanks for God's ultimate act of love, which happened when Jesus came to this earth to pay the price for our sins. 

            God's love and care can also be seen in the activity of the Holy Spirit.  He gives us faith, strengthens our faith, and keeps us in the faith.  On our own, we have no ability to do this.   But through God's power, we can accept the gift of our Saviour through faith alone.  That's how our sins are forgiven, and that's how we know without a doubt that we shall inherit a mansion in heaven one day.  We have much for which we can be thankful in the spiritual areas of our lives too.

            A pastor friend of mine had the opportunity to meet the great Gospel singer, George Beverly Shea, the man with the golden voice who was on stage with Billy Graham.  It is reported that he has sung in front of more people than any other singer in history.  The question my friend had for him was, "What is the greatest song you have ever sung?"  And without hesitation, Mr. Shea, who was over a hundred years old, replied:  "And when I think that God his Son not sparing, sent him to die, I scarce can take it in.  That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, he bled and died to take away my sin.  That's the one thing in my life for which I'm the most thankful."  He passed into glory this past April at the age of 104, with a thankful heart and words of praise on his lips.

            This past week, I noticed four young girls sitting at a restaurant table who were thankful, and who expressed it well.  They weren't trying to show off for anybody; they were simply saying what they felt and reflecting what they had been taught.  I think of the words of Proverbs chapter 22 verse 6 where God says, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."  

            Thanksgiving is a continual learning experience for us.  The Apostle Paul learned it too.  In verses 12 and 13 of our text for this evening, Paul tells us: "I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.   I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me."  The Apostle James focuses our attention in this area as well.  In chapter 1 verse 17 he writes, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."

            We have much for which we can be thankful.  And when we think that God may not be looking out for us and loving us, all we need to do is look at the cross, and what Jesus our Saviour means for our lives now and in the life to come.  Therefore, we can look to heaven and exclaim the words Paul uses in 2 Corinthians chapter 9 verse 15:  "Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!"