Wednesday, November 21, 2012

In Everything, Thanksgiving

Day of Thanksgiving
November 21, 2012
Do you need something good to happen to you in order to be thankful? The answer is no. How about this question: do you need to be given something in order to be thankful? The answer to that is yes. The difference makes the difference between being a truly thankful person and a truly ungrateful one.

If you are depending on good things to happen in order to be thankful you will end up a very ungrateful person. If you realize that the source of your thanksgiving is having received good things from God you will be a truly grateful person. If the difference doesn’t sound like much it’s because we are so conditional. We operate circumstantially. If good things happen, we’re grateful. If bad things happen, we’re ungrateful.

But we have received abundant blessings from God. We ought simply to be grateful, no matter our circumstances. We shouldn’t place conditions on God but rather rejoice in what He has given us.

Have you ever thought about why Jesus Christ gave thanks before He broke the bread of His Holy Supper and gave thanks before He gave His disciples the cup? These are the words of Luke and Matthew as they describe the scene:

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you”… And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

He gave thanks because He had received something. It’s not that good things were happening to Him or things were going well for Him. In looking at the circumstances, things actually weren’t going all that well for Him. He would be betrayed shortly, and He knew this. He would be placed on trial and mocked and tortured, and He knew this. He would be nailed to a cross shortly after that, and He knew this.

You don’t give thanks unless you have received something. What was it that Jesus had received? He was the Lord of the universe, having all things in His possession, what could He possibly have received? Well, with you and me, when we receive things we think of things that make things better for us. When Jesus receives things they are things that entail loving and serving us. What He had received was the commission of being sent to serve. He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.

It pleased the Father to give His Son to us for our salvation. Our Lord and Savior was grateful for the will of His Heavenly Father to become man, to suffer and die for the sin of the world. This is how we are taught to be thankful. Instead of looking at our circumstances, we learn to be thankful for the greatest gift we have ever received, our Lord Himself. Instead of looking for good things to happen to us, we learn that they already have! Our Lord was given to us and He is given to us often in the Gospel and the Sacraments.

When we sit at the table to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast we give thanks for that blessing. Think about what Jesus did when He hosted His disciples at the Passover Meal. He gave thanks at a meal in which He was giving to them. They were receiving, yet He was the one giving thanks. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper we receive what our Lord gives to us. We give thanks for what our Lord has done, which is what He was given to do by His Heavenly Father.

That’s why in the Epistle reading Paul talks about “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” He doesn’t say in the good things. He doesn’t urge gratitude for those times when things are going well. He doesn’t use simple logic and tell them to look around at their circumstances and if they’re amenable that they had better be grateful.

In everything, thanksgiving. It just so happens that what we see anyway isn’t always what really is. God looks at things differently than we do. God sees how truly good things come about through things that we simply view as not good. So while it was tragic that Jesus suffered as He did, died as He did, and lay in the tomb as He did, God brought about the greatest thing there is through that: peace with Him. Atonement of our sins. A restoration of relationship with Him through the willing sacrifice of His Son laying down His life for all sinners.

Paul says that this “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Think not about your circumstances. Think not about what your reason or your logic tell you. Think not about how you would like for things to be different. Simply rest for a moment in gratitude as you consider this peace that surpasses all of your understanding. Consider for a moment how, no matter your circumstances, God’s peace guards your heart and your mind. This is why, and also how, you can be thankful—in everything. The peace of God which bypasses your capacity for understanding, guards you in all circumstances. You aren’t subject to how things are going, you have in everything the opportunity to give thanks because of what you have received from your Lord.

So how do you do this? When you’re naturally inclined to wish your circumstances were better, how do you give thanks in everything? Paul goes on to say, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Is this what you do? Do you think about these things? When you think about these things you are taking your focus off yourself and your circumstances and onto the things of God. In the midst of or despite your circumstances you see more and more how in everything you can give thanks because you see more and more all the many blessings He gives you.

Paul speaks directly to the Philippians: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” The kind of language he uses is receiving language. Language that focuses on what is given, not on how things are going. He exhorts them to consider what they learned in him and what they received in him and what they heard in him and what they saw in him. These are all things that were given to them. That is why they could be thankful, because God gave them blessings through His servant Paul.

Interestingly, Paul then actually goes on to talk about his circumstances. But it’s not for the purpose of saying, when things were going this way, I was this way. And when things were going that way, I was that way. Rather, he says, in all things I was content. Whether he was in need or had plenty he gave thanks. He knew God was taking care of him in all circumstances. His gratitude toward God was not based on circumstances but rather what he had received from God. These blessings received by the Philippians flowed freely back to Paul as he describes how they helped him in his needs. When you give thanks in everything you see how much opportunity there is to help others.

And if we still have trouble with this business of giving thanks in everything, the clincher argument Paul makes is this: “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” It’s not really an argument so much as a statement of fact. Every need. God will supply everything you need. And why is this? Because of the riches of the glory of Christ.

When you look at your circumstances you are being very close-minded. You are looking at only part of the picture and basing your status on that. When you look beyond your circumstances and see everything that God has given you in Christ, the glory of the riches of His suffering, death, and resurrection, you see that in everything there is nothing else but to give thanks. Another way of saying this is how he closes with this doxology: “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”


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