The National Day of Thanksgiving
November 25, 2009
Text: Philippians 4:6-20
Dear Friends in Christ,
Why do we say thank-you to someone? Perhaps it is just social convention - being proper and polite. That is not a bad thing. We had a Pastor Schroeder who worked for the seminary in an administrative post. He had been raised in the south and was always very proper and polite. This is fine in and of itself. But it can also hide things from ourselves. We might say or do something without knowing why we do it. It’s rather like Lucy in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” trying to explain shaking hands to the Faun, Mr. Tumnus. She doesn’t know why we do it, it’s just what we do. So back to the question. Why do we say thank-you to someone. Well, because they have done something for us. This is especially applicable when someone has done something that they didn’t have to do. In saying thank you we are acknowledging what they have done for us.
In celebrating a national day of thanksgiving, we are saying as a nation, that we cannot build our nation by our own power. All our industry, skill, wisdom, and strength is worthless unless it is blessed by God. Now we can observe, that in material things, God blesses the unbeliever along with the believer. Yes, that is true. God does this for two reasons. First because He is a God of order who desires the earthly welfare of His creation. But God also blesses believer and unbeliver alike for the sake of the believers. If I go to a doctor of great skill, who is an un believer, and I benefit from His gifts, I have gained. It would certainly be right and proper for me to pray for him, both giving thanks to God, but also that this doctor would come to faith.
While the believer and the unbeliever are blessed by God, side by side, in earthly matters, they are not equal when it comes to giving thanks. This takes us to our text. Paul here gives us a command to pray. We are to speak to God of our needs, our frustrations and our joys. We are to give thanks to God for all things. But not everyone can do this. Unbelievers have no access to God. They cannot enter into the courts of heaven. They cannot come before our Heavenly Father. They cannot come into God’s presence because they are under God’s wrath. This is the state of man on account of sin. But believers can come into God’s presence. Why? Because Christ died for our sins and brings us in with Him into the presence of our heavenly Father. Yes, Christ died also for the sins of the unbelievers, but they do not gain the benefit of it. Only by means of faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ do we receive these gifts. We often think of forgiveness and eternal life. But also among these gifts is access to the heavenly throne, that is the ability to pray. So tonight we are acting as priests before God - that is standing between God and the world. We are here speaking on behalf of our unbelieving neighbors who cannot give thanks to God for all that He has done. Thus we are speaking to God for ourselves and on behalf of our neighbors. We are also attaching their names to God’s altar. Certainly we should pray that they come to faith. But we should also give thanks to God on their behalf, as well as plead that God would continue to bless them with earthly blessings. For we often benefit when they are blessed.
In giving thanks we are acknowledging that all that we have comes from God, directly or indirectly. We can claim nothing for ourselves. I’m reminded here of Jimmy Stewart’s prayer in the movie Shenandoah. He talks about how they had plowed and planted and tended, in the hot sun and in the cold. Many Americans think this way. But we did not do this with hands and feet that we ourselves made. God gave us the ability to do the work. God blessed the work. God protected the work. One of the prevailing images of the Old Testament was to plow and plant and then have it taken away by raiders. Most of these things are not in our hands. We do not control the weather. Our work could easily be destroyed by drought or flood or some other natural disaster. We do not control the world around us. Political unrest could undo our work. But God restrains these things and thus establishes the work of our hands.
It is time to give thanks. We set this time aside, as a nation to do this. This is a right and proper thing. Are we commanded by God to have a day of Thanksgiving? No. But we are commanded to give thanks always. So certainly to have a special time, when we make this the main focus, is good, right, and salutary. What are we to give thanks for? Everything and everyone. All that God has done and continues to do. We do this because in saying thank you, we are also acknowledging that God is indeed the one who does these things. We remind ourselves that we are totally dependant upon God’s gifts, from creation and redemption, to all that is needed for the preservation and welfare of this life. And then God give us that much more. We live in a time when even the very poor are rich, compared to the standards of history. Consider this: Many of our poorest people have material goods that the richest men of a hundred years ago could not imagine. They have computers, televisions, radios, cars and the like. So yes, it is a time when many are struggling. Our nation’s future stands upon a razor’s edge. Yet, we have more than we can ever use in our life times. That is the nature of God. He doesn’t just give. He gives abundantly, beyond what we could ever imagine or ask. He gives because He loves His creation. Thus, we give thanks without hesitation. For we know that all this comes from our loving Father in heaven.