Summary: Life’s meaning and purpose is intricately connected with giving thanks.
Sermon for Thanksgiving Sunday Yr B, 8/10/2006
Based on Joel 2:21-27; Ps 126 & 1 Tim 2:1-7
By Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Thanksgiving is Thanksliving”
Mrs. Avondale was walking an interior designer through the mansion, discussing renovations. The professional had many fine suggestions, and Mrs. Avondale accepted them all with the sweep of a hand.
“I only demand one thing,” she said, turning to the designer. “When my best friend Marguerite comes to visit after we’re finished, I want her to drop dead from envy.”
Contrary to Mrs. Avondale, may we not be so ungrateful for what we have been given in life and so mean-spirited towards our neighbours. In our Scripture passages from Joel, Psalm 126, and 1 Timothy today, we learn that Thanksgiving is Thanksliving.
After a period of drought and suffering from a locust plague, the prophet Joel in our first lesson reminds not only his people, but also the soil and the animals the thanksgiving is thanksliving. He speaks as if the soil and animals were personified, and gives them a message not to fear and to be glad and rejoice, for the LORD will provide plenty of green pastures, and there shall be an abundance of fruit on the fig trees and vines. Then, Joel goes on to remind his people that their prayers are answered; for God shall end the locust plague, provide early and later rains, and renew the earth by granting his people an abundant harvest. By delivering these promises, the people shall be reassured that the LORD is their God and they can praise and thank and trust in God for all things.
Speaking of abundant harvests, recently I had conversations with two farmers. They both were very thankful and pleasantly surprised by God’s abundance. They said their crops yielded way more than they had expected, in spite of the hot, dry summer and lack of rain. They were thankful and quite satisfied with the harvest. To give thanks means to be satisfied; we are often not satisfied—too much affluence in our society spoils us, and sadly many do not have grateful hearts and have forgotten how abundantly God has provided for us. They have forgotten that thanksgiving is thanksliving.
In Psalm 126 today, the opening verses are full of surprise, awe, wonder, and thanksgiving. The context is likely shortly after or at the end of Judah’s Babylonian captivity. For them, the hopeless situation of exile was turned around completely, God delivered them, even though it seemed like a dream, too good to be true, but it was true—and they responded by worshipping God: “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us and we rejoiced.” For those exiled people of Judah, thanksgiving was thanksliving.
Difficult circumstances need not prevent us from living the truth that thanksgiving is thanksliving. Here is one of my favourite stories of thanksgiving, which comes out of a situation of great hardship and suffering.
The lovely words of praise and faith found in the hymn Now Thank We All Our God would lead us to believe that this hymn was written during a time of victory. Quite the opposite was the case. Martin Rinkart, a Lutheran pastor in Eilenburg, Germany, wrote the hymn during the Thirty Year War which raged in Germany during the 1600s.
Eilenburg was a walled city and was a place of refuge for thousands of refugees fleeing the war. As it filled with helpless victims, the city became overcrowded and was under-supplied with food, sanitation, and medical care. Instead of a place of refuge, it soon became a city of death. Plagues raged through the city claiming hundreds of victims.
In the midst of misery and pain, Reverend Rinkart wrote sixty hymns of faith and hope. His hymns helped turn the people’s eyes from their despair to the power and love of God. Rinkart encouraged them to look beyond their circumstances to the eternal blessings of God. With this confidence, Rinkart was able to minister to thousands. In the terrible plague of 1637, other pastors fled or died, and Rinkart was left alone to bury close to 4500 men, women, and children. Some days he would conduct 45 funerals.
As the war drew to a close, Eilenburg was overrun by several armies. At one point, the Swedish army occupied the city, and the general in charge demanded that the people pay a large tribute. On behalf of the people, Rev. Rinkart spoke to the general and begged for mercy. The general was unyielding. Facing possible death, Rinkart called his companions to kneel and pray. “Come my children, we can find no mercy with (humans); let us take refuge with God.” He led the prayer and the singing of a hymn. Stunned, the general watched. When Rinkart rose, the general ordered the levy reduced, and he spared the city. It was with this faith that Rinkart wrote, “Now Thank We All Our God.”