Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Eve

Thanksgiving Eve
November 24, 2010
Text: Phil. 4:6-20

The Christian life is a life of paradoxes, seeming contradictions, truths held in tension. And one of those paradoxes appears in our text for this evening. St. Paul writes: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6; ESV). Apparently there is reason to be anxious. There is suffering and persecution to be endured, in addition to the day-to-day challenges of life. Paul himself probably pens these words from prison in Rome. But Paul tells the Philippians and us not to be anxious in the midst of suffering, but to pray and to give thanks! And so here are two of the marks of the Christian life that are held in paradox: The Christian life is marked by suffering and the Christian life is marked by thanksgiving.

Of course, we don’t want to suffer, nor is it noble to seek suffering or to inflict suffering upon yourself. And in no way does the suffering of the Christian make up for any lack in the sufferings of Jesus Christ. Christ’s suffering and death make full atonement for our sins. So we must confess that our sufferings in no way merit the favor of God or the forgiveness of sins. But God does permit us to suffer in this earthly life. And this is for our good. It is the discipline of God. It curbs and mortifies our sinful flesh. It drives us to Christ alone for help and salvation, to Scripture and to prayer. It molds and shapes us into the cruciform image of our Lord Jesus Christ. So we can say with St. Paul that, even though we don’t understand the specific reason for our suffering in many cases, nonetheless “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). This suffering that God permits in our life is for our good. Ultimately, the precious and holy cross is laid upon us with a view toward our salvation. It keeps us in the narrow way. And if this is true (and it is!), we need not be anxious in the midst of cross-bearing. We should actually give thanks! In the midst of suffering we should give thanks! Well, easier said than done of course. But that is because of our sinful nature, which we must once again drown in those baptismal waters. We should give thanks in all circumstances. St. Paul even says two verses before our reading, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). Note that we should always rejoice, in all circumstances, and even in our suffering. St. Paul even repeats the word for emphasis: “again I will say, Rejoice”! Our rejoicing in suffering will never be perfect in this earthly life, but it does come with practice. So even when we don’t feel particularly rejoice-ful, we ought to do as Paul says: commend it to God in prayer. Pray. Supplicate God, which means to make specific requests for help. Give thanks, which means to say back to God all the things that He has done and is doing for you, to acknowledge to Him His great mercy. Such requests and thanksgivings will always be answered by the God who commands and invites you to pray. Of course they will be answered in God’s way and in God’s time. But this is where faith comes in. Faith trusts that God is in control and will direct the situation for our good.

And so by faith, we have peace. This is the peace God gives us in the Gospel, peace with God, peace that comes from sins forgiven, the peace of knowing that we have a gracious and loving heavenly Father: “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 7). The peace of Jesus Christ is the power that helps us not to be anxious in suffering, but to give thanks. And so also that peace leads to other important marks of the Christian life. It leads us to meditate upon the gifts of God that are, as Paul says, “true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise” (v. 8). We so often get bogged down in our suffering so that we are entirely focused on ourselves and our own troubles. The peace of Christ lifts us out of such navel-gazing so that we can see the good things, the blessings God gives, and so give thanks. And the peace of Christ leads us to seek the example of mature Christians, like Paul, that we might imitate them (v. 9), and so lead a holy life, a life that is itself an offering to God, a life lived for Him, a sacrifice of thanksgiving for all that He has done for us in redeeming us.

The peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding finally leads to contentment. Do you want to know the secret of happiness? It is contentment with what God has given you, with God Himself. If God is your greatest desire, and you have Him in Christ, then you will be content in all circumstances, in plenty and in hunger, in abundance and in need (v. 12). For Christ is your strength in every circumstance (v. 13). Thus being content in God, you can give all that you have for the sake of the neighbor. Again, it is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God for all that He has sacrificed for you in giving His Son, Christ, into death for you. Like the Philippians, you can give to your neighbor in his need, sharing in his trouble by your prayers and offerings (v. 14). Like the Philippians, you can give of your time, your talents, your treasures for the sake of the Gospel, that Christ may be proclaimed to all. Such fruit increases to your credit, Paul says (v. 17). That is to say, while it does not earn forgiveness and salvation, it is nonetheless “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (v. 18).

And this is why we can make such sacrifices, without anxiety, but in thanksgiving: We have here God’s promise through the Apostle Paul, “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (v. 19). This is not a promise of prosperity. This is not a promise that you will never suffer. On the contrary, the Christian life is marked by suffering. This is a promise that God will always provide for what you really need. And this is seen from the perspective of eternity, not just this earthly life. This is where faith comes in. Faith trusts the promise in spite of the appearance of things. And faith is sure. It is based on the concrete reality of what God has done for us in Christ. The Father staked the blood of His Son Jesus on it. He will remain true to His Word. You can count on it.

Thus the peace of Jesus Christ leads to a life of thanksgiving and praise even in the midst of suffering. Because in the end, there will be no more suffering. Only endless praise. And we live from that perspective now. So we pray and we supplicate and we give thanks and make our requests, commending all things to God. We rejoice in the Lord always. For our hope is sure. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. In the meantime, He dwells among us with His Word and Spirit. Therefore what more is there to say than what St. Paul says: “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen” (v. 20). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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