Thankful NonethelessSeries: Turbulence
Sermon By Terry Siverd / November 22, 2020 / Cortland Church of Christ
We find ourselves once again embattled by “the virus”. What started earlier this year lingers on. As we approach the 2020 Thanksgiving holiday with directives to keep our gatherings small in number, we find ourselves needing to concentrate and dwell on our many blessings rather than our trials.
In this regard, we may be facing challenges that approach those of our brothers and sisters of century one. Having said this, I must be candid with us in saying that such a comparison may be a bit of a stretch. While we are being urged to stay home, many of them were being ripped from their homes. Many disciples in Jerusalem became scattered, with a number becoming homeless or imprisoned (Acts 8:1-3). We are hiding behind our masks as we venture out in public, but they were on the receiving end of real “threats and murder” (Acts 9:1-2). While we are being pestered by a pestilence called coronavirus, the early saints were being hunted down and persecuted because of their faith in Christ Jesus. While we are trying to stay safe from COVID-19 in the comfort of our homes, many of them became fugitives trying to avoid being stoned to death (Acts 7:58-59 & 14:19) or beheaded (Acts 12:2). Many of them were scourged (Acts 5:40; 16:23 & 18:17) and not a few were crucified (Jn.21:18). In the days preceding the fall of Jerusalem hundreds of them were impaled on spikes and set afire to lighten the avenues of the Roman Empire - - simply because they were disciples of Christ.
While we face troubles, they were confronted with great tribulations (Mt.24:9 &21).
I'm reminding us of these contrasts, to help us snap out of our pity parties. Relatively speaking, our turbulence is quite minor compared with what the early Christians experienced. I don't say this to ignore our anxieties or to lightly cast aside our concerns. Indeed it has been a difficult year for many in our nation and throughout the world. Thousands upon thousands have suffered personal hardships: vacations canceled; daily habits inconvenienced; and worst still, vocations derailed or destroyed. Yet more gravely, lives have been turned upside down by sicknesses and the deaths of dear loved ones for whom funerals have had to be delayed or curtailed. To say that it has been a tough year is an understatement. Added to this is the emotional stress on our beloved country in the form of acute political/ideological conflict.
HOW DO WE REMAIN THANKFUL IN THE MIDST OF SUCH TURMOIL?
Hopefully, having been instructed and shaped by Scripture, we realize that this attitude of gratitude is not just a passing fancy. Rather, a strong sense of thanksgiving needs to predominate our thinking. When we open our Bibles we see the saints of old and the early Christians ADORNED WITH GRATEFUL HEARTS. This is not to say that some of them did not sometimes suffer from stickin' thinkin'.
Their assemblings for worship were bathed with thanksgiving. One of David's psalms proclaims (Ps.122:1) - - I was GLAD when they said to me, 'Let us go up to the house of the Lord'. In another of his psalms, David urges (Ps.100:4) - - Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise, give thanks to Him; bless His name. Their singing displayed a demonstrative gratefulness. In Col.3:16, Paul writes: Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Their praying was bathed in gratitude. In Philp.4:6 and Col.4:2 we read - - Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving. Their communing together, was anchored in hearts of gratitude. 1Cor.11:23-25 delineates this - - For I received from the Lord that which I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus on the night He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same way...He took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this...in remember of Me. Their hearing of the spoken Word was accepted with genuine appreciation. Acts notes (Acts 2:41 & 17:11) - - ...Those who had (gladly) received his word were baptized; and there was added that day about 3,000 souls ... They received the Word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if whether these things were so. Their giving was punctuated by joy-filled grateful hearts. In a letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes (2Cor.9:7 & 11-12) - - Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion for God loves a cheerful giver ... You will be enriched in everything by all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Their lives appear to have been book-ended by thanksgiving: from womb to tomb. Ps.127:3 and Job 1:21 - - Behold, children are a gift of the Lord...How blessed is the man whose quiver if full of them ... The Lord has given and the Lord has taken way, blessed be the name of the Lord. Their serving (both serving God and one another) was characterized by thanksgiving (Ps.100:-2 & Philp.2:29) - - Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness ... Receive (Epatphroditus) in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard. Even their sufferings were to be animated with joyful hearts. Peter writes about this in 1Pet.4:13 & 16 - - To the degree that you share in the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing ... If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God.
Whatever was done was to be done with thanksgiving. Listen to Col.3:17 - - Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. An attitude of gratitude was to embellish everything - - every aspect of life. Paul states in 1Thess.5:18 & Eph.5:20 - - In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. They were always giving thanks for all things in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.
In our recent Veterans salute, I included a quote from Cynthia Qzick - - “We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.” In closing, let me expound briefly on the “fleshing out” of this truly thoughtful quotation. Thankfulness must penetrate and permeate our homes. As Christians, among all of the arenas where gratitude ought to find a steady dwelling place, our home ought to be chief.
A grateful heart invariably produces JOY.
Christian joy is the outgrowth or byproduct of a thankful heart. Gratitude is the root of joy. Whatever befalls us, we must not allow times of discouragement to fleece us of our joy. No matter what confronts us, be it disorientation, imposed distancing, unexpected interruptions, uncomfortable twists & turns, consternation from setbacks due to sickness or genuine heartache due to losses, we have refuge under the shelter of God's wings or as we used to sing, we are safe in the arms of Jesus.
Paul reminds us in Heb.13:8 - - Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever. This text is an extension of the encouragement he gave in Heb.13:5-6 - - (Jesus) Himself has said, 'I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,' so that we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my Helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do to me?' And, as if to supply an exclamation point, a few verses later Paul adds (Heb.13:15) - - THROUGH HIM then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.
Dear heavenly Father: As we progress through a very challenging year, fix our hearts on gratitude and thanksgiving. May such bring us joy even in the midst of the discomforts and conflict that whirl about us. Through Christ Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we pray. Amen.