22 November 2007

Homily - Day of National Thanksgiving

God for All Needs
Philippians 4:19

Today is the “big day” that our nation sets aside to say, “Thank You” to God. We remember the early settlers in our land. They left everything in the Old World to come to the New World. The pilgrims had harsh times to begin with—sickness, deaths, hostile natives, a severe winter. When they finally had a good crop, they couldn’t help but give thanks to God. They couldn’t help but thank God for providing for them and bringing them out of their trying times.

God is pretty good about taking care of His people. And that, after all, is why we Christians don’t just “give thanks”; we give thanks to God. Take St. Paul, for example. In our second reading the Apostle tells us how God had taken care of him. He knew what it was like to be down and out and in need. He also knew success and plenty. At times he had been well fed; at other times he had suffered hunger. Yet St. Paul could still say, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”

Listen to Paul’s words in a different passage about what he endured: “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Cor. 11:24-27).

St. Paul did not say these things out of bitterness, or to play the victim. He did not want anyone to feel sorry for him. He was not trying to place blame. Instead, the Apostle learned to be content in everything. God took care of him.

Not only did God take care of St. Paul, but He also took care of the Philippian church. In our second reading Paul thanks the Philippian Christians for supporting him with financial gifts. They had heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit had given them faith in that message of salvation. And that faith bore abundant fruit. The Philippian Christians gave special offerings to help Paul continue proclaiming Christ crucified and risen.

All of this leads St. Paul to write the soothing words of our text. Just in case the Philippians worried about their generous donation to St. Paul – just in case they thought they wouldn’t have enough left to make ends meet – Paul says: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in Christ Jesus.” What great words of promise!

“My God will supply every need of yours.” This promise is also for you. You might be like the Philippians – worried over how generous to be. If you give too much in the offering, or pledge too much for the Chest of Joash, you fear that you won’t have enough left over to pay the bills, or go shopping, or do other things you want for the rest of the week. Or, maybe you have the opposite dilemma and handle your offerings this way: pay the bills first (after all, they are sure and certain, and have due dates), then buy the groceries (after all, we have to eat!), then factor in the all-important entertainment activities. When that’s all taken care of, then, from whatever is left over, give a little bit to God and His Church. However, such actions would suggest that God is only good enough for the leftovers! That’s what happens when you don’t trust God to take care of you, when you think that you must supply your own needs.

But notice that St. Paul gives us an alternative. You don’t supply your own needs; God supplies your every need. And He supplies your every need richly and daily. He always has. He always does. He always will. You can count on it. How does He supply your every need? According to His riches. Oh, He has a great storehouse of riches. It’s called the earth and everything in it (Ps. 24:1). From this huge warehouse He gives you every little thing you ever need. How else does He supply your every need? In glory – His divine glory. When God supplies your needs, it’s not for your attention or glory; it’s for His. You get to focus on Him, the Creator of all creation, the Lover of all humankind. You get to look to the Giver of every good and perfect gift. How else does God supply your every need? In Christ Jesus. Only as a Christian – in Christ – can you realize that God supplies your every need. Unbelievers may see some, but not all, of God’s gifts. But you do see God as the Giver.

We confess this every time we say the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” As we learn to explain it with the Small Catechism, we say, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them” (SC, II). Yes, God made you. You didn’t evolve from a monkey family or a pond of goo. You did not make God and you cannot control Him. He made you and everything about you.

We also learn to say this: “He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.” Everything you have actually belongs to God. He just lets you use it and manage it for a little while. Sure, you may get your Thanksgiving Day turkey from the store. But before that turkey was butchered, packaged, frozen, and sent to the store, it had to live and grow with God’s gift of life. Sure, you probably bought your clothes from a store. But the supplies for weaving, cutting, and stitching those clothes ultimate come from God. Your spouse? Also God’s gift. Your children? God’s gifts too. Yep, everything in life is a gift from God’s fatherly hand.

And there’s a third thing we learn to say about God the Father Almighty: “He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.” When was the last time you were sucked up by a tornado, or caught in a burning house? You see, God is always protecting you. And if you have lived through a flood, a blizzard, or a tornado, if you have endured bankruptcy or loss of possessions, God still protected you from it. Whenever you escape some distress, some danger, some close call, it’s time to recognize that God rescued you. God does supply your every need.

Wow! This is a lot to ponder. God supplies our every need. In fact, it’s humbling to think about it. It might even be terrifying, because we don’t believe it … not fully, at any rate. We take our material blessings for granted. We selfishly expect them, hoard them, and clamor for them in discontent. We give ourselves credit for our health, wealth, and good looks. We might even blame God when we don’t have the things we think we should have. We focus too much on the gifts and not enough on the Giver. And that’s sin, and the wages of sin is death.

However, God gives of Himself. In fact, He gives of Himself so completely that He gave His only Son to live, die, and rise again for you and me. Through His shed blood, His painful death, and His glorious resurrection, He gives you life with Him. That’s your greatest need, and He supplies it daily and richly in His Son. He daily forgives your ingratitude. He constantly forgives your selfishness and discontent. He richly forgives you when you focus more on the gifts than on the Giver. And now that you live in Him, you get to rejoice that God supplies your every need. You get to see His fatherly heart, His boundless love. You get to look to Him for every need.

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever! (Ps. 136:1). Have a blessed, God-given Thanksgiving Day! Amen.


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

You might like to broaden this a bit to account for what is happening when Christians get thrown to the lions, and don't survive. You could show how, in what sense, God IS still taking care of them, too.


Randy Asburry said...

Yes, that's a good point. Thanks!