Associate Editor’s Note: The following sermon was preached for Thanksgiving.
Today our nation remembers 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 for providing for them and bringing them out of their trying times.
We in the Church also know how to give thanks amid dire times and circumstances. Martin Rinckart served as Pastor in Eilenburg, Germany, during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). His little town was sacked once by the Austrians and twice by the Swedes. A ravaging plague took the lives of some 8,000 townsfolk. Pastor Rinckart knew sorrow and misfortune! And yet he could still thank and praise the Lord. You remember his words: “Now thank we all our God / With hearts and hands and voices, / Who wondrous things has done, / In whom His world rejoices; / Who from our mothers’ arms / Has blest us on our way / With countless gifts of love / And still is ours today” (LSB 895:1).
God is pretty good about taking care of His people. That’s why we Christians don’t just “give thanks” in some generic sense; we give thanks to God. Listen to St. Paul in Philippians 4. 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 from a different letter 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, nor to play the victim. He did not want anyone to feel sorry for him. He was not trying to place blame. None of those 21st century American ways of reacting! No crazy “down with the bad, evil rich people” chants. No relying on the government to supply his needs. 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 hope and healing and 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 led Paul to pen the soothing words before us today. And just in case the Philippians worried about their generous donation to St. Paul—that they might not 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, you might fear that you won’t have enough left over to pay the bills, or go shopping on Black Friday, or do other things you want for the rest of the month. Or, maybe you have the opposite dilemma and handle your offerings this way: pay the bills first (after all, they have due dates), then buy the groceries (after all, you must eat!), then plan the all-important entertainment activities. When all that’s taken care of, then, from whatever is left over, give a little bit to God and His Church. Only leftovers for God?
Actually, both ways show little-faith. Worrying whether you’ll have enough left? Little-faith. Giving God only the leftovers? Little-faith. That’s what happens when you don’t trust God to take care of you. That’s what happens when you think you must supply your own needs.
But St. Paul gives the God-pleasing alternative. You don’t supply your own needs; God supplies your every need. And He supplies your every need richly and daily—always has; always does; always will. You can count on it. And how does He do that? “According to His riches.” 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 glory; it’s for His. You get to focus on Him, the Creator of all creation, the Lover of all people. 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 – only “in Christ” – can you realize that God supplies your every need. Unbelievers may see some, but not all, of God’s gifts. But you get to see God as the great Giver of good and perfect gifts.
We confess this in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” What does that mean? Remember your Small Catechism (and thank God for such memorable and always-relevant explanations). “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.” No, you did not evolve from a monkey family or a pond of goo. No, you don’t make God and you certainly cannot control Him. But He did make you, and everything about you.
“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.” Yep, everything you have actually belongs to God. He just lets you use it and manage it for little while. Sure, you may buy your Thanksgiving turkey at Schnucks, 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 at the mall. But the supplies for weaving, cutting, and stitching those clothes ultimately come from God. Your spouse? God’s gift. Your children? Also God’s gifts. Every little thing in life is a gift from God’s fatherly hand.
“He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.” When was the last time you were struck by lightning? Caught in a burning house? You see, God is always protecting you. And if you have lived through a flood, a blizzard, or even a tornado, if you have endured bankruptcy or loss of possessions or a close call on the freeway, God still protected you from it. Whenever you escape some distress, some danger, some close call, it’s time to realize that God rescued you. God does supply your every need.
Wow! That’s a lot to ponder. It’s humbling just 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 envy and discontent. We like to credit ourselves for our health, wealth, and good looks. We might even blame God when we don’t have the things we want when we want them. We focus too much on the gifts and not enough on the Giver.
However, God gives of Himself. He gives 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 richly and daily in Jesus. He daily forgives your ingratitude. He constantly forgives your selfishness and discontent and envy. 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 does supply your every need—no matter how big or small, no matter how much or how little. You get to see His fatherly heart, His boundless love. You get to look to Him for every need.
“And my God will supply every need of yours according His riches in Christ Jesus.” Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving! Amen.