Sermon for a Day of Thanksgiving, November 25/26, AD 2020

1 Timothy 2:1-4

On a Day of Thanksgiving unlike any in recent years, when many of us may not be able to gather with family and friends as we wished, it may be hard to get into the thankful mood. When old traditions stop it can make us uncomfortable. So here’s something traditional, something always associated with Thanksgiving – the Pilgrims - those hardy Englishmen and women who came to the new world seeking religious freedom and a new way of life. Especially appropriate this year, since it is the 400th anniversary of their landing at Plymouth Rock.
Of course, I am being somewhat facetious here, and this sermon is not about the Pilgrims, but there is a reason why they are touted as an example of thanksgiving to God. We probably remember from school their feast with the local Indians, the “first thanksgiving,” but that support probably saved them from complete starvation. The story of the Pilgrims is one of thanksgiving even in dire circumstances. Half of the Pilgrims died in the first winter at Plymouth colony. Yet many held firm to their Christian faith, giving thanks to God, and are still held as examples of God’s provision to this day.
It’s not just Pilgrims either. The author of today’s hymn, Now Thank We All Our God, knew about times of trouble and plague. Not many years after the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, Lutheran Pastor Martin Rinkart’s city was invaded by armies three times, home to many refugees, and subject to pestilence and famine. In 1637 he was the only surviving pastor during a plague in a city the size of Lockport, and he performed over 4000 funerals in one year, including that of his wife. Yet in midst all of this he wrote and sang this hymn of thanks to God.
So there is no time better to give thanks to God than in times of trouble, in weird times, in a global pandemic, in a government lockdown. St. Paul says our continual prayers are the primary duty of the church. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” We should pray for the spiritual and temporal needs of ourselves and others, and give thanks to God for what He gives us. If we don’t, who else will? If the church is not praying for the church, if the church is not praying for the world, then who else will pray? No one. If the church doesn’t pray and give thanks, even in turbulent times, then no one will.
Not only do we pray for all people in general, but for kings and all in high positions. That’s anyone in government authority. It doesn’t matter how well we think they are doing. It doesn’t matter if we think they are right for the job. That’s not the reason St. Paul gives for praying for them, but that “we may lead a peaceable and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” This demonstrates two things –that the life God wants us to live is peaceable and quiet, godly and dignified, and that prayer is our best means to accomplish that.
The divine purpose for which government has been instituted is to provide us a quiet and peaceful life. This is true for all people for which we pray. We also are live lives which are godly and dignified. Not only do we pray for an external peace – a lack of war, stable government, good commerce – but the internal peace of the heart. The internal peace is given through the gospel of Jesus Christ. External peace is given through the government and lets us better do the work of the ten commandments – loving God and loving neighbor. So we pray for our authorities so we may live these peaceable and godly lives and serve others.
We serve others as we reflect the love of God toward them. St. Paul continues, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” It is good in God’s sight to offer our prayers and thanksgivings for all people, especially those in authority, so we may live in peace and godliness. It is good because God desires all to come to a knowledge of the truth. This means he desires them to have faith – to trust in Christ for salvation. He desires all to know that Jesus died and rose for our sins, that Jesus paid the ransom for all, that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. In sending His Son to die for us, the Father shows that He truly desires all to be saved. He is not secretly holding back, secretly wishing some would reject him. He wants you to be saved, and he wants all those you know to be saved as well. What a great gift our Father has given us in Jesus Christ. We have much to be thankful for, most of all rescue from sin and death through His blood.

Furthermore, because of Christ, we poor sinners also receive all those things which constitute our daily bread, as the catechism says, “food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like” (SC III 4th Petition) It is our responsibility as Christians to pray for these things, for ourselves and others. This is not to pray as a magic wish, or asking Santa for what we want for Christmas. God provides these anyway, without our prayer, but we pray so we realize what God has done for us and receive these things with thanksgiving. God already knows what we need, what we are thankful for, and our loved ones who need help, but God also likes to hear it from our lips. It is good for us to pray. Saying the words out loud makes them real for us and clarifies what we are asking for.
With such a responsibility we may be wondering how to pray. How do we tackle this prayer which St. Paul calls our primary responsibility? Continue to hear what God gives to us in His Word, and pray for those things He asks us to pray for.

Maybe you have developed a habit of prayer. Maybe you wish you prayed more, or maybe you used to pray and got out of the routine. The best advice is to do it, and keep it simple. While we pray formally as we gather for church services, prayer at home does not have to be liturgical. We provide weekly our Congregation at Prayer sheet which gives a list of Bible readings and short order of prayer for families to use. You don’t have to use the whole thing or do every reading. If you wish, just reading a chapter, section or verse of the Bible and praying the Lord’s Prayer once a day can be a good way to get going. Or use a devotional like Portals of Prayer, anything where you are hearing from God’s Word and responding back to Him in prayer.

Model this for your children – pray for the worries of the day and give them to God. Once a day, recall all the events of the day in your mind. Remember the needs that arose, the people that needed help, the things you were thankful for. Don’t worry about racking your brain for every little thing. Don’t worry about two days ago or next month. Express the needs and worries of the day to God in prayer. Give thanks for what you received that day. Pray the Lord’s Prayer, for it covers all our needs. Do not worry if the prayer doesn’t sound great to you, for the Holy Spirit perfects our prayers for the Father, and to him they are as sweet incense.

As we focus on hearing from God and giving our prayers to him daily, we are formed to be more like Him. It is difficult to hate others when we pray for them, even leaders and politicians. Developing a habit, a tradition - a tradition of prayer - brings comfort and hope even in the worst of times. Times of starvation, war, and plague like the Pilgrims and Martin Rinkart experienced. Those times may be in a pandemic. Those times may be in the loneliness of a Thanksgiving without family. Or in the times we realize we have fallen away from prayer. Remember then that God desires all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. Even you, even the foremost of sinners, which St. Paul called himself. When we realize the lack of thanksgiving we have for all He has given us, we should repent and come to God in prayer. Prayer shows our trust in Him for all things leading to a quiet, dignified, and godly life. This is truly good and pleasing in the sight of our Savior. Amen.

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