Sermon for Day of Thanksgiving, November 25, AD 2021

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Four hundred years ago this year the Pilgrims at Plymouth colony held their harvest feast which came to be known as the first Thanksgiving. With the help of the local Indians, their settlement began to thrive, and their shared their bounty with their native friends. Yet this happened only after the hard winter of 1620-21, when half of the settlers died. Despite terrible hardship, these Pilgrims persevered and even saw fit to give thanks to God and share what they had been given with others.

Imagine facing such hardship and loss, many losing parents, wives, and husbands, and still persevering in hope for the future. This may seem very foreign to those of us of the current generations who have generally lived at ease. Yet as material prosperity seems to be greater and greater, our spiritual condition seems to become worse. We have more technology, can communicate more easily, have more labor-saving devices and forms or entertainment beyond what our ancestors a century ago could dream of. The average person has access to things only the rich could have in ages past, like meat for every meal. Yet we as a society are sicker, more depressed, more alienated than ever.

This is a fact which God tells us many times throughout the Bible, but we Christians in our age love to refuse to believe – money, and many types of physical wealth, are a burden. It is a burden because increased wealth brings about concerns which lead to a lack of contentment. Contentment was what the Pilgrims had at Plymouth Colony. Content while facing death and the loss of so many, they had no concern for what they could get but were satisfied with what God provided day by day. Seeing God as the provider, it was easier to share with the neighbor.

The Pilgrims prepared themselves for times of want because they saw themselves as pilgrims, as we read in Hebrews 11:13 – “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (KJV). This is the description of the Old Testament saints, who lived by trust in the promise of God, confessing that they were not of this world, but bound for a better one, for a kingdom not of this world. As John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote in his hymn:

Whoso beset him round with dismal stories, do but themselves confound; His strength the more is. No lion can him fright, he’ll with a giant fight, be he will have a right to be a pilgrim.

David could fight the giant Goliath, and Daniel would pray openly and submit to the lion’s den because they knew they were only pilgrims on this earth. Their lives were dedicated to another kingdom, the promise of a coming king. They knew that as pilgrims on this earth they were truly in God’s care whether they lived or died. That pilgrim life is a life of contentment founded on faith.

Lack of contentment is a lack of faith. We know the explanation of the first commandment – that we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. The first commandment is the basis of all other commandments. Whenever we sin, it is from a lack of fear, love, and trust in God. Our trust has been turned to something else. Often, our trust is turned away because of a lack of contentment with what we have. We are not satisfied, and therefore, breaking the ninth and tenth commandment, we sinfully desire to take things for ourselves, or withhold good things from others. All sin comes from a lack of trust in God that He will provide the things we need, and is born in the sinful desire as we seek to serve ourselves or other gods we have made for ourselves. Instead of pilgrims, we see ourselves as native to this world of sin, and fear its punishments and love its pleasures more than we fear and love God. But as mentioned before, what does this gain us? What will we have when our lives end?

The life of contentment built on faith is one which is growing and fruitful. As St. Paul says to the Corinthians, “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”  As pilgrims on this earth, we know that what we have been given is a gift from God, and we use it benefit the neighbor. Paul uses the example of a seed – what is the point of a seed if it is not sown? What is the point of the material gifts we have if not sowing them in benefit of others? Here he speaks to the Corinthians, who are wealthy and have promised to give support to the poor Macedonians. Yet the Macedonians have given as well. They have offered up prayers and whatever they can to bless the other churches, even in their own suffering. Though they suffered hardship, they were content, knowing God would supply their need.

God supplies for these needs through means, and by means of the Corinthians he desires to supply the suffering Macedonians with help. By means of you who have physical resources and means, God wants to provide for those who have not. Yet this is not under compulsion, as Paul says, God loves a cheerful giver. He quotes from Psalm 112:

He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever
In Psalm 112, this describes the righteous man, who fears the Lord. He is wealthy, but he deals generously and lends, and acts with justice. He is not afraid of bad news or enemies, his heart is steady, he trusts the Lord. From this his name is remembered and he is honored. This righteous man is first of all Jesus, who though he was rich, yet for your sake became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (2 Cor 8:9). Jesus is the greatest example of the one who had everything, yet became humble, giving up everything for the sake of fallen and poor man. He left his home and became as a pilgrim in the world, with no place to lay his head, so that he could suffer and die for you.

This gift he gives is not only example, but in his death, reconciling us to God, has given us all things. First of all, the gift of faith, that we may believe in him and be righteous before God. And second, that God in his love would give us all good gifts we receive on this earth. So we may be content with God with every physical gift as well.

You too participate in this gift, by giving what you have to those in need in thankfulness to God you glorify God and proclaim the work of Christ. This is only done by Christians who do so cheerfully and without compulsion. For a forced and hypocritical work is not desired by God at all. Instead cling in faith to God, knowing that Jesus Christ has won all things for you and there is no reason to lack contentment. If you are suffering like the Macedonians or Pilgrims, continue steadfast in your prayers. If you are like the Corinthians given the burden of wealth, supply the needs of the saints, this is an act of thanksgiving and glorifies God. By this, you confess the gospel of Jesus Christ, that you are only strangers and pilgrims on this earth, but citizens of an eternal kingdom of righteousness and blessedness. Amen.






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