First Reading Deuteronomy 8:1-10
Second Reading Philippians 4:6-20
Gospel Reading Matthew 6:25-34
“Remembering to Say Thanks”
It was an annual pattern in our house when I was a youngster, Fall fading into winter always meant that my birthday, Thanksgiving and then Christmas were coming quickly. All those wonderful gifts to play with and new cloths to wear. But THEN, it seemed all the fun would pause as Grandma would pull me aside and say it’s time to write thank you notes! I Hated it! I would delay and avoid but Grandma was relentless and so I would sit down and begin. Once in a while, I would get something really nice for both Birthday AND Christmas – that was great – only one thank you note! It wasn’t that I did appreciate the gifts, I just hated to write. Sometimes I got to make a phone call or two instead, that was much better. I got to actually have a conversation with the giver and was the best. Gratitude is a wonderful thing especially when its shared back with the giver, but it can’t really be commanded. If it is genuine, it just flows spontaneously. Sometimes though, as I found it doesn’t hurt to be reminded.
That is what Paul is doing in the text today. Writing to his beloved congregation at Philippi, Paul is drawing his letter to a close, reminding them to live with a joyful and grateful attitude because of the Lord’s provision and grace for them. Listen to that first part again from the New Living Translation: Philippians 4:4-7  Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again-rejoice!  Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.  Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
When we look around us in the the world it is easy to get caught up in the relentless news cycles of one worrisome thing after the next. Whether it be extremists with their guns and bombs, seemingly endless natural disasters (hurricanes, fires, floods, ice storms), the endless worries about the economy, the even harsher than usual rhetoric of this election year, and of course this pandemic of the Corona virus that just seems to be accelerating out of control. Its virtually impossible for any good news to get in edgewise. Matter of fact there are a couple of recent additions to our language that perfectly describe this difficult time. The first is called “Doom Scrolling”. It’s the endless consumption of bad news, just like living with CNN or FOX going on all the time, it will drive you crazy. You go to your computer, Facebook feed, tablet app or phone and just keep on scrolling down for one horrible story after the next. It’s a terrible habit that many have fallen into. The other even more recent trend is to simply use the year 2020 as a curse word! Just stick it right into the sentence where the bad word would normally go. I actually kind of like that one. (What else can you do with this ‘2020’ sort of year? And those ‘2020’ people that won’t listen to facts or science?)
But to all of that, Paul recommends an attitude adjustment – an intentional act of will in fact, an act of faith – to purposefully change the way we look at the world. To choose to be Joyful and Thankful for the blessings we have experienced. It is a powerful antidote to worry and anxiety. Those emotions are borne out of a feeling of scarcity: The feeling that I don’t have enough money or resources or security from threats or control over what’s happening to me. This feeling is self-perpetuating, insecurities breeding fear and fear leading to more insecurities. From these things flow all sorts of sicknesses and evil – greed, racism, hatred, paranoia, xenophobia and the like. Praise God the opposite is also true. When I pause to consider the good things around me, I also notice more that I hadn’t originally thought of. Also when I remember the blessings and care I have received from God’s hand and from others in the past I can be more confident in facing today’s challenges and worry much less about tomorrows. From this attitude flows Grace, forgiveness, compassion and love.
How you look at the world matters. Paul recommends looking at the world through the eyes of faith. It looks much better that way. I used to have a poster on my bedroom wall when I was that former thank you note resistant youth. It showed a miserable looking orangutan sitting all hunched up with a caption proclaiming – “Worrying just gives you something to do until the trouble starts”. I like the way Paul puts it much better: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.” Worrying and stewing solves nothing, praying and trusting God allows us to be more who intends us to be – his beloved Children – sharing love, peace and justice instead of Worry and fear. Paul urges his readers to “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” This intentional emphasis will naturally lead to thanksgiving. As the old hymn reminds us – “Count your blessings, name them one by one. And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
That was what grandma was trying to teach me all those years ago. It is important to notice and then recognize things to be grateful for – and to say so. It tightens the bonds and relationship between giver and receiver even more and tend to make us more willing to be generous ourselves and bless others as our Savior commands. That’s the way it always is with the gifts of God. They are always meant to be shared. I have been forgiven, so I forgive too. I am loved even when I am not very lovable, therefore I am willing to reach out in love as well. As believers in Jesus Christ, we are all recipients of the Holy Spirit, we know the presence of God in a very personal way daily, so in gratitude we reach out with the grace that we have been shown.
This brings me to the final cycle. We notice the gift and respond in gratitude. Our example then inspires others to do likewise. As thankful, grateful people we not only reinforce the bonds between giver and receiver – whether that is between God and us or between us and neighbor – but we also model that positive trait for others. Did you notice in the reading that Paul does exactly that? No sooner does he remind the Philippians to rejoice and be thankful than he rejoices in their blessings to him and thanks God for their faithfulness in supporting him under difficult circumstances. First he teaches and then he demonstrates what he just taught! Listen again to the text as Paul models his teaching for them. FIrst in verse 9, he reminds them: Philippians 4:9
” Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me-everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
Then he demonstrates it – Thanking them for their care and concern for him – sent along with Epaphroditus. He recalls both their present and past support of his ministry. – Listen to a portion: Philippians 4:15-18 NLT 9 As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this.  Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once.  I don’t say this because I want a gift from you. Rather, I want you to receive a reward for your kindness.  At the moment I have all I need-and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God.
We are so richly blessed both by the grace of God and the Land in which we live. Abraham Lincoln established our regular Thanksgiving observance all the way back in 1863. Not the happiest of times in our nation with the ravages of the civil war, but it was important to him that the nation pause and thank God for all his blessings and we have done so ever since. Perhaps, the occasion is somewhat contaminated with a bit of gluttony, followed by sloth in front of a football game or three. Yet, this one Holiday remains relatively free of the commercial influence common elsewhere (well except perhaps at the grocery store). Saying thanks is just too important to mess up.
Thanks be to God for all his abundant grace and blessings to us… Remember and Practice Paul’s words: “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again-rejoice!  Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.  Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might
be to our God forever and ever! Amen