St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

The Basics Of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Sermon on 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Text: Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

This morning/evening, as we gather together to celebrate Thanksgiving, we are not going to review the basics about the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock. I’m sure that you learned about them in school and there are many things that will remind you about what you learned. Today, we are going to talk about thanksgiving or maybe, so as to get my point, giving thanks. Of course, we know that is what Thanksgiving is all about. Yet, aren’t there times when we catch ourselves thinking, ‘This is Thanksgiving. Why can’t I feel more thankful to the Lord?’ We remind ourselves again and again, especially at this time of year, that we have much to be thankful for. I suppose that there are times that each of us has felt that these are only words, and we wish we could be as truly filled with gratitude as we know we ought to be. This morning then, we are going to go back to the basics of Thanksgiving. We are going to look at the answers to these three questions about Thanksgiving. 1. Why? 2. When? 3. How?

First of all, why? Why give thanks? It seems like a simple enough question, and I think we know the answer to that question. Yet, Paul reminds us of an answer that we may not always think about. He says, “Give thanks . . . for this is God’s will for you.” This is what God wants us to do. He wants us to return to him and thank him for all that he has done for us. We see this very clearly in the story of the healing of the ten lepers. Remember how these men had that horrible, fatal disease? They joined their voices together, pleading with Jesus to have mercy on them and heal them. Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priest, which was required by law, so as to prove that they had been healed. As they went along their way, they were cleansed. One of them returned to Jesus, praising God in a loud voice. When Jesus looked down, he asked this haunting question, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Even though all had asked for healing and all had been healed, only one returned to give thanks. Jesus shows his disappointment in the nine that were not there.

Our verse for this morning is the last of three commands given by Paul, as he closes this letter to the Thessalonians. Putting our text with the two preceding verses, he says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” All three of cialis epistaxis these things are part of God’s will for our lives. Be joyful. Pray. Give thanks. This is one reason why we give thanks.

Yet, even if it were not part of the will of God for our lives, could we honestly take a look at our lives and not find every reason to give thanks to God? Look at how richly we are blessed. When we hear that, sometimes we think, ‘How can you call me blessed? Look at all of the things that others have that I do not have.’ However, consider how greatly you have been blessed compared to so many areas of the world today. We have food in our stomachs, while many go hungry. We have a roof over our heads, while some do not have adequate shelter. The list could go on and on about how greatly we are blessed. We have to admit that God has not just given us the basics, either. We usually have more than enough. Look at your houses. They may not be the Taj Mahal, but they are not run down shacks either. We may not have designer clothes, but our drawers and closets are full of clothes that we just don’t wear. We may not feast like kings, but look at the Thanksgiving feast you will probably enjoy later on. We are richly blessed.

Look at the country in which we live. What a great blessing to live in a country where we have so many freedoms, freedoms that others can only dream about. We have the freedom to say whatever is on our minds. We have the freedom to vote our leaders into office. We have the freedom to assemble together, whether for political purposes or to worship as we please. Look at the technological and medical advances that our generation and our country enjoys. Say what you will, but you cannot say that we have not been truly blessed.

However, all of these blessings do not even begin to compare with the spiritual blessings that God has poured out upon us. The greatest of these blessings is the gift of his Son. He came to pay for all of our sins. There are so many sins that we are guilty of. We are guilty of greed, discontent and coveting, which is telling God that he has been holding out on us. We should be getting better than this. It tells God that he does not adequately provide for us. We are also guilty of complaining about what we do have. Sometimes, we are like the children who pray “O give thanks unto the LORD,” and then look at the food on the table and say, “Yuck! Do I have to eat that?” When we complain, we are telling God that he does not know what is best for us. We sin against our God every single day and, because of these sins, we deserve to be punished for all eternity.

However, then we see the greatest thing that we have to give thanks for and that is God’s grace, his undeserved love. He wanted us to spend our eternity with him, so he sent his Son from heaven to be our Savior. Jesus did everything necessary for our salvation. He came to the earth to live for us. He did not complain about his lot in life, even though it would eventually mean that he would have to go and suffer on a cross. He humbly accepted his Father’s will for his life. He did this as our Substitute. So that our many sins would be paid for, he did go to that cross, where his blood was poured out to wash away our sins. Jesus rose on Easter morning, showing us that he had won the victory over sin and death. In addition to this, he saw to it that the Holy Spirit would come into your heart and create that faith that accepts what Jesus has done for you. He continues to bless us spiritually as we come together to hear and study his Word. He blesses us through the washing of Baptism. He feeds our faith with the Lord’s Supper. He has promised to hear all of our prayers. He has an eternal home waiting for us. Why do we give thanks? Looking at all that he has done for us, how can we not?

Now, what about when? When are we to give thanks? The answer seems obvious enough, doesn’t it? We are to always give thanks. It says in Ephesians 5:20, “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Yet, is it always so easy to do? It is easy to give thanks when things are going well, when God gives you everything that you ask for and then some. However, what about the tough times? Are we still to give thanks? Can we still give thanks?

The answer is “yes.” That is what Paul reminds us to do in our text, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” This is not always easy to do. Yet, when difficulties come our way, we can be thankful for several reasons. First of all, we have this promise from God in Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God makes a promise to you there, that everything, both good and bad are going to ultimately work for your benefit. We may not see its benefit this side of heaven, but we have this promise from God, and we know that he keeps all of his promises. Secondly, we know that God will never give us more than we can handle. It may seem like it, at times. Yet, we have these words of encouragement from Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Finally, God is never going to leave you to face these difficulties all on your own. He promises in Hebrews 13:5, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So, in answer to the question, when are we to give thanks, the answer really is, “always.”

This brings us to our final question: How? How are we to give thanks? Sometimes that is more difficult than it seems, because we just do not know how to fully express how thankful we are. I think it has all happened to us where someone did something extraordinary for us and we just didn’t know how to thank them. Everything we thought of seemed to fall short of the thankfulness in our hearts. Maybe, sometimes, we feel that way with God, too. When we pause for a moment and start to think about how many different ways that God has blessed us, we know that we want to give thanks, but may not know how to do so.

There are many different ways that we can do so. Remember that leper that came back to Jesus, after he had been healed. It says that he was praising God in a loud voice. He was singing. He was shouting his thankfulness for all that God had done for him. We can do the same thing. Look at how many beautiful songs that we have that thank God. Why not sing some of them, either by yourself or with family? You might say, ‘I can’t carry a tune in a bucket!’ It doesn’t matter. If it comes from a heart full of love and thanksgiving, it will be sweet music in God’s ears.

Another way that we can give thanks to God is by telling others what he has done for us. We may receive a special gift from someone. When we show others what we have received, often we will say, ‘Look what so-and-so gave me.’ When we think about what God has given to us, we share it with others and, in doing so, we give thanks to God.

There are many ways that we can thank God. I think that they are well summarized in Colossians3:17, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Whatever we do, whatever we say, can give thanks to God. When we are motivated by the love of Jesus, everything we do can say “Thank you” to God. Cooking a meal can say “Thank you” to God. Doing your chores can say “Thank you” to God. Doing your homework can say “Thank you” to God. Taking care of your kids can say “Thank you” to God. The list could go on and on. The fact remains that, when we are motivated by the love of Jesus and a thankful heart, even the most mundane things in life are a way of thanking God for all that he has done for us. How do we give thanks? The answer is with our entire lives.

As you gather at your Thanksgiving meals, realize that you have much to be thankful for. Many times it is good to pause and just think about how richly we have been blessed. Of course, where do we start counting our blessings and where do we quit? My dear friends, God has so richly blessed every one of us. May God help us to give thanks every day of our lives. We have seen how we are to give thanks. We have seen when. We certainly have seen why we give thanks. Indeed, as the psalmist summarizes it so well, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Amen.