Don’t Worry: Thankfulness

Don’t Worry: Thankfulness
A Message on Colossians 3:12-17
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Nov. 22, 2020
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Colossians 3:12-17 (NRSV)

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

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Back in September of 1620, 102 people walked aboard a wooden ship called the Mayflower in Plymouth, England and set sail for what was for them a new land. About half of them were what we now call Pilgrims: people seeking a place where they could worship God as they chose instead of having to conform to a national religion. After 66 days (that’s more than two months, folks!), the ship arrived and dropped anchor at Cape Cod, way north of their intended location of the Hudson River. (I guess their GPS wasn’t working right.)

After a month at anchor there, they set sail and crossed Massachusetts Bay before landing and setting about establishing a village that they named Plymouth.

Sailing was a tough adventure back then. It was brutal. Only about half of the people who boarded the ship lived to see the spring of 1621. During that first winter most of the survivors lived on the ship, where they suffered from cold, disease, and limited food.

In March of 1621 those that survived moved ashore where they were greeted by Native Americans. These native Americans helped the English out by showing them how to plant corn, hunt animals, catch fish in the rivers, harvest sap from Maple trees, and how to identify the edible plants from the poisonous ones.

That summer the crops grew and in November, when the corn was harvested, Governor William Bradford ordered a celebratory feast be held. The feast, which included the Native Americans who had helped out the colonists, lasted for three days. This was the original thanksgiving. [Source: https://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/history-of-thanksgiving]

I think there is somewhat of a parallel of Thanksgiving this year with the original thanksgiving. It hasn’t been a very good year in most respects, has it? We have a new disease that is not only disrupting our “normal” lives, but it is deadly and is killing people we know and people we love. And instead of things getting better and COVID-19 going away, it has become worse, rearing its ugly pandemic head yet again.

But just like the Pilgrims, we have reason to rejoice even in this difficult year.

We still have the freedom to gather and worship God the way we choose to instead of being forced to observe a government-mandated religion.

Hopefully none of us are suffering from malnutrition (I doubt any of us have scurvy, for example), and even in the midst of a word-wide pandemic we have safe, nutritious food to eat.

We have houses to live in to protect us from the elements, with heating and cooling to keep us cool or warm, depending on the weather. Those houses have beds to sleep in, running water, sanitation, lights, and other conveniences that have become so commonplace that we take them for granted.

There are so many things to be thankful for.

When we read the Bible we find out that a spirit of thankfulness goes back thousands of years before 1621.

Here are some example just from the Psalms:

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High. Psalm 7:17

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. Psalm 9:1

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100:4-5

Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 106:1

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. Psalm 107:21

And, of course, our first reading today: O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. O give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever. O give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever; Psalm 136:1-3

We find it throughout the New Testament as well. Here are some examples:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15

And also the scripture we read today from Colossians, especially verses 15-17: And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Within those three verses we find three references to gratitude or giving thanks, including a three word sentence: “And be thankful.”

As humans I think it is part of our human nature to focus on the negative and in doing so disregard the things we should be thankful for. We find this in what we call news. It’s not the cars that drive to Tyler and back each day safely that we find fascination with, it’s the ones who wreck and pique our interest. It’s even created a term for the cars traveling in the opposite direction of the wreck but who slow down to look at the carnage. That term is “rubbernecking.” You really see it in populated areas.

But as Christians I think we need to consciously focus on the good, on the things we should be thankful for. And I think that we need to do that every day.

This past Friday I drove to my hometown of Cooper, TX and to the United Methodist Church that I grew up in. I was asked to bring the funeral message for one of my high school English teachers, Mrs. Sandra Watkins. She died on Nov. 15 at the age of 77 from COVID-19, one day after her sister’s funeral.

Mrs. Watkins had a big influence on me when I had her for English my sophomore year in high school. I was a short, skinny, dorky kid when I was a sophomore. I wasn’t athletic nor was I overly smart academically. I was also very socially awkward.

Mrs. Watkins told me I had a talent for writing. She encouraged me and gave me confidence to write. Her words and encouragement later led to me earning a bachelor’s degree with a double major in journalism and photography with a second major in English composition.

I wasn’t the only one. Her daughter’s Facebook page had so many former students posting that Mrs. Watkins was their favorite teacher, that she was the “cool” teacher, and how she had encouraged and made them feel better about themselves and gave them confidence.

Looking back on things I might have told Mrs. Watkins “thank you,” but I don’t remember any specific instances of doing so. I wish I could remember doing it. It’s not that I am not grateful and thankful, but that I can’t remember telling her specifically, “Thank you.” I regret now not doing so.

We don’t say “thank you” enough, do we? Oh we kind of get in a habit I guess, like if you are eating at a restaurant and the waitstaff refills your drink or delivers your food. But in those instances it’s almost like a habitual, automatic response. And it’s a good one, don’t get me wrong. But it’s almost like hearing Elvis say, “Thank ya. Thank ya vury much.” It seems to sort of lack sincerity, doesn’t it?

As Christians we have a lot to be thankful for, and we should make it a point to offer sincere, heartfelt thanks to God multiple times every day. It should never become rote or lack sincerity.

Our thanks and gratitude should result as our response for the grace God has given us. This grace, the offer of his son Jesus Christ, who went to the cross even though he was without sin, is not something we are capable of earning. We are sinful and cannot be made righteous by our own actions. The sinless one, Jesus Christ, went to cross and was crucified in our place, and in doing so our sins are forgiven and wiped clean and we can obtain righteousness through grace. We are reconciled to God because of God’s overwhelming love for us. We become a resurrection people.

And because we are a resurrection people, our faith gives us not only gratitude but faith and hope as well. We can be confident that no matter what happens in our world that for those of us who believe something better is coming. We can ease our worries and our fears by remembering that we are given a promise by God (and God keeps his promises).

As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, “For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:53-57

So my challenge to you this week is to be thankful. Be truly thankful for all the blessings we enjoy, and most especially be thankful to God for his son Jesus Christ. And let us express this thanks not only at Thanksgiving, but several times each day, regardless of the circumstances.

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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