Several years ago, Judi Harland had a great idea about something that the congregation could start doing for congregation members who are away at college. Judi has served on the church council as Director of Outreach. She recognized the great challenge that young Christians face on college campuses today and the ways that the college years can be a time when young people drift away from church.
She decided that it would be a nice thing for the congregation to start sending care packages to the members who are away at college. It would be a small gesture that would remind the students that they have a church family that is still thinking about them and cares about them.
So each month, Judi sends a care package to youth at college. I am told that she includes both sweet and salty snacks, like homemade chocolate chip cookie bars. In the care package she also places a Portals of Prayer, and items like cards with Bible verses on them. In addition there is a handwritten note expressing how she prays for the students – a note that reminds the students that Good Shepherd cares about them.
Now I thought this was a great idea and have appreciated Judi’s faithfulness in continuing to do this each month during the school year. But the thing that has really struck me has been the fact that so many of the Good Shepherd college students have responded with thank you notes.
We live in an age when civility and basic manners are certainly in decline. The uncouth is celebrated in our culture – people act in rude ways in order to get attention, or just because in the selfish spirit of the age they don’t bother to think about others.
It has been so refreshing to see the thank you cards and notes that have regularly been posted on the bulletin board at the back of the nave. It has been very nice to see that we have some youth whose parents have taught them good manners, and that these young people are putting those manners into practice.
Our text for Thanksgiving is found in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. It is very appropriate to use a text from Philippians for Thanksgiving, because Philippians is largely a letter of thanksgiving. While also addressing other issues, one of the main reasons Paul writes from prison is to thank the Philippians for a recent gift that they had given for his support.
As our text makes clear, Paul had a very warm relationship with the Philippians. They had been early and regular supporters of his Gospel mission in Greece. He writes, “You yourselves know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the Gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.”
In our text, Paul begins to bring his letter to a close. As he does so, he shares words with us that are very appropriate for today. He says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
On this Thanksgiving Eve, Paul tells us not to worry, and instead to turn to God in prayer – prayer that is filled with thanksgiving – as we make our requests known to God. Paul tells us that even as we ask God, we are to give thanks to God. This thanksgiving will encompass many of the things that the holiday Thanksgiving Day brings to mind – but it also goes far beyond them. Ultimately – as the next verse makes clear – this thanksgiving focuses on what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The thanksgiving that goes forth to God revolves around the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us.
This sacrificial action by Christ has brought us peace. It has brought us peace with God, just as Paul told the Romans, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” It also brings us inner peace, because we know that in Jesus Christ our present and future are secure.
Paul tell us that as our thanksgiving returns again and again to Christ’s cross and resurrection for us, the peace of God will play an important role in our lives. He says, “And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” God protects our hearts and minds from worry and unbelief by keeping us “in Christ Jesus” – by keeping our lives connected to our Lord. As Paul said to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ. No longer do I live, but Christ lives in me. And the life which I know live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.”
On this Thanksgiving Eve, Paul reminds us that it is the experience of focusing on Jesus Christ; the experience of our life in Christ – our life joined with Christ – that yields true contentment. Paul speaks out of his own experience as he writes, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstances I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”
Paul says he knows the secret of content living – contentment that transcends the vicissitudes of abundance and need. In the face of the many circumstances life can throw at us, the apostles says, “I have strength for all circumstances by union with the One who strengthens me.” It is our union with Christ – our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus – that provides the strength for all circumstances. Secure in this knowledge of our union with Christ – the union that was established in the waters of Holy Baptism – we can face all of life’s challenges.
Tonight we give thanks to God for his many blessings. Paul reminds us that chief among those blessings is the salvation God has given us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us. The salvation that has become ours by being “in Christ” – by being united with Christ – is the constant that runs through all the other changes of life. It is true today. It will be true next Thursday. It will be true the Thursday six months after that.
As we focus continually on this reality we will find ourselves giving thanks to God. We will give thanks to him on the day when we gather with family and friends and eat a sumptuous meal. We will also give thanks on every other occasion – including those times when circumstances make worldly thanksgiving difficult. We will give thanks and be content, because as we focus on our union with Christ, “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”