The Rev. Linda J. Ferguson
October 11, 2020
Exodus 32: 1-14 Psalm 106: 1-6, 19-23 Philippians 4: 1-9 Matthew 22: 1-14
May the words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
In today’s reading, we hear those words in a letter written by Paul to the Philippians after being arrested for preaching the gospel. Thrown in a prison cell and beaten, we hear of how he and his brother in Christ Silas began to sing songs of joy and praise to the Most High God!
It makes you and I wonder, what prompted Paul to write a letter? Afterall, Paul was in prison so how was he able to get this letter delivered? There was no pony express at that time or the postal service. For Paul to write a letter there would have to be a carrier for the letter. With no regular postal service, travelers were often asked to carry letters.
But, there were deeper reasons for Paul’s wanting to communicate. The Philippians had heard of his imprisonment, and Paul wanted to reassure them of his undiminished joy - even in those circumstances. Paul also wanted to express his gratitude for their gift and their constant friendship. Epaphroditus, a member of the church in Philippi, had earlier brought a gift to Paul from that church, was returning home and provided the means for the letter to be delivered to the church. For most of us, if we were in their situation, we would be thinking of ourselves and how we could get out. But, what Paul wanted was to send a message to the Philippian Church that was a source of encouragement and the revelation of joy!
Paul clearly has not been paying attention to the news! All we hear every day is that the stock-market is falling, retirements are being lost, health is threatened, loved ones can’t find a job, people are facing real, painful situations and nobody can say how it is going to turn out, and all Paul has to offer us is these words of encouragement: stand firm, rejoice, be gentle, don’t worry, pray, give thanks, and be at peace? To be frank, it appears as if Chicken Little is right - the sky is falling.
This has been a difficult year, and many of us may be struggling with the idea of rejoicing. The Covid-19 pandemic has reaped havoc on the lives of many and has affected everyone. Each and every one of us have been touched by it in some way. Yet, we all need to be reminded that in all of what has happened these past few months, all of us have something to be thankful for.
It is not just because you may not have gotten it or recovered from it; not because you maintained your job or found a new one if you lost it due to the pandemic; not because we are still able to maintain our lives in some fashion despite everything that has happened. No, being thankful goes much deeper than just being thankful for overcoming difficult circumstances in our lives.
I would like to share an encounter I recently had with an eleven year old boy, named Mamun. Through him sharing his story and experiences in his life that really me think of how much we all have to be thankful for.
A couple of weeks ago I took our grandson Joaquin up to the school playground to play. Some of his classmates were there also. After sometime, Joaqin was tired so he came over to sit by me and rest. Shortly after, one of his friends approached us pushing a toddler in a stroller. He had come over to see if Joaquin still wanted to play.
As he approached us, he noticed that I was reading a book. He then started to chit-chat with me about how his father bought him lots of books. I asked him his name and he said that it was Mamun. He expressed that his father told him that reading books would help his brain to grow and learn and then he would be smart. I then asked him if he was babysitting his little sister and how nice it was to see him help his mother. He told me that he offered to watch his sister for his mother. He then began to tell me more about himself.
He told me of how he came here from Yemen and that his birth mother had been killed during the political unrest in their country. Mauman said that he was sad and missed his mother, but was very thankful for his step-mother who was now his mother. He said that she was very good to him. Mauman said that his step-mother had offered to pay him for watching his little sister but he declined. He said that he could never take money for watching his sister. That he was thankful for how good she was to him and was wanted to help her.
Mauman continued to share and said that he also had another younger sister, who he missed, that still lived in Yemen with an Aunt and Grandmother. He said that his father is working very hard at three jobs in order to save enough money to pay for his sister to be able to join all of them.
He talked about how life was in the war-torn country that he once lived in. Mauman described how their homes were mostly made of cement to protect them from gunshots and that they could not go to school because it was very dangerous. He spoke about going hungry and how they did not have any food, and how they mostly ate garbage along the streets. Any food he found, he was always thankful and would share it. He said that he was worried about his grandmother because she was very sick and said that they had no doctors there for her to go to for medicine.
As we talked, I could not help but notice how happy and how at peace he was. He was so kind and was so patient with his sister. Like every active two year old, she was climbing up and down on the tables. But, he did not miss a beat! He would just patiently pick her up and put her down to let her run some more.
Mauman said that before he came over here, he worried about his family and friends. So he made sure that his cousins and his friends would make a promise that they would share a part of any food they found with those who were hungry.
When he first came to our country, he had to go to a special school because he could not go to school in Yemen. So he decided to work real hard so that he could go to a normal school. In order to achieve this, he would sit in front of the television for many hours to help him learn the English language.
He then told me about his dream. Mauman said that his dream was to one day be a doctor so that he could go back to his country and help those who are sick and do not have the medical care. He said that he was going to work very hard in school so that he could eventually go to medical school.
Then, his younger brother started to call him. Before he left, I told him of how he was a blessing to his family and friends, and to hold onto to his dream. I truly believe that Mauman will become that doctor in the future and will be able to help the sick in his home country. I know that I will be praying for him and for his dream to come true.
How can we be thankful in whatever circumstances that we are experiencing at this time in our lives?
Maybe, life is really hard right now, but we all know there’s a million people in the world, that if they had the privilege of trading places with you, they would. Scripture says that God determines the places and times, but instead he gave us the great blessing of living here. We need to remember that every blessing we have comes directly from God, and that we ought to be so thankful for that, and show him how thankful we are each and every day. Being grateful and giving thanks to God comes from a place within us where we remember where we could be without Him.
In Paul’s letter, he encourages the Philippians and tells them what their reward would be if they or we choose to trust God. “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 our hearts and minds as we live in Christ Jesus.” (Phillipians 4: 6-7)
So, how can we fully trust God and close our minds to the thoughts of worry and about everything that is happening in the world right now? The answer is in the next verse.
“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.”
Instead of being anxious about anything, we can begin to pray about everything. Prayer means that we have a God to go to and to talk to, who hears and answers prayer. Mix our prayers with thankfulness. Thanksgiving reflects an attitude of gratefulness to God for inviting us to come to Him, and it shows that we truly trust Him to take care of us, regardless of your circumstances. As we pray and trust God to work, He will give every one of us the assurance that He is in control. He will do this by giving us His peace; a peace which remains constant and undisturbed through every circumstance.
God’s peace is His answer for our worries. His peace will quiet us and calm us; it will minister health to your nerves and rest to your spirit. God’s peace is more powerful than anxiety, fear, or worry. Never turn away from God’s peace. Yield and surrender your heart and mind to His peace. Say, “Yes, Lord, I receive Your peace.” We do not need to understand why certain things are happening in order to have God’s peace. His peace transcends your understanding. God’s peace is the same peace that Jesus said He would give to us. It is a peace that the world cannot give us. His peace belongs to us because we belong to Him.
God’s love for us never changes, never falters, and never ends. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his love endures forever. ( Psalm 136:1)
We need to thank God every day for how he cares for us. A thankful heart is a happy heart. A happy heart does not worry but praises God for all of his provision.
Thanksgiving is a way of offering back to God our time, talent and money, glorifying God with our whole self and substance. In Rite I (BCP, p. 329) it says, “Open, O Lord, the eyes of all people to behold thy gracious hand in all thy works, that rejoicing in thy whole creation, they may honor thee with their substance, and be faithful stewards of thy bounty.”
By being stewards we are thanking God for all he has done for us. Stewardship is about us prayerfully discerning God’s action in our lives. Stewardship is about being thankful for all that God has done, and will continue to do for us all the days of our life. Stewardship is a dynamic spiritual process. God is active in our lives, and is doing wonderful things for us. All we have to do is to open our eyes and see. What do you offer him in response? Thanksgiving. The generosity of time, talent and treasure is our thanksgiving to God for all he has done for us.
Let us pray:
Lord, teach us to offer you a heart of thanksgiving and praise in all our daily experiences of life. Teach us to be joyful always, to pray continually and to give thanks in all circumstances.