Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Service of Thanksgiving – November 22, 2017
Text: Philippians 4:6-13
St. Paul’s words sound preposterous: Do not be anxious about anything. Whatever is true, honorable, just, etc…think about these things. I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger…I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. What could be more unrealistic?
If Paul were just a feel-good purveyor of platitudes, then they would just be empty, motivational words. But what he tells us is based all on who God is and what He has done and is doing.
“The Lord is at hand”
Our God is near. Repeatedly in His Word He reminds us that He created us, provides for us, defends us:
Psalm 139:13–14a: For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Matthew 6:31–32: Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
Hebrews 13:5–6: Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
Where else do we get our ideas about God’s nearness?
From our feelings? But those fluctuate so much, from day to day or in a moment.
From signs in nature? Perhaps, but what do you think of God when the flood waters rise and destroy your property? Or where is your joy on a gloomy winter day?
From how well relationships and work? People are fickle and not always reliable. It’s fine for when things are going smoothly, but where is God when they’re not?
From our health? All of us bear the effects of sin in our bodies. It’s no surprise when we catch one more cold this fall, or one more thing breaks in our body.
We have a God who is near. He challenges us to believe that He is at hand, and repent of our projections or perceptions. That is His will for us in every adversity that we face: to realize where we have looked for Him in the wrong places, and to come back to His word of promise which speaks of His faithfulness no matter what.
“The God of peace will be with you.”
Paul says it again, but He adds that He is the God of peace, right after this admonition:
“Brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Think back to all the times just recently that you’ve worried, set your mind on how bad things were, how hopeless situations were, ad how awful people are and they deserve worse than they get.
In His Law, God says we should have no other gods, and love our neighbor as ourselves. When we distrust God, we are guilty of the very first Commandment of not loving and trusting in God above all things. When we get down on our neighbor and think the worst about him and wish ill for him, we sin against the Second table of the Law—against God and often hurt our neighbor too.
Now that’s a serious problem for our relationship with a holy, almighty God who wishes to be our Father. But with you, of shallow thankfulness and a lukewarm heart, He has made peace with you through the gift of His Son. Jesus, Immanuel, God-with-us is the assurance of peace with God in spite of the ways you have been unfaithful and unthankful. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2) This is access by grace to a Father in heaven who loves you, cares for you, and upholds you.
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
“I can’t go on…I can’t take anymore…I just can’t handle this…It’s impossible to live like this!” These are the things we tell ourselves and others out of desperation. With minds set on earthly setbacks—our incompetence and the messes we’ve made, other people’s failings, looking inside and not finding the strength to go forward.
The Lord is at hand. These are not empty words. When He says that He will never leave you or forsake you, that you need not be anxious like a Gentile about how to get by, that He is as close to you now as when you were an embryo being made in the womb—believe it.
By the power that enabled Him to create out of nothing, He creates for you and in you. Where is it going to come from? How will I get there? He has it mapped out how He will give it.
How am I, a Christian but tossed around with bouts of unbelief, to trust in Him and keep my faith? He gives you that strength, because it’s not a strength that you muster up yourself. It’s a divine, heavenly strength which He delivers to you in His Word, in the sermon, in the absolution, in the Body and Blood of Jesus.
Empty words? Platitudes? Far from it. Great is His faithfulness indeed! All of His promises have Him standing behind them. Even better than that, the Lord is indeed at hand for you. Amen.