Lombard CRC

Give Thanks in All Circumstances

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Habakkuk 3:17-18

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.



1 - If the story is right then the first American Thanksgiving was a surprise, maybe even a miracle

if we have eyes to see it that way.

[Every few years I tell you a little bit

of the Pilgrim story because it is true –

recognized historians confirm the basics

of the pilgrim Thanksgiving gathering

with the Wampanoag tribe -

and because there are more and more

who attack or mock the story.

More and more have a hard time accepting

that flawed people can still be thankful people,

and that part of reckoning with our guilt and shame

is to bring gratitude to the Lord

in the public community worship together.]


2 - By all rights and common sense the Plymouth settlement should have never survived to that first harvest celebration.

Earlier attempts at settlements

like Roanoke Colony and Jamestown were disasters.

And these Pilgrims had no pioneer abilities

to make you think things would turn out

any better for them.

And sure enough,

things went from bad to worse

once they made their decision to sail.

They used all their means to hire two ships, but one, The Speedwell, was found not seaworthy.

The owners took their money anyway.

They all had to cram into the Mayflower.

102 passengers and 25 crewmen on a ship

113 feet long and 26 feet wide –

about the size of our auditorium,

only with a low ceiling you had to stoop to walk thru.

That was home on the rolling ocean,

the place you live and sleep for the ocean passage.

Imagine about half of us living together in this space,

only with a low ceiling,

and you can’t leave this space for about 3 months.


3 - Because of these delays they left Europe

late in the season;

They set sail on September 16, 1620

on a course for Virginia.

November 9th they spotted land.

But it wasn’t Virginia.

Storms had blown them off course.

They were looking at the coast of what would be Massachusetts.

Winter in Virginia is mild.

Not Massachusetts.

It was bitter cold.

They had to stay on the ship while each day

a land party would row to shore

and hunt for some food

and crack pails thru the ice for fresh water.


A month later, December 15th,

they found Plymouth Harbor

and made their settlement.

Turns out that wasn’t a great harbor:

it was too shallow.

Later, after they had settled,

they would come upon the harbors outside Boston and wish they had known about the waters there.

But it was too late to move again.


They were ill-equipped for the ocean voyage:

The pilgrims were not used to traveling,

let alone travel by ship.

They got seasick.

They were cold and wet.

They had no privacy.

Crowded in bunks and passageways

they stumbled into each other,

got sick on each other,

climbed over and around each other,

caught the smells of one another.


4 - Each morning they were given their food ration

for the day:

a biscuit and a piece of cheese,

a little water for the kids

and a little beer for the adults.

They got tired of this, too.

But only for a while.

Because as the voyage took longer and longer

their rations dwindled.

A piece of cold fish and a cold carrot was breakfast, lunch and supper from then on.

Compare this to your Thanksgiving table today.

They were afraid.

They hoped to avoid natives out of fear.

But from the start they had skirmishes with them.

They inadvertently stole

a winter stash of native food,

offending the very people

they wanted to live with in peace.


5 - The fear, the travel, the weather

and the lack of housing and food

began to take its toll.

In December 6 died.

8 more died in January.

In February 17.

13 more in March.

By the spring 46 pilgrims had died

and only 57 remained.

Many of those who didn’t make it thru the winter were children.

10 of the 11 girls died.

15 of the 21 boys died.

They had done this for their children.

“Our faith and church must test itself by what we do for our young people. They are to carve the future,” answered an elder to William Bradford

when they were discerning

what the Lord would have them do,

stay or go to the new world.


They had made this hard decision

and then sacrificed

in order to make good on their decision for their kids, so that they may live for the purposes of God.

Can you imagine the doubts and fears

that peppered their sorrow at each passing?

They made the best decision they could

yet the immediate outcome was tragedy.

Did they carry guilt?

What did this do to their trust?


They lived on the edge of starvation that first year.

They had to learn to farm

and how to fish in this new land:

which meant admitting they really didn’t have

the skills to be in this new land.

Can you imagine that self-revelation?

I have risked my life and my family’s future

and now all I see is how limited I am,

how I am not up to this after all.

But they swallowed their pride,

prayed, and got up each morning

and got their hands dirty

and worked till their muscles ached at night.

Then they spent every extra minute

making homes and clearing space for living.


6 - The village was established.

They made peace with the Wampanoag tribe.

They wouldn’t have made it

but for the kindness of natives like Squanto.

So they also had to deal with their prejudices.

They arrived afraid of natives.

Now they knew they needed them.

And the natives, with war brewing between tribes,

needed these pilgrims and their hope for peace.


So even in their fear they lived by faith.

And that meant living in accordance

with God’s commands no matter.

So they sought out the natives.

They didn’t want to.

But they had to, their faith demanded it from them.

7 - They had to make restitution

for what they had done.

They had to admit the taking of the food stores

they found –

even tho they didn’t realize

they were robbing the natives,

they owned up to their failings and sin.

They made restitution.

They treated the natives with respect due

other persons.

They did what they could to right the wrongs.


And by the way, I think most of us know

that the American history with Native Americans

is not a good history.

Yet for fifty years this first pilgrim generation

had some of the best relationships with natives

in history,

enjoying a time of peace and goodwill,

despite some warring tribes,

never really matched even to our day.


8 - It turns out Squanto

had been forcibly taken years before as a slave.

It was only thru Christians

that he got away and was able to return home.

Thru it all he learned English

and so was able to communicate with the Pilgrims when they landed.

It also turned out that the Plymouth Rock area

had been abandoned by native tribes

a few years before the pilgrims arrived,

making that a safe place to live

that didn’t trespass on native land.


After a year left to themselves

there is no way they should have survived.

Despite themselves they began to make a new home.

They knew they had been blessed.

They praised God for his grace.


And this is something for us to notice.

Notice first that life was by no means secure yet.

Notice too their great losses

sustained over a short period of time.

Notice further they lived hungry and cold

for more days than they lived comfortably.


Yet they stopped to give thanks.

They stopped what they were doing –

tho there was much yet to do –

to celebrate God’s goodness

and thank the Lord for the blessings of

this new land,

their native friends,

and their salvation.

The schools closed and the church opened,

a big meal was cooked and

everyone was invited to praise and thank the Lord.


9 - Thanksgiving is bred in the bones of Christians

and of our people.

16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

Give thanks in all circumstances . . .

The Apostle Paul doesn’t write,

give thanks FOR all circumstances ,

but IN all circumstances.

Do you understand the difference?


We give thanks because every circumstance,

whether it be victory or tragedy,

loss or gain,

joy or grief

comes with the reality of finding God.

Our greatest struggle,

our most demanding test, every difficult question,

we give thanks to God

because He is with us right in the middle of it all. When we look beyond our circumstance

we will see God.

We give thanks because

the Lord understands and feels what we are feeling. He is not aloof,

not unconcerned or emotionally disconnected.

We give thanks IN all circumstances

because He promised that

He will never leave us nor forsake us

and He’s given us the Holy Spirit

as comforter and teacher.

The Holy Spirit is incredibly active

in ministering to our pain or loss.

When we gain revelation on this truth

then our thanksgiving to God

doesn’t rely on the circumstances around us,

but rather, the strength we find

from a good God in us.


10 – Henri Nouwen observed,

‘I am discovering that giving thanks to God

in all circumstances

creates security and hope,

it keeps my heart healthy and un-offended.’

The circumstances we face may be grim

and our questions may go unanswered

but if we give thanks

in the middle of these circumstances

we will come to know God

in ways we could never imagine.

Gratitude goes beyond the “mine” and “thine”

and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift.

Nouwen goes on:

‘In the past I always thought of gratitude

as a spontaneous response

to the awareness of gifts received,

but now I realize that gratitude

can also be lived as a discipline.

11 - The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort

to acknowledge that all I am and have

is given to me as a gift of love,

a gift to be celebrated with joy. - Henry Nouwen


Young grade school aged Lew Smedes learned a lesson on gratitude and thankfulness one Thanksgiving. It was the year mom announced they could not afford a roast chicken for dinner and instead would be having pot roast. Chicken was more costly and the family funds weren’t there for such an expense, but young Lew still protested.

“I took it poorly,” he confessed. “It was a matter of status with me. I knew that classmates Clary and Bud were going to brag to me about how much they had eaten on Thanksgiving Day, and they would ask me how much chicken I had eaten, and I would have to say that we had eaten pot roast.”

“Pot roast? On Thanksgiving Day? What kind of a nutty family have you got?” He could just hear the ridicule.

So I whined. I made my mother feel sorry for me. Until the afternoon before Thanksgiving Day, my mother put on her coat and trudged a half-mile to the butcher shop, and bought us a fat hen. It was almost the last one. She brought it home, laid it on the table in front of me, and said, “There, we’re going to have chicken tomorrow.”

Catherine, his older sister, turned on Lew:

See what you went and made mom do?

I hope you are grateful.

By which she meant:

I hope you feel rotten.

He did feel rotten.

He didn’t feel much gratitude.

What he felt was guilt.

Yes, I knew I ought to be grateful.

But it didn’t do him much good.


In the years since he asks

how do we put things together:

the intuition we have that we ought to be grateful while knowing it as a duty

seldom moves us toward

the joy of a life of gratitude.

He says, the secret lies in the difference between

the ought of obligation and the ought of opportunity.

You ought to tell the truth

on your income tax report is obligation.

You ought to take advantage of this tax deduction

is opportunity.

We ought to live lives of gratitude is opportunity:

Like the way we ought

to applaud a fine performance,

or laugh at a funny joke

or hug someone we love.

Gratitude is an opportunity.

To keep things like hope and love alive and joyful.

More, it is the one true motivation

for all important life actions.

Just as our catechism says answering the question, why do good?

Why strive?


And the answer is:


Thankfulness motivates us to righteous choices.



Because life is a gift.

Salvation is a gift.

Love is a gift.

And gratitude is the only way to respond to gifts given and received.


12 - Gratitude needs two things to begin:

A who and a what.

It’s tough to be thankful in general.

You know the sitcom jokes

when the family sits at the table

and grandpa says ok, everyone share

something they are thankful for:

and after one or two remarks

someone says I’m thankful for this food

so let’s eat it!

And that’s the end of it.

BC just thinking of the what

instead of the who doesn’t work.

Thankful people

are thankful to someone for something.

Christians ground their thankful living

in that Someone who is the Triune God:

And for the greatest gift given in Jesus Christ:

Salvation, experienced as forgiveness of sins

and a new life belonging to Jesus,

redeemed with purpose and meaning.


13 - How can we grow in our thankfulness and gratitude?

1)        Celebrate imperfect gifts

2)        Saying thanks even if you don’t quite feel it

3)        Keep in mind we are always grateful for one thing in spite of something else

4)        Gratitude comes in the wake of anxiety


Habakkuk 3 tells us this:

Though the fig tree does not blossom . . .

Though there are no sheep in the pens . . .

Yet I will rejoice in the LORD . . .

We say thanks IN all circumstances but not for all things. So we thank God for good days while we thank God in bad days for the presence and deliverance Jesus brings and guarantees.


14 - In the strength of his grace we profess together whether this season has been good for you – no matter, God has worked for your good.

GM Hopkins poem bears reciting:

Tho when the sower sowed

The winged fowls took part, part fell in thorn

And never turned to corn

Part found no root upon the flinty road –

Christ at all hazards fruit hath shewed.


Christ, at all hazards, fruit hath shewed.

That out of all that is more and more out of our control we know more and more is in the control of his loving hands.


To stop and say thanks is to stop and see God:



Calming the storm

Preparing a table in the presence of my enemies

Our manna in the wilderness

For wonders have not ceased

Miracles still break upon us

And hope is more than wishful thinking, it is a pointing to the truth;

The reality of grace.


Today we encourage each other in faith: to decide to give thanks.

IN all circumstances.

For the LORD is good, even if the situation is not.

The LORD is good, even if your health isn’t.

THE LORD is good, and his love endures forever, even if much that you depended upon hasn’t endured.

His faithfulness continues  . . .

Though the fig tree does not blossom . . .

I will rejoice in the LORD . . .


We devote this day to Thanksgiving not to focus on the gifts, but the Giver.

We may think we know what would make life good, but the Creator is the One who really knows.

We may think we love ourselves and others and so know what’s best, but God IS love.

So praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit today –

Praise God.

Remember the Lord is your God.

Your shepherd.

Your love.

Good and faithful.


15 - Today is not a day to take stock of how far you’ve come or how far you’ve got to go, but to be assured that God’s love is what defines you and your days.

Rely on God the Giver.

By exercising faith: trust enough to live out God’s commands.

Only that assurance matters.

And it makes all the difference.



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