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Thanksgiving for Others. Thanksgiving Day 2019

Thanksgiving Day

Emmaus Lutheran Church

1 Timothy 2:1-4

November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving For Others


Jesu Juva!


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


The English Puritans were in the habit of holding public services of thanksgiving whenever they received a special benefit from God, whether a victory in battle or a bountiful harvest.  According to my brief research the Pilgrims did not hold a thanksgiving service like this until 1623, when a ship came from England with supplies and more settlers.  But what we think of as the first thanksgiving, which happened in the fall of 1621, was more of a harvest festival.  A couple of the men went out “fowling,” bird-hunting—and got enough ducks, geese, turkeys, grouse, and quail to feed the whole colony for more than a week.  But when they returned to Plymouth town, which was just a few houses, they had a visit from around ninety Wampanoag Indians.


Yet instead of this turning into a battle, which the Pilgrims probably would have lost—since there were only around fifty men, women, and children left, about half having died during the winter of 1620—instead of bloodshed there was a feast.  They drank beer, ate game birds, seafood, and venison, and a peace was forged that lasted about seventy years.


That first feast is the illustration of the theme I want to present to you, taken from the Epistle reading.  The theme is that Christian thanksgiving is the kind St. Paul describes: First of all then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people (1 Tim. 2:1).  Christian thanksgiving is a priest’s thanksgiving.  We don’t merely give thanks for ourselves but for “all people”, for those even who do not know God, even who are enemies of God, and cannot and do not give thanks to Him for the blessings they have received.  In Christian thanksgiving, we serve others who cannot enter the presence of God by entering His presence on their behalf.


Thanksgiving entered American lore and became a holiday because people saw in it God’s providence.  They recognized that it would have been very easy for the Pilgrims not to have survived in the new world.  But they survived because God showed them mercy and had a plan for them and their descendants.  And so it became a holiday because for a long time many Americans believed God had chosen this country, and it was necessary to recognize His hand in creating and preserving it by giving Him thanks.


But in my lifetime the place of Christians in this country has been very complicated.  We are in a similar situation to the one the Puritans and Pilgrims experienced in England; we feel ourselves to be a minority with limited political and cultural power, facing a rising intolerance from the broader culture.


St. Paul also experienced something similar; but the weakness of the Church politically and the hostility of the surrounding culture in his day were far greater.  And Paul’s words in the Epistle reading remind us of the most powerful way we can respond to our nation and our neighbors when they appear to us to be hostile to Christ, the Church, or to simple morality.


He urges that our first work after having received the grace of God is to act as priests on behalf of “all people,” to serve our neighbors by bringing them before God in supplication, prayer, intercession and thanksgiving.


Let us examine

  1. These four types of prayer mentioned by Paul and
  2. Why this prayer pleases God.



Having heard this reading many times, I always assumed that supplication, prayer, and intercession were all basically the same thing, and that in this passage Paul was simply urging us to pray.


In reality, each of these four words used by Paul indicate a specific type of prayer that he urges that the church in Ephesus offer on behalf of “all people” and particularly “kings and all in high positions.”


Supplications are prayers asking God to help in a certain need, a certain trouble.  St. Paul urges as of first importance that the Christian churches carry the needs of their neighbors (and rulers) to God.  It’s important to realize that rulers in Paul’s day were quite likely to be more hostile and dismissive toward Christians than judges and authorities in our time—even though it is evident that some are very unfriendly today.  Also many of the neighbors of the Christians in Paul’s time would have been unfriendly.  Many Gentiles hated Jews because they denounced all their idols and separated themselves from Gentile society, and most Gentiles in Paul’s day would have seen the Christians as a sect of the Jews.  On the other hand, Jews saw Christians as heretics and apostates.


But Paul says that it is of first importance that supplications be offered by the church on behalf of their neighbors, particularly rulers.  So whatever trouble or calamity the churches saw their neighbors in, even when those neighbors were hostile, they were to carry that trouble or need to God as if it were their own.


Why was this so important?  Because Christians, then and now, have access to God through their faith in Jesus.  And just as Jesus used His access to God the Father on our behalf, by praying for us, by teaching us, and by dying for us, so the Church carries out His work with Him in this world by interceding on behalf of all people.


The second word Paul uses is prayers.  The word can mean many things, but in this setting it probably refers to prayers for the general welfare and prosperity of our neighbors and rulers.  Even when you don’t know what need your neighbor might have, you can still pray for God’s blessing on his work, his family, his children and grandchildren.  You can pray that God would prosper him financially and in every other way.  We often pray this way for ourselves.  But here Paul is teaching that we identify with our neighbors and pray for their blessing in this world, that we use our access to God to seek their blessing.


Third Paul urges that intercessions be made.  This refers specifically to prayers for forgiveness of sin.  Oftentimes in the church and in society we become aware of someone’s sin.  Our inclination is to get angry, to indulge in self-righteous anger.  This is particularly the case when we are dealing with politics.  This or that ruler is doing something wrong, proposing legislation that would take away our rights or harm us.  We get indignant.  It happens in the Church just as often.  Leaders in the church push false teaching, or they abuse their authority.  Members of the congregation engage in behavior that harms others.  What do we do?  Often we vent our spleen to those who will listen.  We divide into parties.  But when God makes us aware of someone else’s sin He doesn’t do so so that we can defeat them or so that we can exalt ourselves over them.  He makes us aware of it so that we can do as Jesus has done with our sin.  He took it upon Himself and made it His own.  We cannot carry our neighbor’s sin and make atonement for it, because Christ has done that already.  But we can take it upon our heart, mind, and conscience, and intercede with God for their forgiveness.  And God will hear us, because He has given us access to His throne by clothing us with the righteousness of His Son.


Finally Paul urges that thanksgivings be made for all men.  Sometimes we become envious when God blesses other people—especially when those people seem as though they do not deserve it to us.  But Paul urges that we not only pray for the needs of our neighbors, but also give thanks for their blessings as though they were our own.


If you practice praying in this way as a Christian, you will find how powerful it is.  This is our most powerful work—prayer.  Because God has given us access to Him through faith in Christ, we have access to His power to work not only on our behalf but on behalf of those around us.  We often wonder and worry about why the Church and its preaching no longer seems to touch our neighbors.  The proper response to this is not to wring our hands, nor first brainstorm ways we can make Christianity more appealing to the world, but to carry out the calling God has given us as priests, and carry our nation and its leaders, our neighbors in the community, our families and loved ones, to Christ and to His Father in prayer, just as when Jesus walked on earth people brought their sick relatives to Him so He would heal them.



Why should we do this?  Paul says, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  (1 Tim. 2:2-4)


The first reason is that we may lead a peaceful, quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  We should not be troublemakers.  The Word of God does not bring peace, Jesus tells us, but a sword.  There will be uproar when His Word comes.  But there should not be uproar because we live in a way that causes people offense—because we are rude and contentious, or because we are insubordinate and unwilling to submit to authority God has instituted.  But if we are carrying our neighbors and our rulers to God, asking Him to bless them, to help them out of trouble, to prosper them, to forgive their sins, and giving thanks when they receive benefits, how can we be seeking to harm them?


And the second reason is because prayer for our neighbors and the result—a godly, dignified life—pleases God.  It pleases Him specifically because He wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.


It is not hard for you, if you are honest, to recognize that it is God’s pure mercy that you can say, “I am saved.”  It is not because you have done well and earned it.  It is because God did not look on your sin, your trouble and need, and say, “They are getting what they deserve.  I wash My hands of them.”  Instead God got dirty; He became a man born of the dust.  He went beneath the dirty waters of the Jordan River and identified Himself with all the sin of all men.  And then He shed His red blood for your sin.


It was because Jesus did not turn away from us and our debt of sin that the Father declared Him His beloved Son.  Paul says it was because Jesus humbled Himself to death, even the death of the cross, that the Father exalted Himself to the highest place.


But now He has saved you and given you a holy calling, to be a priest in His priesthood.  He has called you to join in His ongoing work as a priest, praying for the salvation of the world and the blessing of the world.  That is what we are here in this world to do, even as we carry out our holy callings as father, mother, pastor, hearer, citizen, ruler.  We have works to do with our hands, but before we do those, He calls us to come to Him in prayer—and to do so not only for help for ourselves but for our nation and its rulers and its people, our church, our families—especially those most in need, the fallen, the enemies of God.


Paul probably had a special reason for wanting this done.  He was a persecutor of the church, and no doubt it was through the prayers of the church that Paul was saved.


God wants all people to be saved.  What wonderful news that is!  No matter how far our country has fallen, no matter how far our synod has fallen, or someone in our family, God desires their salvation.


So let us carry out our callings as priests and carry our nation, church, neighbors, and families to God through Christ.  Let us pray for their salvation and their blessings in earthly things and give thanks when they receive them.  Let that be our first work.


The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.


Soli Deo Gloria


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