Giving Thanks and Theological Worlds

I did this sermon on November 1, 2020 (the Philippine holiday “Undas”). I use the Theological Worlds test as the structure for talking about giving thanks to God. Please ignore the many typos.

Good Morning. It has been a difficult year in many ways. The pandemic has been challenging for all of us. Beyond this, there has been challenging weather around the world— typhoons, wildfires, and more. A lot of economic and political craziness. And in our church family we have had two deaths. And if you have paid attention to the sermons this year… a lot of the messages have been on suffering… on grieving… on loss. And that’s good. Often we need exactly. Grieving is good, as is coming to terms with loss.

But we are in November. At the end of the month is American Thanksgiving. And here we are at the beginning of the month with Undas. And I know that there are different ways to celebrate Undas… but for me, the way to do it is with giving thanks. My grandparents and Celia’s grandparents passed away years ago, as have both of our parents. And on this day we are thankful for their roles in our lives. And I hope that years from now after Celia and I have passed on, that our children can remember us and be thankful.

So I want to share some things that we can be thankful for in 2020.

#1. We can be thankful that we are forgiven. That is a big one.

We live in this world drowning with the results of sin. We sin against God, against others, and even against ourselves. Others sin against us. And we live in a world that broken by sin. We are guilty and we are stuck. We are broken people in a broken world… we are doomed. But despite this hopelessness, God has promised to pull us out of danger… to save us. God gifts us salvation… freeing us from the penalty of sin… gradually freeing us from the power of sin… and eventually freeing us from the presence of sin.

For this one, God can be seen as our savior… the one who has shown us mercy despite the fact that we really didn’t deserve this mercy.

With God as our Savior, the Symbol is Calvary, Jesus on the cross. The penalty has been paid, and we are declared guiltless before God.

The passage that can remind us of this is John 3:17. For God did not send His Son into the World to condemn the World, but that the World, through Him, might be saved.

That is truly something to be thankful for. But it is not the only thing.

#2. We can be thankful that we have a honor.

We may not only feel the guilt for sin… but the shame and disgrace of failure. We are lost… fallen away. We have acted like the Prodigal Son… foolishly running off to do our own thing, but now we are homeless, poor, ashamed, without hope. But that is a lie. God is the shepherd who searches for the lost sheep, the woman seeking the lost coin, and the father waiting for his lost son to return.

With God as our loving Parent, the symbol is the Banquet table that the father throws a great party to welcome back his wandering son… placing him in the seat of honor.

The passage one might dwell on is I Peter 5:6-7

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

That’s great. We have traded our guilt for forgiveness, and our shame for honor. But there is more.

#3. We can be thankful that we have victory in Christ.

We are in a war… in conflict. That is difficult enough, but we are also weak, and seem to be on the losing side. It is like we are running a race on foot, while others are on horses and motorcycles. Governments and corporations all work for their own selfish purposes, and it appears as if we live in a world where Satan is in charge, and failure and death is our certain future.

But looks are deceiving. We are not on the losing side. We are on the winning side. God is not only our Savior, He is our champion. The symbol of this victory is the open tomb. God raised Jesus from the dead… and promised that the resurrection of Jesus is proof that we will join Jesus in victory of death.

The passage can remind us of Romans 8:35, 37-39.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from

the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We have victory assured through Christ. That’s a wonderful thing. But there are more things to be thankful about.

#4. We can be thankful that we have been granted the strength to endure.

It is wonderful to know we are saved. It is great to have our shame removed and be honored. It is great to know that we have ultimate victory… but we still need to live each day… day after day, week after week, month after month. It can be tiring. It can be scary. Quitting just seems to make sense. The road it too rough, the way too dangerous, the destination too far away.

But God has given us the strength to endure what comes our way. He has not made the road too rough or too dangerous, He is walking it with us.

God is not just a Savior and a Conqueror, He is a Comforter and Sustainer. We have His Spirit to encourage us and empower us. An image of this is Jesus as the Good Shepherd who leads us through the valley of the shadow of death…. but we have no reason to fear, because He is with us, and is leading us to still waters and green pastures.

The passage that one may read to remind yourself of this is Philippians 4:11b-13.

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

God strengthens us and gives us contentment regardless of the difficulties. That is something to be thankful for.

#5. We can be thankful that we have Place and Purpose.

God created us as social beings… social beings in need of meaning and purpose. But so often we feel alone, forgotten, in a world where things seem pointless. We are small creatures and a big meaningless world.

But this is a lie. Through Christ, we are never alone and never forgotten. Our lives are not meaningless. We were made for a purpose, and our purpose is found in Christ. We are the adopted child… one who had no family, now has a bed, a place at the table, a family he can call his own, or she can call her own.

God here is the reconciler. He is the one who breaks down the social barriers that separate us from Him, and from each other. The symbol of this is the church, the body of Christ. We are members of one spiritual body, with purpose and connection to each other.

The verse one may be reminded of is I Corinthians 12:27.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it

Of course there are many other things we can be thankful for. We can be thankful for our families, we can be thankful for the Holy Spirit. We can be thankful that God supplies our needs. There are many more.

I have chosen these because of a test we do at our counseling office. We do it to get a sense of what a client’s deepest concerns are… Each of us are different.

For some, their deep concern is Guilt. They feel guilt because of their sin, and thus feel condemned by God, and perhaps others. They need to know God as the one who saves, forgives, and restores them clean. No condemnation.

There are others who live lives full of shame… disgrace. They feel abandoned, and hopeless, unwelcome, dirty. They need to know that God honors the humble, and removes their disgrace, welcoming them as a chosen son or daughter.

There are others that feel like losers… like failures. They need to know that God is the Victor… and through Him, we have victory as well.

There are yet others that are weary and depressed. They feel that they cannot bear up under the strains of life. They need to know that God’s strength is more than enough to keep us strong. And he guides where we need to go and where we are able to go.

There are still others that feel they are forgotten with life a bit meaningless, and with no place or purpose. They need to know that in God we have a place… a joint heir with Christ, and having a place in His church and a role in His kingdom.

As I said, each person is different. I took that test years ago… and it told me what I already knew. Guilt and shame are not major things with me. I know I need a savior, and heavenly father who gives me honor… but these are not key motivating concerns for me. I also know that I have limits. I can’t win on my terms… I can only have true victory through Christ. But that is not my key concern either.

My big concerns are the last two. I have always been prone to depression. There is that little voice in my head that tells me to just quit. Give up. The road is too long, too difficult, and too dangerous. I need to be reminded that God guides me where I need to go, strengthens me to endure, and is always with me.

I also need to be reminded that I was created for a purpose… that my life has meaning. I need to be reminded that my purpose is found in being reconciled to God, and having a place in His Kingdom and in His church.

This November, a typhoon rages, pandemic covers our land, and Satan appears to be in control throughout the world. On a day such as today, Undas, we are also reminded of so many losses in our lives… those who have been taken from us. These are difficult…. but in many these things are just like fog… Fog hides what is really there. Remove the fog, and we find God—

God who is our…

Savior

Father

Conqueror

Sustainer

Reconciler

What are You Thankful For?