Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This evening we meditate on the Epistle lesson from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Amen.
As we gather for Thanksgiving this year, there’s no doubt that this is unlike any Thanksgiving we’ve ever had. While many of you might recall concerns for flu outbreaks in years past, we certainly haven’t seen anything with the reach that we see with the pandemic this year. But no matter the circumstances as we gather to give thanks, we hear the same lesson we hear year in and year out for this occasion: the healing of the ten lepers. In the midst of things, I’m sure we can appreciate that familiarity in a time when things have become so uncertain and unfamiliar. Likewise, I’m also sure that there is no question as to why this is the lesson. After all, just look at what happens.
I’ve pointed this out before, but it’s not mystery why this is the reading for a time of giving thanks. You’ve got the lepers who are healed, and you’ve got the one in particular who comes back and gives thanks to Jesus. There’s the point: giving thanks, right? And as we look at these lepers, we should understand why. These men were in a spot where they had lost their lives to this disease, in a sense. The were cut off from their families. They weren’t allowed to see them in their homes. They weren’t allowed to eat meals with them, to hug their children, to kiss their wives. No. In view of the risk that their infection could spread to the others around them, these lepers were separated. And the worst part of it was that they couldn’t go to the Temple either. They, in a sense, were cut off from their families, their loved ones, their homes, and worst of all, from God Himself.
The healing of Jesus restored all of that to them. They were healed. The showing of their healing to the priests allowed them to go back to all of this. They’re now allowed to live in their homes, they’re allowed to hug their children and kiss their wives. And they’re allowed in the Temple. They’re allowed back in that place where God meets with them. Certainly, it’s understandable how they should give thanks!
But for our part right now, we perhaps don’t feel as much like those healed lepers as the lepers before they were healed. Here we are preparing to observe one of the biggest days of gathering with family and loved ones, and yet it’s been shot. We’re stuck in our homes, we’re separated from those gatherings, we can’t hug all of those we’d like to hug, we can’t share that joy of a meal with those we’d like to feast with. And the fellowship at church is very different than what is ordinary. It’s still connected by the Spirit in the Gospel, but not in the body as God intends for it to be; those two not intended to be separated when it comes to the Church. And so, it’s a question we might be asking: how do we give thanks in the midst of this?
Of course, then you have the epistle lesson. Then you have Paul with his words that I so often point out as challenging even in regular circumstances. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Now as we’re talking about thanksgiving, hopefully you can see the connection, especially as Paul says that we should let our requests be made known to God with thanksgiving. This rejoicing goes hand in hand with thanksgiving.
Rejoice in the Lord always! Give thanks always! Give thanks even for the coronavirus!
What? Even for the coronavirus! Isn’t that blasphemous? Aren’t viruses and death the consequence of sin, the due judgment for our rebellion against God? Are you saying we should give thanks for our sinfulness and rebellion against God?
Oh no, may it not be! But we know that God uses these things to His good, and so we can thank Him. In fact, we should clarify what that means as well as this rejoicing. I’m sure you’ve heard me say that when Paul says rejoice here, or when he tells the Church in Rome to rejoice in their sufferings. When Paul says, “Rejoice always,” “we rejoice in our sufferings,” I don’t picture him as a cheesy grin on his face, just thanking God for how terrible things are. It’s not as thought we should picture this to say, “Oh golly, Lord, I’m just so excited for how this coronavirus is going, thank you!”
And yet there is this call to rejoice, to give thanks. And to understand that I think we could see the heart of this as Paul goes on. “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything.” Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. Your gentleness. I looked this up and it was compared to the position Christ was in by His attitude in chapter two just before this. You know that’s a relatively well-known passage, but you might not remember it off the top of your head, and that’s OK. It’s where Paul tells the Philippians that they should have the attitude like Christ. They should be like Jesus and think of others’ interest as more than their own. And in that Paul describes how Jesus was God in the flesh, but didn’t count that divinity something to be grasped, and so He lay down His life and considered our lives important, even to the point of obediently dying on the cross. Christians, this reasonableness here in our lesson tonight is like the gentleness, the meekness, the humility that Christ has. He knew who He was. He had confidence in His identity as the One who was God in the flesh. The world didn’t see Him that way, and when He spoke about it, they mocked Him. But He didn’t show it off, He didn’t rub His divinity in their faces. No, despite what they told Him to do, to save Himself, to get down from the cross, to use His power to spare His own life, He calmly, reasonably went on with His purpose.
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. Rejoice in this God always. Don’t be anxious. Again, but how?! How do we not worry? How are we not anxious? The hospitals are filling, the numbers are skyrocketing! What if I get the virus, or what if my loved ones get it?! Of course I’m going to be anxious, how could I not? “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.”
You might remember a few years ago, I attended a mini conference session with Dr. John Kleinig, the one who wrote the commentary I’m working from for our study on Hebrews, and Dr. Kleinig entitled his presentation that day “Don’t Waste a Good Worry.” His point? When you’re worried, don’t home in on that anxiety, instead pray. Don’t focus your attention on the fears that might overtake you. Instead focus your eyes on the Lord, the Author and Perfector of your faith. The One who for that joy set before Him endured the cross scorning its shame.
You see, you can rejoice because this is your Lord. Your Lord has joy in you. Your Lord Jesus has in His mind that joy that would lay down His life for you and carry your sin to the cross. Your Lord Jesus has in mind that joy that would lay down His life for your loved ones who might get sick. Your Lord Jesus has promised you not that you won’t feel like a leper on Thanksgiving, or on Christmas because of the need to protect people and not get them sick, instead He has promised you the fellowship of His eternal feast where you will be not only with all of your loved ones in the faith, but with He Himself, the Groom I spoke about Sunday who has loved you more than His own life.
And as we meditate on this love of our Lord, we think about who He is as the loving Lord, and think about where He is as the One sitting at the right hand of the Father. And as I say that, what does that mean? What does that mean that He sits at the right hand? It means that the Father has seen fit to give this Jesus all authority in heaven and on earth. It means that Jesus has sovereignty over all things, that He reigns over all things. He is in charge over all things.
Now as we look around us, we might be inclined to turn back to fear. We might be inclined to say, “Ok, that’s all well and good, but what about this virus.” Do you think Jesus isn’t capable of working things with the virus and around it? And to be clear, I’m not advocating we throw all caution to the wind, we need to care for our neighbor. But where we might fall short, don’t you think He’s capable to work around it? Don’t you think whatever He works with it, He works in that same love that motivated Him to lay down His life for you, for your loved ones, for the whole world?
To be clear, this doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing for us and we won’t suffer, we won’t have pain, we won’t know loss in this broken and fallen world. That will keep happening that we’ll keep looking back at Him, but He has baptized you. He has made you His own. He has loved you, laid down His life for you. Won’t He certainly care for you in all things?
There is your ability to have reasonableness when others lose it entirely. There is your ability to have peace when the world only sees fleeting security. There is your ability relieve anxiety when worries pile upon worries. Just as our Lord had this ability in His identity as God’s Son, you have it in your adoption to God’s family in Christ.
In fact, as you might feel like a leper yourself at this time, you have the joy of knowing that you aren’t. Even the leprosy of your sin has been cleansed from you. That’s where peace and contentment come. Even further, I’m not going to read it, but as Paul goes on from these verses he describes that: the ability to find contentment in any circumstance. That’s yours as well. This same God who provided for Paul will provide for you. As He says, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
And as we hear all of that, I hope we can understand how we can give thanks. Sure, there are many concerns that we have at this time. There are many worries, and challenges, but there is still reason for thanksgiving. Thanks be to God for all of these good gifts to us, His care, His love, His forgiveness, life and salvation, His peace, and His contentment. Thanks be to God, rejoice in Him. And as Paul concluded: To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.