Do not worry about anything, but 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. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Dear members and friends of Echo Park United Methodist Church:
We live in a world that perpetually seems to be plagued by bad news. Each day brings new stories of suffering and terror around our world… war and civil unrest… political chaos… mass migration… epidemic disease… natural disaster and climate catastrophe… violence and lawlessness… economic uncertainty… human trafficking… homelessness and poverty… The list goes on and on! How can we help but despair… especially when we add to these global crises our own local struggles, uncertainties and tragedies? There are moments when worry and despair seem to be the only rational responses to the circumstances in which we live out our lives.
In this regard, the world of the apostle Paul was not much different from our own. In some ways, it was even worse. As a Christian, Paul belonged to a persecuted minority that faced imprisonment, torture, and even death for its embrace of Christ’s gospel and its commitment to the way of Jesus. He himself would eventually die at the hands of a Roman executioner after years of incarceration in Roman jails. And multitudes of other disciples of Jesus would suffer a similar fate. The history of Christianity was built on the foundation of these first century martyrs.
We might have expected Paul and his followers to complain about the hazards of following Jesus. After all, it wouldn’t have been easy to endure the ridicule, abuse, and violence to which they were daily subjected. And yet, Paul refuses to endorse such a path. Instead, he advises the Philippian Christians to stop worrying and to put their trust in God who hears their prayers and responds to their needs. The proper response for a follower of Jesus is not anxiety and fear in the face of ongoing difficulties and dangers but thanksgiving rooted in faith that God has all things under control. Or, as Paul affirms in his other letter to the church in Rome: “All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.” But, if this is so, then how can we not say thanks, and say it continuously?
The Thanksgiving feast on which our current holiday is based took place just before the Pilgrims’ second winter in Massachusetts. They had barely survived their first winter in 1620. More than half their company had died from starvation, disease and exposure to the elements. However, with the help of the Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans, they had learned how to farm the land effectively, and their harvest in 1621 was abundant. In November of that year, they gathered to give thanks to God not just for the blessings that they had already received, but also for their faithful expectation that God would enable them to survive until the following spring. Thanksgiving is not just our response to the good things that have already happened, it is a way of life rooted in our conviction that everything, past, present, and future, is in the hands of a loving God who cares for us and blesses us in all the circumstances of our lives.
May God bless you and all of your loved ones with this spirit of faithful and hopeful thanksgiving! And may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus!
Pastor Frank Wulf