171123 Colossians 3:15-17

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 November 2017 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Colossians 3:15-17
Theme: Be Thankful!

There are a number of indelible images that we almost automatically associate with the Thanksgiving holiday: Pilgrims with their bonnets and black hats and buckles sitting down with Native Americans for a feast; a plump, juicy turkey cooked to a perfect golden brown; and for some families a decoration at the center of the Thanksgiving dinner table, a large, overflowing cornucopia.

If you aren't 100% sure what a cornucopia looks like, there is a clip art image of one on page five of the service folder. "Cornucopia" literally means "horn of plenty," and that is a pretty good definition of what a cornucopia is. It is a large basket filled with the bounty of the year's harvest, with fruits and vegetables and grains.

Today's sermon text could be called a cornucopia too, a cornucopia of divine commands. In the span of six short verses Paul encourages us to clothe ourselves with all kinds of Christian virtues, to bear with each other, to forgive one another, to put on love and put love before everything else, to let Christ's peace rule in our hearts and let Christ's Word dwell in us richly, to do everything we do in the name of our Savior.

Tucked away in the middle of all these imperatives is one more. It is so short and so simple that it would be easy to skip right over it. But not today, not on the day we celebrate our national day of Thanksgiving. These two little words remind us why we are here today, why we sing God's praises today, and what our Lord calls us to do every day...

BE THANKFUL!

I. For everything you have
II. In everything you do

If you wanted to come up with a list of things you are thankful for, the list Luther provides in his explanation of the First Article of the Apostles' Creed would be a good start. In words we confessed a few moments ago, we give thanks for food and drink, clothing and shoes, house and home, our bodies, our families and everything else our Lord has given us.

Thanksgiving is a time when many people give thanks for these physical blessings, and that is a good thing because we know that every good thing comes from above. But Christians also know (and Paul reminds us) that the greatest things in life are not things. We have something else, something most people are lacking, something every person needs. You and I are profoundly grateful today because God has given us peace.

Think about all the people in Puerto Rico who, months after Hurricane Maria, are still without power. Think about all the people in California whose homes were burned to the ground by wildfires. Think about all the families in Las Vegas and Texas who will be gathering without loved ones today because they were victims of mass shootings.

When we compare our situation to those people and places we hear about on the news, life in western Waukesha County might seem kind of boring. And for that blessing we are grateful. We thank God for sparing us from natural disasters, for sending his angels to watch over us, for keeping our loved ones safe and secure. But the peace that we enjoy is much greater than that. The peace that God has given us goes much deeper than that.

Christians have the peace that only comes from Christ. We have inner peace because we know that Jesus is our Savior. We have spiritual peace because we know that our sins have been forgiven. We have lasting peace because we know that when we die we will go to heaven. Even if we were homeless, even if we were penniless, even if there will be an empty space at the dinner table today, we can still be thankful because Jesus has given us peace.

By the grace of God, we are recipients of the peace of God because we believe the promises found in the Word of God. The word of Christ (as Paul puts it), that is one more gift God has given us, a special blessing Paul calls us to embrace and enjoy and put to use in our daily lives: "Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God" (16).

The end of that verse reminds me of a famous Luther quote, where he wrote: "Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world." And when God's people put those two gifts together, when the music and the message merge to touch the head and the heart, God can do amazing things.

Most of us have favorite psalms or hymns, spiritual songs that are especially near and dear to us. It might be difficult to put into words how they make us feel, but they touch us. They speak to us. The combination of poetry and harmony takes divine truth and puts it in a way that makes all our cares melt away.

One example, at least for me, is the final verse of today's final hymn. I don't know much about Fred Pratt Green, but I do know that he was able to capture the essence of Thanksgiving in just a few words. Allow me to read those words now as a preview for when we sing them later so that you have a chance to reflect on their meaning: "For the harvests of the Spirit, Thanks be to God. For the good we all inherit, Thanks be to God. For the wonders that astound us, For the truths that still confound us, Most of all that Love has found us, Thanks be to God. (CW 611:3).

On this Thanksgiving Day we give thanks to God for everything we have, for the ability to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, for the word of Christ, for the peace of Christ, and for every spiritual and physical blessing we enjoy.

Saying "thank you" is important, but it is not the only way we express our gratitude. As Christians, as blood bought souls, as redeemed children of God, we can give thanks in everything we do: "Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (17).

Being thankful isn't about saying the right things or doing the right things. The foundation for genuine thanksgiving isn't about doing anything at all. Thanksgiving is an attitude of the heart, a heart that is loved by God and wants to share that love with others. Being thankful might not change your life, but it will definitely change the way you look at life. Matthew Kelly, a Christian author and motivational speaker, picked up on this idea when he suggested that "we are at our best when we are grateful."

We are at our best when we are grateful. I came across that quote a couple weeks ago, so I've had some time to ponder it. And I believe the statement to be true. But the more I think about those words, the more I come to realize that the opposite is also true. People are at their worst when they are ungrateful. Not just the unbelievers who won't be in church today. Not just the millions of atheists in our country who celebrate Thanksgiving but don't have any God to thank. Those words hit close to home. Those words describe us. We are at our worst when we are ungrateful too.

Which option better describes you: are you thankful to have a job, or are you constantly complaining about your job? When your co-worker or your classmate excels, are you genuinely happy for them or are you secretly envious of them? Do you spend more time thanking God for what you have or thinking about everything you don't have?

There is a reason why Paul needed to remind the Christians in Colosse to be thankful. There is a reason why children aren't the only ones who need to be reminded to say "thank you." Thankfulness doesn't come naturally. Thankfulness can be very elusive. Because we are sinful by nature, we are selfish by nature. We want what we want when we want it. Instead of being content with the blessings God has given us, we want more.

And so when we gather with family and friends later today, when we sit down to eat and offer a prayer of thanks, it might be a good idea to begin with a prayer of confession. Perhaps something like this: "Dear Lord, every good and perfect gift comes from you. But when we examine our hearts, we see that our attitude is often one of ingratitude. Forgive our sinfulness and our selfishness, and give us a heart like Jesus, a heart that gives thanks for every grace and blessing, a heart that puts the needs of others before our own, a heart that puts our heavenly Father's will before everything else. Thank you for your love, for your Son's sacrifice, for your unconditional forgiveness. Without you we would have nothing, but because of you we have everything...

This little devotional book in my hand is available for purchase at Northwestern Publishing House. The title, 364 Days of Thanksgiving, makes it a popular choice this time of year. It was actually written by a seminary classmate of mine, and when he was asked to explain the book's title, this is what he said:

"The name itself refers to a quote I once read from the British author Charles Dickens. He said that we are somewhat backward here in America. Instead of having just one Thanksgiving Day each year, we should have 364. 'Use that one day just for complaining and griping,' he said. 'And use the other 364 days to thank God each day for the many blessings he has showered upon you.'"

Dickens was saying to Americans in the 19th century what Paul was saying to the Colossians in the first century, and both men still speak to people like us, to Lutheran Christians living in the 21st century. Thanksgiving is more than a day on the calendar. Thanksgiving is a deep-seated feeling, a Spirit-wrought emotion, a grateful response to God's gifts that oozes from our pores 365 days a year. By God's grace and with God's help we can be thankful. We can be thankful every day, thankful for everything we have and thankful in everything we do. Amen.

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