Thanksgiving Eve, 22 November 2017
Four days ago, a British newspaper headline reports:
Other stories in recent weeks describe similar events in Egypt. In one story, groups of people are hurling stones at Christians who try to enter houses of worship. Four churches have been closed down in the last few months–not because nobody bothered to go, but because people continued to go.
“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them,” Jesus declares. The Lord announces, “Lo, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Their steadfast hope trusts the Lord and His promise. Despite the mobs, the violence, the risk to life and limb, people gather right where Jesus has promised to be.
These aren’t that strange breed of Christian who says, “I don’t have to go to church” as they lazily decide to sleep in again this month, or cruise out of town for the fifth weekend in a row. These are the kind who rejoice they still have a church somewhere nearby with whom they can unite and worship Christ. Such men and women of faith refuse to shrug their shoulders while their churches are emptied or closed down. The living Lord Jesus Himself promised to be in their midst. They know their brothers and sisters in Christ need their love, encouragement and support, too. These are reasons enough for such Christians to risk going to worship one more time, while they still can. They know, tomorrow may be too late.
Faith draws them to where Christ’s cross will be preached and His Word of forgiveness proclaimed and applied to their persons, their lives. Faith leads them to where His Baptism is given in His name, as He commands. Nothing, it seems, will keep them from their Lord’s table, to be preserved by the Sacrament in His body and the New Testament in His blood unto eternal life.
Some put their lives in this world on the line, not merely on hold, just to meet the Lord on His terms. Others forsake careers and family ties just to be baptized into Jesus’s name. Their Lord says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Such worthiness is found only by the faith that trusts these words, “Given and shed for you,” our Small Catechism explains.
Today Christians risk bodily injury, the mocking, the threatening, and even legal punishments to gather with one another in the name of Jesus. Steadfastly, they go forth, though terrorists target their worship space. Enemies may bomb, defile and destroy their sanctuaries. Steadfast in hope, they remain, for this is the character of the faith Christ works.
This Thanksgiving, we look at 1 Thessalonians 1 and Acts 17. There we find Christ working this very same faith. Even those who once devoted their time, talent and treasure elsewhere are “turned away from idols to serve the living and true God.” The Thessalonians also endured their hardship in steadfast hope, becoming an example for us all.
Steadfast hope in Christ will not be broken. Such is the faith our Lord works through His Word and Sacrament, whenever and wherever the Holy Spirit pleases. Faith in Jesus goes to Jesus. Jesus goes to His church, gathers His people around His Word and Sacrament. He abides with them there. His presence is steadfast; His promises unchanged and unchanging. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus says, “but my words will not pass away.”
For our Lord’s real presence with us, we give thanks. We go to His church to receive His gifts, that our Thanksgiving to Him may abound. Christians, come together in praise and thanks, giving Him honor and glory also as your steadfast hope and only Savior from sin, death and the devil. Steadfast in hope, faith finds Christ precisely where He promises to be. We Christians don’t go to church because we have to, but because we want to be preserved by the Word in steadfast faith, trusting Christ helps us still today. This is His Thanksgiving feast. Amen.
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.
You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (ESV)