The more time I spent around grandparents, whether with Samuel or just in general the more I’m realizing they have a pretty sweet gig. They have the best of both words: fun without the frustration. One grandma told me, “I get to sugar them up and send them home.” Another remarked, “This is payback for all those years my kids were crazy.” The late Chuck Colson shared that one of his joys in being a grandparent was quizzing about what they were learning in school. It was Thanksgiving and Chuck was hanging out with his family. He proudly started to quiz his then 8 year-old grandson. He leaned over and started the interrogation, “Charlie, why did the Pilgrims celebrate the first Thanksgiving?” Charlie thought for a moment and then resorted to the obvious answer saying, “They wanted to give thanks!” “And who did the Pilgrims give thanks to?” Charlie squirmed a little bit. “I guess they were thanking the Indians. I don’t know! That’s what we learned at school anyway.” Thanksgiving is still enjoyed by millions, but like that 8 year old, the reasons why we celebrate can become a little fuzzy. Some celebrate “friends-giving” or football, others family and some tryptophan in turkey as they finally get that mid-day nap they were pinning after. Thanksgiving is the one day a year where napping becomes completely socially acceptable even though other people are around. Yet, is there any greater significance? Is there any greater focus for our thanks than our comfortable circumstances?
It was right after the bloody battle of Gettysburg, that President Lincoln in 1863 declared a proclamation of Thanksgiving drawing all Americans from the tragedy to the transcendent. “The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.”
Lincoln and Washington before him, knew giving thanks had a way of driving us back to what was important. Thanksgiving usually motivates us to go home. We reconnect with family over the dinner table; we see our relatives and reminisce. What a fitting time, on our church Homecoming Sunday, to draw our focus on the transcendent rather than just the temporary. No one does this better than the Apostle Paul, writing in the book of Philippians, chapter 1, verses 3-11, where his circumstances were trying–facing house arrest, his earthly future in jeopardy but transcendent truth allowed him to give thanks for that which would ultimately overcome. Maybe as you are sitting here this morning pictures of loss, pain, and brokenness pop into your head more easily and rapidly than thoughts of thanksgiving, you can think of a million reasons to despair, to give up, to give in, but even though Paul wrote in the 1st century, he speaks to us today, in a world that seems just as unstable and warring. Paul reminds us of three areas where we can give thanks regardless of what’s occurring. Paul starts by remembering their:
Partnership in the Gospel (3-5) 3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
Paul starts by giving thanks for a partnership that had lasted over a decade. 10 years earlier he had shared the Gospel, established a church, and become united to the people in a partnership that carried on. It was while Paul’s world teetered out of control that he was able to give thanks for partnership. That even the great Apostle Paul didn’t have to do it alone. Let that comfort you if you feel like you are all alone. The people of Philippi figured out a key truth: Partnership is only powerful when it is practical. They got this coming through for Paul who was under lock and key in 3 areas: faithfully praying for his endurance, offering fellowship–even sending one of their own Epaproditus to be an extension of Paul who was an extension of Christ, and financial support giving of themselves so Paul could keep giving the Gospel. Partnership that was powerful because it was practical!
It was that type of practical partnership that helped make the first Thanksgiving memorable. We oftentimes don’t hear the story of Thanksgiving from the perspective of the Indians. Many of us probably remember hearing about the Wampanoag Indian Squanto’s role in Massachusetts with the pilgrims but his story started much earlier. Like Paul to the Philippians, the story started a decade earlier. It started with anything but a situation to give thanks. He was actually abducted from his home and sold into slavery in Spain. But God had an amazing plan for this captured Indian. In Spain he found himself bought and living with a Spanish monk who with the best of intentions taught him his faith, about Jesus Christ. As Squanto got older he took odd jobs, one was working in the stables for a wealthy man who took sympathy on Squanto’s desire to go home and finally he was onboard a vessel heading for America. When he got home, he found that his village had been wiped out by an epidemic, a year later came a shipload of Pilgrims trying to set up a new home. According to the diary of Pilgrim Governor William Bradford, Squanto “became a special instrument sent of God for [our] good . . . He showed [us] how to plant [our] corn, where to take fish and to procure other commodities . . . and was also [our] pilot to bring [us] to unknown places for [our] profit, and never left [us] till he died.” When Squanto lay dying of fever, Bradford wrote that their Indian friend “desir[ed] the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishmen’s God in heaven.” Squanto bequeathed his possessions to the Pilgrims “as remembrances of his love.” (Breakpoint Commentaries)
God used a slave in order to chance the course or a future nation, the course of a dying people facing disease, hunger, and hopelessness. It was a partnership that was powerful because it was practical. In 1 Corinthians 1:28 Paul declared: God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are…He had Christ take on humanity through a lowly baby, die on a cross as a helpless slave, all to nullify the strength and self-assurance of sin. As we come home, as we stop to reflect, don’t miss just how amazing it is that God has used the church at the crossroad, WGCC, to reach places in the world many of us have never been or will ever be, from Thailand to Zimbabwe, Arizona to New England from Lincoln to Detroit. Your consistent fellowship, financial support, faithfulness, and beyond is what has helped orphanages welcome children, wells provide life-saving water, for the lost to be reached, and churches to be planted. Partnership in the Gospel is like a transformer—it can look like almost anything. Some of you have partnered in the Gospel by investing in our youngest members in the nursery, some of you have stretched your own food budgets to help kids who don’t have enough food get through the weekend, others have become pray warriors.
Partnership that is powerful because it is practical replaces a mirror with a window into the world. Christianity is powerful when it’s people are looking out a window–abandoning self rather than glued to the mirror, catering to self. Here is the exciting part. WE not only get drawn home to remember or give thanks for what God has done, but if you are willing to partner–practically–powerfully–we get to look forward to what God will do!