"Be thankful in all circumstances." 1 Thessalonians 5:18
The Sunday before Thanksgiving in any church has the same theme, or it should. In the church I attended this morning, the preacher took 1 Thessalonians 5:18 as her text and spoke of the need to be thankful in all circumstances.
I have often preached on that very text, and sometimes take it as a challenge. How can we be thankful in ALL circumstances? Doesn't suffering exclude gratitude? Who can be grateful for suffering? Of course, the answer lies in the miraculous death/resurrection theme of the gospel. Suffering combined with willingness always results in a richer life in Christ. I am amazed by how many of the sickening and tragic experiences in my life have become occasions of deepest gratitude. I am working now on embracing the thanksgiving while the storm rages. It's a life-long work.
The minister this morning took a slightly different tack. She encouraged us to be thankful for the things at hand, the ordinary and expected people and events that we usually take for granted. And at this point something truly miraculous took place.
Seated next to me was a very elderly couple, I assume married. I had greeted them during the passing of the peace, and they were kind and welcoming. During the hymns they remained seated. Getting up and down, and perhaps standing for a few minutes, was more than one or both could do. I admired them for continuing to make the effort to come to worship even on a cold Sunday morning. They were like so many folks in churches across the land today. Committed to their church as an expression of their commitment to God.
As the minister spoke of our need to be thankful for people in our lives right now, the lady reached over and patted her husband on his leg. He returned the gesture.
A simple pat on the leg. Nothing spectacular. No burning bush or writing on the wall. But no less miraculous. Think of what happened in that small exchange. The lady had heard the words of scripture, listened to a minister explain how it could impact her life, and reached over and silently thanked her husband of many years. He responded in kind. They seemed to be acknowledging that after so many long years together, they are grateful for one another, and will not miss the diminishing opportunities to express it.
I'm sure that Paul, who wrote those words, had something like this very thing in mind. I know the minister did.
It reminded me of a time when Leslie and I were dating and walking through a mall in our home town of Lexington. In front of a Baskin-Robbins sat an elderly couple, the enfeebled wife in a wheelchair. Her husband was feeding her ice cream. At that moment I told Leslie, "when we are old I will feed you ice cream."
I came home this morning with a renewed commitment to be thankful for all the ordinary blessings, which, in fact, are all extraordinary. Leslie and I are approaching those later years, though still some way off. But she is near. I can be thankful for her, and I said so.
Who are you thankful for? Take time to tell them.
Dr. Terry Ellis
November 22, 2015