Be Content in Thanksgiving

Preacher, Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Be Content in Thanksgiving” based on Philippians 4:10-13 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: on Thursday, November 23, 2017

Sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy.

Those words, or something somewhat similar, were spreading like wildfire throughout ancient Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia Minor in the 1st Century. However, though they sound familiar to Christians who have read through the inspired words of Paul in the second lesson for today, they did not come from his pen, his mouth, or his mind. Unlike Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the words that were captivating the Roman Empire were not inspired of God.

Sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy.

Epictetus, a Greek Stoic philosopher is credited with coming up with that phrase in particular; along with another insightful quip: It is not what happens to you, but how you react that matters.

It was not accidental that Paul’s words, I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances, sound almost as if Paul and Epictetus were cut from the same cloth.

One of the apostle’s apologetic strategies, his tools for defending and explaining the truths of Christianity, was to study the philosophers of the age and expand on their rudimentary understandings of how and why human beings exist.

For a few hundred years before Paul sent this letter to the Philippians, Stoic philosophers were sorting through those very questions. What is the point of life? Why are we here? What does this world offer to me to fill this insatiable desire to be content and satisfied and, finally, truly happy?

Paul learned the answer to that question. In keeping with his apologetic efforts, the word that Paul used to describe the emotional state and spiritual gift of contentment that he enjoyed isn’t used anywhere else in the Greek New Testament. It is, however, found over and again in the writings of the Stoics.
When Paul wrote, I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances, a much more literal translation of his words might read I have learned self- sufficiency whatever the circumstances.

Have you been to a bookstore recently? Or, rather, as you are seeking out your Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals over the weekend, take a look at what books are the most popular and best sellers among baby boomers and millennials, alike. The self-help sections have surged so much.

That’s because it isn’t just Stoics in the centuries just before and after Christ that are seeking happiness and fulfilment in life. Believers and unbelievers alike want the kind of self-sufficiency that Paul wrote about almost 2000 years ago. However, the secret of self-sufficiency that Paul learned is the difference between believers finally finding it and unbelievers continuing their search.

Paul had to learn that secret because, even as the philosophers posited, contentment is not a natural emotional state for human beings. That fact is something that you don’t have to learn, isn’t it? Even as you sit down for your Thanksgiving meal (tomorrow/today), with enough food to feed an army, will you feel satisfied? It could be something somewhat insignificant, like the turkey being a little dry or that your sister-in-law put too much pepper in the green bean casserole. Maybe you’d rather be watching the football game or be in a room with anyone other than your mother-in-law. Maybe it is that empty chair that still sticks out like a sore thumb, either because of the loss of a loved one or the one you are still looking to love.

Whatever it is, everything isn’t exactly the way that you want it. You might be happy, but it could be better. Or, maybe, you won’t be celebrating Thanksgiving at all. You might take the time, like you are for an hour today, to be thankful to God for all that you have but you’re not having a meal, there’s no family gathering, and your list of physical blessings to be thankful for is pretty short.

That feeling of discontent isn’t there simply because you are being ungrateful. That’s simply a symptom of the disease that affects the way that you perceive and receive the actions of your neighbors and the situations that surround you.

The reason that, by nature, you are discontent is because you are sinful. It is not outside influences that teach you how to have insatiable desires. That has been an inclination in human beings ever since Adam and Eve conceived their first child. Which means that the problem with finding self-sufficiency, that even the greatest philosophers couldn’t solve, is that your self is flawed.

But, if happiness doesn’t come from outside influences and it cannot come from within, where can it possibly be found? What is the secret?
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Paul’s secret isn’t so secret. It is the same thing that has been giving people strength for centuries. Strength cannot come from within you and it does not come from adapting your mind and heart to, or simply accepting, your particular circumstances. It is not understanding who you are. It is about understanding what Christ changed you into.

The secret that Paul learned by experience in his life, when he was blinded and, subsequently, when the scales fell from his eyes, was so much more than simply giving him rose-colored glasses to see the world differently.

Up until his conversion, Paul had been seeking to find contentment and satisfaction in pleasing God through his righteous acts and religious fervor. But, as he learned, he could never accomplish it on his own. He could never be good enough. Instead, Christ gave him the strength to be righteous in God’s sight by changing him from being a sinful enemy of God to being an innocent child of God.

Jesus did that by living a perfect life on this earth, never once falling for the Devil’s temptations to covet or be envious or greedy. In his divine self, without the flaws of sinful man, Jesus was content to leave his plentiful life in heaven to feel hunger on earth and sacrifice that life to pay for all of the times when Paul was covetous, envious, or greedy. With his precious blood, shed from the cross, he covered Paul’s imperfection completely so that, when God looked at Paul he only saw his own perfect Son, instead.

With Christ’s forgiveness on his mind, Paul was content with whatever situation he is placed in. Even if in jail, which is likely from where he wrote the book of Philippians, he sang praises to the one who redeemed him and gave him self-sufficiency in the life Christ made his.
Is Paul a good example for you to follow? Sure. But rather than focus on him being able to overcome any situation in life, focus on why he was able to do it; Christ gave him the strength.

Christ gives you the strength, too. He lived perfectly for you. He died in your place. Whether you are well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want, Christ strengthened you to be a blood-bought child of God.

To paraphrase Epictetus, you can be sick and yet content, in peril and yet content, dying and yet content, in exile and content, in disgrace and content because in
Christ’s life and death, made yours by faith, your new self is sufficient for you. Amen.

God Keeps Two Sets of Books?

Preacher, Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “God Keeps Two Sets of Books?” based on Revelation 20:11-12, 15 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Delivered: on Sunday, November 21, 2017

You might say that Richard Scott is in a little bit of trouble. The Los Angeles, California man is in jail tonight, accused of defrauding the United States Veterans Administration of over $11 million dollars! You see, Richard Scott was the owner/operator of the parking lots at the Los Angeles VA Hospital and as such, he was supposed to turn over 60% of his gross revenue to the Veterans Administration. Only he didn’t do that. He kept a big pile of that money for himself and used it to fund a lavish lifestyle as evidenced by the possessions in his garage, which included a racing boat, three Ferraris, a 1969 Corvette L88, two “high-end” Mercedes-Benz, and a Shelby Super Snake Mustang (whatever that is!), luxuries now all seized by the federal government.

How did Richard Scott manage to bilk the VA out of 11 million dollars? Easy. He kept two sets of books. The fake one full of made up expense forms and falsified income statements that he showed federal auditors. And the real one kept by his accountant.

Ask anyone and they will tell you that keeping two sets of books is a really bad idea. It’s the stuff of embezzlers and organized crime and it will sooner or later land a person a spot in the slammer right next to our pal Richard Scott.

Usually two sets of books is really bad thing. But not today, not when it comes to God. Today in our text we see that God keeps two sets of books. It’s not because he’s up to any funny business, of course. Our God is nothing if not pure, and just and totally above board. And it’s not like one set of books is fake and the other legit. No, both sets of books that will be opened on Judgment Day are real, valid and undeniably true.

So what’s in the books? We’ll find out as we study our epistle lesson from Revelation 20, a little more closely. You might know that the Book of Revelation is a vision that Jesus allowed John the apostle to see showing him the battle of God and his church would wage against foe and oppressor, the battle that would play out throughout history. When we jump into chapter 20, we press play as story is reaching its climatic moments. Satan is thrown into a lake of sulfur, consigned to torment day and night for eternity. And then we cut to a different scene. Judgement Day. And it looks….pretty much like you probably pictured Judgement Day to look.

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. It’s relatively easy to deny, defer and delete God from our daily thoughts now. Many people do. They have the option to not think about standing before an almighty Judge. So they occupy their thoughts with chasing after the baubles and trinkets of this material world.

But there will be no denying the Creator-King on Judgment Day.. The one who once dreamt peacefully in a manger, will on that day judge in purity and perfection on a great white throne. Those who called him anything less than God, those who dismissed him as imaginary, those who classified him along with Peter Pan, Superman and Paul Bunyan will realize to their terror just how wrong they were.

As we see in the next verse, no one is too powerful in man’s eyes and no one is too insignificant in man’s eyes, to be exempt from standing beneath the Judge’s gaze. In other words, John sees us. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Uh oh. If you wanna know what’s in those books, remember a couple things.

First of all, God doesn’t count sins like a heavy man counts calories. You know what I mean? Long on loopholes and short on accountability. God does not look at our constant disobedience and say, “Well, he struggles with so much in every other part of his life, it’s probably okay for him to indulge a little bit in this temptation.” God doesn’t say, “She flew off the handle and lost control of her language but her obnoxious kid just wouldn’t stop pestering her. That’s understandable.” He doesn’t say that.

Second of all, God doesn’t sort sins like an 8 year old sorting football cards at the kitchen table. He doesn’t say, Okay, little sin…little sin…medium sin…big sin…ooh, I’m gonna remember that one.” He remembers all of them. He’s God after all, how can he forget? He knows all, sees all and demands perfection above all. So when we’re talking about two sets of books, we have to understand first of all that God is a ruthless accountant. He has to be. He had make sure not a single one was missed, not single one was dismissed so that he could punish them all, ruthlessly and without mercy….on the cross.

Remember, two sets of books. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. So what’s in this book? No works, right or wrong, no sins and offenses. Just names. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. That’s admittedly a little jarring. And it is true. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. But don’t forgot the unspoken opposite. If anyone’s name is found written in the book of life, all of a sudden that first book we mentioned no longer spells our doom. O baptized child God rejoice! For you and I can say, “Yes, my sins are real. Yes, I deserve their full, complete and unending punishment. But check the other book and you will see my name.”

How do I know my name is there, listed as a child of God and heir of eternal life? How can you know that your name is there in the book of life? Because God himself has promised it. In the water and the word of Holy Baptism, He not only took you in his arms, he wrote down your name. The apostle Paul wrote, “All of you who have been baptized into Christ, have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

O great and mighty Judge, one day, I will stand in your courtroom. I look forward to that day without dread and without trepidation because I know that I stand in the robes of righteousness you yourself have won for me and given to me. And so I pray, do not delay. Come soon, Lord Jesus. Come today.

That’s one of the side effects that comes from knowing there are two sets of books, that indeed there is a book of life, with the believers’ names written in it. You’re not afraid of Judgment Day. As the world around us continues to devolve, and the society around us continues to crumble, maybe we start to see the leaves on the trees and know that summer is near—as Jesus said in our Gospel lesson. Maybe we start to see that the signs of the end and know that it really, seriously could happen today. Come soon, Lord Jesus. Come today. And even if it’s not today, nothing changes what God has told us in his Word today. We go on with our lives—watching, waiting, eagerly anticipating, and doing the very things God has given us to do while we wait. Living with a quiet spirit, an obedient heart, a mouth that builds the people around us up, hands that are more ready to give and serve instead of taking and being served. Not so that our names can be written in the book of life, but because our names already are.

Two sets of books? Two sets indeed. We thank God for that second book and wait with eager hearts for the day that it is opened! Amen.