“Politics, Veterans, and Thanksgiving”
November 13, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Philippians 4:4-9 John 6:25-35
None of us could have missed the fact that Tuesday was Election Day. Thursday was the 241st birthday of the Marine Corps, Friday was Veterans Day (formerly Armistice Day – and my Mom’s birthday), and although the Thanksgiving holiday isn’t officially until next week, Trinity Church will celebrate our Thanksgiving dinner together this evening (except those of us who are attending Charge Conference). All of these things are important and I could easily discuss any one of them, but our calendar isn’t going to give us time to divide them up this year. And so the challenge for me this week has been how do I say something about all of these in one message?
Surprisingly, it really wasn’t that hard.
As I read over the scripture passages that are recommended for today, took notes, and considered the events of the last week, I quickly saw theme that binds all of these ideas, and all of us, together. Let’s begin this morning with Deuteronomy 26:1-11, where, moments before the nation of Israel ends its forty years of wilderness wandering, begins its final journey across the Jordan River, and into the Promised Land, God reminds them of where they came from.
When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, 2 take some of the first fruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name 3 and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”4 The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. 5 Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. 6 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. 7 Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. 8 So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the first fruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. 11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.
Given some of the themes that circulated during the election, some of this resonated with me. God was concerned that once his people reached their new home and settled down, they would forget where they came from. God tells them to begin their prayers before God by proclaiming that they are the children of a wandering Aramean, that they are in fact, the children of nomads, migrants, and immigrants. Next, God reminds them that only a generation earlier they had lived, as slaves, in Egypt where they suffered and were worked mercilessly. They were a people who needed to remember so that they could have sympathy and compassion for those who similarly suffered such abuse and oppression. God rescued them because he hated such abuses and he wanted to make sure that the suffering of Israel would make them care about others. In the end, God brought these suffering migrants to a new place that they could finally call home and for that, God asked that they remember and give thanks.
During the presidential election we heard a lot about migrants and immigration and so, particularly in a country where 58 percent of the population claims at least one grandparent was an immigrant, we too ought to remember where we came from. Ultimately, with the exception of Native Americans, our entire nation is a nation of wandering migrants. Each of our families has stories to tell about how they survived the Great Depression, or Ellis Island, or World War I, or World War II, or Vietnam, or unemployment, or homelessness, or something else. Few of our families have escaped hard times. And so, much like the people of Israel, this time of year ought to be a time for us to remember where we came from and the thankful.
But more than just being generically grateful, we must also remember to whom it is that should give thanks. In John 6:25-35, we hear Jesus remind the crowd of that very thing.
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Jesus asks the people following him if they are following him because they have come to believe that he is from God, or because they want him to feed them and care for them. Jesus says that instead of investing our lives working for money, power, pleasure and possessions (in his words, “food that spoils”), we should instead use our strength and resources to grow God’s kingdom. For us to do the work of God, Jesus says that we must “believe in the one he has sent.” And finally, as the people ask again for food, because Moses gave their ancestors food, Jesus reminds them that the food never came from Moses. It has never been the religious or political leaders who have given you what you have. Instead, all that you are, all that you own, and all that you have, is a gift from God.
And finally, in Philippians 4:4-9, we hear Paul addressing a church conflict that should, once again, teach us something in the aftermath of this presidential election.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
These two women, Euodia and Syntyche, were church leaders who were having a disagreement. Their dispute had grown to the point where it was damaging the church and someone must have written to Paul to help heal it. And Paul’s reply is to plead that both of them would be of the same mind and remember that they had worked together in the cause of the gospel. What was of utmost importance was not their personal differences, but the work that the church must do… together. We are not who we are because of our differences, but because of what we have in common. In the church, we are rich and poor, black and white, men and women, Republican, Libertarian, and Democrat, and everything in between, but here, none of those things are supposed to define us. The thing that defines us is our belief in Jesus Christ and our commitment to grow the kingdom… together.
Our presidential election has given us much to think about and much to remember. But we should also remember to be thankful that we had the opportunity, and the freedom to vote, in a world where a great number of people do not. We should remember to be both grateful and thankful for our Veterans who sacrificed and gave of their time, family life and health, not only for themselves, but for all of us. We should remember that, like the people of Israel, all of our families were once “wandering migrants,” all of us have endured suffering and hard times of one kind or another, and God desires that we remember that history so that we, like him, will have sympathy and compassion for people who are struggling with those same things today.
And the rest of Paul’s advice is a beautiful prescription for us to help speed the healing of broken people, broken churches, and broken nations alike: Rejoice and give thanks for everything, always. Do not be afraid, but lift your concerns, and your thanks, to God in prayer. Live the kind of life so that the thing that everyone around notices is… gentleness. Guide your thoughts so that you dwell on thinks like truth, noble causes, righteousness, purity, beauty, excellence, and the admirable, and praiseworthy qualities of others.
Do these things, and “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
We are indeed blessed, because of our ancestors, because of our veterans, because of our freedom, and for a great many other things.
Let us give thanks to God.
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