I recently attended a worship service where the preacher took as his text I Thessalonians 5:18, in which St. Paul is ending his letter to the Christians in the strategically located city of Thessalonica.
Paul is encouraging them to maintain vigilance in faith during the uncertain times they face. He appeals to them to respect and be at peace with each other, and to pray without ceasing. And then he says, in verses 18-20, “give thanks in all circumstances…do not quench the Spirit…hold fast to what is good…”
These, too, are uncertain times. Economic downturns bring a host of anxieties and reactions in society. We look for the “fix,” we want to hope, we wrestle with troubles, seeking to have control. But the preacher that day asked us to focus on one word, one little word in those verses: the word “in,” found in the phrase “give thanks IN all circumstances.”
I believe God wants us to have full life and joy in life. Life happens, and everything is not of God’s purpose or act; bad things happen to good people and good things happen to those who have done bad. But in any and every circumstance God is present, and in each we have the opportunity to embrace God. To “give thanks IN all circumstances” does not mean to give thanks FOR all circumstances. We should not be thankful for illness, pain, troubles or evil that is present.
Yet in every situation there is something for which to give thanks. Our families, this fragile and beautiful earth, music, life itself, which offers a new chance and opportunity every moment. If we only focus on what is wrong, we do not see what is good or beautiful or life giving; we cannot see the blessings we have and the bounty in life. In finding, waiting and expecting God in everything, we not only have hope and joy, but also can be open to the creative in our situation whatever it may be. IN giving thanks, we embrace the Spirit, we discover what is good and we find God.
Your bishops, Tom, Bud and I, give thanks for you and wish you a blessed Thanksgiving.
The Rt. Rev. Gayle Elizabeth Harris