I am thankful...
This homily was given on Sunday 20th November - the day Christ Church hosted its annual community Thanksgiving Dinner.
Thanksgiving is not a festival that we British are familiar with; Canadian Thanksgiving has slightly different origins and traditions to the American festival, but we all understand the concept of Giving Thanks – giving thanks for our blessings, for the good things in our lives, the food on our table, the family we share it with.
And as we celebrate in a uniquely French/ American/ Christ Church mash up we also give thanks for God’s provision in our lives. We remember the good things God has given us, and celebrate these.
But we also need to remember the words from Thessalonians, Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
Life isn’t always rosy and full of joy. There are what we might call hidden blessings…And although it is not easy, we are called on to give thanks in these circumstances also. I am not going to pretend I can do this myself. I promise you, I can’t! But this is what God wants: God wants us to acknowledge and give thanks for even those circumstances and events that seem like complete catastrophes, or at least minor inconveniences.
I just want to read two things to you, the first an excerpt from a book, the second a poem, to leave you to mull over.
In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom (link: https://www.amazon.fr/Hiding-Place-Triumphant-Story-Corrie/dp/0553256696) tells of a time she discovered that God was working even in the most horrific circumstances.
Corrie and her sister Betsie had been imprisoned by the Nazis for hiding Jews behind the wall of their Dutch home, and in the concentration camp, conditions were pretty well unbearable.
“Barracks 8 was in the quarantine compound. Next to us–perhaps as a deliberate warning to newcomers–were located the punishment barracks. From there, all day long and often into the night, came the sounds of hell itself. They were not the sounds of anger, or of any human emotion, but of a cruelty altogether detached: blows landing in regular rhythm, screams keeping pace. We would stand in our ten-deep ranks with our hands trembling at our sides, longing to jam them against our ears, to make the sounds stop.
“It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy.”
Yet, in the midst of the suffering, the women prisoners around Corrie and Betsie found comfort in the little Bible studies they held in the barracks. Corrie writes they gathered around the Bible “like waifs clustered around a blazing fire…The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the Word of God.”
When they were moved to Barracks 28, Corrie was horrified by the fact that their reeking, straw-bed platforms swarmed with fleas. How could they live in such a place?
It was Betsie who discovered God’s answer:
“‘”Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.” That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’
“I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room…”
They thanked God for the fact they were together. They thanked God they had a Bible. They even thanked God for the horrible crowds of prisoners, that more people would be able to hear God’s Word. And then, Betsie thanked God for the fleas.
“The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’
“‘”Give thanks in all circumstances,”‘ she quoted. ‘It doesn’t say, “in pleasant circumstances.” Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.’
“And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.”
It turned out that Betsie was not wrong; the fleas were a nuisance, but a blessing after all. The women were able to have Bible studies in the barracks with a great deal of freedom, never bothered by supervisors coming in and harassing them. They finally discovered that it was the fleas that kept those supervisors out.
Through those fleas, God protected the women from abuse and harassment. Dozens of desperate women were free to hear the comforting, hope-giving Word of God. Through those fleas, God protected the women from much worse things and made sure they had their deepest, truest needs met.
We all have “fleas” in our lives. We all have those things that we can see no use for, things that are obviously horrible, unpleasant, painful things that we want gone. No life is free of “fleas”, but if Corrie and Betsie can be our examples, God can use even these nasty insects for our protection and blessing.
The second thing I’d like to read is a poem: it’s not talking about problems anywhere near as serious as living in a concentration camp and dealing with death and misery. Rather it talks about the minor niggles that are in all our lives and turns the negative into a positive.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, let’s thank God for His constant care and provision, and for His hidden blessings that come in ways we can easily overlook.