Give Thanks in All Circumstances

James 1:17 ESV

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Psalm 107:1 ESV

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

Ephesians 5:20 ESV

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Colossians 3:15-17 ESV

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Philippians 4:6 ESV

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

On this Veteran’s Sunday, we all have things for which we are thankful.  These are just a few passages of scripture that encourage us to give thanks.  In particular, we are to be thankful in all circumstances.  Being far away from home for Thanksgiving gives us a taste of that.  I found these stories from the military during World War II.

Cliff Sampson of Plymouth, US Navy 1942-1945: “My first military Thanksgiving was in 1942 at Great Lakes. We had a big mess hall and it was a typical Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and all the fixings, apple pie and mince pie. They tried to make it special and, of course, everybody was hepped on the war. Just being a little recruit, you didn’t have much to say about it anyhow, you just did what they told you and ate what they gave you. But it was good food, I can’t complain. Some of the food probably was better than a lot of people ever had before they were in the service. Some people came from poverty… “Thanksgiving 1945 I was home in Plymouth with my family and my wife. We were getting ready to settle down and I was back to work, running the store again. It was a great feeling to be home, after being blown up on a ship in July (the USS YMS 84 yard mind sweeper was blown up 3 July 1945, Cliff Sampson received the Purple Heart) and then in November, I’m out of the service and the war is over. I feel sorry for all those that didn’t come back. It was a great experience, but it’s too bad for those who had to leave us. They fought for a great cause.”

Bill Shepard of Plymouth, 102 Infantry Division (“Ozark Division”), U.S. Army, stationed in Ohio, Germany and Wales: “The Armed Forces were absolutely adamant about getting the troops a Thanksgiving dinner, all over the world, no matter who you were or what you were doing. Whether it was on the front lines THANKSGIVING “OVER THERE” *** World War Two Voices from the Front or in a big fort like Sam Houston in San Antonio, they always made sure that the Armed Forces got a Thanksgiving dinner. Christmas meals were also somewhat like that, but I remember the Thanksgiving dinners — there were always turkeys and pies and everything you would have at home. The food was often cold, if you were in the field (Thanksgiving Day 1944, the Ozark Division had just broken through the Siegfried Line at Aachen), but it was Thanksgiving.”

Stanley Collins, US Navy: “I was on submarine duty in the Pacific in the year 1943. We were in the area off the cost of the Philippines. I remember having a complete turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. While the turkeys were cooking, the submarine took a dive. We went down too steeply and the turkeys fell out of the oven onto the deck. The cook picked them up and put them back into the oven — and we ate them, regardless of what may have gotten on them as a result of their fall. That meal was so good!”

Ervin Schroeder, 77th Infantry Division, 3rd Battalion, I Company, US Army: “On Thanksgiving Day, we made our landing on Leyte Island in the Philippines very early in the morning. We therefore missed our dinner aboard ship. Somewhere down the beach from where we landed, the Navy sent us ham and cheese sandwiches. My buddy happened to get one of the sandwiches and brought it back to our area. I was complaining to him for not bringing one back for me when he started to have stomach cramps… At this point, I shook his hand and thanked him for not bringing me a sandwich.”

Ed Campbell, US Marine Corps, 1943-1945, had spent 3 different Thanksgivings in service.  He says this about the last one.  “The third and last Thanksgiving (1945), I landed in Boston on Thanksgiving Day… I walked around the city for a little bit, with joy in being immersed in the quietness of Boston — it was around 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning. I decided I would take a taxi home to Quincy. I had enough money — my discharge money — so I was able to pay for a cab to take me home in style. Of course, we had a great Thanksgiving. My mother had all the relatives and old friends there — I had called her to say that I would be home on Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful day to come home. It was literally the first day of the rest of my life.”

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever.  Give thanks always and for everything.  Sing songs of thanks and whatever you do, in word or deed, give thanks to God for Jesus.  Do not worry, but pray and give thanks.  Give thanks in ALL circumstances.  We’re told all throughout the Bible to give thanks.  And not just in the good and easy times, but in the hard, trying times as well.

Stuart, Mike’s cousin, wrote this about his Granddad for the funeral.

“In a book that Tom Brokaw authored, he labeled the generation that fought in and supported our country during WWII as the greatest generation that ever lived. He went on to describe this group of people as the greatest generation that any society ever produced; not only for their efforts winning the war, but for the way they lived their lives.  I am sure everyone here has known someone who was a part of this generation and can easily testify to their godly and selfless character and how true Tom Brokaw’s characterization is.

I can certainly do this in the case of my grandfather.  Bob Jeter joined the Marine Corps when he was 17 years old. He fought in the critically important Battle of Iwo Jima and was one of the few soldiers to survive. During the battle one of his friends was buried alive on the shores of the beach during a shelling.  My grandfather saved his life by quickly digging him up and getting him to safety.  They remained best friends for the rest of their lives. He was awarded three purple hearts for his time in the Marine Corps. After being discharged, he went to work for McKesson Drug as a worker in the warehouse.  He got this job by using the GI Bill. Over the course of his career, he worked his way up to the position of vice president of McKesson Drug.

These are obviously all things to be proud of, but the accomplishment Bob Jeter was most proud of was the fact he and his wife of 60 plus years, Helen Jeter, raised a Christian family. My uncle overheard him say this on the golf course in response to a question about 15 years ago.

Everything my grandfather did was centered on Christ. He was a dedicated member of this church for 40 plus years. He served at Brush Hill as an elder, Sunday School teacher and in many other roles. He, along with my grandmother, were very actively involved in numerous ministries in East Nashville over the course of their lives. He began each day of his life with prayer and scripture reading and ended it in the same way.

It is truly a blessing if you have ever had anyone in your life who you can to to for advice on anything that is on your heart and know that you will receive profound, thoughtful, wise guidance in return.  Because of the relationship I had with my grandfather, Bob Jeter, I knew someone like this.”

He wrote this letter to his family.

Dear All,

I suppose you know by now that I am on Iwo Jima, and best of all I am still alright.

 

I have had several close ones, but the good Lord seemed to want me to stay in good shape a little longer.

There isn’t much I can say, or they’ll let me say, except that I am alright, and I intend to stay that way.

I’ll write more when I have more time and something to say.

I still haven’t seen Howard but I passed his island.

Your loving son,

Bob

Pfc Robert E. Jeter

Written March 3, 1945.  He was wounded (3rd time) and evacuated on March 12.  One day after his 20th birthday.  He’s the one who Enoch mentioned in last week’s children sermon who had the purple hearts.  When granddad was at Maybelle Carter, an assisted living facility, his neighbor would make stuffed teddy bears.  That was one of the things Enoch took with him when we had to evacuate for the hurricane because as he said last week, it reminds him of his grandfather and he indeed was a great man.

I have hope for our country.  At Girl State I loved to sing the song “God Bless the U.S.A.” because when we sang the part “And I gladly stand up” we would stand up.  Close to 600 high school juniors.  It wouldn’t have the same impact if I did it alone.  We have to do it together.  “And I gladly stand up NEXT TO YOU.”  We have to be united as a country and a nation under God.  We won’t survive if we don’t.  We’ve become so insular, so jaded, such experts on the way we see the world, that we don’t celebrate America for what it is.  A glorious melting pot of neighbors, of brothers and sisters, of fathers and mothers, of real people.  I’ve always believed that the way to Christ is in relationship.  Our personal relationship and our communal relationship.  We personally need to dig into the Word, fast and pray, and cultivate and tune in to the True Vine, but we also need to live it out, forming relationships with our neighbors, the person we see every week at the coffee shop and we always wonder if we should strike up a conversation, the frazzled mother at the grocery store holding on to her squirming children while she drops her groceries.  Be the change you want to see in the world.  AND give thanks for all that you have been given.  For example, your house, your food, your job, your freedom, this great country.  I challenge you to see and name three things for which you are thankful at the end of every night.  Do it for the month of November and tell me what happens.  My prayer and hope is that you will ignite within you a Spirit of Gratitude.

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We recognized our veterans at our special service and played this song and invited them to come forward for every branch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_I5BqvpkwmA

Being a Disciple Takes Sacrifice

Luke 9:18-26

18 Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19 They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” 20 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.”

21 He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, 22 saying, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

23 Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 25 What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? 26 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

 

On September 11th 2001, I had just started my senior year at Winthrop.  I was student teaching at Saluda Trail Middle School for two days a week, but it was a class day so I went to my 8 am class.  I watch The Today Show every morning, so I must have watched it that morning.  Towards the end of that class I remember hearing about it somehow.  We didn’t have smart phones back then.  We all thought it was an accident.  In my next class at 9:30 am with Dr. Silverman he had turned on the tv in the classroom, by then we all knew it wasn’t an accident.  I remember vividly when the South Tower fell at 9:59 am because someone was holding my hand out to see my new engagement ring as I stood watching in horror as the smoke and debris billowed.  We had gotten engaged on September 10, 2001, little did we know that the next day would be etched into our brains forever.  Winthrop cancelled class at that point.

I immediately walked over to Winthrop Wesley to watch the coverage with Mike, who was the Director of Tuesday’s Child Learning Center, an after school ministry for homeless and at-risk kids, and Jerry, the campus minister at the time.  They were talking about evacuating Charlotte because of the nuclear plant and at the time it was the second biggest city for banking.  I worked at Tuesday’s Child and I was also a youth minister and in the coming days, we struggled to find the words to say to the children and youth.  However, the afternoon of September 11th we had an education colloquy that was mandatory for all student teachers and the education professors decided not to cancel it.  I don’t remember what they covered, but I do remember this.  They said that the terrorists want to disrupt our lives and they were not going to give the terrorists the satisfaction of impacting our lives because that’s what the terrorists want.  As I’ve remembered the anniversary with students over the years, I got a sense of the chaos that ensued.  For example, one student was in the elementary school and one student was in middle school in the town of Blythewood, and one school was on lock down and one they requested parent pick up.  I have since taken students from all 3 campus ministries to St. Paul’s Chapel where the first responders stayed.  They have created a peace exhibit and saved one of the pews were the first responders slept.  One of the students’ uncles had died in one of the towers and we found his name on the memorial.  It was my generation’s Pearl Harbor or shooting of JFK.  We all have stories of remembrance and sacrifice.  As well as struggling with theodicy, in other words, why bad things happen to good people.

This story gave me comfort in the days after 9-11 and it represents a critical, crucial truth to me.

Meet Me In The Stairwell by Stacey Randall

You say you will never forget where you were when you heard the news On September 11, 2001. Neither will I.

I was on the 110th floor in a smoke filled room with a man who called his wife to say ‘Good-Bye.’ I held his fingers steady as he dialed. I gave him the peace to say, ‘Honey, I am not going to make it, but it is OK..I am ready to go.’

I was with his wife when he called as she fed breakfast to their children. I held her up as she tried to understand his words and as she realized he wasn’t coming home that night.

I was in the stairwell of the 23rd floor when a woman cried out to Me for help. ‘I have been knocking on the door of your heart for 50 years!’ I said. ‘Of course I will show you the way home – only believe in Me now.’

I was at the base of the building with the Priest ministering to the injured and devastated souls. I took him home to tend to his Flock in Heaven. He heard my voice and answered.

I was on all four of those planes, in every seat, with every prayer. I was with the crew as they were overtaken. I was in the very hearts of the believers there, comforting and assuring them that their faith has saved them.

I was in Texas, Virginia, California, Michigan, Afghanistan. I was standing next to you when you heard the terrible news. Did you sense Me?

I want you to know that I saw every face. I knew every name – though not all know Me. Some met Me for the first time on the 86th floor.

Some sought Me with their last breath. Some couldn’t hear Me calling to them through the smoke and flames; ‘Come to Me… this way… take my hand.’ Some chose, for the final time, to ignore Me. But, I was there.

I did not place you in the Tower that day. You may not know why, but I do. However, if you were there in that explosive moment in time, would you have reached for Me?

Sept. 11, 2001, was not the end of the journey for you. But someday your journey will end. And I will be there for you as well. Seek Me now while I may be found. Then, at any moment, you know you are ‘ready to go.’

I will be in the stairwell of your final moments.

-Jesus

Our scripture this morning asks, “Who do people say that I am?”  I would answer, Emmanuel, God with us, through our suffering, through the terror, through the pain.  The One who gives strength and courage both to the first responders on 9-11 and on United Flight 93 and gives us all the power and audacity to lose our lives in order to gain something far greater.

There’s this story from the Vietnam War that my dad told in every church he was appointed to when I was growing up, and I would look forward to it each time.  During the war, some stray artillery rounds landed in an orphanage, wounding several children.  One was a nine year old girl who lost a lot of blood and was barely alive.  Nearby there were some American forces who dispatched a Navy doctor and nurse to help the children.  They went to work first on the young girl who was in shock and needed an immediate blood transfusion to save her life.  To get a donor, the doctor and nurse called together a group of unharmed children and in their broken Vietnamese and limited French they explained to the orphans that someone would have to give blood to help save the little girl’s life.

At first nothing but stares came from the frightened children.  Then a small hand went up in jumpy hesitation, then down again, then up again, it was the hand of a ten-year-old boy. The nurse asked him his name and he said, Heng.

He was immediately placed on a cot; and his blood drawn for a compatibility test.  For example, O positive, O negative, A positive, A negative, etc.  They amazingly were a match.

Then the transfusion started from him to the little girl. Heng soon broke into crying that grew into deep sobs.  “Is it hurting, Heng?” asked the nurse. He shook his head no, but went into deep sobs and began to shake. Soon he was a flood of tears.

The medical team became nervous and thought something was wrong.  At that moment a Vietnamese nurse arrived on the scene. She quickly spoke to him in his own language. After answering several questions between sobs, she whispered to him and he became calm and the crying faded away.

Turning to the American medics, the nurse said in a low voice: “He thought he was going to die.  He was under the impression that you needed all his blood, and that he would have to die to help save the little girl’s life.”

The amazed doctor asked, “How could he possibly have the guts to do that?”

The Vietnamese nurse turned and asked the little boy.

He simply said, “Because she is my friend.”

Great sacrifice doesn’t come without risks.   Risk we must, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.  The person who risks nothing does not live.  Because to LIVE – fully, richly, abundantly – you have to risk.

My family loved to play RISK, the game of world domination, pre-kids.  The last time we played my mom had to keep Enoch who was 6 months old at the time, from eating the pieces.  My favorite RISK story was from my parents in seminary.  As Dad told it, he was up late playing RISK with a group of seminarians and this one guy stood up from the table and said, “What does it profit you if you gain the whole world, but lose your souls?” and slammed the door.  That must have been some game!

We are people who straddle two worlds. We have one foot in the physical realm that is saturated by sinful human nature, systems, and institutions. As Christians, we have another foot in the unseen kingdom of God, where we claim that our true citizenship lies in Christ our King. The call of discipleship is to be willing, as much possible, to sacrifice our foothold in this world. That includes our status and position, and the worldly treasures of all kinds that we’ve amassed of ourselves. Jesus’ invitation to take up our cross means being willing to take on the absolute lowliest position in the entire empire in opposition to the sinful powers that be.

Sacrificing our place in the world also includes sacrificing our worldly sense of identity or self. Jesus’ description of losing one’s life to gain it can be translated, maybe more accurately, as losing one’s self (Greek is psyche which in the ancient world was the difference between a living person and a dead one — the soul/spirit/self). That means we no longer identify ourselves and our value by the way that the worldly empire defines those things. Instead, we search for our true selves whose value comes from Jesus’ body and blood sacrificed for us. Being a disciple means continually trying to cut the ties we’ve built with the empire of the world.

When you cut those ties, whether of addiction, consumerism, ambition, or the other world-enticing sins, don’t get discouraged or dismayed when the Enemy attacks.  All you have to do is to call on the name of Jesus.  Ann Voskamp writes that she sings hymns, “When the enemy attacks with lies, when I feel alone and scared, when I fear the future and whispers in the shadows. It’s what my mother-in-law, a Dutch farmer’s wife and mother of nine, godly and with these big calloused work hands, said to do. What she told me once hunched over this row of peas we were picking out in a June twilight: “It’s what my mother said, Ann: When it is hardest — that is when you sing the loudest. The devil flees at a hymn.” At the last, when the cancer wound tighter, folks would ask how she was — and my father-in-law would say, “Good! She’s singing all the time.” And we knew how hard it was — and how good she knew He is.”

Indeed, God is good and our God is a God that is with us, who took on flesh in the form of Jesus.  Jesus warned us especially in this passage that we would have to deny ourselves and take up our crosses.  BUT WE DON’T DO IT ALONE.

I love the poems in Alive Now by Roberta Porter. This one is called simply “Gift.”

It is no small gift to be a faith community,
to worship, to witness,
to walk the way of love
in the name and strength of Jesus.
And in community,
When brokenness and sorrow come,
those in need are surrounded
with prayer and compassion.
Our caring goes beyond ourselves,
and the stranger, in many places,
Is touched
by the healing love and grace of God.

In our failures, in our busy forgetting,
we are forgiven, renewed
to continue to be the hands and feet of Christ –
no small task,
no small gift.

The world will see our Jesus by our witness and by our community.  It’s imperative that we take up our crosses every day AND show the world God’s tangible love for them.  We have to let it bleed and infect all of our lives.  Nothing is off limits.  James 1:22-24 says, “22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, ongoing away, immediately forget what they were like.”

Be authentic.  Be real.  Be honest.  Say and know, you’re not perfect, and invite them into your life so that they see the little reassurances God gives us along the way – the person that says something and God’s speaking through their voice, the song that happens to come on the radio or the itunes shuffle at just the right time, the passage of scripture we happen to read…it doesn’t just “happen.”  Be the hands and feet of Jesus.  Go and take it to the world and rock it. Claim it.  Let your life of faith be a testimony.  Live your faith out loud.  And remember to be grateful not only to our first responders who put themselves in harm’s way for each of us, nor for their families, but the One who gave the greatest sacrifice, Jesus, so that we, and those lives lost, could have eternal life.

I will close with these words of Mr. Rogers.  “When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.”  To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”  Jesus says come, take up your cross and follow me.  John 15:12-13, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Do we love the world that much that we’re willing to lay down on our lives?  God did.