November 22 – Thanksgiving Eve
by Pastor Pete Scheele
Grace and peace to you as you live with the contentment founds in Christ alone, from God, our Father, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
ALS or as some of you know it as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a brutal disease to say the least. ALS causes the brain to lose control of the body’s muscles. It’s one of the cruel ironies of history that a disease notorious for crippling people quickly and severely should strike someone as relentless as Lou Gehrig. Lou Gehrig played for the New York Yankees from 1923 until 1936 and was known as the “Iron Horse.” For nearly sixty years, he held the record of 2,130 consecutive games played, a record that was though to be unbreakable until Cal Ripken did so in 1995. It’s not surprising that he was beloved by players and fans alike because of his tenacity and drive to play day in and day out.
But what was most startling and most memorable, about Lou Gehrig was his farewell speech delivered to the packed crowd at Yankee Stadium when he retired prematurely due to the onslaught of ALS. He said, “Fans, for the past two weeks, you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Could you say those words at this time in your life? Could you say those words facing ALS or Death? I would like to say that I could say those words but I would guest I would say what many of us would be thinking and saying, “I deserve better than this.” Yes, we are filled with life yet we are hungry for more and we look to find contentment. Those aren’t the words of Lou Gehrig and those aren’t the words of the Apostle Paul given to us tonight. Thought their situation is different both of these men have found contentment even when their world seems to be crumbling around them. How can that be?
The Apostle Paul in our text for tonight describes the true means of finding contentment. To fully understand what he is teaching to us we have to know the condition in which the Apostle Paul is writing this letter to the Philippians and us. This is one of the Apostle Paul’s captivity letters. That is he is in prison for the sake of the Gospel, which shouldn’t be of any surprise to us since one quarter of his career as a missionary to the Gentiles was spent in a Roman prison. While none of us would want to be incarcerated today, what the Apostle Paul endured in the different prisons that he spent time in would make our prisons today look like the Ritz-Carlton. The historian John McRay describes the process of being imprisoned in a Roman imprisonment. ‘The Roman prisoners were stripped naked and then flogged – a humiliating, painful and bloody ordeal. The bleeding wounds went untreated as prisoners sat in painful leg or wrist chains. Their mutilated, bloodstained clothing were not replaced even in the cold of winter. Most cells were dark, especially the inner cells of the prison, like the one Paul and Silas inhabited in Philippi. Unbearable cold, lack of water, cramped quarters and the sickening stench from the few toilets made sleeping difficult and waking hours miserable. Food and water was rare and you had to depend on friends outside of the prison to bring you food and water not the prison guards. (John McRay, Christian History 47, pg 14)
The Apostle Paul is writing this letter to the Philippians and us after he has lived in these deplorable places for more than three years in Caesarea and is now in Rome where he is allowed to be under house arrest, which means his hands and feet are still chained but he is allowed to walk around a small shack with a Roman Soldier posted outside at all times. He tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philip. 4:6-7) How can the Apostle Paul find peace and contentment in God when he is facing life and death in this deplorable situation? How can the Apostle Paul encourage us to give thanks to God when his life is in the hands of people who don’t even acknowledge the existence of God?
What the Apostle Paul is going thought for his love of Christ is in stark contrast with what we go through in this world of ours and still he tells us, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philip. 4:10-13)
Plenty and hunger, abundance and need, those are the stark contrasts between the Apostle Paul’s situation and ours today. For many of us tomorrow will bring the mouth-watering smell of turkey and stuffing, sweet potatoes, mash potatoes, green beans, cranberries and pumpkin pies. If I were to get on social media, I would take a picture of my friends and family around the dinner table with the thanksgiving spread and then post it with the caption #Life Is Good. Paul had none of that. But if He would have gotten on social media in his situation, he would have posted a picture of himself in the Roman prison with the caption #Content.
How can the Apostle Paul be content with his life? The secret to the Apostle Paul’s contentment is Christ. As long as our attention is focused on ourselves, we will not find true contentment. This is what Luther called belly-button gazing, as you look only after yourself. Staring at your self will not lead to contentment. And eyes fixed on others will not bring you contentment because comparison is the death of contentment. Even eyes fixed of the feast spread before you and your family tomorrow will not bring contentment either.
But fixing your eyes on Christ will bring contentment even in the darkest of times. The Apostle Paul says he is content because “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philip. 4:13) The Apostle Paul doesn’t have delusions of grandeur, that Christ will make all his troubles disappear so that the dark cold prison will become an oasis. No, the Apostle Paul anticipates ongoing suffering and even death at the hands of the enemies of Christ. Yet, the Apostle Paul knows that none of that can rob him of Christ and all that He has given to him. For the Apostle Paul has learned through God’s Word and his own experiences that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him so that no matter what he faces he will remain strong in Christ. Paul is content in all circumstances because his contentment is grounded not in his circumstances, but in what Christ has done for him. And so is your contentment.
Some of you may not have the feast you desire tomorrow. Some of you may not be blessed by the fellowship of family that you’ve enjoyed in the past. Death may have parted you from a loved one or family strife may have robbed you of sharing this holiday meal with them. Yet contentment remains your in Christ.
Christ’s strength is bound up in what He delivers to you. If you are without a feast tomorrow, Christ promises that the Day is coming when He will deliver an eternal feast for you. If you are feasting tomorrow, Christ promises that the coming feast will dwarfs what you will have tomorrow. A banquet table spread for all is waiting for you and me with Christ and that’s what true contentment is all about. The Apostle Paul tells us, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philip. 4:8-9)
If death has separated you from someone you love, you are not alone, for Christ dwells with you. If division prevents you from sitting at the table with a parent, child, spouse, sibling, or friend, Christ comes to assure you that He has brought you peace with the heavenly Father. Sin divided you from your heavenly Father, but Christ has reconciled you to the Father by His cross. That’s where you will find true contentment.
There is more. The Day is coming when there will be a full and perfect reunion for all those who’ve lived and died with faith in Christ. The Day is coming when death will not separate us, for death will be destroyed. The day is coming when Christ will bring us to be in perfect union with Him, and so we will be perfectly united with one another.
Until that great Day, Christ sustains you, providing you with his perfect companionship, that you might not lose heart. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philip. 4:19) This is what the Apostle Paul is assured of when he says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philip. 4:13) This is the secret to the Apostle Paul’s contentment and yours as well. For Christ brings you contentment because in Him you have it all, as you focus on Christ this Thanksgiving and through this Holliday season let His strength bring you the contentment that can be found in no one else. Now let the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philip. 4:7) so that you can be filled with life and find that perfect Contentment in it. Amen.