Especially in Adversity

Thanksgiving 2019. Yr C. Jer. 29:1,4,7; Ps 66:1-11; 2 Tim: 2:8-15; Luke17:11-19

The people of Israel, the Chosen people, had been favoured by God, going back centuries to their years in the wilderness.  And the accounts of the wilderness stories have some resonance for us all today, on this Thanksgiving Sunday.

One of the particular temptations for us Christians, as it was for the Israelites in the desert, is the danger of getting accustomed to our blessings. Like the world traveler who has been everywhere and seen everything, the maturing Christian is in danger of taking  blessings for granted and getting so accustomed to them that they fail to excite as they once did.

Emerson said that if the stars came out only once a year, everybody would stay up all night to behold them. We have seen the stars so often that we don’t bother to look at them anymore. We have grown accustomed to our blessings.

The Israelites in the wilderness got accustomed to their blessings, and God had to chastise the people (see Num. 11). God had fed the nation with heavenly manna each morning, and yet the people were getting tired of it. “But now our whole being is dried up,” they said, “there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!” (v. 6).

Nothing but manna! They were experiencing a miracle of God’s provision every morning; yet they were no longer excited about it.

Nothing but manna indeed!

One of the evidences that we may have grown accustomed to our blessings, is that same  spirit of criticism and complaining.

Instead of thanking God for what we have, we may complain about it and tell him we wish we had something else. You can be sure that if God did give us what we asked for, we would eventually complain about that. The person who has gotten accustomed to their blessing can never be satisfied.

Another evidence of this malady is the idea that others have it better than we do. The Israelites remembered their diet in Egypt and longed to return to the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic.

They were saying, “The people in Egypt are so much better off than we are!” Obviously, they had forgotten the slavery they had endured in Egypt and the terrible bondage from which God had delivered them.

Slavery is a high price to pay for a change in diet.[1]

Now today Luke tells us that not one of the Hebrews, the Chosen People of God,  who were healed of leprosy came back to give thanks. The one who did return was, an outsider, the Samaritan.

The ones who were supposed to be nearer to God ( as they thought) couldn’t be bothered.

When was the last time you went over in your mind, or in discussion with someone else, the many ways you have been blessed?

God is there – providing for us daily. God is there, at our side during life’s trials. God is there even when we think we are alone.

And what about the crises in our lives?  We resent them, don’t we? What we  don’t  realise is that even in a crisis there is something to be thankful for.

Scottish preacher George Matheson had that problem. He realized that he was not as ready to praise God when things went wrong as he was when they went right.

However, after he began to lose his eyesight, he changed his thinking. He struggled for some months with this weary burden until he reached the point where he could pray, “My God, I have never thanked You for my thorn. I have thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but not once for my thorn.

Teach me the value of my thorn!”

When we count our blessings, we should include the weaknesses, the hardships, the burdens, and the trials we face. If we do, we be surprised to find  that God has used our difficulties more than the “good” things to help us grow spiritually.

Why is that?

In bad times we get shaken out of our complacency, don’t we?

We just tootle along, until one day something happens to wake us up to what life is really about.

But it is in those difficult places that we discover the sufficiency of His grace.

In our trials, we turn to God. And as we depend on Him, we find that His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9)

When you praise God for your blessings, do you remember to thank Him for the thorns? [2]  The trials that have strengthened you?

Some do. I was speaking to someone a while ago, who has gone through a rough period.  The mercy of it was, he told me, that he and his family had turned to prayer when times were hard, and as a result, had been drawn together, rather than split apart, as sometimes happens to families who face adversity.

And you know, what is adversity today could be a blessing tomorrow.

In Budapest, a man went  to his rabbi and complained, “Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?”

The rabbi answered, “Take your goat into the room with you.” The man was incredulous, but the rabbi insisted. “Do as I say and come back in a week.”

A week later the man came back looking more distraught than before. “We cannot stand it,” he told the rabbi. “The goat is filthy.” The rabbi then told him, “Go home and let the goat out. And come back in a week.”

A radiant man returned to the rabbi a week later, exclaiming, “Life is beautiful! We enjoy every minute of it now that there’s no goat—only the nine of us.” [3]

A family living in the Sudan, in a tiny house made of leaves and mud spread over a flimsy frame of twigs, and fearful of marauding tribesmen, is living in adversity.

When our dishwasher breaks down, we are not living in adversity.

The people of the Yemen are living in adversity.

When the toilet overflows we are not living in adversity.

It all depends on the point of view, and we can change our point of view by investing all our energy, all our spirit, all our love – all our thankfulness, in Jesus.

Jesus’ glory is that he brings to this world a glimpse of what God Herself, is like.

For countless years, people have wanted to know what God was like –  guessing, watching the phenomena of this world for some sign, using their imagination, but to no avail.

They never came close to knowing what God is.

But in Jesus we see God – as she is – loving and forgiving,

And giving.

And today we are thankful for what we have been given.  For the gift of his life that Jesus gave.

The gift of his life!

I want to leave you with a true story that tells of faith,      sacrifice,      and       thankfulness.

It is gratitude that prompted an old man to visit an old broken pier on the eastern seacoast off Florida. Every Friday night, until his death in 1973, he would return, walking slowly and slightly stooped with a large bucket of shrimp. The sea gulls would flock to this old man, and he would feed them from his bucket.

Many years before, in October, 1942, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was on a mission in a B-17 to deliver an important message to General Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea. But there was an unexpected detour which would hurl Captain Eddie into the most harrowing adventure of his life.

Somewhere over the South Pacific the Flying Fortress became lost beyond the reach of radio. Fuel ran dangerously low, so the men ditched their plane in the ocean. For nearly a month Captain Eddie and his companions would fight the water, and the weather, and the scorching sun.

They spent many sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed their rafts. The largest raft was nine by five. The biggest shark…ten feet long. But of all their enemies at sea, one proved most formidable: starvation. Eight days out, their rations were long gone or destroyed by the salt water. It would take a miracle to sustain them.

In Captain Eddie’s own words, “Cherry,” that was the B-17 pilot, Captain William Cherry, “read the service that afternoon, and we finished with a prayer for deliverance and a hymn of praise. There was some talk, but it tapered off in the oppressive heat. With my hat pulled down over my eyes to keep out some of the glare, I dozed off.”

Now this is still Captain Rickenbacker talking…”Something landed on my head. I knew that it was a sea gull. I don’t know how I knew, I just knew. Everyone else knew too. No one said a word, but peering out from under my hat brim without moving my head, I could see the expression on their faces. They were staring at that gull. The gull meant food…if I could catch it.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Captain Eddie caught the gull. Its flesh was eaten. Its intestines were used for bait to catch fish. The survivors were sustained and their hopes renewed because a lone sea gull, surprisingly hundreds of miles from land, offered itself as a sacrifice.

You know that Captain Eddie made it.

And now you also know…that he never forgot. Because every Friday evening, about sunset…on a lonely stretch along the eastern Florida seacoast…you could see an old man walking…white-haired, bushy-eye-browed, slightly bent.

His bucket filled with shrimp was to feed the gulls…to remember that one which, on a day long past, gave itself without a struggle…like manna in the wilderness. [4]

He never forgot!

Let us never forget.

Not simply to be thankful, but that we may be enabled to live a thankful life.

That is, a life which is lived daily  in a sense of gratitude, and never  gets used to, never denies, God’s grace, and loving kindness.

A life which is lived thankfully, even in adversity.

Especially in adversity.

Amen.


[1] Warren Wiersbe, God Isn’t In a Hurry, (Baker Books; Grand Rapids, MI, 1994), pp. 77-78

[2] P.R.V., Our Daily Bread, Thursday, April 14

[3] George Mikes, How to be Decadent, Andre’ Deutsch, London

[4] “The Old Man and the Gulls” from Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story by Paul Aurandt, 1977, quoted in Heaven Bound Living, Knofel Stanton, Standard, 1989, pp. 79-80