Now thank we all our God …

                  In the early 1600s, Europe was torn asunder by the Thirty Years’ War, a war that began because of religious intolerance between Protestants and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire and devolved into a power play involving most of the European powers. It was one of the most destructive wars ever in European history.[1]

                  The walled city of Eilenburg, Saxony, was a flash-point in that war. The town changed hands repeatedly, and was filled with refugees fleeing the destruction.

Toward the end of the war, in 1636, Swedish forces laid siege to the town. Famine and plague soon added to the miseries of the people. According to history reports, “there was a tremendous strain on the pastors, who conducted dozens of funerals daily.” Finally, all of the pastors died but one, a Lutheran named Martin Rinkart.

“During the height of a severe plague in 1637, Rinkart conducted as many as 50 funerals per day;” he performed more than four thousand funerals that year, including that of his wife.[2]

“When the Swedes demanded a huge ransom, Rinkart left the safety of the walls to plead for mercy. The Swedish commander, impressed by his faith and courage, lowered his demands. Soon afterwards, the Thirty Years’ War ended.”[3]

Rinkart was known as a writer of hymns – when he found time, I have no idea. You would think that he wrote hymns of lament, hymns of rage against God, hymns of desperation. But he didn’t. Instead, he wrote one hymn in particular, that was a celebration of God, that was a hymn of praise, a hymn of gratitude.

(Sing)

Now thank we all our God,

                  With heart and hands and voices,

Who wondrous things have done,

In whom the world rejoices …

“Who wondrous things have done?”

“In whom the world rejoices?”

Really?

After surviving decades of war … after burying four thousand people in one year … after burying his own wife Rinkart wrote a hymn that celebrates God’s wondrous acts?

(Sing)

Who from our mothers’ arms

Has blessed us on our way

With countless gifts of love,

And still is ours today.

Rinkart is the author of the hymn we still sing today, the hymn we sing especially today, on Thanksgiving, celebrating all the good things in our lives, all the bounty, all the blessings.

He didn’t have much to celebrate, when you think about it. He had seen a terrible war, had survived the plague and famine, had buried thousands in one year alone, had buried his wife ….

And still … he thanked God.

As we gather today for our celebration of Thanksgiving, Rinkart serves as a model of what it means to truly place God at the center of our lives, the center of our celebrations. He teaches us how to praise God, even in the darkest moments of our lives.

We live in what many are calling dark times, my friends. War, the economy, unemployment … uncertain about our future together, and our futures individually.

We live in a time when we aren’t certain we can see beyond the next few days and weeks, when the next few months seem opaque, and the new few years seem … well, we can’t even see that far, can we?

And because of all this uncertainty, because of all our anxieties, our fears, our anger, our frustration, we find it hard to praise God. We find it hard to thank God.

We are so much more comfortable raging against the fates and each other, aren’t we? Just listen to talk radio and partisan TV … listen to and read about the candidates running for public office, and those who already are serving, none of whom can seem to pass up a chance to attack each other, to denigrate each other, to make sly comments about each other.

We have Occupy Wall Street and K Street and Oakland and Portland and dozens of other places, demanding reform in this country for the 99 percent … and so many of us are in that 99 percent … but where’s the outrage for the rest of the world? Where’s the acknowledgement that we who are the 99 percent in this country are the top 15 percent (or better) in the rest of the world?

We feel besieged …

And in that feeling, we lose sight of God … of God’s blessings … of God’s love … of God’s grace.

Until we listen again to the words of a Lutheran pastor who truly was besieged in a walled city in Saxony in 1637, and who despite the atrocities he witnessed, still found the time, the heart, the voice to praise God.

I want to remind you today: We are Anglicans, and as Anglicans, we pray what we believe, and we believe what we pray.

Meaning: Even in our darkest hours, we are called to thank God (even when we can’t identify that for which we are grateful).

We are called to give grace, even when we don’t feel grace-filled.

We are called to receive grace, even when we are not certain grace is being given.

If we at least say we are grateful, one day, we will be thankful.

If we at least say we are giving grace, one day, we truly will give grace.

If we at least say we are receiving grace, one day, we truly will receive it.

And if we remember nothing else this day – because of our uncertainties, our fears, our anger – if we remember nothing else, remember this:

We are blessed.

Because we are loved.

The God whom we frequently forget to thank? Still loves us.

The God against whom and to whom we rage? Still loves us.

And not only does God love us, God loves everybody else as well.

At the end of the Thirty Years’ War, Martin Rinkart had little to celebrate. His friends, his family, his congregation, along with thousands of others, were dead. But still … he gave thanks.

Because he knew, in his heart and in his spirit, that God was with him, and that God loved him.

On this day of Thanksgiving, I pray we can remember the lesson that Rinkart gives us, the lesson that says, despite all the darkness, there is the light of God’s love in our lives, because

God truly does love us. Every single one of us.

And for that, we truly can give thanks … this day, and always.

Amen.

A sermon preached on Thanksgiving Day, 24 November 2011, at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Burke, Va.

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About Lauren Stanley

All my life, it seems, I’ve been on mission. And it’s all my mother’s fault. You see, when I was a child, my mother was adamant: We were to help those in need, those who had less than we did. We were to speak for those who could not speak, feed those who had no food, give water to those who were thirsty.

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