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.


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?”


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?


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.


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

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Urgent times, with more blessings

Dear Beloved in Christ:

My first full day in Haiti started with my first phone call at 6:30 a.m., from Bishop Duracin. Since so many of us lack electricity, our days end a bit earlier and start MUCH earlier, with the sun’s rising. There is so much to do we simply cannot wait for regular business hours. It is now well past dark, and the day is not yet done. Through the kindness of my friends at the hotel across the street, I was able to charge my iPhone, so it is possible to get more news out.

The good news: We were able to get some things done today, through a series of meetings. I met some structural engineers on the plane on Sunday (was that only yesterday?). Today they called and said they wanted to work with the Episcopal Church. Once I told them, on the plane, of the work we do in Haiti, of our 254 schools, of our clinics and hospitals, of our trade schools and community college, of St Vincent’s, of our churches that are also community centers, of our working of miracles here, they decided to partner with us. Thanks be to God that by the grace of God, a bunch of strangers met at 37,000 feet and talked together. How this new partnership will develop only God knows, but that is good enough for me.

We had no luck getting Bishop Duracin’s visa or his daughter’s, but we continue to work on that. Many are striving to make that happen, and we pray it will happen soon, so that Bishop can come to the U.S. to see his wife and to attend the House of Bishops meeting later this month. Your prayers are asked for this.

At the airport today, waiting to pick up The Rev. John Talbird of East Tennessee, who is the head of the Board for Hopital St. Croix in Leogane, I met a Turkish policeman who is with MINUSTAH, the U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti. He has been here since October, and brought his wife and now 8-month-old son with him. They all survived the quake, but he was able to send his wife and son home. Their home was damaged and he is now living in a tent near the U.S. Embassy. His devotion to his work here, his obvious care for the people of Haiti, his willingness to sacrifice a year of his life to live in a foreign land to help others in need, even his willingness to think about how to REALLY help the Haitians – “they need factories, they need jobs, then they can help themselves” – struck a deep chord in me. We truly are all related to each other, and when we work to help each other, at a cost to ourselves, we are building up the Kingdom of God.

I also met my porter from yesterday, who stood watch with me while I waited for my ride. “007” – that is his license number – got me inside the gate so that I could more closely watch for my friend, John. He remebered me from yesterday, and wanted to make sure I was cared for today.

At the same time, I met a woman who lost several of her children in the quake, now has nothing, and wants help with her remaining children, to feed, clothe them, give them shelter and send them to school. These are the times I repeat my cry to the Lord: I need more money! I dearly wish to help all I meet, and I try to do so, but the need here is so great. We all will have to sacrifice to help those in need.

But mixed in with the anguish is more joy, one person at a time. Today I found yet another friend on the street, the woman who sells me my fruit drinks every day. I don’t always need or even want them, but this is how she makes her living. She calls me “friend,” and I call her “friend,” and now we have found each other again, and I can only rejoice at this discovery. As yesterday, we laughed and hugged and stunned others on the street who do not know me and are amazed to see such joy between us. But always, even when they don’t know me, they rejoice as well, because they understand what it means to be reunited.

I cannot believe how blessed I am to find so many I feared lost to be found. I shall continue to look and rejoice, even as I know that I will not find everyone.

And we will continue to do our work, hoping that we can, each day, do a little more to help the people of Haiti, to rebuild this place bit by bit, to recover our dead and bury them with prayers and dignity, to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, cure the sick, make the lame (oh, Lord, we have ao many more of those now!) leap for joy, to give sight to the blind and speech to the mute and hearing to the deaf. These are still urgent times and the workload is enormous and there are so many decisions to make (are we making the right decisions at the right time?). But the people are people of faith, and they know that God is with them. They are doing their part, as God does God’s.

In addition to asking your prayers for the people of Haiti, I ask them as well for the people of Chile and of all those affected by the earthquake there on Saturday. More urgency, more need. My prayer is tha we can and will respond to all who need our help.

Blessings and peace,


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