The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Introduction to the readings for Thanksgiving Sunday

In honour of our celebration of our Thanksgiving service today, we take our readings, first from the 26th chapter of Deuteronomy and then from a letter written by the apostle, Paul to the people of Philippi, the Philippians.

Biblical scholars believe that the book of Deuteronomy takes its impetus from the contents of a scroll found at the site of the Jerusalem Temple as it was being rebuilt some 600 years before Jesus walked the earth.  

The setting for the book’s contents is a re-telling or a sermon, if you will, of God’s instructions to the people through their leader, Moses, gathered on the Plain of Moab.    This morning’s readings are thought to be a final reminder from Moses about the importance of giving thanks at the time of harvest.

The context for today’s Old Testament reading is that:

·         Prior to this the Israelites have been living in slavery in Egypt.  Then God had called on Moses to lead them out of Egypt, across the Red Sea and into the Sinai Desert toward a Promised Land.  For many years they had wandered in the desert but had finally arrived and are camped at the Jordan River waiting for instructions to cross into the land of Canaan – “The Promised Land”.

·         By this time Moses is an old man and today's readings are from sermons he gave to the Israelites on what turns out to be the last day of his life.

·         Moses instructs the people on how they are to settle in the Promised Land and then give thanks with a special thanksgiving using the fruits of their first harvest.

·         Notice how Moses lays out for the Israelites a creed they are all to recite that summarizes God’s actions in bringing them out of Egypt into a Promised Land.  This emphasizes that the purpose of their Thanksgiving is not just for their harvest but for God’s saving acts in delivering them from slavery into the Promised Land.

From the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 26: verses 1-11

                       “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor”

“When you have come into the land the Lord God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.  

You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord our God that I have come into the land that he Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.”  When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God:

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down to Egypt and lived there as an alien,  few in number and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.  When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.  The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 

So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” 

You shall set it down before the Lord your God.  Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house."

In response to these instructions for showing gratitude for God’s abundant accompaniment, support, and generosity we sing together:

VU#100 “Make A Joyful Noise”

In our second reading this morning, we hear a portion of a letter of encouragement written by the apostle Paul to the people at Philippi, a Roman outpost tucked away in the far reaches of what was then known as Macedonia.

Here, in response to correspondence received from the Philippians, Paul encourages them to be joyful, to reflect the gentleness of Christ’s character, continuing to hope in his imminent return, to pray continually, and to trust in the comfort of God’s abiding peace.

Listen with care  to the tone of Paul’s letter in its embodiment of an almost incomprehensible sense of joy, despite the likelihood of his own imminent death in prison. 

The context for today’s New Testament reading is that:

·         Prior to this the apostle Paul had been travelling throughout the Mediterranean world making converts and establishing new churches.  After a new church had been established he would move on but would keep in touch with them and encourage and guide them with his letters.

·         At times Paul would run afoul of local authorities or the Roman governors.  When this letter to the Philippians was written Paul was in prison and fearing for his life. 

·         Amazingly Paul was so strong in his faith that despite his dire situation he was able to write and encourage his followers in Philippi to rejoice in Life and pray knowing that they are not alone but God is with them and can give them – and us – that peace that is beyond comprehension.

 

Philippians 4: 4-9

 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.  Do not worry 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. 

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 

Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace be with you.”

Reader: The word of God for the people of God.  All: Thanks be to God, amen.