Thanksgiving will not be canceled

Martin Rinkart was called to pastor the Lutheran church in Eilenberg, Germany in 1618, just as the 30 Years War was beginning. It was one of the bloodiest wars in history, but Rinkart kept faithfully serving his congregation for 32 years. 

Eilenberg was a walled city, which resulted in it being an overcrowded refuge for people trying to escape the terror around them. Those who descended upon Eilenberg and the various armies that marched through it brought with them many diseases. The war also caused ruined crops and an extreme famine. At times 30 or 40 people fought in the streets over a dead cat or crow. A plague swept through Eilenberg in 1637 and claimed the lives of more than 8,000 people in the small town in that year alone.

The church superintendent left town for “a change of air” and never came back. The town’s other clergy all died. During the worst of the plague, Rinkart was the only pastor left in town. He did mass funerals for 40 to 50 persons a day. He buried 4,480 people in 1637, including his first wife.

Just as the plague was beginning to hit his town, Rinkart wrote a hymn. A person might expect the song would be one that would fit in the blues category, moaning “Woe is me.” But instead the hymn Rinkart wrote is in the Thanksgiving section of the hymnal. In the midst of all that was going on, God helped Rinkart to write the words, “Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices; who wondrous things hath done, in whom His world rejoices. Who from our mother’s arms hath blessed us on our way, with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.”

Rinkart knew that even though war and plague and death was all around him, God was still good. We have a virus to contend with, a world full of division and conflict and economic problems. But God is still good and we still have reason to give thanks.

A recent news article asked the question if Thanksgiving would be canceled. There might not be large gatherings like previous years, but more than ever we need to give thanks. We need to get our eyes off of a constant focus on the problems and concerns and pray for eyes to see how good God is and the good things He is doing. The Lord is still, as Rinkart wrote, “The one eternal God, Whom earth and heaven adore; for thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore!”

The prophet Habakkuk also lived in difficult times. His country had wandered from the Lord and was about to be overtaken by the wicked Babylonians. And yet God inspired him to write: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

Because of God’s grace and goodness, thanksgiving is never canceled. No matter what is on the table or who is around the table, we rejoice and give thanks, because God is good, all the time.

Welcome to eat with the Lord

I was traveling by myself in Rome. One evening I went to a restaurant, hoping to get some dinner. They said they wouldn’t seat me because I was alone. There wasn’t money to be made in a single guy taking up a table. They quickly showed me to the door.

It was unpleasant and a little bit embarrassing to be told I wasn’t welcome. They had the food I was looking for, but I wasn’t the type of customer they were looking for.

Some people doubt God will welcome them to dine with Him. Their past is far from perfect. They have made bad choices and fell into sin. They feel it is foolish to think God is looking for them and would ever welcome them.

It is true that sinfulness is unwelcome at God’s table. We need to be forgiven and cleansed before a welcome can be received. But the welcome is extended and can be received because of Jesus’ death on the cross. Those who confess their sin and accept Christ’s forgiveness are welcomed in by faith. 

Sadly some congregations welcome certain people more than others. Families with kids that can bolster the youth group might be welcomed more than single or divorced people. Those with similar political opinions might receive a warmer welcome than those with contrary opinions. Those with money or from the same ethnic group or race might receive a warmer welcome than others.

Jesus told a parable of a man who prepared a great banquet. The first ones invited turned down the opportunity to attend the banquet. The master was angry with them and told his servants, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. … Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full” (Luke 14:21-23). 

The invitation to God’s banquet is not just for those who are religious and good rule followers. The religious leaders were surprised by who Jesus shared a meal with. “When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’” (Matthew 9:11). The poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame; the ones who confess their sin and their need are given a warm welcome by the Lord. Because of God’s grace there is a place at the Lord’s table for each of us who will receive it by faith. 

It is great to receive a welcome. We don’t always receive one from the world, but that doesn’t matter so much. What matters most is that because of Jesus, we are welcomed in to the family of God.