Preached on Thanksgivign Eve / Organ Dedication
If you own a car, do you call your car by a certain name? About five years ago a national insurance company did a survey and discovered in that particular survey, at least, that one of every four car owners gives a name to his or her car. If that is even close to true, that means that quite a few of you call your cars by a certain name. I would think that could be kind of an interesting conversation to find out what all those names are – and the reasons for your choice! Social scientists who study things like this say that people actually like to give names to a lot of machines and devices, such as their cars or boats or computers or washing machines or even their electric drills. Those who study things like this have determined that people often feel more comfortable using a machine if they can give it a certain human quality to help them relate to it – and maybe trust it a bit more.
I don’t know if all that is really true or not, but it got me to wondering about the new machine that as of this night will be leading us in our worship – our new church organ. What do you think? Does It Need a Name? I assume that it really doesn’t need a name, but just for the sake of our Thanksgiving discussion, I’m going to suggest a name from our lesson for tonight. How about Epaphroditus? That’s the name mentioned in the middle of verse 18, where the apostle Paul says, “I am amply supplied now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent.” Whenever the apostle Paul thought of the special gift which this man named Epaphroditus brought to him, it filled him with thanksgiving – thanksgiving for what we can call the Thanksgiving secret and thanksgiving for what we can call the Thanksgiving sacrifice. Whenever you and I think of the songs that will be played by that church organ in the months and years ahead, it can also fill us with thanksgiving for those same two things. In these next moments let’s ask God to help us see how that can be, whether we think Epaphroditus is even close to a good name or not.
We don’t know very much at all about the man named Epaphroditus, except that he was a fellow minister with the apostle Paul, and that he was visiting Paul when Paul was in prison for his faith while writing this letter to the Philippians. Epaphroditus had been sent by the people of the congregation in the city of Philippi, just a little north of modern day Greece, in order to give Paul some supplies that he needed while he was away from home and not knowing for sure when or if he would be released. Basically Epaphroditus brought Paul a care package from these fellow Christians who loved him and who missed him and who wanted to let him know they were thinking about him.
Paul’s words in our lesson were basically a “Thank You” note to the Philippians, and they provided him the opportunity to teach all of them — and us — a lesson about the Thanksgiving secret. Look at verse 12 where Paul lets us in on the secret: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or living in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
What is the Thanksgiving secret? It’s something that really can only be known by a believer in Jesus, isn’t it? Only a believer in Jesus Christ knows that God will always give me whatever I need, whether at the moment I have a lot or whether at the moment I have little. But we know of course that that is not easy to actually to live out day by day. When we have those times when we are feeling pretty good or when the money seems to be pretty secure or when people have been saying nice things about us, isn’t it easy at those times not to really think much about how good God has been to us? For example, that is what the Lord was warning the children of Israel about in our first reading tonight, when he told them not to forget the Lord when they would have good times in the Promised Land. Or when we have the opposite times – when we are not feeling very good, or when the money is pretty tight or when people have been making life rough for us, isn’t it easy at those times to think that God is not being good at all? Who among us has not complained to God for being bad to us or unfair to us or letting things happen to us that we don’t think a good God should let happen to us?
The Thanksgiving secret is knowing the truth from God’s Word that we don’t deserve any blessing of health or money or reputation from God at all, but that in his love for us he gives us the exact amount of blessing of health or money or reputation or whatever else it is that we need to keep us just where he wants us – thinking about how good he is to give us more some times and less some times – all so that at all times we can know the truth that we can get through all those times only through him, who gives us the strength to do so. It really is just remembering every day of our lives the words the apostle Paul said in another place, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things.” The Thanksgiving secret is knowing that if God gave me Jesus, he will also give me everything else that he feels I need until the time I get to live with Jesus.
And that leads us to think about the Thanksgiving sacrifice that Paul could also think about every time he thought about this care package that Epaphroditus brought to him. Look now at the middle of verse 18 after Paul mentions Epaphroditus’ name: “They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
Paul called these gifts an acceptable sacrifice. What makes something an acceptable sacrifice in God’s sight? How does God consider anything nice we do for someone to be a fragrant offering, pleasing to God? The Bible tells us that the things we do for others are good works because they are done out of love for the good work that God has done for us in sending Jesus. That is why Paul said in these words that God will continue to meet all our needs – the needs of our body and the needs of our soul – “according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” The riches and wealth of Christ Jesus were given to us when he paid the price of his own blood – the ultimate acceptable sacrifice pleasing to God – an acceptable sacrifice pleasing to God that allows all of us who believe that that sacrifice was done for us to be looked upon by God above in the same way he looks at his Son Jesus. We are considered to be God’s children because of the sacrifice of God’s Son for our sins, and we have the honor of living as God’s children to show how grateful we are for the sacrifice of God’s Son for our sins – with one of our prayers being that people who receive kindnesses and gifts from us will be helped in their Christian life – or will be led to want to know more about the Christian life if at this time they don’t know in their hearts the Thanksgiving secret or the Thanksgiving sacrifice. We want the care packages of our love for them to let them know how much God loves and cares for them.
And that is what St. Paul could think about every time he thought about the gift which Epaphroditus brought. But there is more to the story. It turns out that while Epaphroditus was preaching the gospel in the town where Paul was in prison, he got very ill and almost died. The Philippian Christians back home were very concerned about him to the point that Paul felt it best to give up having him around as an encourager and send him back home so they could see him again and enjoy being with this man that you and I don’t know much about, but who must have been one of those people that people just enjoyed being with as a child of God.
So, all in all, it does seem to me that if we ever did such a thing like give our church organ a name, Epaphroditus might not really be such a bad choice at all, because like Epaphroditus, the gifts which our church organ will bring us during our worship of our Lord are gifts that will fill us with thanksgiving and joy. From that church organ will come hymns and songs and anthems which will help us remember the Thanksgiving secret that God will always take care of our needs, whether with blessings great or small to our human way of looking at things; and those same musical selections will also help us remember the Thanksgiving sacrifice that God has met all our needs through the work of Christ Jesus on the cross – a secret and a sacrifice that we have the opportunity to tell and show to others, so they in turn can be thankful for us, just as Paul was thankful for this man with an unusual name – a name, though, that would really be a good name for all of us to call not just our church organ, but to call each other, as well. For Jesus’ sake we can be actual care packages – actual Epaphrodituses — for one another. And it is no secret at all how those kinds of simple sacrifices of Christian love can make every Thanksgiving a very happy one, since the real name we bear and wear is the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In that name I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!