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Giving Thanks

Rev 19:5  And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” 6  Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 7  Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, …

This is Thanksgiving weekend in the United States of AmericaAnd I am appreciating the space such a national holiday provides to think about what it means to give thanks. So join me as I reflect on what it might mean for a follower of Jesus to be thankful. For this to happen I want to go back 2000 years, to a time when John of Patmos urged those who followed Jesus to “rejoice and exult and give God the glory” (Revelation 19:7).

However, at the same time as John urges rejoicing I discover that the followers of Jesus were suffering: Jerusalem was burned to the ground by the Romans, and the Christians were scattered throughout the Roman Empire. They were now expected to join the rest of the Roman Empire in offering praise to the Emperor Domitian. This was done was through an annual prayer service in which the people  sacrificed and burned incense to the gods and to the well-being of the Emperor. This was done in the presence of a Roman magistrate, and a written certificate, called a libellus, was issued – which allowed you to trade and to be regarded as a citizen in good standing. The followers of Jesus refused to participate in this, arguing that they prayed to One and Only God and would not glorify the Emperor in prayer. As a consequence they were accused of being un-Roman, and were called traitors to their country. So they fled for their lives. They hid in tombs and catacombs or moved to the rural areas. It was in these circumstances that their Bishop (John of Patmos) wrote them a pastoral letter, which today is known as the Revelations of St John.

A central theme to this letter is that the earth is a place of evil and sickness and difficulty – and the Emperor will not save you! In fact the Emperor will bring confusion, pain, division and death. But, says John. do not despair: because God will triumph over Evil. And then comes this startling bit of writing: Rev 19:5  And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.”  I can almost hear the people who heard this letter being read to them saying – “What? Read that again!” “Praise our God, all you his servants”! So what is there to praise God about?

  • The Emperor is angry because the followers of Jesus are disrespectful
  • The communities where the followers of Jesus live have rejected them
  • The followers of Jesus are in hiding – lost their jobs, and homes

And their Bishop tells them to Praise God!

This seems a contradiction. Surely we only praise God when things are going well? How do we praise God when things are difficult? Bishop John suggests that we do not wait for everything to be good before Praising God: he says that we are to Praise God even when things are difficult.– because you will find plenty to be grateful for. I am reminded of a song I sang as a child: “Count your blessings, name them one by one – and it will surprise you what the Lord has done”.

And so I want to offer this as our perspective as we move towards the end of 2020. I am inviting you to move beyond the complaints,  and discover all the things you can be grateful for. You might find it useful to use a gratitude journal: each night write down something good from your day. I challenge you to deliberately look for the Good News of God’s blessings in each day!

We are not closing our eyes to the difficulties of life – but like the First Century followers of Jesus, we are consciously looking for the goodness of God.

 

 

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“To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” Finley Peter Dunne (1867–1936)