1 Thess. 5: 18
Over 300 years ago lived a man named Martin Rinkart, the son of a poor coppersmith.
Martin was able somehow to work his way through college.
At the age of 31 he was offered the position of arch deacon in his native town in Germany.
A year later, in 1618, the Thirty Year's War broke out in Europe.
Rinkart died one year after the war ended.
His official career for Christ coincided with the duration of the war itself.
The plague of 1637 visited his hometown with great severity, and the plague was followed by a terrible famine.
These misfortunes made Rinkart's labors very difficult.
His sacrifices for the Lord's cause affected him and his children pathetically.
But Rinkart had learned to smile through suffering.
Out of his calamities he breathed an unbounded spirit of faith in God and of readiness to give thanks.
He is best known as the composer of the words of one of the greatest of all German hymns.
They were translated just over a century ago.
"Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom His world rejoices."
This was a tremendous testimony for a man to write whose career coincided
with one of the most ravaging wars in history up to this time.
"Now thank we all our God... who wondrous things hath done"?
What is so wondrous about a war?
Martin Rinkart knew that wars are the results of uncontrolled passions and desires in the hearts of people.
He learned that in God's Word. (James 4: 1f.)
He was praising God for the wondrous things that God Himself had wrought.
He was praising God for the common and spiritual graces that he saw clearly
through the suffering and heartache of his work around his church.
"Now thank we all our God... in whom His world rejoices"?
How could a man be so deluded as to think that the world of his day, some of the most civilized nations
of which were engulfed in war, had any time for rejoicing in God?
But Martin Rinkart was a man who knew that though there would be wars and rumors of wars
until the consummation of the age, God's hand was ruling over history.
He also knew that throughout history there would be people in every sector of the planet
rejoicing in the goodness of God, who in everything "works for good with those who love him,
who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8: 28)
Martin Rinkart had learned the real meaning of Thanksgiving.
This benefited his own spiritual life and the life of others to whom he ministered.
In his beautiful hymn, he has given us a crisp outline of what thanksgiving meant to him.
"Now thank we all our God with... voices."
Thanksgiving of spoken praise is one facet of gratitude with which we are all familiar.
Every time we sing a hymn of praise we are audibly expressing our thanks to God for His bountiful blessings.
Every time we pray in public, every time we say grace of loud before eating a meal,
every time we participate in worship; we offer thanksgiving with our voices.
The spoken word is, without a doubt, the most common method of giving thanks.
The Bible overwhelmingly connects thanksgiving with the oral expression of gratitude to God.
Of the dozen references to thanks and thanksgiving in the Bible, the great majority unmistakably have
this speaking or singing aspect in mind.
The psalmist admonished the people of Israel for several centuries before Christ to thank the Lord
for His goodness and to praise Him for His gracious love.
Jesus commands such thanksgiving, when it is sincere.
Remember when Jesus had healed ten lepers and told them to report the healing to the priests.
One of them, a Samaritan, "when he saw that he was healed, turned back,
praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks...
And [Jesus] said to him, 'Rise and go on your way; your faith has made you well.'" (Luke 17: 15-19)
Thanksgiving expressed with words of love to our Lord is an important part of our spiritual worship.
Too many of our prayers consist mainly of what we call supplications, or to put it more crudely,
We are all human beings.
We are creatures of dust.
Consequently, our lives are filled with needs of every description.
We realize that only our God can fill many of those needs directly, not to mention the fact,
that He fills all of them indirectly.
There is no characteristic more hateful and despicable than that of ungratefulness!
Let us look further at Martin Rinkart's conception of Thanksgiving.
As a faithful worker in Christ's church, he was acquainted in the most intimate way
with the fact that thanksgiving is expressed by word of mouth.
But we believe that he would have insisted also that "actions speak louder than words,"
that talk, as such, is cheap, and that we must practice what we preach.
He knew that it is one thing to think, or pray, or love "in word or speech,"
but that it is an entirely different matter to think, or pray, or love "in deed and in truth." (1 John 3: 18)
In the words of a modern expression of our time, Rinkart would have been the first to put his money where his mouth was,
because thanksgiving for him was not only that of spoken praise.
He made that clear in the next line.
"Now think we all our God with... hands."
Every time we give our money toward the expenses of the local church
or to missions or to the building fund -- we offer thanksgiving with our hands.
To prove that we are grateful to God for what He has done for us,
we are happy to share our blessings with others.
As Christians we should always be prepared to give financially to the ministry of our church and to other missions.
We should also be ready to lend a helping hand to one who is faltering,
a healing hand to one who is sick, and a holy hand to one who is spiritually destitute.
We must express our thanksgiving to God with hands that minister to the needs of others.
The Old Testament gives many indications that the people of Israel
knew what it meant to thank God with their hands.
Many types of sacrifices are mentioned that they offered up to God as "thank offerings,"
"offerings for thanksgiving," and others.
May God help us to take our place beside Christians of every age, offering sacrifices of thanksgiving to the God
who has redeemed us and whose will is "good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12: 2)
There is another phrase in the hymn that Rinkart wrote which reveals something of the
great depths of his spiritual understanding.
He knew that thanksgiving consisted of more than spoken words of praise and a series of grateful actions.
That is why he added this next significant portion of his hymn.
"Now thank we all our God with heart."
For Martin Rinkart, thanksgiving was a way of life.
This is an aspect of gratitude that we rarely think about.
But we can say for certain that thanksgiving is an attitude as well as a word and an action.
The life of the Christian should be a perpetual thanksgiving.
It should be a continuous testimony.
It should be a never-ending witness to the grace and glory of God.
The parents of a young soldier killed-in-action gave their church a gift of money as a memorial for their son.
During the presentation service, the mother of another soldier overseas in the war, whispered to her husband,
"Let's give the same amount for our son."
"What's the matter with you?" He asked. "Our boy hasn't died in battle."
"That's just it!" The mother replied. "Let's give it because he is still alive."
That lady was aware that thanksgiving is a way of life.
Every generation thinks it is standing on the brink of chaos.
Perhaps, we who live in an age of space stations and missile sites have more cause for alarm than any preceding generation.
But we can be sure that times seemed just as urgent to Martin Rinkart as he thought on the evils of his day.
Yet existence for him provided an opportunity for perpetual thanksgiving in a flow of spoken praise,
in a continual series of grateful social actions, and in his own heart.
On this Thanksgiving Day, you and I can face our uncertain futures with the same calm, confident commitment to Christ.
"Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph,
and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere." (2 Corinthians 2: 14)
"Now think 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.
All praise and thanks to God
The Father now be given,
The Son, and Him who reigns
With them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God,
Whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now,
And shall be evermore."
"Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (1 Thess. 5: 16-18)
Sermon by Dr. Harold L. White