Thankfulness isn’t the banner most of us would naturally fly over 2020. Only a few things come to mind: a pandemic, violence, and an election season that exposed so many of our nation’s contradictions. Even Thanksgiving is at least legally curtailed for some brothers and sisters in other states.
But I’m not writing to rehearse reasons why we might not be thankful. I’m writing to give thanks and to do so out loud in front of you. I know you well enough to know that you are not shaken or pressed down or unhappy or unthankful. You are a thankful people and thanks is on your lips. But I know your computer screens well enough to know you need to hear someone speak words of thanks before you and over you. Best I can tell, that was part of Paul’s strategy to strengthen a church a little worn down with trouble. So, after some meditation this morning on thankfulness in Paul’s letter to the Colossian church, here four reasons I’m thankful today.
1. I’m thankful for your faith, love, and hope
That may not sound like a terribly pithy way to start into a blog, but it is a profound reason for thanks today. It’s how Paul began his letter to the Colossian church, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:3–5). It’s also on the top of my mind today. Seeing things you don’t is one of the blessings and difficulties of pastoral ministry. But the blessing part far outweighs the difficulties. I see your faith growing as you inquire about the Word. I hear about your love for one another in countless ways as our elders talk and pray and report to one another. And I am reminded of our shared hope as you struggle through every kind of suffering, and kinds we didn’t see coming these past many months. All of this is a reason to “[give] thanks to the Father who has qualified you” for salvation (1:12).
2. I’m thankful for your faces
Yes, some of these will be a play off of the themes of our unforgettable year. And no this is not a statement about mask science or the need for some to isolate. I really am genuinely thankful for your faces. I’ve been reflecting on this a bit lately and I think it needs some more reflection from all of us. The Apostle Paul recognized that some of his readers had not seen him face to face, “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face” (Col. 2:1). On the one hand, he struggled for the saints at Colossae, whether he had seen them face to face or not. On the other hand, he had to acknowledge that second group because perhaps they would not assume it. In other words, face to face encounters are the norm. The Lord’s Day is a face to face encounter with God and with one another, a grace that we might read one another’s faces and in that way read one another’s souls, the second most important book in the world next to the Bible. I love all your faces and I thank God for them today. If we haven’t seen yours in a while, know this: we love you and we miss your face.
3. I’m thankful for your voices
They say not to overuse a word in your writing. Swap it out for a good synonym. Maybe Paul was the culprit that our style guides are trying to fix. “…be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:15–17). That makes three. And at the heart of this flurry of thanks is a word about speaking and singing to one another with thanksgiving. Yes, in 2020, I’m thankful for all the things I heard you say and all the songs I heard you sing.
4. I am thankful for your many names
Paul named names. In his closing words to the church, he mentioned Tychichus, Aristarchus, Mark, Barnabas, Justus, Epaphras, Luke, Demus, Numpha, and Archippus (4:7–17). He wrote from prison but he wasn’t writing from pity. He wrote from thankfulness toward God and thankfulness to others. If I start naming names, I’ll break this blog. So, let me just name the names of those I work with every day.
I’m thankful for Aaron Bednarski’s work ethic and excellence in the details, Dan Cruver’s example as a dad, Abe Stratton’s persistence with Scripture memory and the lost, Lisa Hansen’s commitment to know everyone’s name and help me with names, Brad Hilgeman’s tender and tenacious care for saints in every kind of crisis, Caleb Greene’s ability to bring theology to life through artistry, Brian Burch’s resolve to adorn the Word with technology and not the other way around, Liz Stratton’s discerning leadership among our ladies and insight for me, Kevin Delp’s famous way of taking both the Bible and our children seriously, and Barb Illsley’s rare ability to focus intently on a task and feel deeply about people mingling about the office throughout the day.
There are some names that need a little more attention this thanksgiving. I’m thankful for my beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord, Sandy McCormick, and for Karen, his loyal support and our sister. Sandy has been on our vocational team for some 25 years and he retires in a week. I’ve known Sandy for almost exactly four years now, but it feels like many more. We shared a lunch this week and talked about all kinds of things, as usual. He will remain an elder, so we’ll keep lunching together. I hope you have friends like this. If you don’t, follow our example as leaders and go to lunch with someone in our church to talk about everything like we do. I thank God for this man.
Here is another set of names we can thank God for today: the Read family, Jason, Deb, Hudson, Norah, Paton, Rose. Jason will be moving into the office this coming week, easing his way into the role Sandy has filled so faithfully. They have been filling their days this past week with many hard “goodbyes,” so let’s be sure to fill their early days with us with many warm “hellos.”
Watchfulness and Witness in 2021
2021 could be harder than 2020. I expect we have much harder years ahead, actually. One reason to give thanks is for our great country and the occasion for this holiday. Tim Keesee reflects on its significance in his recent post, “The 1620 Project.” On that note, let’s give thanks for the right decision made yesterday by our Supreme Court concerning limits on corporate worship in New York.
Come what may, we will still brim with thanks if we are filled with the fullness of Christ. In all of our eating and relaxing today, let’s remember where Paul was and what Paul wanted for us: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” (Col. 4:2–4).