Thanksgiving November 19, 2017
Acts 27:20-25, 33-38
44, 36, 568, Lutheran Service Book 717 [Alt. TLH 644]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
A Thanksgiving Prayer (Collect): Almighty God, whose mercies are new every morning and whose goodness, though undeserved, still abundantly provides for all our wants of body and soul, grant us, we humbly pray, your Holy Spirit, that we may heartily acknowledge Your merciful goodness toward us, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved. After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.
Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food— you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Altogether there were 276 of us on board. When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea
Where do you like to eat your Thanksgiving dinner? For millions of Americans, the answer would be, “At home, around the table, with my family.” But not everybody is able to get home for the fourth Thursday in November. So sometimes the Thanksgiving meal is eaten in a less-traditional place. Stanley Collins of the U.S. Navy recalls Thanksgiving 1943: “I was on submarine duty in the Pacific. We were in the area off the coast of the Philippines. While the turkeys were cooking, the submarine took a dive. We went down too steeply and the turkeys fell out of the oven onto the deck. The cook picked them up and put them back into the oven and we ate them, regardless of what may have gotten on them as a result of their fall. That meal was so good!”
Today I want to tell you about another place where a Thanksgiving meal was held: On a sinking ship! Yes, while the boat was about to go down, there they all were eating and giving thanks.
The story begins when the Apostle Paul, under arrest for preaching the gospel, was put on a ship to Rome to stand trial as a Roman citizen.
It was late in the sailing season, and partway through the journey, a decision had to be made whether to continue or to lay in for the winter. Against Paul’s advice, the pilot decided to keep going and as they sailed near the island of Crete, a terrific cyclone came up. What we would call a “Nor’easter.”
The ship took a violent beating amid rain, wind, and wave. It was only with great difficulty that the crew was able to hang onto the lifeboat. They began to throw some of the cargo and sailing gear overboard to lighten the ship’s weight, but it did little good. The storm raged on for days and days—it was reported that “neither sun nor stars appeared.” The sea anchors dragged along the bottom and the men held the boat together with ropes. Fourteen days passed and the storm did not let up. Those aboard became convinced that they were going to die. “We finally gave up all hope of being saved.”
And something else too—during those fourteen days the passengers and crew did not eat. Why not, you ask? It was not for lack of food. They had plenty to eat on the ship. It was because they were worried and afraid. Paul said they had been in “constant suspense.” You know how it is. When trouble and fears overtake you, it is hard to think about food. (I tend to lose weight when I’m concerned about something.) During the storm, nobody cared about eating while they were running for their lives. Who cares about fixing supper when you might not be around to eat it anyway?
It was becoming a problem, though. The men were getting too weak. They needed to eat to stay alive and to keep the ship afloat as best they could, but they just couldn’t bring themselves to sit down and have a meal.
Then, suddenly, we take another look into that boat, and we find that the scene has changed rather dramatically. Not the storm—the storm is still raging just as it was—but the passengers are gathered around the apostle, and Paul is taking out some bread and saying, “You haven’t eaten anything, Now I urge you to take some food…he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Altogether there were 276 of us on board.”
There it is. Out in a sinking ship, during a two-week cyclone on the Adriatic Sea, having gone two weeks with no food, the man of God gathers the people together…for a Thanksgiving dinner: giving thanks to the Lord, breaking the bread, and handing it around. My guess is we are looking here at one of the more unusual times and places for a Thanksgiving meal.
Why the difference? Why the sudden change of heart among the people? What had moved them to partake of this unusual feast? It was because they had learned of God’s merciful care and protection. They had come to know that Paul’s God was watching out for them, preserving the tempest-tossed ship according to His will and purpose.
The night before, an angel of God had come to Paul, stood beside him and said, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.” At this good news from God, Paul’s spirits began to rise. His own mission for Christ would continue, and nobody else traveling with him would be lost either. He said to the others, “keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.”
And that’s how they came together for this Thanksgiving dinner on a sinking ship. The word from God encouraged them all, God’s bounteous hand was opened to them, they ate and were satisfied, and they began to regain their strength for the journey that was still ahead of them.
Now let’s apply this lesson to our own lives. Let’s put ourselves in the middle of a cyclone. It does not have to be a literal storm, does it, but it can be anything that causes us to be troubled or afraid. What is it for you that makes you lose interest in food and basic daily things? Is it anxiously awaiting the results of a doctor’s test? Is it sadness about something that has gone badly in your life? Concern over a relationship? Worries about your children or grandchildren?
For each of us there are different things that can cause us to forget that God is always there caring for our bodies and watching over our lives on this earth. He supplies us with food and clothing, family and friends, a nation at peace, our health, our weather, and all things. He is providing for us and preserving us every step of the way, and still we can so easily lose hope and be like those on the ship who gave up all hope of being saved. “I can’t sit down and give thanks now, can I?” “I can’t really enjoy God’s bounty right now, can I, in the midst of all my problems?” Can you still have a Thanksgiving meal on what may seem to you to be your sinking ship?
Sure you can, because as the angel said to Paul, your heavenly Father says to you, “You will make it through. You will be saved.” God would watch over Paul’s life all the way until his earthly journey was completed, until there was nothing more here for him to do and God called him home.
God will watch over your life too, every step of the way, until your earthly journey is ended—until He takes you to Himself. You will have your bread. You will have your safety. You will be kept alive by His gracious hand, kept supplied from His endless treasure-store until such time as you Father says, “Now is when you come with me.”
You are God’s child. He has called you by name. He has brought you into His family of believers. He has shown you His dear Son Jesus Christ and given Him into death for you on the cross. He has forgiven your forgetfulness and your hopelessness, your fear and your worry because the Savior offered His own life for it. And “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?” (Romans 8:32) He will take care of all earthly things, for as long as He needs to take care of them. He will take care of your body and life until Jesus comes again and raises you from the dead and gives you life again in the new creation.
Your God cares for you anywhere and everywhere. On the land, on the sea, in the air.
We joyfully give Him thanks for His preservation and protection anywhere and everywhere we are. In church, at home, around our Thanksgiving tables with family seated next to us. Yes, even on a sinking ship.
You know, here’s one last thing—after the people ate their fill with Paul on the boat, the crew threw the rest of the grain into the stormy sea to lighten the load in the boat! Can you believe that! They didn’t save the leftovers! What would they eat the next day? They didn’t worry about it. They knew God would provide. And He did. And He does.
“The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. …My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.” (Psalm 145:14-16, 21) Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.