Sermon: “The Secret of Contentment”
Lectionary Series C; Thanksgiving
Sunday, November 28, 2019
Epistle Reading: Philippians 4:6-20
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you hand no opportunity. Now that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be ‘content’. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned ‘the secret’ of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:10-13).
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret. So what was the secret to being content that Paul had learned? What was it that Paul knew that we so often fail to even remotely understand? How could a man write from his prison cell that he had learned to be content? That’s right, when we hear these words, we need to picture Paul in a dark and damp prison cell, chained in shackles, malnourished, and using all his energy to write a letter to the beloved Philippians.
Paul tells us that contentment is learned. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. All learning takes time. A child does not start with algebra, geometry, and calculus. They first learn their numbers, then they learn to add and subtract them, then multiplication and division, and on it goes. It is a progression.
For Paul, he had once been a Pharisee, who had persecuted the Christian church. But on the road to Damascus, all of that changed as Jesus came to him in a blinding light. All of that changed as he was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But even after that, Paul spent three years learning before he went out on his missionary journeys. But that time spent learning the Christian faith helped to solidify him in his relationship to Christ when obstacles did arise.
This is the purpose of Catechesis here at Zion that we as Lutherans take very seriously. We are well aware that once these youth enter into the real world of life, they will be hit with an onslaught of obstacles and temptations where the devil will try and steer them away from Christ. It is our goal by giving them a solid foundation in their faith that they will be equipped against the attacks of the evil foe.
And what we know of the evil foe here in America, is that he does not have to work that hard to drive people away from Jesus. One of his favorite tactics is to drive into us the notion of discontentment.
If ever we need a litmus test of our level of contentment all we have to do is take stock of how much we complain and grumble. Like the Israelites in the wilderness who grumbled at the lack of food and water, and then grumbled because they got sick of the food that came from heaven, so it is with us.
We complain that we don’t have enough money. We complain that we don’t have enough stuff. Sure, we may have all the toys we need in life, but we want bigger toys, better toys. We complain about the food on the table because it isn’t what we like or what we really want. We complain about our aches and pains and our overall health. We complain about the weather. We complain about things constantly, and what we really enjoy is when someone will join us in our complaining. Then we feel justified in our complaint.
Oh how quickly we forget that we are indebted to God for every breath that we take. When I was teaching on the 9th and 10th commandments the other day on the topic of coveting, I instructed the catechumens to list ten things they were thankful for. I was surprised by how many of them said, “air”. I honestly hadn’t even thought of that one. How easy it is to take for granted all that God has given to us, even the very air we breathe.
But that’s just it when it comes to contentment. God is the source of everything we have in this life. It all belongs to him. I read in a sermon the other day that those who have content hearts are naturally generous. Those with discontent hearts struggle to be generous because they are too consumed with always wanting more.
It is curious to think about that in light of our giving as a congregation as we celebrate Thanksgiving here today. When the offering plates go round, do we fully appreciate that everything we have comes from God and we are blessed with an opportunity to give from what He has given to us to further the spread of Jesus’ love in our community? Or, when that plate goes around, are we more concerned with what is still on our wish list in life because we simply think we don’t have enough? In essence, do we trust God to provide for us?
That is after all, what giving to the Lord is all about. Do we trust God to provide for us? As he sat in that prison cell, St. Paul completely trusted that God would provide for his needs. Without question, he trusted him. Why wouldn’t he?
This was God we are talking about, after all. In love, He sent His Son to suffer, bleed, and die to save him from sure and certain death and condemnation in hell. How could he not be thankful? How could he not be content?
What Paul had learned was that every ounce of contentment came from being connected to Jesus. It had nothing to do with comforts in this world. It had nothing to do with health or wealth. It had everything to do with the fact that Jesus had carried the burden of his sins on Calvary, and that was enough…more than enough.
St. Paul once wrote while being tormented by a thorn in the flesh that many interpret to be a work of Satan: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Grace. God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. This is what was sufficient for Paul no matter what he had to endure. And that was a lot. Stonings, beatings, mockery, shipwrecked, snake bitten, and ultimately killed for his faith. Through it all, he was content because He was connected to Christ.
That’s the secret. For us as believers, we may be tempted to think, that’s not much of a secret. Or we might say, “Duh… I already knew that.” But how often do we lose sight of where contentment is found? How often do we get caught up in complaining and grumbling and lose sight of all that God has given us? How often does consumption rule our thoughts, words, and deeds?
Tomorrow is Black Friday. And thanks to our impatience as a society, Black Friday now begins on Thanksgiving. And what is the message on such an occasion as this? We don’t have enough. We need more. We need bigger. We need better.
But it’s not just on Black Friday, it’s every day. Remember, Paul said he had learned to be content in every circumstance. That even includes pain, suffering, and heartache. Again, what was his secret? He was connected to Christ.
See here today, that Jesus, the very Son of God comes to us in His Word and Sacrament. These are the vehicles He uses to deliver contentment into our lives. What He gives satisfies our hungry hearts and quenches our parched souls. Where the food we eat for Thanksgiving will only provide us temporary satisfaction, what Christ gives us today gives us eternal satisfaction.
There, under bread and wine, is the body and blood of the Son of God. There in that simple mean is all that we need to be sustained in body and soul as we journey throughout this life. Where everyone says we need more and more in life, there is nothing more that we need than what our God faithfully provides as He delivers to us forgiveness, life, and salvation.
It is as we dine upon this meal again and again, that we truly do learn the secret to contentment. For in our consumption of this meal we are given a faith and a trust in the Almighty God that He will be faithful to fulfill all of His promises. No longer do we look to the world, to satisfy us and provide contentment. Now we receive all that we need from the hand of Jesus who freely gives it to us.
The table prayer in the Catechism says it best from Psalm 145: “The eyes of all look to You, O Lord, and You give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these your gifts which we receive from Your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Once the meal is over, we are invited to return thanks in saying, “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever. Amen.”
Thinking of Paul there in that prison cell, eating whatever prison rations he received while possibly uttering the words of these prayers certainly puts into perspective what the secret to contentment is truly all about.
It’s about Jesus, and being constantly connected to Him. Without Him, contentment is a never-ending pursuit in futility. But with Him, contentment is a gift that comes in none other than the hands that were pierced for us that satisfies the desires of every living thing.
Thanks be to God, for He will supply every need of ours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.