Reflection on Thanksgiving 2023

1John:1-4, Isaiah 53:4-5, Corinthians 11:23-26

Recently when I read 1 John 1:1-4, I made some notes and did a little counting of words.  John 1:1-4. John does not introduce himself – nor does he identify the recipients of the letter – but he begins with a testimony about his experience with Jesus Christ. John calls Jesus ‘the Word of life, v.1, ‘the life’ v.2, ‘The eternal life’ v.2. (NIV) In verse 3 he refers to him as the Father’s son, Jesus Christ. And he builds a testimony about how he, John, and others (‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our’ 13 times in these 4 verses) related to Jesus.

How did they relate or interact with Jesus? They ‘have heard, seen, looked at, and touched,’ (v,1) He reiterates that they have seen ‘the life’ Jesus, ‘testify to it, and proclaim it.’ As well he writes that Jesus, the life, was with the Father and appeared to them, (v2) Who ‘we’ and ‘us’ are, is not identified specifically in this spot but clearly refers to the group of men who were Jesus’ closest allies when he appeared in Israel, his disciples.

The reason for this proclamation is found in verse 3; It is so the recipients of the letter may have fellowship with those who had shared John’s experience. But is not just with the disciples that they may have fellowship, it is to join in their fellowship with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (v.3)

John says he writes this letter to make ‘our’ joy complete (or to make ‘your’ joy complete). (v.4).

As I was reading this portion, thinking about a message for today, there was a Thanksgiving wall hanging that had just three words on it; Thankful, grateful, blessed. Besides the wall hanging the same words appear on paper plates and napkins.

So, as I read this portion again, I asked myself why we should be thankful, grateful, or blessed when we read these verses. It seems to me that almost every word in this paragraph shouts out reasons for responding in that way.

John shares his very personal knowledge of Jesus and the impact of knowing him in such detail that we can hardly contain the knowledge and the invitation to join in experiencing the same fellowship and joy as the original Christ followers. Too much to take in in one reading of the letter. Something to meditate on, enjoy, and soak up the soul changing relationship.

The week before last June and I went to St. Thomas, near London, Ontario, to visit with my brother and his wife. My sister, who is here this morning, also joined us from Georgia in the U.S. On the Wednesday Bill and I went golfing. As we left that morning, I asked the three ladies to take time to consider what they thought was the difference between being thankful and being grateful. Are they the same or different?

And they did as I asked. They thought that ‘thankful’ and ‘grateful’ were more or less the same thing, but that grateful was deeper than thankful or more of a disposition than just a feeling or thought. And maybe more related to God. Turns out that the dictionary leans somewhat in that same direction although when using the words in sentences it makes them synonyms.

With all of that as background, I would appreciate it if you would turn to the first letter of John to the churches, beginning at chapter 1:1. In the pew bible it is on page 1549, but you may have it on your phone or electronic device. The NIV reads this way, “read”.

As I mentioned earlier, John does not identify himself or the recipients of the letter but jumps right into his message. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—”  John speaks about his own experiences in the matter at hand. But he includes others in this personal experience. He uses the pronouns “we” or “our” four times in this first clause of the first sentence. He concludes the sentence with “this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” Again, John uses the plural “we” as to who is making the proclamation.

The Word of life is what the proclamation is about. This reflects the reality of first chapter of the Gospel of John which begins with “In the beginning was the Word.” So, we find that that same “Word” is the theme of this letter. And from that we know that he is talking about the Lord Jesus Christ. John and his companions, the disciples, heard Jesus’ teaching, they saw his actions, they watched Him work and touched Him with their hands. These men have real, personal, meaningful first hand knowledge about Jesus, more than any other group of people. They are reliable witnesses. That is the declaration that they alone can make about Jesus.

John continues the paragraph in the same mode. “The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” Jesus, the life, appeared to them, they took note of it, or they took note of him, Jesus, who is the life. In the Gospel of John we find out that another John, the one called the baptizer, was the first to know that Jesus was the life as He appeared to him as the one who was to come when the Spirit of God came upon him at his baptism. The next day, after his baptism, the first of the disciples to follow him were Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathaniel. And throughout this introduction in 1 John the author leans heavily on “we”, “us” and “our” as the ones to whom Jesus appeared.

Elsewhere in Scripture we are told that Jesus appeared at the right time, in the fullness of time. He came to reveal himself as the source of life because he is life. It is to be noted that the life, who is Jesus, was with the Father before he revealed himself or appeared, to the disciples. The deity and the pre-existence of Jesus is clearly brought to the fore here. No wonder that John says again, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, …” It is the most wonderful and necessary news ever proclaimed.

Why is it proclaimed? We are told that it is so that we, who hear or read this proclamation may have fellowship with John and his associates. We can join John and the others in fellowship as the church, the believers in Jesus Christ, who is the life and the giver of life.

But it is more than that. With what joy and thankfulness, gratitude, we should read the next sentence. “And our fellowship is with the Father and with his son, Jesus Christ.” Think about it, our invitation is not just to join a group of people who have seen Jesus up close and personal, but to join them in their fellowship with the Father and the Son. We are invited right into the throne room of heaven to a place of intimacy with the Lord God! Our fellowship is to be extremely personal just as the disciples had such a personal relationship with Jesus.

And we are invited to have fellowship with the people of God of any and all generations. The church comes to us today appearing in many forms and styles. But for those who know Jesus Christ by faith and by the work of the Holy Spirit, we are all made for fellowship with the Father, the Son, Jesus Christ, and with each other. Now, there are folks who say they are part of the church which we may question. It is all a question of whether they truly know Jesus as their Lord and saviour and are trusting all to Him. Faith in Jesus plus something else doesn’t work. If you are trusting in your works, you are not going to make it. The fellowship is exclusively for those who know the Lord personally, and it includes all who know Him.

I remember the occasion when my mom and stepdad came to the Philippines and visited the work, we were doing among the Blaan people. They sat amazed at how much they worshipped in a service in which they understood not a word. Oh, when we sang certain hymn tunes, they knew what the English words were, but I think they were most surprised by how much they could enter into worship when prayer was offered, when they didn’t know what was being prayed and yet their hearts were lifted to the Lord as others gave praise and made requests. It was quite a spiritual experience for them.

And one day we will experience that in a rather remarkable way, when we join in worship with the glorified church and the congregation is made up of speakers in every tongue and from every tribe and ethnic group, and from every period of history. What is the language of heaven? What is the language of heaven? It will be every language and we will all understand and none of us will be hard of hearing.

And most amazing our fellowship won’t just be with redeemed men and women but with the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, with no barriers or obstacles between us.

John finishes up this section of the book with this sentence, “We write this to make our joy complete.” If your Bible has footnotes you will probably see that the alternate reading is not “our” but “your” joy complete. I think that the sense is an inclusive ‘our’, that includes John and the others who are with him and we to whom this is written. English does not have a distinctive form of our that is inclusive, but we use it that way often. In Blaan, it is two different words. John’s joy is complete when we share it with him. And so is our joy complete in this way, together. We might say that our joy is made complete when we share it with others.

There you have the first four verses of John’s first letter to the church. And we are looking at this on Thanksgiving Day. I have a question for you. When you consider these four verses, what are you thankful, grateful for? In what way are you blessed?

Talk to each other. Or, share with us all.

Thank you for sharing. Maybe some of that will continue during the fellowship time with the snacks provided by Bev Domm. But as is our tradition on Thanksgiving Sunday This morning we are going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, also called Eucharist or Communion. Whatever we call it, it is the most visible and common symbol of the unity of the church across the centuries, across the world, and across all the various expressions of the true church.

Jesus told us the purpose of this observance is to remember him. And when we do that, we are filled with gratitude for what he did and the significance of his sacrifice in our lives.

Isaiah 53:4-5 was written long before Jesus was born but it is an accurate description of the purpose of Jesus’ life and death. “Surely, he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrow, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.” Jesus paid the price so that we could have peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins. We are also told that this same sacrifice provided healing for our diseases. Jesus was pierced as he hung on the cross because of our transgressions. It was because of our sins, our iniquities that he suffered in this way. And the benefits for us are unfathomable.

Such salvation for men and women is only possible because of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. His is the only name by which we can be saved because he made the only sacrifice for sin that God has accepted completely for all men for all time.

What a result of Jesus’ obedience in doing the will of God! We have been made holy! This sacrifice, this redemption, this forgiveness, this cleansing, this salvation is for all people and for all of time and eternity. When Jesus declared on the cross “it is finished” he echoed this same sentiment. No more needs to be done to make salvation secure. It is available to all mankind in all generations all over the earth. All we need to do is believe and receive eternal life. How thankful are you for that?

Paul tells us that in the Lord’s Supper that we are to remember Jesus until he comes. It is one aspect of our worship this morning. Paul wrote, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same say after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’” 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

This morning let us worship the Lord at the table with great joy and thankfulness for all that He has provided in his sacrifice of his own body. In him we have life, peace, forgiveness, cleansing, healing, power for holy living and all that we need to live in this life. Let us be reminded that He is coming back to receive us to himself. Let us remember and be truly thankful..

Ron MacKinnon

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