“The Most Difficult Math Problem Ever”

“The Most Difficult Math Problem Ever”

Christ the King (NL4) John B. Valentine
Psalm 100 November 21, 2021


It has NOT been a normal week ... folks.

This week has seen our nation seemingly become more divided than ever ... due in no small part to those high profile trials that have been going on in Kenosha, Wisconsin and Brunswick Georgia ...

This week has seen our national church have something of an internal kerfuffle over whether this last Sunday of the church year should be called “Christ the King Sunday” ... as it has been for the past hundred years ... or “Reign of Christ Sunday” ... because in the current political environment ... any and all allusions to “Kings” ... a gender-specific word ... are out of place ... and ...

Then again ... this week has seen yours truly joining the “Kidney Stone” survivors club .... a club ... trust me ... that you really don’t want to be a part of!

But rather than focusing in on any of that ... I want to focus our thoughts this morning on something that binds of together rather than tears us further apart ...

That national day of Thanksgiving which is set to occur this coming Thursday ... and our celebrations of it

And particularly thinking about what it was that we just did in the context of KidTalk ...

Generating a list of things that we’re thankful for.

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You see ... thankful lists ... and thankful exercises like the one we just did at Kidtalk ... can be valuable ... not just to kids ... but to adults.

So let me ask you what are four things that you are thankful for this week!

If you’re having a hard time generating your own list ... maybe you’ll just want to lean in to a thankful list generated by Martin Luther some five hundred years ago:

• food and clothing ...
• home and property ...
• work and income ...
• a devoted family ...
• an orderly community ...
• good government ...
• favorable weather ...
• peace and health ...
• a good reputation ...
• true friends and neighbors

Now ... when it comes to the subject of thankfulness and blessings ... there are two quotations – besides that one from Doctor Luther that I just mentioned ... of which I am particularly fond:

The first comes from Helen Keller ... a woman blind and deaf from her earliest years ... who noted:

“I have often thought that it would be a blessing if each human being were stricken blind and deaf for a few days at a time early in adult life. The darkness would make them more appreciative of sight ... the silence would teach them of the joys of sound.”

And the second comes from the longshoreman - philosopher Eric Hoeffer ... who said:

“The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.”

Think about that a little bit:


Thanksgiving IS a great time to pause ... and reflect ... upon the abundant gifts that God has shared with us ... to think about the multitude of ways in which God has provided for our each and every need.

In part because ... as Mr. Hoffer noted ... appreciation ... Thanksgiving is such a tough math problem to be about.

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But as difficult a task as it is to count our blessings ... it seems to me that our national celebrations of Thanksgiving fall short on a second count as well.

It’s not just that we’ve never quite learned how to enumerate all that we are thankful FOR ...

We also seem to come up pretty short on the whom we are thankful TO question!

Because ... in a certain way ... don’t thankfulness and faithfulness go hand in hand???

• After all ... you can’t by definition be “thankful” unless ... besides something for which you ARE thankful ... there is someone TO WHOM you are thankful!!

• And “faith” is really the realization that we’re not just thankful because God has given us such much “stuff” ... it’s that we believe in him because it is right to give him thanks and praise even when we can’t point to anything in specific ... even in the day not of plenty but of trouble.

Faith is the awareness that

• It’s not thankfulness that comes on top of the goodies.

• It’s thankfulness that holds it all together.

• It’s not thankfulness “just because”.

• It’s thankfulness “no matter what”.

• It’s not thankfulness “for something”.

• It’s thankfulness “to someone”.


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You know ... I know that I’ve told you this story before ...

But ... to my ear ... one of the ultimate Thanksgiving stories is found in the life-story of a fellow named Martin Rinkart ... who lived way back in the early years of the Seventeenth Century.

Not only was Martin Rinkart a pastor ... he was a poet and a scholar ... who ... after serving various calls as pastor in little towns throughout the German province of Saxony ... was called to his home town of Eilenburg ... where he was to remain in service for some thirty-two years.

Now it wasn’t an easy time for Pastor Rinkart during those years.

You see ... Europe was plunged into the depths of that horrific era of history known as “The Thirty Years’ War” ... and the little walled city of Eilenburg was one of the places caught square in the middle of that conflict.

The Austrian army captured the city once ... and the Swedes under King Gustavus Adolphus captured little Eilenburg twice.

As opposing armies came and went ... and tromped all over the surrounding countryside ... thousands of nearby peasants sought refuge within the city’s walls ... and the population of Eilenburg swelled from ten to thirty thousand.

But it wasn’t just people that entered Eilenburg in that onrush of people ... famine and pestilence did too ... with devastating effect.

Initially ... Pastor Rinkart served in conjunction with four other clergymen to serve the needs of those people ... but the local bishop fled the terror of the area ... and one of the other pastors with him.

And the other two clergymen died ... leaving Martin Rinkart all alone to minister to that huge, bulging community of the thirty thousand people.

In the year 1637 ... a year that the Black Plague swept through the walls of the city of Eilenburg ... Martin Rinkart’s journal indicates that he conducted nearly forty-five HUNDRED funerals ... often preaching burial services for forty or fifty people A DAY! Even Pastor Rinkart’s own wife was among the victims!

Death was constant. Pain and grief were everywhere. Each morning brought only the prospect of yet more of the same. There was certainly no reason for a Thanksgiving celebration in the midst of a situation like that.

But Christians throughout the world still sing a song that Pastor Martin Rinkart wrote that year. In fact ... we sang it in the context of worship that past Sunday!

They sing it not because it catalogues a list of reasons for Thanksgiving ... but because it serves as a reminder that sometimes Thanksgiving ... thankfulness ... faith ... is all that is left.

You see ... it was in the year 1637 ... inside the city walls of that devastated community of Eilenburg ... that Martin Rinkart wrote the hymn “Nun Danket Alles Gott” ... “Now Thank We All Our God.”

Now thank we all our God,
with hearts and hands and voices.
Who wondrous things has done,
In whom his world rejoices.
Who from our mother’s arms
Has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.

A song which is grounded in this one single solitary thought ...


“The Most Difficult Math Problem Ever” was sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine on the weekend before Thanksgiving 2021 — Christ the King Sunday on the Church’s calendar.

To access the weekly worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order.20211121.print