In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenburg, Germany. In 1521, he was excommunicated from the church. What followed was a war between the protestants and the Roman Emperor who was in support of the Roman Catholic church. These wars claimed many lives, but peace was somewhat established in 1555 with the settlement known as the Peace of Augsburg, a part of which stated that the local German princes would have say over the religious preference of their individual realms, of which there were 224. This relative peace lasted for about 65 years until Ferdinand II was elected Holy Roman Emperor. Once elected, he tried to impose his Roman Catholic beliefs on everyone, which caused revolts in the German protestant north and was the spark that in 1618 ignited the 30 Years War in Europe. By the end, in 1648, the war had claimed some 8 million victims.
During the war, Martin Rinkhart was a German Lutheran pastor in Eilenburg and it is reported that he performed over 5,000 funerals, averaging about 15 per day. Surrounded by so many horrors and so much death, you would think he would have found little to be thankful for, but instead, he remained true to God and wrote a hymn so that his children could learn to be thankful. You may recognize it. It is number 396 in hour hymnal:
Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things hath done,
in whom his world rejoices;
who from our mother’s arms
hath blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
We can sometimes get so caught up in the troubles around us, that we can forget to be thankful or not even see them in the first place. It may just be that you were able to get a parking spot at the post office or saw a touching scene or received a letter from an old friend. Even though small, these are things that we should give thanks for. That is reason behind the United Thank Offering of the Episcopal Church. You may know it simply as the blue box offering.
The idea, for those times during the day or week that you are thankful, drop in a little change: a nickel, a dime, a quarter. It doesn’t have to be much, but a tangible means of saying, “Thank you,” to God. Near the end of the year, there is an ingathering where everyone brings their boxes in and the money is forwarded on to UTO, who then distributes the funds in the form of grants to support ministry and mission throughout the Episcopal Church.
We have the boxes available today and will have them available for the next couple of Sundays for you to take home. We’ll set a date later in the year to collect them.
Why are we discussing these today, though? Julia Chester Emery, who we are celebrating, is the person who created the United Thank Offering while serving as the secretary of the Woman’s Auxiliary of the Board of Missions for the Episcopal Church, a position she held for forty years.
The year before she died in 1921, the Spirit of Missions (which was a publication of the Episcopal Church with articles on various missionary initiatives) published an article that stated, “In all these enterprises of the Church no single agency has done so much in the last half-century to further the Church’s Mission as the Woman’s Auxiliary.” Julia Chester Emery provided much of the drive behind all of this work.
From Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians (5:16-18): “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Julia provided a means to express our thankfulness through the blue box, so I invite you to participate, if you are able, for as Martin Rinkhart demonstrated to us, even in the most difficult of times, there is always something to be thankful for.