Tag Archives: gratitude

Thanksgiving at All Times

A Sermon for 19 August 2018

            A reading from Ephesians 5:15-20.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil.  17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

I’ll never forget the ministry moment from a few years back.  A church member told me about a health scare they were undergoing.  The situation had the potential to be quite serious and we both were pretty worried!  Eventually the person let me know that the tests were back; it was just something minor a medication should alleviate.  What a relief!  . . .  I can’t count the number of times in my life as a pastor that this scenario has played itself out.  Nor have I tracked the numerous times when the news wasn’t so good.  In nearly 25 years of pastoring close to 3,000 different people, it’s been a lot of awaiting scary test results and unexpected surgeries and emergency room trips and oncology visits and funerals and job losses and shattered dreams and heartaches.  I don’t intend to make light of any one of our life-altering challenges.  They’re all awful!  They’re all unwelcome and every one of us just does the best we can to cope as we are able when the storms of life rage.  Some days it’s easier than others.  What sticks out about this one instance is the rest of the story.  Grateful for the news that the health situation wasn’t as bad as it could have been, this person declared:  “I am so excited to get to worship this week just to thank God!”  . . .  We could get all caught up in a debate over whether or not the response would have been the same had the test results turned out differently.  No matter.  “I am so excited to get to worship this week just to thank God” was a message that certainly stood out.  . . .  How often do any of us hear or say those words?

“Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you, God!!!”  The test results were clear.  My friend picked up the phone when I needed most to talk to someone.  The paycheck came before the mortgage was due.  The traffic was merciful when I was running late to get to my child’s school play.  The principal let me into the class I really needed in order to graduate on time.  I passed the test.  The boss gave the raise.  The hot weather broke.  We could go on and on.  And it seems quite a shame that we don’t more often.  A lot of us come here to worship to see our fellow congregants.  Or to enjoy the music.  Or to do our duty as usher, or liturgist, or Fellowship Coffee provider, or maybe even just to be a warm body in the pew.  O for a world – each one of us – every Sunday entering this sanctuary excited to say THANK YOU to God this day!

There’s an old hymn in the maroon Presbyterian Hymnal that some of you may know.  It’s called:  “Safely Through Another Week.”  Interestingly, its tune name is SABBATH.  “Safely through another week,” worshippers sing, “God has brought us on our way; let us now a blessing seek, waiting in God’s courts today:  day of all the week the best, emblem of eternal rest; day of all the week the best, emblem of eternal rest.”  I love the line too about “Here afford us, LORD, a taste of our everlasting feast,” and “May Thy gospel’s joyful sound conquer sinners, comfort saints; make the fruits of grace abound, bring relief for all complaints.”  In 1774, John Newton wrote the words.  In 1824, Lowell Mason completed the tune.  . . .  You may know John Newton, who lived a rowdy life and eventually got involved in the slave trade business – where he excelled.  Then, one day in his travels; he learned of some Wesley brothers whose hearts were strangely warmed and henceforth were on fire with the Spirit of God.  Before you know it, Newton underwent a life-changing conversion to the way of Christ.  Eventually he wrote some words about it that were set to music and still inspire us as a most beloved hymn today.  Newton’s infamous song is called “Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound.”  . . .  “Safely Through Another Week” and “Amazing Grace” for that matter, capture the kind of gratitude to God that the letter of Ephesians encourages.

“Make the most of the time,” Ephesians 5:16 purports, as you sing and make melody and approach our God with a perpetual attitude of thanksgiving.  One commentator summarizes:  Christians’ “primary obligation is to praise God” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 3, G. Porter Taylor, p. 352).  In fact, such thankful worship “redeems the time.  It orients (us) to the Almighty and keeps our life in right relation” (Ibid.).  Coming here to give thanks, that I’m-so-excited-to-get-to-worship-Sunday-just-to-thank-God attitude is the way we are created to live.

If you were here last week, you heard me say it then.  All that we know points to the conclusion that the epistle of Ephesians was a letter that was circulated among the early churches in Asia Minor.  Probably not written by the Apostle Paul, but by one trained by him.  The writer knew that all Christians everywhere need the kind of encouragement given in this little New Testament letter.  The writer knew that from the beginning of the church until now, so much can pull us off center each day.  If it’s not the awaiting test results, then maybe it’s the pressures of work, or family, or friends.  It can be a huge challenge to get through one day – let alone seven each week – with an attitude of thanksgiving intact.  . . .  Ephesians reminds:  we were called by God to a great hope (Eph. 1:18).  We were and are destined for adoption as God’s children (Eph. 1:5).  We have an amazing inheritance from God:  life here and now and forevermore!  God’s grace has saved us (Eph. 2:5) so that today we can be set free from the ways of death.  Right now, in this world, we can live – fully alive in joy – knowing our forgiveness already has been worked out!  For all of us, Ephesians 2:11-22 assures, circumcised and uncircumcised alike.  No matter who we are, regardless of the world situation into which we were born:  we are members of the household of God!  Precious.  Honored.  Beloved!  . . .  Thus:  we are to live worthy of that gift (Eph. 4:1).  To be renewed daily in the spirit of our minds to live in the likeness of our merciful God (Eph. 4:22-23).  “Do not be unwise,” we hear in our reading for today.  For our time is limited.  Make the most of it by living filled with the Spirit of God!  Giving thanks.  Singing praise.  Approaching it all in utter, excited thanksgiving!  (Eph. 5:15-20).  . . .  Take note that not one single thing in the list of blessings in Ephesians has anything to do with our bank accounts, our physical health, or our life circumstances.  Which is great news because all of those wax and wane throughout our days.  Nonetheless, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases.  God’s mercy never comes to an end!” (Lam. 3:22).

We know that many have very heavy burdens to carry.  The tests don’t always come back clear.  We don’t always catch the break we’re hoping for.  . . .  Nevertheless, it takes 21 times to develop a habit.  21 days – just three short weeks of our lives , if it’s a daily discipline we’re seeking to incorporate.  If we want to move from waking up each morning disgruntled, dejected, and depressed to living each day full of thanks – on fire with gratefulness, overflowing with gratitude to God – no matter the details of our lives!  Do it 21 times and see what happens.  . . .  It has been written that “We shape our experience by what we bring to it, how we receive it, and how we are in the habit of responding to it.  To a significant extent, mood is what we make it” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 3, Paul V. Marshall, p. 352).  . . .  We can be a people who approach each moment in great thanksgiving – not glibly, ignoring the realities of our lives.  But with sheer grit and determination, we can give thanks – honestly, in all circumstances!  And if we can’t yet, then at the least, we can pray for God to give us eyes to see that for which we can give thanks no matter what.  Awareness of what has come as blessing after life has fallen apart.  Patience to wait as long as necessary to catch a glimpse of the ways God will redeem even the worst experiences of life.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us endeavor to be filled with the Spirit, giving thanks at all times, in everything.  For our time is short.  Come what may, may our lives proclaim:  Thank you, thank you, thank you God!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

The Gratitude of One

A Sermon for 9 October 2016 

A reading from the gospel of Luke 17:11-19. Listen for God’s word to us.

“On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.””

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

How many things do you do each week without even thinking about them? In whole day most of us brush our teeth, make our coffee (or tea), turn on cars or TVs or computers or Ipads, without thinking one bit about what we are doing. Whether to brush side-to-side or up-n-down. Whether to add two lumps or one. Where to put in the key – or if you have a newer model, whether to press the brake before pushing the button. Our days are filled with so many things we just do so that we really don’t have to engage our brains to think about how to do it – unless something suddenly goes wrong. Then we’re on high alert to trouble shoot. Just getting out of bed to get ready for our day involves so many rote actions so that it’s difficult to tabulate how many similar thought-less things we do each week.

I’m pretty sure I know one thing most all of us do each week without a whole lot of thought at all – at least if we’re in worship on Sundays and have been for any length of time in our lives. “The Doxology.” I’m guessing Amy even can breeze through it without a thought. Often it seems more like a seventh inning stretch or a throw away transition to get the offering plates up to the front before getting on with the final hymn and charge for the week.

Praise. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise God, all creatures here below; Praise God above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen!” (The Presbyterian Hymnal, 1990; No. 592). I’ve served churches who routinely used No. 591 and messed me up each week with the words: “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise Christ, all people here below; Praise Holy Spirit evermore; Praise Triune God, whom we adore.” I never did get it right – because each week the ushers handed me the offering plates to put up in the chancel area and if I didn’t have the bulletin to remind me of the words, I’d end up just singing, “Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon” – a hymn trick a retired old pastor once taught me when I stood next to him to lead worship each week!

“The Doxology.” If you stop to think about it, it’s kinda radical. I mean where else in our world today would people willingly open their wallets to kiss their money goodbye without the exchange of a tangible product placed in their hands to take with them. And then get up to joyfully sing: “Praise! Praise God from whom all blessings flow???!!!” . . . Maybe we’ve been through seasons in our lives when “The Doxology” brings tears to our eyes. If, say, you’ve just lost your job and the bills keep coming in – but somehow the money to pay them turns up too. Maybe then you joyfully jump up to sing “Praise! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!” Maybe if you’ve been through some sort of prolonged, life-threatening illness, or are going through one right now, but find yourself still standing; maybe then thankfully singing: “Praise! Praise God from whom all blessings flow” moves your spirit deeply. Maybe if the difficulty is passing, we feel a little bit like we can breathe again after the loss, or the crisis, or the intense season of life that has taken its toll. Maybe then we truly mean it when the words tumble out of out of mouths: “Praise! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!” Or maybe we are the kind of people who have matured enough in life to know that all good things do flow from the loving heart of a gracious Creator. We’ve lived long enough to be a people of gratitude because we can look back and see the sustaining tracings of God’s finger all over the messiness of our lives. And so we joyfully praise! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!!!

Gratitude changes us, doesn’t it? If you’ve ever heard of Louise Hay, perhaps you already know. The gratitude guru of today, yesterday Ms. Hay turned 90 years old – though I swear to you she doesn’t look a day over 55! Launching what would become a multi-million dollar writing career in her mid-forties, Louise reports that “at 55 I ventured into the world of computers . . . At 60, I had my first garden (and) enrolled in a children’s art class (to begin) to paint. At 70 and 80,” she writes, “I was more creative and (nearing 90) my life continues to get richer and fuller” (Louise Hay newsletter email, 5 October 2016). Her message is pretty simple: live grateful! Affirm the miracle of our bodies. Celebrate this incredible world in which we live. Rejoice with each passing year! I would add: know the One to thank and do so every day! Gratitude literally keeps our bodies healthier. It makes our spirits lighter. It allows our minds to be at peace. It makes us people others enjoy being around. After all, who wants to sit next to the sour puss? Who wants to let the arteries of our own hearts clog up from begrudged living? Who wants to craft a life around the belief that everything is solely up to us – instead of knowing our lives are wonderfully inter-dependent with the amazing gift of grace? Gratitude is just the better way to live.

Jesus should have said it that bluntly. Though we probably wouldn’t understand without the beauty of a real-life illustration. . . . Ten desperate ones whose bodies are wrecked with disease – whose spirits likely are languishing as laws kept them isolated away from healthy people, even the loved ones of their own families. Ten people, who probably have been treated much more like eye-sores than human beings with feelings and hopes and dreams; ten seek out Jesus to beg for mercy. This is one of those instances in which I wish Jesus would have gotten closer. I wish he would have stopped in his tracks, walk right up to the group, laid his hands upon them to declare them instantly healed. For whatever reason he doesn’t – at least not according to the story as it is recorded in the gospel of Luke. Perhaps he wanted to give them a role in their own healing – invite them to trust what he asks them to do. So that all he does in this healing is see them. See their pains, then speaks: “Go show yourselves to the priests,” (Luke 17:14). It’s recorded that they all went, even though it’s kinda hard to believe. I mean, Jesus just sent them to see the ones that represented the system that called them unclean and kept them away from others. Do they really all sprint off in the direction of the holy men? It must have been so because Jesus later says, “were not ten made clean?” (Luke 17:17). Ten supposedly trusted that something significant would happen to them if they followed the instructions of this incredible teacher. Something would change – if not in the healing of their bodies, then maybe they anticipated healing some other way. Ten head off. Only one returns. I wonder if he sang: Praise! Praise God from whom all blessings flow! He falls to the dust at Jesus’ feet and simply, profoundly, passionately from the bottom of his heart says: “Thank you!” Thank you! Thank you! . . . Jesus declares that it is his faith – his willingness to trust the instruction given him – that makes him well. And it is the gratitude in his heart that will keep him well – no matter if the leprosy comes back, or if his family all is gone when he heads home, or if the community won’t welcome his restoration. Gratitude will change the trajectory of his life. The way he frames the story of the rest of his days. The prayers he makes as he lays his head down on a pillow somewhere at night. The peace that will remain in him as he remembers his past and looks forward to a different kind of future. Gratitude will carry him through, all the way to his end and beyond.

We could take a good lesson from the gratitude of one. His life could show us how NOT to take our moments for granted. How NOT to thought-lessly go through the motions each week. Maybe even to find a way to joyfully jump up after we give back to God a portion of what God already has given unto us, singing: “Praise! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!” Let gratitude go forth not only from one, but from all!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen!

 

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)

The Attitude of Gratitude

Yesterday I read the most wonderful thing about gratitude. It was on the heels of spending time this weekend with my dearest friends giving thanks and enjoying a fabulous meal together. It was on my way to being with my family to celebrate this holiday called Thanksgiving.  Nearly all of my favorite people in this whole wide world gathered together with me at some point in the week!  How could one not be grateful?  Add to it all a beautiful sunrise walk with my sisters on the beach — glorious blues I never have seen on one pallet before!   What a great day!!!  
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So here is part of what I read from Convictions:  How I Learned what Matters Most, by Marcus J. Borg, 2014:

“Gratitude is both a feeling and an awareness. . . . As an awareness, gratitude is the realization that our lives are a gift. None of us is self-made. We did not create ourselves. We and all that we have are a gift, even if we may also have worked hard for what we have. But even our ability to work hard is also a gift. For those who have prospered in this life, gratitude is the awareness that we did not do it by ourselves. How much of who we have become is the product of our genetic inheritance of intelligence and health? Of the family into which we were born and their values? Of teachers or others we met along the way? Of decisions made by others over which we had little or no control? Gratitude as an awareness is a posture toward life. It is the opposite of feeling entitled.

“Gratitude cannot be commanded. You feel it or you don’t. The words ‘you should be grateful’ have seldom if ever made anybody feel grateful. Gratitude is the fruit, the product, of being aware that our lives are not our own creation. It is thanksgiving.

“Though we do not commonly think of gratitude as an ethical virtue, it has ethical effects. When we are filled with gratitude, it is impossible to be cruel or brutal or judgmental. Moreover, as an awareness, it leads to a very different attitude toward those whose lives are hard. The familiar saying, ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ is true—but it should not be understood to mean that God decided to grace me but not those with difficult lives. Rather, gratitude as an awareness evokes compassion and a passion for helping the ones who have to live those lives.

“Imagine that Christianity is about loving God. Imagine that it’s not about the self and its concerns, about ‘what’s in it for me,’ whether that be a blessed afterlife or prosperity in this life. Imagine that loving God is about being attentive to the One in whom we live and move and have our being. Imagine that it is about becoming more and more deeply centered in God. Imagine that it is about loving what God loves. Imagine how that would change our lives. Imagine how it would change American Christianity and its relation to American politics and economics and our relationship to the rest of the world. Imagine how it would change our vision of what this world, the humanely created world, might, could, and should be like.” (Excerpt From: Marcus J. Borg. “Convictions.” HarperCollinsPublishers. 2014.
iBooks.)

As we come to the close of this Thanksgiving, may we each be growing in our awareness of gratitude. May we be acutely attuned to the amazing gift of our lives and who we are to be in this world thanks to such a great gift!

Thanks be to God!!!
-RevJule