23 December, 2014

Gratitude, a sermon

Everybody is born grateful.

When babies wake up and see their mothers’ faces, they gasp with surprise and happiness. When babies see something new, they revel in the look of it. Flowers, animals, heck, just bright colors excite them and they wear that excitement on her face.

But somehow, that excitement starts going away. We begin to learn that the world isn’t so safe. That pretty burner that burned such a wonderful color of red burns our hand. That pretty black and yellow bee sting us. The people who make us laugh when we see their faces became unpredictable. Sometimes they were happy and sometimes they were angry.

And the natural gratitude that we’re born with, that excitement about the world, that joy and hope and enthusiasm begins to wane. Our openness is replaced by caution, and even fear.

Our text this morning is from Jeremiah. It’s the story of his calling:

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

It’s like God is saying, “I made you like you were as a child. I made you happy. I made you grateful. I made you look at the world with wonder.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.

And Jeremiah responds, “Not me. I’m afraid. I’ve already learned that the world is hard. And the people are mean.”

God responds, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
“Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Jeremiah is reborn.

That’s what gratitude can do.

Marianne Williamson tweeted recently, “The gap between how beautiful life can be and how ugly the world can be is profoundly heartbreaking. The purpose of life is to close the gap.”

Gratitude is the way to bridge the gap.

We are called to be grateful.

I’m sure you’re aware of all the bestselling books and trends about happiness, right? There’s tons of books and websites and articles and television shows about happiness. And it all seems to start with gratitude.

The website unstuck.com gives some great ideas on how to practice gratitude. They suggest keeping a gratitude journal. Just write down something you’re grateful for every day. Or, if you have a smart phone, use it—there are over 50 apps for keeping a gratitude journal. Unstuck says “if you identify something or someone with a negative trait, switch it in your mind to a positive trait.” This space, for instance. It’s cold. But it’s also beautiful, and that cold makes the organ sound beautiful! Unstuck goes on to say, “Give at least one compliment daily.”

And then there’s a suggestion that really gets to me… “Vow not to complain, criticize, or gossip for 10 days.” If you slip, just start again. And notice how much energy you were spending on negative thoughts and actions.

This is an easy week to practice gratitude. Our families will be with us. Our work weeks are short. And we will have great food and great parties. Won’t you try to practice gratitude with me?

What do you think are the consequences of gratitude? Well, one of them is that people want to be around people who are grateful. Second, you begin to enjoy your life more when you’re grateful. Finally, when you’re grateful, you begin to recognize those things that make you grateful, and you create more of them in your life.

Grateful for good food? You work on being a better cook.

Grateful for good friendships? You begin to pay more attention to them and create more of them.

Grateful for good health? You begin to pay more attention to healthy things…

You see what I mean.

And you begin sharing all of that…

Because the outward expression of gratitude is generosity. Out of your gratitude, you begin giving more.

And the outgrowth of that generosity is to work for justice.

Generosity is for individuals, and justice is for all people.

Rumi said,

Seek the wisdom
that will untie your knot
seek the path
that demands your whole being
Leave that which is not, but
appears to be
seek that which is, but is
not apparent.

Our calling in this world is centered on gratitude. Think of all the places in the Bible where thanksgiving is mentioned. From the giving of the Torah and the regulations on thanksgiving sacrifices, to David singing a thanksgiving song to God, to Nehemiah singing songs of thanksgiving at the dedication of the city wall and the return of the Isrealites to the land, And Psalm 100: Make a joyful noise to the Lord all ye lands, enter his gates with thanksgiving. All the way to the New Testament, when the Paul writes to the people of Corinth, “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” And in the letter to Thessalonika, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

And Jesus said thank you, too. When the stone at Lazarus’ tomb was rolled away, Jesus said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”

May I remind you what Marianne Williamson said? “The gap between how beautiful life can be and how ugly the world can be is profoundly heartbreaking. The purpose of life is to close the gap.”

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