Reflection: Discipleship, Week 5: Gratitude Oct 7, 2018
Exodus 19-3-7; Ephesians 5.15-20
I think it was about 20 years ago that I first heard of the practice of keeping a gratitude journal. I know it became something of a fad for a while. One heard about it on “Oprah” and in magazines, and bookstores carried decorative books with pages specially marked for the items you wanted to list. The idea was to begin or end each day with five things you are grateful for – a good practice to remind us of how blessed we truly are. Even if you don’t keep a journal, it’s a good idea to do so, even just in your own mind and heart. Giving thanks to God is one of the most basic practices of Christian discipleship. It can transform the way we look at our lives and build our trust in the God who made us and cares for us. Let’s try it now together…
Lists of gratitude items often include things like: coffee with a friend, a beautiful sunny day, rain after a dry spell, a snuggle with the cat or dog – simple, small things that fill our day and that we might not even recognize as blessings until we stop and pay attention to them. I remember at one time there was a video that went viral on the internet in which a woman was looking at her small, messy kitchen and longing for renovations; she turned that around into thankfulness for the food in the fridge, the children who made the mess, the healthy body that allowed her to tidy up – and made her mindful of the need to reach out to those who did not have those in their lives.
I wonder how often our gratitude journal might include some of these items: a bad cold; a sore hip; a disagreement with a friend; a challenging conversation at work; making a mistake and having it called out. Probably not often, right? And yet, the Scripture for today asks us to “give thanks at all times and for all things”. There are those who are able to give thanks for truly difficult things in their lives, like a cancer diagnosis or the death of a loved one or a bout of depression – but that’s a pretty big stretch for many of us. Those who are able to are truly blessed with a heart for gratitude, and I hope one day I will be able to develop such a heart by the grace of God. I’m not there yet. Right now I’m working on the “at all times” part of it – remembering to be thankful at moments throughout the day. The “For all things” part is much harder. What might that look like?
For example, a cancer diagnosis is a frightening thing, but I’m guessing it can also make one sincerely grateful for the health care we have in our country. The loss of a loved one breaks the heart, but it also can show us how deeply loved we are as people rally around to support us through the loss. A bout of depression can leave us feeling absolutely flat and devastated, but let me tell you, it also makes one appreciate the good days- and even the good moments – a whole lot more! Most of us aren’t grateful when any of those things happen, but there are things to be grateful for at those times, just as there are in every day and every moment of our lives. Recognizing that may actually bring us closer to that instruction from Ephesians to “be thankful at all times and for all things.” I rather like the image of the person described in Ephesians – not drunk on wine, but full of the spirit of Thanksgiving, enjoying life in a way that would not be possible without that deep sense of gratitude that causes us to sing, dance, and make music for God.
Some of you might be familiar with another name for the communion we will celebrate shortly in the service. In many traditions it is called The Eucharist, which comes from the Greek word eucharisto – thanksgiving. We will be sharing a sacrament of Thanksgiving on this Thanksgiving Sunday. I’ve asked some of the older children to help me with the service today. It’s modelled on the ritual for the Jewish Seder meal celebrated at Passover every year. At that meal, the exodus from Egypt we heard about last week is remembered, and it is the role of a child in the family to ask the questions that lead to the retelling of that story. Moses called the people together many times in their 40 years of wandering in the desert to remember and share their gratitude to God for “bearing them on eagle’s wings”, as today’s Scripture tells it. That’s what we do each Thanksgiving Sunday, and each time we celebrate Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist.
It may seem strange that this ritual, that takes us back to the time just before Jesus’ death, could be called a Thanksgiving ritual. But the church recognized very early on that Jesus’ death on the cross was a gift for them – a gift to show them that God’s love does not have any limits, any boundaries – as the resurrection taught them that to give oneself in love is to bring new life into the world. And so the church gathered, Sunday by Sunday, to remember that sacrifice and to give thanks for the new life they experienced. In all the hard things in life, there is potential for something new and precious to emerge. And so, we give thanks at all times and for all things, as we will in a few moments, as we celebrate this sacrament of Thanksgiving.