The story is told about a farmer who, on one warm summer night, was sitting on the front porch with his wife. The couple had been together for over 40 years. On that particular night, the farmer began to think about how much he appreciated his partner. They had shared so much together. She had been caring, supportive, patient, and forgiving. Overcome with emotion, he turned to her and said, “Wife, you have been such a wonderful partner that there are times I can hardly keep from telling you!”
Love and gratitude are wonderful emotions, but particularly so when they are spoken aloud. Think about how you feel when you hear: “Thank you,” “I really appreciate it,” “I really appreciate you,” and “I love you!” These words have the potential to grow our love and strengthen our relationships, including within the church.
You may have noticed a bit of a theme emerging over the last few weeks. We began our indoor worship with expressions of loss for those who died in a time when we could not mark their passing publicly. Then we moved into a thank-you for all the workers who have kept us going during the pandemic. Then it was World Wide Communion, Thanksgiving, and World Food Sunday. It struck me that this season is a season of Gratitude, Grace, and Generosity. From September through December, we mark numerous occasions to give thanks – thanks for nature’s bounty, thanks for human acts of service, thanks for the lives of those we have loved and said good-bye to, and thanks for God’s grace and generosity that underpin all these gifts. It’s a season of responding with generosity – hosting meals, sharing food by donation or sponsoring dinners, the fun and child-focus of Halloween treat-giving, Giving Tuesday (created to counter-balance the frantic consumerism of Black Friday and CyberMonday), Angel Gifts, toy drives and other special collections in the season leading up to Christmas, and of course, Christmas itself with its overflowing of gifts. Gratitude and Grace birth Generosity of spirit as well as generosity of more material things.
There are many recent studies that show that focusing on our abundance and expressing our gratitude regularly make us happier and healthier as individuals and stronger as a church community. Diana Butler Bass, in her book Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks, sums it up beautifully: “In addition to heart health, gratitude has also been linked to emotional well-being, lower levels of anxiety and depression, decreased panic attacks and phobias, reduced risks of alcoholism and substance abuse, and longevity (yes, grateful people live longer). Researchers found that thankful people live happier lives as well.” So bottom line—don’t be shy! Say thank you! Say it often!
While focusing on our gratitude and expressing it aloud is necessary, we all know, however, that just talk isn’t enough. As the song from “My Fair Lady” says, “Don’t talk of love – SHOW ME!”
So, how do we express our love and gratitude to God?
We can say it aloud and we do, regularly, through prayers, storytelling, and singing. When you think of it, our worship services are often full of words of thanksgiving. But what about our actions? How do we show God thanks and love? For instance, when we have those incredible moments of thankfulness, when our hearts are overflowing with gratefulness and praise, what can we do to express all of that?
Jesus had something to say about that. In today’s lesson from John’s gospel Jesus is speaking to Peter. It is after the resurrection. Jesus is about to leave this earth and he wants to ensure that the disciples understand their mission. It is so important. Jesus asks Peter not once, not twice, but three times, “Do you love me?” And each time, Peter says aloud, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus wants Peter to show him and says, “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” “Feed my sheep.” In other words, if Peter wants to express his love for Jesus, he should show him by loving and looking after those whom Jesus loves.
You may recall that it wasn’t so long before today’s story that Peter was similarly asked about his relationship with Jesus. It was the night when Jesus was arrested. Then, also three times, Peter denied he knew Jesus. In the days after the crucifixion, we can imagine that this would have played heavy on Peter’s heart. But here is Jesus giving Peter a path for healing and an opportunity to get it right—to proclaim that not only does he know Jesus, but he loves him. This is grace in action.
In the days after this story we know that many people will come to faith in God, not just because of Peter’s words, but because of how he lived his life from this moment on. His actions will speak loudly and reinforce his words. Eventually, Peter will give up his very life for the sake of Jesus. Now that is speaking loudly through your actions!
Let me offer one final point. When we live our love as well as speak it, we are following God’s example. God tells us and then shows us. That is the central message of the story of Jesus. For the modern mind, it is unbelievable to imagine God coming to the earth as a human being, taking on our limitations, our pain, our suffering, our doubts, and our fears. Coming to the world to tell us, but most importantly, to show us, an incredible, life- transforming and never-ending love. God, in Jesus, came to show us what God had been repeating for centuries through the Hebrew leaders and prophet: we are loved, and God will be with us no matter what – here for us, here with us, changing our lives forever with love.
Friends, today, God’s love still needs flesh and bone. Today, God still needs people to show others God’s love and care. As Christ’s followers in our time and place, we are called, in grateful response to God’s love and abundance, to be nothing less than the hands and feet of God—making a difference in the lives of others, particularly those in need, for Jesus’ sake. God promises to be with us in this endeavour. Through the Holy Spirit, God promises to help us show this love, God’s love.
There is a wonderful story told of a little girl walking home from church one Sunday with her mom. At one point the little girl turns to her mother and says, “Mommy, the minister’s sermon this morning confused me.” The mother said, “Oh? Why is that?” The little girl replied, “Well, she said that God is bigger than we are. Is that true?” The mother replied, “Yes, honey, that is true.” “And the minister said that God lives in us. Is that true, Mommy?” The mother replied, “Yes, that is also true.” “Well,” said the little girl, “if God is bigger than us, and lives in us, wouldn’t God show through?”
God’s people need us—and what we can give. Be a channel. Let God show through. Amen.
(prayers and sermon adapted for use by Gordon United Church © 2020 The United Church of Canada/L’Église Unie du Canada. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike Licence. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.5/ca. Any copy must include this notice.)
 Diana Butler Bass Grateful: The Transforming Power of Giving Thanks, (HarperOne, 2018), p. 29. Used with permission.