Sermon Nov. 22, 2015
Giving Thanks by Rev. June Fothergill Scripture: Philippians 4: 4-7; John 6:25-35
The local news station was interviewing an 80 year old lady because she had gotten married for the fourth time. The interviewer asked her questions about her life, about what it felt like to be marrying again at 80 and then about her husband’s occupation.
“ He’s a funeral director,” she answered. “ Interesting” the newsman thought, then he asked her if she wouldn’t mind telling him a little about her first three husbands and what they did for a living. She paused a few seconds needing time to reflect on all those years. After a short time a smile came to her face and she answered proudly, explaining that she had first married a banker when she was in her 20’s then a circus ringmaster when in her 40’s and a preached when in her 60’s and now in her 80’s a funeral director. The interviewer looked at her , quite astonished an asked her why she had married four men with such diverse careers. She smiled and explained,” I married one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready and four to go! “
And I give thanks for the great joke giver in the choir!
Giving thanks seems to be the easiest of all spiritual disciplines. If we pay attention we can find something to appreciate. For the work of gratitude is not about our circumstances but our attitude. I learn this over and over. Most recently I learned it at the Monday morning Bible study as I listened to the people around the table talk about their gratitude to God for his love and care in their lives. Later it struck me that everyone of them were unhoused or marginally housed. And their witness to me that day was one of gratitude to God.
Yet, I find that there are some interesting difficulties with this practice. One is that Jesus doesn’t tell us to do it. I found nowhere in the gospels where Jesus directly instructs us to give thanks. He didn’t thank his disciples or seem to expect thanks from those he healed. He seems surprised when a Samaritan comes back to thank him for his healing- a rare event. Yet, he did model giving thanks for us. He gave thanks to God for the gifts of bread and drink at the last supper and the food he multiplied to feed the crowds. He gave thanks to God for raising Lazarus. For Jesus the focus of thanks was to God and God’s abundance. For God’s gifts of bread and life.
Jesus also gives us a cautionary story about giving thanks. In Luke he tells the story of two men at prayer. One man says to God , “ I thank you that I am not like other people thieves, rogues, adulterers or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give a tenth of all my income. But the tax collector standing far off would not even look up to heaven but was beating his breast and saying God be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus said it was the tax collect who went away right with God. For Jesus the practice of giving thanks needs to include humility before God. It’s not about comparing ourselves with others but connecting with God in humble gratitude.
Our tendency to compare ourselves with others can lead us to pride but also tinge our practice of giving thanks with guilt. The other day when I heard the rain on my roof, I was grateful for warm shelter with a tinge, recognizing that others are out in the rain without shelter or home. It is then that I turn to Jesus for grace, for the forgiveness of my own limits of generosity and the help to find the right action I can take. The tinge humbles me and helps we realize my need for grace and the gift it is in my life.
Dealing with feelings of pride and guilt in our thanks giving can help us grow closer to God but what about the times when we struggle to find gratitude? When life is a struggle, when we hunger and thirst, when we hurt, when we grieve, when as John O Donohue puts is, “ when the canvas frays in the currach ( boat) of thought and a stain of ocean blackens beneath you.” ( from Beannacht by John O”Donohue)
For the practice of gratitude is essentially about turning to God first in our lives. In the gospel of John, Jesus had a conversation one day with a group of people who had sought him out with questions. They had been there when he fed the thousands of people and then gone away. They found him and wanted to know more. Jesus notices that they have come because of the gift of bread they had received. He tells them “ Do not work for the food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life which the Son of Man will give you” ( John 6:27) And they ask him – What must we do to perform the works of God- works that will last?
Isn’t that our question- what must we do? We want practical answers that we can do something about! We live in a culture of busy, of doing, for taking care of things. But what about when there doesn’t seem like there is anything we can do! And it’s darn hard when we can no longer do like we used to. When we see things that need to be done and we don’t have the energy to do them. When we realize that darn it all growing older means slowing down!
How do we have a mission that is sustainable for the long haul? How do we leave a legacy ? How do we deal with our slowing down, yes even our dying? How do we live fully and gratefully? How do we do this work?
Jesus understands. In fact Jesus answers his questioners not with a list of more things to but with a challenge to believe. He answers their question about what are we to do with, “ This is the work of God that you believe in him whom God has sent.”
When John uses believe he means not to give assent to a set of dogma, but to receive, to come to, to love Jesus. To make Jesus the Christ the center of your life. The starting place for learning the practice of gratitude is to give thanks for Christ and what he has done for us.
Like us, those ancient seekers also asked- but how will we know? What sign will you give us? Our ancestors had manna in the wilderness to help them trust and believe in God. And Jesus assures them that when they turn to Him, they will receive the bread of life. They will have all the nourishment they need. In fact this bread from heaven God gives is for the life of the world!
Jesus is telling us in John that in Him we have the source of life and nourishment for our lives and for the mission of Christ in the world. We don’t have to have it all figured out. How will we feed over a hundred people each week? How will be find the next generation of our congregation? How will we witness to our faith to our families and community? Etc. Jesus tells us- trust in me, give your life to me. And I will be your bread- the source of nourishment for your life now and forever!
With those ancient seekers we can say- give us this bread always!
And he did. Jesus gave himself for the sake of us all so that we might have life fully, abundantly, forever. When we practice gratitude, when we give thanks with our whole heart, with a humble heart- we give thanks for this amazing gift of Christ for us! Bread of life for us. Come to me Jesus says and you will no longer be thirsty or hungry. You will have what you need. And you will be empowered to share with others this bread of life. Bread that feeds both body and spirit. Bread that connects us with each other in the feast of worship and service. So it is that it all comes from the alynment of our hearts with Christ. From this all the works of God, the mission of God flows to the world.
I admit this past week I went through a time of discouragement. I was just out of sorts. But I had given myself the gift of a Spiritual Director and this week I got to meet with her. My time with her helped me to recenter on Christ’s Spirit and call in my life. It helped me to let go of my guilt and embrace God’s gifts in my life.
We don’t have to do this work of centering our lives on Christ alone. We don’t’ learn how to practice gratitude alone. We have the gift of companionship in Christ. WE have the inspiration of scripture. WE have the fellowship of potlucks and worship. We have the assurance of prayer. We have Jesus. We have each other.
So this is a good day to give thanks! We are here together. So we look around and give thanks for friends, companions in Christ! We have this beautiful space to worship and share. We a mission to feed people in body and spirit and God is giving us each week the resources to do so. We have many years of faithful experience and service, wisdom and grace in this room! We have thanksgiving for all that has gone before us in the name of Christ. We give thanks for each person who has ever come into this place and received and given a part of themselves. We give thanks for those who today give of their time and resources to do the works of God in this time and place! Most of all we give thanks for Christ Jesus, our bread of life who forgives us, and feeds us, and gives us one another. I invite you to turn to someone near you and tell them- “ I give thanks for you.”