November 26, 2017
First Olympia UMC

Rev. Peter K. Perry

 

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (NRSV))

The writer, Leo Buscaglia, tells a great story about gratitude.

We were traveling through Arizona and we stopped at a greasy spoon to eat. It was one of those places that you walk through the door and the odor tells you more than want to know about the menu. The place was sparsely occupied by truck drivers and ranch hands.

I ordered pork chops and someone in our group said, “Leo, you’re crazy. You’re gonna die. No one eats pork chops at a place like this.” But someone down at the end of the counter was eating them and they smelled delicious. So I ordered them and they really were magnificent. After the meal, I said to the waitress, “I’d like to meet the cook.” She stammered, “Was something wrong?” “No,” I said, “I just want to tell him how terrific he is.” She said, “No one has ever done that before.” So I walked to the kitchen and here was this big man, sweating profusely over the stove. He looked at me and he growled, “Whatsa matta?” I replied, “Your pork chops were just fantastic and those potatoes were really something. I’ve eaten in some of the best restaurants in the world and you outdid them all. I just wanted to say thank you.” He looked at me like “This guy is out of his mind.” But you know what he did? Because it was so awkward for him to receive a compliment, he asked me, “Would you like another pork chop?”

We live in an often de-personalized world, a world where people are being replaced by machines. I never thought of Black Friday as a touchy-feely kind of day… but at least back in the old days, you know two or three years ago, when people actually shopped in physical buildings, we had the opportunity to say thank you to a few store clerks. But this year, Black Friday sales in stores were eclipsed by online sales. Instead of handing a persona twenty dollar bill and getting some change back with a smile and a word of thanks, the money goes from your bank, through your smart phone or desktop computer, to Amazon’s servers, to Amazon’s bank, in an instant, and no thank you is needed, thank you very much!

It reminds me of a cartoon of the mom standing at the ATM getting twenty dollar bills out of the machine, and her kid is giving her grief: “Mom, you forgot to say thank you!”

My mother was a “Say Thank You” fanatic, and I’m glad she tried sop hard to teach me the lessons of gratitude, though I readily admit to being a reluctant learner. Mom was insistent that my brother and I write thank you notes to those people who remembered us with gifts at Christmas, and birthdays, and throughout the year. I can remember the feeling of dread that would well up inside when mom would say, “All right boys, it’s time to write your thank yous!” We would sit at the big dining room table with a list of gifts, a pad of paper, the family address book, and a pencil, and we would start to write.

Dear Aunt Ruth,

How are you? I am fine. Thank you for the handkerchiefs. I like them a lot.

I like them better than the handkerchiefs Aunt Sarah sent, but not as much as the handkerchiefs Aunt Theresa sent.

I know they will come in handy when my nose runs. I’ll write again the next time you send me something.

Your nephew, Peter

I’m sure it wasn’t quite that bad, but that’s the way I remember it. Mom made us sit at the table and write those thank you notes because that was the proper thing to do. I hated it then, but today I wouldn’t trade the experience. As we wrote those notes, my brother and I learned to be thankful, to express gratitude.

I wrote a blog post for the church website this week about gratitude. I described eating cold cereal, being put on hold for a doctor’s appointment, the untimely death of my pedometer battery died, the fact that it had rained all day long, and the group using the church that made my work day loud and messy.

It would be so easy to grumble about each of those things, but I would rather be grateful.

• Grateful that my kitchen has a supply of healthy cereal, and I’ve never known a day of hunger in my life.
• Grateful that I have access to health insurance and healthcare professionals.
• Grateful that I can walk and am so unencumbered by life’s big issues that I have enough free time and energy to track how many steps I take each day.
• Grateful that I have a roof over my head and a good raincoat to keep me dry in the rain.
• Grateful that my work in the church connects me to the noisy, messy world and makes both me and the world a little bit better.

Why be grateful?

• When I am grateful, I am looking outward, not inward.
• When I am grateful I am thinking of those who do not enjoy the privileges I enjoy.
• When I am grateful, I am more willing to give and to bless and to pray.
• When I am grateful, I can’t help but remember God.

But if I grumble? Well, then I am looking inward and I am more likely to ignore my neighbors. If I grumble I am feeling entitled, prideful, and selfish. If I grumble, I am more prone to take, and envy, and curse. When I grumble, I have forgotten God.

Looking back over my life, I cannot recall a single instance when grumbling made me feel better about anything. Grumbling has only ever made me feel worse. Only when gratitude rises up do I feel I am living life to the fullness of my potential.

I think that’s some of what mom was trying to teach me by making me write my thank you cards. It’s certainly what Paul was trying to teach us in his admonition in this morning’s short scripture lesson.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (NRSV))

Give thanks in all circumstances.

Life isn’t all peaches and cream. It deals us some hard blows. But we have a choice in how we face the days of our lives. Faith calls us to live on the gratitude side of life, to wake up each morning and say “Good Morning, God!” But let’s be honest here, sometimes when we wake up we don’t say “God morning, God,” but rather, we sigh and say, “Good God, it’s morning!”

What a difference it makes to begin each day “Good Morning, God.” Decide to thank God, every day for every minute and everything that happens. Even when what happens isn’t what you wanted to happen. That’s the trick, right.

Carlisle Marney tells the story of a girl born without arms or legs. Her brother’s college roommate came home with him one weekend. He became friends with the girl. Before leaving on Sunday night, he worked up the courage to ask her a question which had been bothering him all weekend. “Don’t you wish,” he asked, “that you had never been born? Aren’t you angry at God when you look around you and see people who can run and jump, who can pour a glass of water and open a book?”

She was not offended. She said “I guess that I wouldn’t have missed the chance to live in this world for anything. I know that my limitations seem unbearable to you. But compared to never having lived at all, to never having seen, or tasted, or smelled this world, I am overwhelmingly grateful to God.” (from a sermon by Steven Stewart, Long Beach, CA )

Give thanks in all circumstances.

 

Someone was talking to me about the arrival of my grandson Nathan earlier this month. The comment was made that grandkids change our perspective on life a bit, which may be true… I’m still a rookie at this grand-dad thing and I’m still figuring out this emotion within. It is special.

The person said he had six grandkids and then he said, “You know, with each new grandkid, I get more and more thankful.”

I’m glad he is grateful, but I think that is cheating just a bit to feel gratitude when we feel blessed. Of course we are thankful for the blessings that come our way. The true test of gratitude is when we feel it when we DON’T feel blessed.

Give thanks in all circumstances.

Isn’t gratitude something that should be a constant in our lives? Thanksgiving is a secular holiday that here in America comes around once a year about the time the old church year ends and the new one begins. But thanksgiving from the Christian perspective is not a day, or a weekend, or a celebration of our blessings, but rather a perspective on life that guides us through EVERY day, something that is present in both blessing and hardship.

One of my favorite stories about gratitude comes from Will Willimon. I’ve told it before at some funerals here, but it’s a story that bears repeating often.

Mother thought of Gratitude as a friend for life? She would always remind me to say thank you. She would ask, “Did you say thank you to your uncle for the dollar?”, or say “I didn’t hear anyone say they liked supper tonight,” or urge “Don’t forget to say thank you in your prayers before you go to sleep!”

Often, Mom would ask, “Did you remember gratitude?,” and I would say, “I guess I forgot.” Mom would say, “That’s why I’m here — to remind you. One day, it will be natural for you one day, our friend gratitude will be a part of you…”

She was right.

Gratitude skipped along beside me when I started school in the Fall of my sixth year. “You’ll be glad I’m with you,” he said. “I will,” I asked. “Yes,” he replied, “your teachers will be impressed that you know me.”

And it was Gratitude that helped me pack my bags for college when that time came. “You know,” he said, “a lot of people helped you get here today.” “I know,” I said, but I don’t know how to tell them thank you.” “Just go to school and do the best you can, and they’ll know.” “And if I fail?,” I asked. “Then you give thanks for the experience and grow from it and try something else,” Gratitude said.

Then there was winter night in 1974, when we drove to the hospital for the arrival of our baby. Gratitude greeted me at the door to the labor room. “I didn’t expect to see you out at this time of the night!,” I said. “Really?,” said Gratitude in amazement. “I thought you knew that I keep regular hours here at the delivery room.”

I thought I knew well my old friend Gratitude. I came to expect him at the high points in my life: graduation, my wedding, the birth of my children. He was there for me. He was there the night we were celebrating Mom’s recovery from surgery. We were sitting the living room when the phone call came: The voice said, “We did all we could … pulmonary embolism, we think … there was no time to call … she went quickly.” We did everything that needed to be done. We went to the hospital and arranged for the funeral, took care of the papers, made phone calls around the country. When we got home, there was our old friend Gratitude.

“Don’t you think it’s time for you to go?,” I said. “Maybe we’ll call you after we get home from the funeral, but don’t wait by the phone. We don’t want you here now.” Gratitude looked me right in the eye and, with a voice that reminded me of my mother’s, said “Say thank you to the nice God.”

“Look,” I said, “I don’t think you’re very funny.” But Gratitude wouldn’t go. Instead, he passed out the family photo albums. Pictures of Mom with all us kids, my first steps on the lawn, my second birthday, my first bicycle, Mom and me at my graduation from high school, Mom rocking my babies to sleep. And someone remembered something funny about Mom, and we all laughed, and we all cried, and then I understood.

“Don’t go, Gratitude,” I said. “Please stay. She would want you here. I was wrong. You do belong here, even now — especially now.”

Saint Paul says, in the fifth chapter of First Thessalonians:

Rejoice always,
pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Amen.