November 23, 2014 – Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Psalm 100 & Philippians 1: 3 – 11
Because I was born on Thanksgiving a few years ago, there has been a turkey at my birthday party almost every year. ( more than one many times!!!!!) It’s not that I resent sharing my special day with the tasty bird, it’s just that a turkey, bless its very tasty heart, does NOT have the best reputation! You know the old saying: “ How can I soar like an eagle when I work with a bunch of turkeys!?” And while they may look delectable, roasted and brown on a serving platter, they really aren’t the most beautiful of birds… and being called a “turkey” is NOT a compliment!! And the noise they make is certainly not musical! However, it’s the turkey and me for a lifetime of birthdays!
Thanksgiving is not considered a religious holiday, it certainly has important religious overtones….based on the ethic of gratitude….. recognizing our blessedness as children of God…. a warm and festive celebration of family…coming together at a common table to share our stories and offer our prayers. In the words of the modern poet Ruth Brin: “I must pause and thank God for blessings God bestows openly, and for those God gives in secret……for the blessings I recognize, and for those I fail to recognize….for the blessings that surround me on every side.”
Friday, my grandson Willem turned 12…can you believe it!? I was remembering some of his profound and funny sayings. Here’s one from Thanksgiving time when he was in Kindergarten: The kindergarten teacher told the children to bring in their favorite stuffed animal……the one they loved the most and were the most thankful for. Willem was having a tough time deciding between his cherished monkey and his quirky friend Stitch. He decided on the monkey…..telling his mom how much and why he adored that monkey, his bedtime companion every night. Then he asked Niki who she loved best ….who she was most grateful for. She replied that he and his sister Dalia were the best things that ever happened to her and they were tied for what she loved best. “ Well, you know Mom……you and the monkey are tied !”
How sweet is that!!? This is the season for thinking about what we are we most grateful for in our lives….. and how that gratefulness defines our priorities and our life styles?
In her book Living in Gratitude, author Angeles Arrien writes: Thanksgiving is a time to harvest, appreciate and celebrate those things that have come to fruition in our lives during the year, in both external and internal ways. Perhaps a valued relationship has deepened. We may have seen a new project through from idea to reality.
She advises us to be about the business of “grateful seeing” which is the ability to look first at what is good and working in our lives before we get overwhelmed by the challenges that still await us!
In 1985, Scott Macaulay was 24 years old. His parents had just gotten a divorce. The adjustment was hard enough in and of itself, but it became more pronounced as Thanksgiving rolled around. “What’s going to happen at Thanksgiving? … I just did not like the thought of being home alone—or anywhere alone—on Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is not about gifts or fireworks or hoopla. It’s a meal around a table where you give thanks for the blessings you have, and you really can’t do that by yourself and have much fun.”
So Scott found a creative way to deal with the challenge of his broken family….. to fill his home and his life with gratitude. “I decided to put an ad in the local paper: If people thought they would find themselves alone, they could give me a call, and I would make a Thanksgiving dinner.”
That first year, only a few people showed up. But Macaulay was committed to the thanksgathering. “I’ve held the dinner every year since. Last Thanksgiving, 84 people showed up.” This year (2014) he celebrates his 29th Thanksgiving meal.
For Macaulay, says writer Dave Isay, “There’s always room at his table.”
Today …as you have been told a million times…..is my birthday…..and so I celebrate the precious gift of life…..my life….your lives…..and our lives together in this delightful community of faith we lovingly call Union Church. I am grateful to my parents for giving birth to me and for nurturing me through the years. It was not an easy task, I know, and I am grateful for the security, stimulation and love that they provided for me.
I am endlessly grateful for my four children, Scott, Eric, Niki and Gregg …for the spouses they have chosen to share their lives and for the fantastic 5 grandchildren they have given us. All of them, along with the 7 dogs we share , enrich my life beyond words. I am grateful for our new, wild and crazy dog, Belle who brings energy and joy and laughter into our home. I am grateful to Ed for sharing my life for 40 years….even when I say nasty things about him from the pulpit! I am grateful to each and every one of you…for your gracious gifts of presence, faithfulness, humor, patience, respect, open-mindedness, warmth, friendship, love and generosity. I am grateful for the gifts of music and mission you offer, for the blessings of presence and compassion, for the treasures of laughter and friendship…. of faith and generosity…of compassionate care and loving support. I am grateful for the teachings of Jesus and other spiritual prophets and teachers, for the wisdom of scholars and the intellectual stimulation and enrichment of the written word….and much more that I know I take for granted…. living in a free country….the orange car I drive, fresh running water, electricity, a warm home and even my computer and iphone!! Truly grateful am I…richly blessed with love and community, with comfort and freedom.
Joyce Rupp writes in her book The Star in my Heart… Gratitude is at the core of a healthy spiritual life. It helps me to recognize how cherished I am by God and to live in awareness of the generous daily miracles provided by God. ….Remembering my past blessings helps me to see how deeply involved God is with my life.
…. The book of Deuteronomy urges the Hebrew people: “ Do not forget the things your eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your heart all the days of your life. Rather tell them to your children and to your children’s children. (Deut. 4:9)
Psalm 100, the very beautiful and familiar psalm of Thanksgiving reminds us of the faithfulness of the Divine Spirit who is likened to a shepherd providing care for a wandering flock. The psalmist reminds us that we belong to God ….that God is good, and can be counted on to provide us with faithful love that will endure forever.
This wonderful, liberating knowledge enables us to make a joyful noise of praise and gratitude to God! We enter into relationship with joy…being grateful.
In Paul’s intimate letter to the church at Philippi, Paul assures the early Christians that God who began a good work within them, will be faithful to complete it. We will not be abandoned by the Divine energy…for we are intricately bound together with God.
The Apostle Paul speaks in a very intimate way to the community that is dear to his heart, people he misses and longs to see, a family of faith he has nurtured and treasured and continually holds in prayer. He writes: “ I pray that your love will overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you discern what is best.”
Isn’t that a prayer we can offer unto God for each other, for our children and their children, for all people on this planet? That our love will overflow and we will know in our hearts and minds that the way of righteousness and peace, is the way to organize our lives. For Christians, Jesus clearly shows the way… a faithful guide to a place of peace and wellness.
And …..I believe that the greatest gift humanity has been given and continues to be given…..is the incredible privilege and awesome responsibility to be co-creators….in partnership with God. With this partnership, come the gifts of
- freedom, choice, imagination, creativity, intelligence, community and unconditional love.
Dwelling in human community, we have the powerful gift of communication. We are able to love and be loved, to make mistakes and receive forgiveness, to be wounded and experience healing, to weep and be comforted, to laugh and feel profound joy. ….to teach and be taught…..to be kind and to be treated with kindness.
We have been given the ability to create art, music, literature, dance, theater, architecture, technology…..to design masterpieces of exquisite beauty….and invent mind boggling devices to make our lives easier and healthier. Scientific and medical advances extend our lives and improve the physical quality of our existence on this planet. We have so much for which to be profoundly grateful! Hey, brilliant scientists and engineers are designing cars that will drive themselves! Artificial intelligence! Talk to Sharon Gaudin about that!
The great Persian poet and Sufi mystic, Hafiz wrote: All the talents of God are within you. How could this be otherwise when your soul is derived from God’s genes.
Over and above human accomplishment, we have been given the astounding gifts of nature to sustain, inspire and enrich our human lives on Earth. And can we even imagine our lives without our precious animal friends….especially our dogs….who love us unconditionally and teach us continually about love ,forgiveness, patience and playfulness.
How can we cultivate a practice of BEING GRATEFUL that will truly enrich our lives and hence our relationships?
Perhaps we can just begin and end each day with the simple prayer: Thank you, God…… keeping in the forefront of our mind…..our blessedness….. living each day, being grateful.
I leave you with a chuckle today and hope you will be grateful!
Two men were walking through a field one day when they spotted an enraged bull. Instantly they darted toward the nearest fence. The storming bull followed in hot pursuit, and it was soon apparent they wouldn’t make it. Terrified, the one shouted to the other, “Put up a prayer, John. We’re in for it!”
John answered, “I can’t. I’ve never prayed in my life.”
“But you must!” implored his companion. “The bull is catching up to us.”
“All right,” panted John, “I’ll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the table: ‘O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.'”