Counting Our Blessings

November 19, 2017 — Rev. Paula Norbert


We gather here this week before Thanksgiving to take time out of our week to come together, to worship and give thanks to God, and to find time to be mindful of the many blessings of our lives.  As you may all know, Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday in many ways, begun so long ago by early settlers who were tremendously grateful for the help of some of the native Americans who helped them grow what they would need to feed themselves through the long winter ahead.  So many years later, we still gather on the fourth Sunday of November to pause and to give thanks to our God whose love is with us forever and to friends and family who accompany us in our days.  Let us pray, Eternal God, we know you dwell among us and in our hearts.  We gather in worship, led by faith to be thankful in you, thankful for the fullness of our lives, knowing that in all things you are with us to guide, to comfort, to strengthen and to inspire. Amen.

About two years ago, I had the opportunity to watch a short film that was called Gratitude Grows.  The film shares the journey of an artist, Lori Portka who, over a period of about a year and a half, created 100 small paintings to express her gratitude to special people in her life.  After each work was completed, she visited the person to share this special gift with them.  In the aftermath of that time, an exhibit of all the paintings was shown and the recipients were able to come together and meet one another.  The film is really uplifting as are the beautiful paintings she created as each painting was uniquely created for the person and they are so  colorful and happy.

Lori narrates the film and speaks about this project where she says she was ‘painting her heart away’ for people whom she was grateful for.  She said she decided to begin this special project because she wanted to live a life of gratitude; she wanted it to be big, to challenge her spiritually and she really wanted the experience to enable her to live out her commitment to gratitude in her life.  She began by painting a piece for her hairdresser who she said helped her see herself in a new way. She tried to include something of each person in the paintings.  She then went on to paint a beautiful small painting for her auto mechanic as she said that he and the workers at the garage always made her feel that she could fully trust them and she never felt intimidated going there.  He was really touched by her gift and said it would brighten his office.  She also painted a beautiful painting for a woman Amy whom she had never met.  She came to know her story through friends and by what Amy had shared online about her own journey of grief after losing her young child.

After completing 99 paintings, Lori knew she had one left to paint and that was a special one for her husband.  She shared that over the course of the months when she had been working on her gratitude paintings that she and her husband had tried to become more intentional with expressing their gratitude with one another.  They tried to notice the small things they each did and to say thank you.  She created a lovely painting of the two of them sharing a special moment together…

As Lori reflected back on this artistic journey, she said that she had learned a lot over the time in terms of better appreciating people in her life and really paying attention to all the small ways that people try to reach out and help one another.  Essentially, she said that she learned that gratitude grows.  It grows.  The more she was focused on gratitude, the more she felt grateful for the people in her life.

One of the amazing things that I have noticed since I first met the search committee a little less than a year ago and in the subsequent months as I have come to know so many of you and to hear your stories is the tremendous appreciation people have for this faith community.  Again and again I hear people express their love for others in this church, their gratitude for the ways in which their lives have changed as a result of discovering this worship community, their appreciation for the particularly special music that is shared here, with Michelle as our music director, with all the special musicians who come and share their gifts, and with Patricia and the gifted members of our choir whose voices enrich our experiences in worship.

We included a small sheet in your bulletins today, because we wanted to invite you to reflect upon the most important reasons that bring you here to Union Church.  What does this church, this community of faith, this time for worship each week, the various events and activities this church offers, what has that meant for your life and what does it mean for your life at this time in your spiritual journey?  I would like to read some of what has been shared …

In the coming weeks, as we enter into the Advent Season, we will also be moving to the end of our calendar year.  Our finance committee has already been hard at work to begin to put together a budget for the coming year, a budget that will help support all that this church offers.  It is our hope that everyone will take some time to think about how you may continue to support our wonderful church through your time, your treasure and your talents in the year ahead.  Together, we know that we  are stronger; we are a small church with great love, great talents, tremendous generosity.  I know that I, along with all of you, am profoundly grateful for the opportunities this church provides for all of us to grow in faith, in hope and in love.   Like the artist in the film, I think we would all agree that gratitude does grow and it expands our capacity to be grateful to God for so many blessings in our lives, even on the toughest of days and especially on the best of days, and to be grateful to one another that as a community, we are richly blessed.  May these days of Thanksgiving inspire us to be more mindful of gratitude in our lives and to help it grow as we express appreciation for so many blessings we receive each day.  I hope you all enjoy a lovely and blessed Thanksgiving Day this coming week and may we each be attentive to the small things in our days that enrich our lives in so many ways.  “Oh bless the Lord, O my soul and all that is within me bless God’s holy name.”