September 14, 2014

“Learning Gratitude”
Psalm 65
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 12:13-21

Psalm 65 NRSV
Praise is due to you,
   O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed, 
   O you who answer prayer!
To you all flesh shall come. 
When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us,
   you forgive our transgressions. 
Happy are those whom you choose and bring near
   to live in your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
   your holy temple.
By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
   O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
   and of the farthest seas. 
By your strength you established the mountains;
   you are girded with might. 
You silence the roaring of the seas,
   the roaring of their waves,
   the tumult of the peoples. 
Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.
You visit the earth and water it,
   you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
   you provide the people with grain,
   for so you have prepared it. 
You water its furrows abundantly,
   settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
   and blessing its growth. 
You crown the year with your bounty;
   your wagon tracks overflow with richness. 
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
   the hills gird themselves with joy, 
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
   the valleys deck themselves with grain,
   they shout and sing together for joy.

1 Timothy 6:6-19

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’
What a pleasure it is to gather together today in the presence of such wealth. In the sanctuary today we are surrounded by the symbols and reality of the bounty of the earth. For some of us these gathered goods are more symbolic than they are tangible examples of the richness of our existence.

IMGP2850There is so much distance, for most of us, between all that we have received and the source of these riches. Fortunately, we have Christian brothers and sisters in our midst whose lives are lived close to the ground. And so I am quite aware that the pork I select from the meat case, packaged so neatly as it is on that foam tray, wrapped with that plastic wrap; I am aware that there was a time when it was not packaged this way.

Most people realize this, at least at some level. But the distance remains and it is easy to forget, not only that a pig gave its life, but also that someone fed this animal daily. And moreover, someone raised the grain and processed it so that it could be fed to this animal. Someone prepared the meat, packaged it, shipped it. That neat package of pork chops did not drop from the sky into my shopping basket.

The same can be said for other things we use or consume. We are often unaware of how these items got into our hands.

And sometimes we can be too aware. What I mean is that there are times when we look around at all that we possess and find great comfort in it. This is relative, of course. I have told you before of the fishing trip my dad and I participated in for years. Northern Ontario. Remote lake. Island in remote lake. No electric. No plumbing. Take in what you need. Carry out what you don’t need. No TV. No Cell phone, and no “onstar’ does not work there. And yet every time I have gone on that trip I sat near the fire eating some fresh fish, swatting at mosquitos or blackflies and thinking, I am living like a king.

Fortunately, we all receive a reminder that it was not, actually our own efforts that provided what we have.IMGP2851

You know what it looks like when we think that it was solely the sweat of our brow or the uniqueness of our own intellect or the resources of our own finances that created the bounty we enjoy. The reminder that what we enjoy is not, in fact, the product of our own efforts is a necessary correction. And nothing serves as quite a reminder as when we feel we are lacking.

John Reynolds, in his Anecdotes of the Rev. John Wesley (1828), tells the story of Wesley’s student days at Lincoln College in Oxford. A porter knocked on Wesley’s door one evening and asked to speak with him. After some conversation, Wesley noted the man’s thin coat (it was a cold winter night), and suggested that he had better get a warmer one. The porter replied: “This coat … is the only coat I have in the world – and I thank God for it.”

When asked if he had eaten, he replied: “I have had nothing today but a draught of spring water … and I thank God for that.”

Wesley, growing uneasy in the man’s presence, reminded him that the headmaster would lock him out if he did not soon return to his quarters. “Then what shall you have to thank God for?” Wesley asked.
“I will thank Him,” replied the porter, “that I have dry stones to lie upon.”

Deeply moved by the man’s sincerity, Wesley said, “You thank God when you have nothing to wear; … nothing to eat … [and] no bed to lie on. I cannot see what you have to thank God for.”

The man replied: “I thank God… that he has given me life and being; a heart to love Him, and a desire to serve Him.”

The man left with a coat from Wesley’s closet, some money for food and words of appreciation for his living testimony. Wesley later wrote these words in his Journal: “I shall never forget that porter. He convinced me there is something in religion to which I am a stranger.”

We are a people prone to see what is missing, rather than what is present. We see a nation at war, endless political infighting, economic woes, and declining moral values. We bemoan the downward spiral of our time without regard to our relationship with the God of grace, might, and providence. We need a new perspective.

This Psalm for today is usually categorized as a “Thanksgiving Psalm.” One scholar describes it, instead, as a “Reorientation Psalm.”

This is part of a learning cycle that we all participate in. It begins with orientation (assigning meaning to something); disorientation (or experiencing something that denies or diminishes that meaning); and finally Reorientation. Psalms of Orientation help create, not just remind us, a sacred ‘canopy’ where we as God’s people can live without fear and anxiety. These Orientation Psalms notice and proclaim that God’s creation is good, and that it works for our good.

And there is also the experience of disorientation. Bad things happen to good people. For no apparent reason this same creation seems to betray us. And yet, these Disorientation Psalms demand a God who is not absent but who is present in the dark days.

But Psalm 65 is a Psalm of reorientation. What it does is it begins, not at the beginning but at that low spot, the dark day, and it points toward a transformation that God has created. Paying close attention to this Psalm we can learn gratitude. Gratitude keeps us from thinking that being a disciple of Christ is all about us and our needs. It includes the act of noticing. Then our relationship with God is enhanced because we’re focused on God instead of ourselves.

IMGP2855All the Abrahamic faiths know this.

In Judaism, The day starts with the Shema: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might “(Deuteronomy 6:5). The concluding prayer, the ‘alenu,’ thanks God for the particular destiny of the Jewish people. Gratitude for everything is appropriate in Judaism because all things come from God in the Hebrew world view; therefore, Jewish life is filled with this recognition. A prayer is said upon hearing good or bad news, and God is praised for everything. In this way, a divine perspective on life is maintained.

One pillar of Islam is fasting during the month of Ramadan. This period is intended to lead believers to a state of gratitude. “He wants you to complete the prescribed period and glorify him that He has guided you, and perchance ye shall be grateful “(Koran,2:185).

Jonathan Edwards, the 17-century revivalist preacher and theologian, described two types of gratitude in his classic work, “A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections.” He described these two types as natural gratitude and as a gracious or spiritual gratitude. Natural gratitude is thanks expressed to God for the benefits a person has received, whereas gracious gratitude has its source in the knowledge of the goodness of God independent of favors received. This is why Paul urges Timothy to set his hopes on God.

As a discipline, this means we are to able to realize our indebtedness to God and “practice” our faith because of what God has done for us. Thus, this ‘Discipline of Gratitude’ enables us to know God as we keep our focus on God’s promises and not our circumstances-His provision and care, not merely our experiences. See, following Jesus is not for our personal benefit; it is for His glory. Seeing life from the perspective of what I can’t get or what I deserve rather than what I have already been given will create problems in our relationship with God (and others). In a similar way, it is the ‘Love of Money’ that creates a problem…not money.

Look, no one is born grateful. We learn to be grateful, We can volunteer to do things for others and then feel gratitude for the work that others do for us. It takes a pause and sometimes an effort to identify something we are thankful for. Yet, the simple act of saying thank you teaches gratitude and this is the core of worship.

There has been a practice going around on the internet lately. On Facebook, participants are asked to list 3 things they thankful for, every day for a week. I think what would help this exercise be even better is to remember that those three things did not come out of nothing. Each one was a gift from God waiting for you to recognize it.

The purpose of Harvest Home is to create people of Gratitude. And for the faithful, gratitude needs to be directed in a certain direction. The practice of recognizing the blessings God has given us, and giving thanks is what today is about.