Wednesday, November 21, 2018
"An Attitude of Gratitude" - Sermon, November 18, 2018
What an awesome weekend it was last weekend in Santa Barbara as my family celebrated my sister Sarah and brother-in-law Juan’s wedding in the rose garden at the mission. While weddings can be a little tedious to plan, I am beyond thankful and filled with gratitude that everything went as close to perfect as it can get. Even in light of the Camp Fire going on in Butte County next door to us and the Woolsey Fire, which my family saw the plumes of smoke from in Santa Barbara last weekend, I am filled with gratitude for this congregation, as I do not have to worry about being away and things falling apart. I was on pins and needles not being able to be here last week with the power being out for the Fall dinner, yet everything went off the next day without a hitch, plus I heard our DS Blake Busick had an excellent message and hope it challenged everyone too!! I am filled with gratitude for Linda, Pastor Ray, and everyone who helps to keep things running. But, I am filled with gratitude for this congregation and everything you do in this community and world.
As we see in our scripture lessons this morning, both the prophet Joel and Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew give us little tidbits of wisdom which can shape us in having an attitude of gratitude. The prophet Joel is talking about restoration, as a locust invasion destroyed crops and decimated the food supply, as God is promising restoration of the land and food supply, encouraging us not to worry or fear. Likewise, in the Gospel of Matthew, our reading is situated in Jesus’s ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in which Jesus is pointing us once again encouraging us not to worry about what we will eat or drink, trusting in God to provide for our basic needs. We can have an attitude of gratitude when we can trust in a God who will provide for our basic needs one way or another.
Of course, we do have to be careful in this instance, as God providing for us does come in different forms, not always as I shared a few weeks ago like a ‘cosmic Santa Claus’ or ‘divine vending machine.’ Six years ago during my first Thanksgiving week at seminary, I didn’t go back home, as I would be going home for Christmas, yet still had a place to go thanks to a generous classmate and her family who opened their table and home to anyone on campus who didn’t have a place to go. That same week, I was very worried, as my paycheck from the church I was serving did not arrive when I was expecting it and the mail room had closed for the remainder of the week, leaving me broke for the week given I was not and am still not the best in managing my finances. However, I don’t ask anyone for handouts because I feel because management or lack of management of my finances is my personal responsibility. Luckily, my mom had sent a care package earlier in the week and there was an emergency food pantry in our dorm building, which was a way God provided, along with Pastor Dottie coming to the rescue too. Although one of the days, my friend Sia, who now serves Magnolia UMC in Seattle was fixing a big lunch one day and demanded I come eat, which I couldn’t turn down, another instance of how God provided. While my check never showed up, I was still able to enjoy the Thanksgiving week and not have to worry too much, which I’m good at. Instead, I was able to have an attitude of gratitude to the people who helped me that week, in which I learned a few lessons about being better prepared and still learn some hard lessons along the way.
Likewise, I’m seeing how God provides through our own hands, especially as we help in fire relief. We helped through our financial gifts to UMCOR and the CA-NV Conference Disaster Relief Fund during the fires in Santa Rosa last year and the Carr Fire in Redding over the summer, and how we are lending our gifts and our hands to helping our neighbors in Butte County in the Camp Fire. While there has been death and destruction in the wake of the fire, I see God at work in the outpouring of support and in the helpers that have descended on Paradise and neighboring communities. And God will continue to provide through the support of the helpers, and through those who help in the rebuilding effort. And while there will be a time of grief for those who have lost everything, including loved ones in the fires, there is still a present attitude of gratitude seen in those who have received such help and support. Even in the midst of destruction, sadness, anger, or grief, we are seeing the Kingdom of God at work here.
Even a couple weeks ago during our first hot pot lunch of the season, our scheduled soup maker was not able to be there due to illness, yet people stepped up to cook soup, help set up, serve, clean up, and we had an awesome noon lunch. God provided, and at the same time, we saw a small foretaste of the Kingdom of God in our fellowship hall, with people from all walks of life coming together, enjoying a meal and good fellowship with each other. Just as Jesus reminds us, “strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6: 33, NRSV). Striving for God’s Kingdom and that God is with us (Joel 2: 27) can bring an attitude of gratitude, especially on days when gratitude can be a challenge.
There are and will still be days when we’d rather not get out of bed, days where we don’t want to turn the news on or read the newspaper, or even face other humans. There are some days where I admit that I’m just flat-out annoyed with everything and everyone, then will get a little reminder that it could be worse and that I could have it worse. As I was perusing Facebook on Thursday as I do when I need a ‘brain break,’ a friend of mine I used to work with at Raley’s posted such a reminder. As I perused some more, I came across a posting from author Anne Lamott, who I read on occasion. As Anne was awaiting the publication of her latest book, Almost Everything, she mentions how one day in September, “I have been informed [by] the rascally rabbits at that today is World Gratitude Day. Good to know! I thought it was Vague Annoyance Day. So, I changed channels, made a gratitude list, and wonder if you might consider doing so, too.”[i]InAlmost Everything, Anne quotes that “gratitude is seeing how someone changed your heart and quality of life, helped you become the good parts of the person you are.”[ii]That’s a pretty good way to see gratitude, one that I’ve never thought about. It doesn’t hurt to change our channels when we find ourselves annoyed at the world, instead plumbing the depths of our souls to find gratitude and God’s presence.
That’s something to think about this coming week as celebrate Thanksgiving, thinking about who it is that brings out the best in us, who cultivates an attitude of gratitude in us, who shows us that we don’t have to worry about what we’re going to eat or drink, or even gives us something to eat or helps us in a profound way. Even with devastation and destruction, it’s up to us to continue being the helpers, bringing God’s Kingdom here to earth, not worrying about what happens next, but trusting and rejoicing in God, even on the days when it might be difficult to find gratitude. As we go into this week of Thanksgiving, I want to invite everyone to turn to where it says “notes” on the blank space in the back of your bulletin and as Alice plays some music for reflection, to start a gratitude list, whether it’s people, ways God has provided directly or through others, and use that list as a guidepost this week and beyond as you reflect on what gives you an attitude of gratitude. Then following this time of reflection, I invite you to turn to page 405 in the Red Hymnal and sing together, “Seek Ye First…”
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church say, AMEN!!
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