St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
November 24, 2016
Year C: Thanksgiving Day
“The Discipline of Gratitude”
In the passage we just heard from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, the apostle writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything…”
Well, that’s easier said than done, right?
If you were at our beautiful Interfaith Thanksgiving Service on Tuesday night, you heard Rev. Gary preach a dynamite sermon which included the point that it’s pretty easy to be thankful when things are going your way, but a whole lot harder to be thankful during tough times. It’s tough to be thankful when it feels like our whole world is falling apart.
It’s hard to be thankful when we face illness, or when a relationship has cracked and broken, or when we watch someone we love make terrible decisions, or when we’ve got a pile of bills that we just can’t pay, or, yes, when it looks like our country is heading down a very dangerous road.
How can we be thankful when we understandably feel anything but thankful?
Well, this past week I was poking around the Internet for quotes about gratitude and I came upon this from the 20th Century Roman Catholic priest and writer, Henri Nouwen, who wrote,
“The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”
I like that a lot, especially the phrase, “the discipline of gratitude.”
The older I get, the more convinced I am of the importance of spiritual discipline, of doing our best to structure our lives so there is regular time for prayer, regular time for worship, regular time for service to others, and, yes, regular time for gratitude.
The discipline of gratitude.
Thanksgiving Day gives us a special opportunity to practice the discipline of gratitude since the whole day, the very name of the day, points us in the direction of being grateful.
But, of course, one day a year isn’t really much of a discipline, is it?
So, what might the discipline of gratitude look like during the rest of the year?
Well, we practice the discipline of gratitude by being mindful, by being mindful that it is truly amazing that we are all here together, all here together on a rock sailing through the universe, all here together able to love and to laugh, to touch and to learn, to see and to hear such great beauty.
The rest of the year we practice the discipline of gratitude by remembering – by remembering our own personal story and especially by remembering the story of God and us.
In today’s Old Testament lesson from Deuteronomy, the people of Israel are called to remember their story, their story of God and them, their story of God leading them out of captivity in Egypt into freedom in the promised land.
And, each time we come to church we remember – we remember the story of God and us – we remember the story of God loving us so much that God came and lived among us – we remember the story of God loving us so much that even when we did our worst, God still never gave up on us – and will never give up on us.
Each time we gather around the altar we remember that God has fed us – and continues to feed us – with the Bread of Life.
Finally, we practice the discipline of gratitude by giving to others, especially those who can’t pay us back.
Each time we’ve gone over to the homeless drop-in center and served a delicious homemade hot lunch, I know I feel deep, deep gratitude – gratitude that I get to do such meaningful work with such wonderful people, gratitude that I’ve been given so much, and have the ability to share.
And, when we are mindful, and when we remember, and when we serve – when we practice the discipline of gratitude during the good times, during the times when things are pretty much normal, then, with God’s help, we really will be disciplined enough to be grateful even when things aren’t going our way, when it feels like our world is falling apart.
And, that gratitude will leave God just enough room to give us the grace we need to face those hard times – to really know and feel that, yes, indeed, no matter what, even when our world seems to be falling apart, the Lord is near.
May we together practice the discipline of gratitude not just today, but each and every day of the year.