Sunday, November 24, 2013

Faith and Gratitude

Faith and Gratitude
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
November 24, 2013
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
for The Gordonsville Community Thanksgiving Service
Luke 12: 22:32 

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

22 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.[1]  

As I was thinking in the brief time I had about what to say about thanksgiving, I decided to look at the Gospel passage that I had chosen earlier this week to be a part of the service, well before I knew I'd be preaching from it. I chose it, simply because I was trying to find a "thanksgiving" passage that would match Sue Ann's choice of Psalm 100.  You'd be surprised how often giving thanks is talked about in the New Testament, but it's typically specific, like someone thanking Jesus especially for what he has just done, a healing, a miracle, a presence, just being there, or Paul thanking in one of his letters, the people of the Church in Rome or in Corinth for example, and their hard-fought steadfastness in the faith. So I picked this one, thinking what a great testament about who God is, and what he does for us, straight from the mouth of Christ himself. If this is true, if what Christ is saying is true, if these promises are true, it would certainly bee something that we should be grateful for, be thankful for, and a great reason to praise God with joyful noises, song, and clashing cymbals.
 I preached on these very verses a few months ago, and their connection to faith, how faith can be such an amazing, strength giving, life affirming piece of our existence. . . and that this well known text where Jesus talks to us about how God works, and how he provides for the needs of his creation, all of his creation, reminding us at the end, to not be afraid, and calls us a little flock, so loving, so close, so intimate, so nurturing and enduring, as parent to child. It affirms to us our special place, our special identity, our special relationship with our Creator God. Believing this, is central to our faith, and central to who we are as humans, and who not just ourselves are, but our neighbors and friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ are. . . God provides for us, yes, but for others as well. . . to this we believe, and therefore we are grateful, to be grateful just seems fitting, to give thanks just seems right.
But have you ever thought about how faith and gratitude are connected, how gratitude, giving thanks, stems directly from faith? It is all connected to how we see ourselves and how we see God. Therefore the flipside, not having faith, doubting, worrying, having a low opinion of ourselves and our neighbor is being ungrateful, ungracious, and unrecognizing of our many gifts. You see part of our gifts, part of what we can be thankful for, is ourselves. You and I, us, each of us are uniquely created gifts of God, life itself is a gift, and not just of time, but of wonder, of perfection, of care, of the very image of God.
As a teacher, I work with teenage boys, I can think of no greater issue than this one, self identity, they don't know who and what they are, they lack self knowledge, the realization of who they are as people, that they exist, that they matter, and that their "mattering" not only makes a difference in this world, but that it is the difference. The world needs them, which is why God created them, and meant for them each amazing things. Many of them don't know this, they don't know that they matter, they wonder, they think that their mattering is based on how they fit into certain boxes, how their peers label them, that their mattering is put off for until they get to college, or then until they get a job, or until they have a family. They don't see that all of it matters. And it's not just kids, it's all of us. We're surrounded by artificial things that provide for us, we become mere functionaries in systems, and we are forced to fit in some way, and if we don't fit, for whatever reason, we do not feel like we have worth. Jesus begs to differ. He screams out that it just is not true.
I believe to my heart that this issue is central to what we as Christians can and should be doing. . . spreading that Gospel message, letting people know that they are loved, and have value, that God loves people, God made people, and God provides for people, and for this we give thanks, of course we give thanks, because we believe it, but are people who don't believe it grateful or are they worried and bitter and wallowing, or rushing and hurrying, fighting, and clawing to fit somehow, by their own constantly faltering merits, afraid deep down that what they have just isn't enough to keep up?
Christians across the country do a pretty good job, not perfect by any means, but a strong effort is made to give food at the holidays, to help each other, but we often fail at the other. We fail because we are afraid to enter the arena of person building, we're afraid that we don't have the words, or the entry point, the place to start, the means to do so, the opportunities, so we just don't do it enough, but let us seek this Thanksgiving, and beyond to find ways to nurture people in the faith that God is in control, God made us, and that God made us for a reason, and that it all matters. . . that we each matter, and so we are forever grateful. I have a personal mission statement for my ministry, it has to do with what I believe it means to be human and what it means to be a child of God. . . I hope that we can work together to make it known. . . I see us connected to beach glass, you know the glass that washes up on the beach, with edges worn down, and a fresh glow, fresh value, a newly made treasure from something that had been worthless, thrown aside, left forgotten, has been restored through time, and the amazing work of the nature that God has made through love. He even take our trash and makes it new, imagine it, so I decided that I wanted to dedicate my ministry to this idea. . . here is the mission, and how I see our role as Christians in this still new millennium. . . so let us be a wet, salty, communion of former shattered, tossed aside, jagged pieces of broken glass, who have been newly and completely transformed into a beautiful rainbow of redeemed gemstones, trying to catch the eye of the rest of the wandering world, there glistening just beneath the surface of the water as the tide moves back and forth in the surf. . .  let us also thank god that we are then a part of that amazing rainbow, and give thanks for all the other people and colors that shine in the light of Christ's love and grace. We can't be a rainbow by ourselves because they need every color, each one of us beautifully reflecting the light of Christ in our own colorful and unique way, the whole spectrum. I believe this to be so, and in his name I humbly and gratefully give thanks and pray. Amen.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Lk 12:22-32). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.