There is a song from the French community of Taize which I often sing in the morning as a meditation:
In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful
In the Lord, I will rejoice
Look to God, do not be afraid
Lift up your voices the Lord is near
Lift up your voices the Lord is near. GIA Music
Did you ever realize how much we have to be thankful for? Both individually and as a faith community? Sometimes you just have to stop and think about it.
Periodically I have kept a gratitude journal. Where i would write down three things for which I am grateful that day. Sometimes it was easy and I would have way more than 3. Others days it was a bit more challenging and I would have to really stop and review my day to see where God’s presence was evident. But what it did to was made me aware…aware that even in the midst of a busy, stressful day, I have much to be grateful for. That I have much to give God thanks for. The act of writing it down, for me, is a helpful exercise which helps me put things in perspective… and rereading the pages serves as a record of God’s grace, sometimes when I need to be reminded the most. It helps me to have an ‘attitude of gratitude.’
And in the face of the news that comes in our papers, TV shows and internet news, we need to be reminded that the world is not a horrible place, that there is much goodness to be found, and that God is always present.
Yes, there are things for which we need to be concerned… around the world and in our own communities… Lack of food, water and shelter, lack of opportunities for education, living with violence, whether takes place within a war zone or in your own home. Natural disasters such as Hurricane Matthew…
But the reality is, most of us in this church have far more than enough. And I wonder if we are grateful enough for the very ordinariness of the lives we lead. Yes, we all experience uncertainty, job loss, health issues and economic woes. But rather than dwell on what we lack, I wonder what would happen if we began to live our lives conscious of the richness that is ours. Friends who comfort, support and love us. Enough food, to eat, for many of us far too much food to eat. A roof over our heads. A faith community that connects us to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and to one another.
And all those statements lead me to these questions: “Why is it so hard for us to feel gratitude times of plenty?” “Do we miss the presence of God in our lives simply because we have so much?” “How can we express our thankfulness in meaningful ways”
In our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures we hear how the Lord is bringing the people of Israel into a fertile land. They have been wandering in the desert for forty years. They have survived tests of hunger and thirst, and now they are being asked to survive the test of plenty. The reading says, “Make certain that you do not forget the Lord your God; do not fail to obey any of God’s laws that I am giving to you today.”Sounds like good advice for today doesn’t it?
Thanksgiving is actually two words: thanks and giving. And God calls us to give out of our very real plenty, not out of our perceived scarcity. We, who receive and have plenty, have the power to give plenty. How can we live our thanks? What is our response in the light of Jesus’ life? A life of generosity… of healing… or teaching… of drawing people in…
Most of you know that I was in Chicago last week at a conference called Why Christian?Each speaker’s presentation was based on the question, “Why were they Christian?” Ten very engaging personal testimonies of why each of them was Christian. From the gay, Asian man who found a welcome in a church in Brooklyn NY to the Black Lutheran pastor whose faith had been severely tested by her denomination’s lack of response to the Black Lives Matter movement, each of them shared a story of pain and loss and healing and redemption.
To hear heartfelt stories and passionate, unapologetic testimony was inspiring and encouraging. As many of have lived with church in decline, we can sometimes feel as if Christianity has lost its place. As if what we have to offer is no longer wanted by the wider society. As if to believe in God and Jesus and have an active faith life is somehow foolish and naïve.
But I have a different theory… most people haven’t heard our stories of faith… because for decades, we didn’t have to share them. For decades, up until the 90s, we could pretty well build a church and people would come. That is no longer the case… church now suffers from a negative image… we have allowed the narrow minded, the judgers and haters, the so called Christians to own the public Christian story…
But that is NOT the story of Jesus.
Over and over Jesus demonstrated love and acceptance and compassion for those on the edges of society. And Jesus is made known… every time we act like him. When we welcome the stranger… and the strange… When we feed the hungry and those hungering for him. When we shelter the homeless… and the refugee… Jesus is made known to us… in the splashing of the water of baptism… which we celebrated 5 times in the past few months. Jesus is made known in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine.
So you, who are struggling with your faith, this table is for you!
You, who are in need of bread now! This table is for you!
You, who are confused about your life’s direction, this table is for you!
You, who are angry at life or church or God, this table is for you!
You, who are wondering and wandering, this table is for you!
You, who are lost and grieving, this table is for you!
You, who are young and impatient, this table if for you!
You, who are joyful and excited, this table is for you!
You, who are older and wiser, this table is for you.
You, who are weary, this table is for you.
You, who are hurting and wounded, this table is for you!
This table is for you and you and you and you and you… because this is the table of life where Jesus is made known and all are welcome to the banquet!
This is the table of the Bread of Life!
This table is for you!
And for that, we give thanks!
Deuteronomy 26: 1-11, John 6: 25-35, October 9, 2016, EPC – Thanksgiving
Thanks to Rev. Neichelle R. Guidry at Why Christian 2016 for the inspiration for the ‘You, who are…’ section of my reflection.