I Thessalonians 5: 12-18 But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Since the Holy Spirit’s arrival at Pentecost, we have been moving toward who God is for us, God embodied within our hearts, our lives, our relationships, living out the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. As we approach Thanksgiving, our attention is drawn to God’s gifts to us. In her book, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp encourages us to live fully right where we are. In living each moment, we become more and more aware of things, people, circumstances, to see God and be thankful. She finds gratitude in the simple things – the crunch of autumn leaves under your feet, jelly piled high on your morning toast, wind blowing cool air into your face.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Paul writes to the young church at Thessalonica to remind them to be thankful. Paul isn’t teaching that we should thank God for everything that happens to us, but in everything be thankful. We can be thankful for God’s presence, God’s love and strength in all situations.
In being thankful, we are reminded that it is up to us to say yes to what God freely gives. In that claiming of God’s gifts, we can fully live – live a life full of grace and joy and all that is beautiful. Thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life. When we name our gratitude – when we name the moments – we are a part of God’s holy work. When we name what we are thankful for, the naming manifests its meaning and helps us know that it all comes from God. God is in the details. God is in the moment. God is in all that blurs by in the busyness of our lives. God is present even in the hurts.
It is not news that we all have hurts, fears, stress and disappointments in our lives. God is not asking us to be thankful for them but to find God within them. When we lose a loved one, we can focus of our shared life and all the love and memories that help shape us into who we are today. We can be fearful, but it is that fear that keeps a life small. Fear doesn’t leave room for God. After coming through an experience, we can thank God for the insight gained. We can be thankful for God’s presence that gave us courage and friends and family who gathered for support. We can thank God for what we learned about ourselves…..what we learned about those around us……what we learned about God.
How do we become more thankful? It is in training and shaping and molding our hearts and our lives that we find out more about who God is and who we are. Practicing is the hardest part of learning, but training is the essence of transformation. God loves us where we are, but God loves us enough not to leave us there. It is as simple as – giving thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up. Our attitudes and our hearts will change when we see God’s hand moving in our lives.
Voskamp says that when “we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of God’s grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows.” How can this not be the best thing for us? To see God in everything…..to choose to say yes to all that God freely gives to us….the taste of a crisp apple as the juice runs down our chin…..forgiveness of an old friend…..being greeted at the back door by a joy-filled dog.
The discipline of giving thanks only comes with practice. Daily discipline is the door to full freedom, and the discipline to begin to count our blessings gives way to freedom of wonder. In counting, we can’t imagine not staying awake, not paying attention, not being aware in the moment, not feeling the joy in the now. Giving thanks is the way to joy. Thanksgiving is the way we enter into God. When we truly feel thankful, it is hard for us to be angry, frustrated or hopeless. We get to choose gratitude.
The Thanksgiving season brings all kinds of challenges to us. It’s a generous time of year. People appear out of nowhere to volunteer. It’s heaven. People have often pictured heaven as a banquet. More than enough, no one lacking. People sharing, and everyone mindful of their blessedness. People are happy when they give, whether it is dropping off a turkey or a check. They’re happy when they work, too. The complaints of aching feet and sore backs are mixed with the pride that comes from having extended themselves for a worthy cause.
It’s a good feeling. Somehow, people remember that good feeling this particular time of year. What about other times? The poor get hungry everyday. People in hospitals get lonely every day. The homeless need clothing all year long, not just during the holidays.
But you know that there are those gifts you can’t buy that come all year long? There is the gift of kindness, integrity, hope, compassion, empathy and understanding. We are called to be Christ’s hands, heart and feet in a world that needs more of Christ. So how do we do it …be more thankful….be more aware….care more….share more….live more fully connected to God? We pay attention! We become present. We remember that God is always good and we are always loved. It is that love that will empower us to respond in love. We are to count our blessings and in so doing, we discover who can be counted on - God. Remembering those we love, remembering God’s touch on our lives, remembering frames up gratitude. Remembering is an act of thanksgiving, a way of thanksgiving. Gratitude is the memory of our hearts. We begin one gratitude at a time….I am grateful for your kind attention in this place on this day….Amen!!