Living in gratitude

Message preached on November 19, 2017
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

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I don’t know about you, but whenever I open myself up in prayer, the first word that comes to mind is “thanks.” Of course, there are times when gratitude doesn’t seem to fit the occasion, especially when facing into something difficult or frightening. Even then, however, “thank you” is not far away.


Like my upcoming surgery. I would not, on my own, choose to head down this path. Pain brought me here. Reading too far ahead in “Dr.” Google scared the bejeebers out of me. But this sarcoma needs to come out of my body. Along the way, there is much for which I am thankful: that an MRI picked up this “entity” within; that heaven and earth seemed to move quickly to bring me to surgery; that I live where I do, with seeming medical wonders nearby; that I am surrounded by caring/praying/loving people.


            Might I say that the day before this surgery is somewhat similar. On our own, some of us might not choose to head in the direction of an upcoming meal surrounded by family. There may be old wounds, as yet unhealed. Or ways of functioning as a family may not work as they once did, if they did. And I imagine many tables this year will try to avoid conversations about politics, a minefield of late. And yet, we long for that deeper connection that family promises, even though it sometimes doesn’t deliver.


            Still there is much for which to be thankful. Sometimes it’s the difficulties we face that open our eyes to see what really matters. We certainly wouldn’t choose for things to turn out as they did. But, you know, somewhere along the way our prior expectations fall aside and we come to accept, if not appreciate, what remains. It’s funny how sometimes, behind the exterior of a brother or sister (or other relative) with whom we have struggles over the years, lies a person we might actually tolerate, if not even (dare we say it?) like. Be grateful for who they are, not for who you think they should be, or who they once were.


            Gratitude is a funny thing. It surprises us along the way. And usually, it is the little things we pick up on. They kind of grow on us. But, again, we may not choose to go where we end up. Like what will happen after this surgery. What fun physical therapy is! If you believe that, I’ve got a lemon of a car to sell you (not really, but you get the point I hope). We don’t choose the pain. We may, however, come to be grateful for it.


            Those folks in Thessalonika, for instance … like most followers of Jesus in those early years, they probably would not have chosen things to turn out as they did. It was hard work to shift from the expectation that Jesus was coming back soon, that God’s realm was going to come into being right before their eyes. That was one of the earliest beliefs. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” … that is, NOW!  Oh, not now. Later, when we least expect. How do you deal with changing expectations?


            Indeed, how do you deal with changing expectations? Funny thing is, along the way, we may just start seeing our brother or sister in a different way. They might just surprise us. Or we might just surprise them. Or better put, since we’re talking about the eyes of faith, God is doing the surprising. Not one of us is God finished with yet. Not one of us. And God is not finished with this world, even if it is in sad shape. Even if we are treating the environment like a cesspool. Even if we’re treating each other in the same way. God is not finished yet. And God’s timetable is God’s timetable, not ours. Always has been.


            Strangely enough, there are folks treating each other right, caring for the least, the lost, the left out, the lonely. There are folks who are doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly – believe it or not. And they don’t wear badges of conservative or liberal. Gratefully, they are there. In fact, they are all around us, if only we’d look. In fact, they are in this very room. Cheer each other on, even if it doesn’t seem like things are getting better. God is not finished yet. We’re not set up for failure by God. Nope! By God, we’re not set up to fail – whether we’re talking church, or family, or surgery, or society, or world. I feel an attitude of gratitude starting to well up in me, little by little.


            Now, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but our final hymn was written in the middle of a horrible experience. Martin Rinkart was a pastor in a city caught in the middle of a long conflict. We think the war in Afghanistan or Iraq has dragged on too long. Try 3 decades. Afterward, historians called it the Thirty Years War. The town of Eilenberg was devastated by both violence and plague, the latter brought by refugees from all over. There were days when Pastor Rinkhart had to perform up to fifty funerals. Having said that, can you believe the hymn, “Now thank we all our God” grew from that soil? But it did, even then, even there, gratitude sprouted. And we have been entrusted with this marvelous Thanksgiving song.


God is not finished yet. Live in gratitude.

Truly, “Thanks” is often the first word that comes to mind.
And, believe it or not, it will be among the last.

©2017  Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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