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Wed, Mar 22, 2017

Gratitude


Duration:9 mins 49 secs

On Ash Wednesday we began our Lenten journey around the theme “Living the Sabbath” by talking about grace and how we need to open our hearts and hands to receive if we are going to experience God’s grace. In our second service, Tim Owings invited us to Live the Sabbath by sitting down, by stopping our work and busyness, so that we might be fed by the Lord. Last week we were invited to know the freedom of the Lord by laying down any and all burdens which prevent us from being the children of God we are created to be.

This evening we take another step as we consider how “Living the Sabbath” introduces us to a life of gratitude. First hear about Jesus and his disciples on the Sabbath from the Gospel of Matthew, for only when we are grateful for the gifts God provides can we extend mercy and grace to others.

Matthew 12:1-14
1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

9 He left that place and entered their synagogue; 10 a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Special Music

Here also these words from Psalm 126.

Psalm 126
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we rejoiced.
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
    like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5 May those who sow in tears
    reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
    bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
    carrying their sheaves.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

“Come, let us welcome the Sabbath in joy and peace! Like a bride, radiant and joyous, comes the Sabbath. It brings blessings to our hearts; workday thoughts and cares are put aside. The brightness of the Sabbath light shines forth to tell that the divine spirit of love abides within our hour. In that light all our blessings are enriched, all our griefs and trials are softened.” Those words come from the Kiddush ritual of a Reformed Jewish home service for Sabbath eve. As evening falls, the observance of the Sabbath begins with this moment of welcome, joy, and thanksgiving.

Do we live in a world that encourage us to welcome the Sabbath in joy and peace? I suspect not. Instead, so often we see Sabbath, rest, and pause as an interruption, as pulling us away from the important and essential work of life. There is too much to be done to rest, right? No time to stop and say thanks; and besides, why should we say thanks when we are the ones carrying the world on our shoulders?

But as that Jewish ritual for welcoming the Sabbath reminds us, as we are reminded every time we stop to say thanks, that we do not ultimately earn, create, or achieve goodness and grace. No, we receive these good gifts from God. To live the Sabbath is to pause, to take time, to remember that life is a gift and that our proper response is gratitude and praise.

That is what we hear from the mouth of the psalmist: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.” Who restored the fortunes of Zion? Not you, not me, not the king, not the priest. No, the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion. When the psalmist stops to remember, even in the midst of a most challenging present moment, gratitude just flows right out him.

One who knew this same gift of gratitude even in the midst of the most challenging circumstances was American Southern writer Flannery O’Connor. You might remember her story, but Flannery was only 25 years old when doctors diagnosed her with lupus, a disease in which the body attacks itself and its organs as if they were intruders. Drained of much of her energy and stamina, Flannery returned to her mother’s farm in Milledgeville, GA where she began raising peacocks and exotic birds and, as she was able, she continued to write. Although essentially confined to her home, she maintained friendships and correspondence with many in the literary world through volumes of letters. In one letter written shortly after moving back home, she writes,

I am making out fine in spite of any conflicting stories. I have a disease called lupus and I take a medicine called ACTH and I manage well enough to live with both. Lupus is one of those things in the rheumatic department; it comes and goes, when it comes I retire and when it goes, I venture forth. My father had it some twelve or fifteen years ago but at that time there was nothing for it but the undertaker; now it can be controlled with the ACTH. I have enough energy to write with and as that is all I have any business doing anyhow, I can with one eye squinted take it all as a blessing.

Perhaps that is the best that any of us can do: make our way through life with one eye squinted so as to take it all as blessing. Yes, as I heard this morning down at Heritage Academy, “I have an attitude of gratitude.” To keep the Sabbath is to cultivate those moments of pause so that we might recognize that life is grace. To live the Sabbath is to pause not just once a week, not just before meals, but in every moment so that we might give thanks. For if we have eyes to see, every moment is a gift. Poet Jane Kenyon puts it this way in her poem “Otherwise.”

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Yes, each moment – from the moment of getting out of bed, to eating cereal and a peach for breakfast, to taking the dog for a walk, to doing the work we love, to noticing the elements of decoration in our homes, is a gift. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude because it might be otherwise. My friends, I invite you this evening to live the Sabbath, to pause and give thanks to the Lord, for one day, for all of us, it will be otherwise.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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