The final print draft of the story, prayer and message for Thanksgiving Sunday follows below.
Blessed and Blessing, October 13, 2013: Jeremiah 2:1-4; 32:27-34; Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 65
Story Simon was going into grade 4, and he felt more anxious than excited on his way to the first day of school. Saul, who was in grade 4 last year, had bullied several students through the year including Simon, taking their lunches or lunch money, beating them up, and generally making life awful. When he got to his class, he discovered Saul had been held back a year, and was now in his class. Unfortunately, Simon gave a loud groan which Saul heard, and Simon became his number one target.
That afternoon, when he got home, his grandfather Zephaniah was waiting to hear about his day, and Simon told him everything. Zephaniah asked Simon to try to be friends with Saul, but Simon was too angry and too scared to try. Each day, Zephaniah would ask about his day and ask him to try to be friends with Saul. After 2 weeks of being bullied, Simon figured he had nothing to lose, so at lunch, Simon asked Saul if he could sit next to him. Saul smiled and said sure. As they got talking, Simon learned a lot of stuff about Saul that made him feel very lucky. And they became friends. Loving God, help us to follow Jesus in returning love for hate, and acceptance for rejection. Amen.
Prayer Loving God, sometimes life delivers us painful blows, and all we can see and feel is the loss and pain. Faith assures us that, if we can succeed in persisting in doing what is right with hope and love, life will become good for us. Understanding human nature assures us that, if we succeed in looking at the good in our lives, our losses lose their power to handicap our living. On this Thanksgiving Sunday, help us to acknowledge our losses without giving them control of our lives, and to be grateful for the good that we have, confident in your love and grace. At this time, we offer to you our feelings and thoughts of loss and fear, grateful to you for removing their power over us, and our feelings of gratitude for the good that is in our lives, confident our gratitude will energize our going forward.
Mr. Drysdale, the banker who lived next door to the Clampetts in Beverly Hill Billies, came down with a bad cold. His doctor told him to take Aspirin, drink lots of fluids, and rest for 2 weeks. He was impatient and knew that Grannie engaged in hillbilly medicine. He asked her if she had a cure for the cold. She said sure, and that it had a 100% success rate. He asked for her cure, and she prepared a batch of awful tasting stuff. After he finished drinking it, she said, “Now drink plenty of fluids and rest for 14 days, and you will be all better.”
Sometimes we look for shortcuts through the challenges in our lives, and the shortcut usually cost us more than doing what is clearly needed. The Israelite leadership decided that partnerships with neighbour kingdoms was easier than striving to be the kind of society God directed them to develop and maintain, a society where none are left out, all have a place, and all are cared for along with observing rules God offered for living. God demanded them to live in a particular way. Other religions had commercial gods – you make the right sacrifices, and you will get what you want. And Assyria wiped them out. Nearly 200 years later, Judah, the southern kingdom made the same mistake, putting up idols to other gods in the temple, choosing to buy right relationship with the god of their choice rather than live into right relationship with Yahweh. This bothered Jeremiah.
And Babylon crushed Judah, levelled Jerusalem. While in Babylon for between 50 and 70 years in exile in Babylon, most of the current books in the Jewish scriptures were gathered, created, and edited, and a grudging acceptance that living God’s way worked better than trying to buy God’s favour.
They accepted that trying to buy God’s favour was not going to work. Today many people try to take short cuts to success, and sometimes they seem to work for a while. The prime example that comes to my mind is the Kardashian family – no exceptional talent other than providing material for gossip magazines, they have had close to a 10 year run of success at being famous, but the signs are there that their shortcut seems to be approaching a dead end.
God’s way seems to include several elements. There is the call to love God with all that we have and are, and to love others as we love ourselves, a reminder we are to love ourselves. Out of this is a call to show respect to God, for self, and to others. There are many specific rules or laws, but, to me, they are summed up in these two statements. To succeed at living this way, we need an emotional driver stronger than many of the temptations we face for anger, fear, hatred, and greed. That emotional driver is gratitude.
Gratitude is an important ingredient for lives that are rewarding and satisfying. Today, I will share some ideas about how gratitude enhances living.
Zig Ziglar, an American motivational speaker, had this to say about what we do. He said we either need to like what we are doing, or why we are doing it.
He had this story about his encounters with a woman when he was on a speaking tour where he shared this message. She told him there was nothing to like about her job: the job was not fulfilling and her co-workers were awful. He asked why she didn’t quit – she needed the money to live on and to buy the stuff she needed. He suggested she like why she was working that job.
A month later, he was in the area again, and she came up to him after his presentation. She said it was amazing. Her co-workers were better to get along with, and her job was getting more interesting. She had become grateful for the income provided by her work, and her life became much better.
He also said that if we help enough people get what they want, we will get what we want or need. In the process of helping others, we will gain opportunities to help ourselves.
In this light, gratitude for opportunities to help others opens the door to moving our lives forward. St. Matthew’s feels grateful for the opportunity to help others in the communities around us, and we are hosting a town hall meeting on November 19 to invite people in the community to offer us suggestions on how we can be more helpful to them. One hope we have is that, in the process of helping the community, we will gain opportunities to meet our needs as a community of faith.
I was lucky to attend a workshop at St. Mark and St. Philip Anglican church a few weeks ago with Alice Wheaton.
The workshop was on how to be better at inviting people to your organization or church, and, while she said much that was interesting and useful, two statements are very important to me.
The first was that anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. She talked about the desire to do things well or perfectly often stops people from doing anything at all.
Each time we try something we are not good at, but it seems important to do, we have opportunities to become better at it. I am grateful for hearing that trying is more important than being perfect. This idea invites experimentation and celebration of what we do instead of feeling bad about not doing it well. It also invites us to face risky tasks without guarantees of success. Success does not matter as much in any one event as trying does.
The other statement, one that she said to her son as he left for school each day, was take risks. Playing it safe all the time shrinks our lives, and reduces the possibilities for success. Of course the risks need to be reasonable and examined, but take them.
Life presents us with many opportunities to help others and to develop our capacity to make a difference in the world. Gratitude for these opportunities, and gratitude for all the good that life brings us, increase our energy and feelings of well-being. Gratitude weakens the power of loss or fear to reduce our quality of life. This Thanksgiving season, may we all remind ourselves of all for which we can be grateful.
Our passage from the prophet Joel was written after the return to Jerusalem, a return marked by despair at the condition of Jerusalem and the surrounding lands. It was made tougher by a combination of repeated raids by neighbours who were not happy to see their return, and many seasons marked by drought, famine and consuming locusts. Finally they had a summer where things were looking good, and Joel invited them to be grateful for what they had not yet received.
In short, we are truly blessed, even in not in ways we wish for, and awareness of our blessings creates feelings of gratitude. For our whole humanity to benefit from this feeling of gratitude, we need to be a blessing to others, to share what we have for the betterment of everyone. We are blessed, and we are to be a blessing to the world, thanks be to God.