Based on Hosea 11:1-11, Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21
A while ago, Lucinda received a gratitude journal with the intriguing title of, “Okay Fine, I’m Grateful!” The subheading, written in ever shrinking fonts, reads as follows: “…A journal to catapult me from my default position of griping and negativity to the long-resisted stance of counting my blessings, because it turns out that focusing on the positive actually might be better for my mind, body and spirit, in no small part because unhappiness is the gap between expectations and reality, so even though this whole gratitude thing seems like a bandwagon on the woo-woo train, the fact is that deep down I’m ready to start looking at the roses rather than the thorns, and if you absolutely force me to admit it, I will say that in all actuality I do have so very much to be grateful for….” Yeah, I think that we all can relate to much of what is contained in that long run-on subheading.
What about those gratitude benefits to mind, body and spirit…is there any truth to that? Turns out that the April 2015 issue of Psychology Today corroborates that statement with its seven scientifically proven benefits of gratitude. They are: gratitude opens the door to more relationships, improves physical health and the desire to exercise, gratitude reduces “toxic” emotions such as regret and envy, gratitude increases empathy and reduces aggression, gratitude improves sleep and self-esteem, and finally it increases resilience. I would add that it makes the relationships we have deeper, more meaningful, and healing; and we will have more of them because people want to be around others who are positive and gracious.
Our scriptures today lead us to the understanding that all of our gifts come from God and that worldly possessions are nothing more than idols which consume and never give back. Counting our blessings and living in gratitude for all we freely receive every day, helps us to become one in Christ and one in ministry to all the world. Let us go now to God in a prayer of gratitude for all that God has done, is doing and will do…
God is lamenting to the minor prophet Hosea over how ungrateful Israel has become. Verse two states, “…The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols….” God is wounded by the unfaithfulness of God’s chosen people – the ones whom God saved from enslavement in Egypt and led to the Promised Land. The people of the Northern Kingdom had forgotten God, and they refused to repent. Therefore, God will send them into exile, never more to be a part of the chosen. This is, we are taught, what ingratitude to God brings.
Jesus is teaching about the perils of storing up worldly things only to be possessed by them. The rich farmer had too much produce…what was he to do with all the harvested crop? Instead of selling it or giving some to those less fortunate, the man decides to tear down his existing barns and build bigger ones. Never counting the reality that we don’t know how many days we have on this earth. He died that night and what happened to all the bounty? It certainly didn’t benefit the rich farmer. Jesus teaches, “…So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves, but are not rich toward God….” The unhappy gap between expectations and reality!
The Apostle Paul teaches the new believers in Colossae that they need to focus their minds and lives on things divine and not on things of the world to which they have already died. Paul says that they must rid themselves of anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive language and lying to one another. In their place they are to be “clothed” in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, love, peace and thankfulness. Paul writes in verse 16, “…Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, and spiritual songs to God….” Sounds like a much better way to live, doesn’t it?
The Hebrew words for gratitude are, “hikarat hatov” which mean “recognizing the good”. This is what characterizes a life of gratitude – the ability, the willingness, the desire to always in everything recognize the good. The people of the Northern Kingdom did not recognize the good that God had done for them through their ancestors. Like an over-indulgent parent, God had given them everything – including releasing them from captivity in Egypt and bringing the next generation into a land flowing with milk and honey. Once there, however, life was so devoid of problems that the people came to believe they had no need of God – and counted all the good things that came to them as coming from their own hard work. They no longer recognized the good, the grace and protection that comes freely and every day from God.
We really do have so very much for which to be grateful…don’t we? It’s not the stuff that we hoard – so much in fact that we need to store stuff in PODS and storage units; the modern-day equivalents of the larger barns in the parable. We continue to buy things hoping that they will bring us happiness and contentment – but because they are worldly idols, any positive feelings will be fleeting indeed. In the book, “Mere Christianity” author C.S. Lewis, once a devout atheist, writes about focusing himself on God rather than worldly things. He writes, “…If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage….” Lewis suggests that our storing up of earthly pleasures comes from seeking to fill the hole in our lives that only finding the love of God can fill.
This is what Paul and Jesus are teaching, we have died to this world when we became Christians through the sacrifice of the Christ who died for all of us. Thus, it makes no sense to save up more than we need. We are called to share our abundance from God gratefully with all whom we encounter. It is our call to count our many blessings – those in our current life and those blessings that have come from our ancestors in the faith who left us these great churches and the legacy of caring. Those who scraped and saved and slowly built what we have. Those who were so grateful for what these communities of faith did for them and their families that they left treasures behind for us to continue to minister to folks here in Madison County.
Time to hear from you about recognizing the good…what is it for which you are grateful? For all that we have ever received, or will receive from this day forward, let us live lives filled with gratitude, praising God from whom all blessings flow. Amen!