Cycle of Gratitude

This is a transcript from the November 17, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.

When I was first thinking about the cycle of gratitude, I was thinking first in terms of a circle. In fact, if you saw the weekly update, it's a circle. Then I began to realize that's the wrong image because the cycle of gratitude doesn't just go round and round. It expands. It expands until there is more. As it continues to grow, it goes around and around, but it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. It grows the people who give, it blesses the people who receive, it enlarges our world, it also enlarges God. There is this inseparable connection between gratitude and generosity.

When we talk about generosity, there's a number of ways that we can't talk about it, a number of ways churches have talked about it. There's a number of wells of motivation that people draw on. You know them as well as I do. There are ways that are very effective that at the same time are just wrong. There are ways to talk about giving and being generous that use things like guilt and shame. There's ways of using motivation or manipulation or fear as a way of trying to get people to give, and it does. It works.

You know you can bring in a lot of money by pushing those buttons in people. You can get a lot of money in as you use the motivation of hustling people. All these things are wrong not because they're ineffective because you can do it. We see it every day, but it's wrong in that it leaves everyone less.

Even the motivation of just duty and obligation responsibility that yes, we should do this because we're part of a group we should do that. Even that just as a flat circle, it doesn't seem to go anywhere, but when you use those other ones, it's just downright wrong. If you have gone through that, if you've been part of a church and there's a number of people who tell me that the reason they left church, they don't like church is because of the way they talked about money and the way they use guilt and the way they did that as if that were the only way. You're right. It's wrong. A number of people who left, they should leave. It's abusive, it's toxic, and there's other ways. There's other ways of talking about this important subject and it has to do with the cycle of gratitude.

We do a great disservice to God when we talk like that. When we talk about guilt and manipulation and shame. Yes, it hurts the people. Yes, it changes the environment, but it does such a great disservice to God because what it does is it makes God petty. It makes God vindictive. We present a God who is insecure and needs to be appeased. God becomes this raging codependent, who needs all kinds of things to prop up God's ego. We create a God who is stingy and self-centered. Listen, when we have a stingy, self-centered, vindictive God, it creates stingy, self-centered and vindictive worshipers. Yes, you can raise lots of money by pushing those buttons, but it's toxic. It's not the way Paul was doing it. It's not the way Christ talks about it. It's not the way our passage talks about it today.

Listen to the way that gratitude is woven in and there's inherit cycle where gratitude comes and because of a gift, it's received with gratitude. Then gratitude is more of itself into thanksgiving and giving and then it creates even more gratitude. Here's the first couple of verses of our passage. When Paul's saying, you will be enriched in every way for your great generosity. You will be enriched for your generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us, for the rendering of this ministry, not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.

Gratitude enlarges the pie. It enlarges the giver. It blesses the receiver. God is seen as bigger and the world becomes a larger place in which to participate. It is inherently healthy. It's organic. It's how we're made. I've heard a lot of people talk about the reason they don't go to church is because all they talk about is money or they just use a lot of guilt and all those. You know what? I have never heard anybody say, "I don't go to that church anymore. It's just way too much gratitude. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude." Nobody ever says that because that's what grows people. It is the main-spring of all Christian life and piety and of everything. It begins with this mainspring of gratitude and generosity. Generosity produces more gratitude and thanksgiving which then produces more gratitude-- It just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

I want you to watch this short video. It was a commercial I believe about eight years ago, eight, nine years ago. It illustrates it beautifully. Just watch as you watch this piece of it where there's interchange between a gift that's given and of that gift then is received with gratitude and that gratitude manifests itself in giving to somebody else, then they become grateful, and it just keeps going and going and going. You could ignore the music because I'm not even sure eight years ago this was good music, but it's part of the video and you'll catch the story regardless.

There's a cycle of gratitude. Something is received as a gift. Then that gift elicits gratitude. Then that gratitude opens us up to the needs of others and we give. Then when as we give that starts the cycle over again. Now, there's more reason for thanksgiving and gratitude. We all get bigger. The world gets larger. God's work is increased. It becomes part of the good news of God.

Now, it's not automatic. It's not as simple obviously as a little simple parable that takes place in a half block, but the principle is still there. As is the principle, there are ways to stop the cycle. At what point could we have shut down that cycle? At what point would that story have ceased? It could have been the first time someone had received something not as a gift. They might've been annoyed. They might've still been self-absorbed or they received it and it didn't elicit gratitude. It felt grateful, but then not extended themselves and become generous and it goes around and around. Instead of becoming larger and larger, then it starts to implode on itself and everybody is smaller. God's work doesn't get done. God's character isn't expressed.

This morning, we have participated in the cycle of gratitude as we do every day. Every day we have that chance to wake up and do something. Every day we get to receive the things that we have been given as a gift or as an entitlement. We get to become grateful or just stay self-absorbed. We get to open ourselves up and become generous or just stay small and tight, fearful, and then it gets offered and now it belongs to somebody else. We get to be a part of that.

I'm just convinced that in the core of my bones if you want to grow a person's soul, pay attention to expressions of gratitude and generosity. There's a reason in the five by five, that piece that helps people grow, that so many things have to do with expressing gratitude and rejoicing and in giving because if those are the two great movements by which we experience and extend the very character and nature of God.

I'm going to end it there for us today. I'll pick up some more of the other things next week, but I wanted to land here on this day as we're bringing in pledges is this day that we are thinking about what God could do in and through us that we get to be a part of and we are invited by God to be part of the ever-expanding cycle of gratitude. Good and gracious God, keep us open. Keep us aware. Keep us receptive that we might have the eyes to see, to recognize and then the hearts that are able to respond and that our hearts are aligned with your heart. Our actions are extensions of your actions and our is attuned to yours. Through Christ we pray, Amen.