This is a transcript from the November 3, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
This morning I want us to start with and begin with gratitude. I want to begin with gratitude for this month, the whole month is called wholehearted gratitude. It's a theme that we're going to be working on all month. Seems appropriate around Thanksgiving, doesn't it? It's also appropriate regardless of the calendar to look at why would we be looking at gratitude.
There's a passage that I wanted to give you. It's in your bulletin, but it's a simple one. Here's the entirety of this morning scripture reading as it is. It is Psalm 91 and simply it says, "I will give thanks to the Lord, with my whole heart. I will tell of all your wonderful deeds."
How will you begin this month around gratitude and how will you begin your day, begin your month with gratitude? That verse—you can find there's cards that have our Bible verse on them and you can pick those up outside like we did in the month before. You can get them, put them in your wallet, your it in your purse, you can put them on your mirror, you can put them somewhere where you will see it.
There's something powerful about memorizing scriptures so that those words just come to you when you need them and they do. Keep this one. This is one of the practices for this month using the five by five. The everyday spirituality five by five. It's a practice that five occasions every day, you find five occasions to give thanks. It's building this practice. It's beginning with gratitude. The reason for it comes from this Psalm as well as other places.
This Psalm is so typical of how it is in the rest of the Bible. It starts off in the first two verses, "I will give thanks with my whole heart. I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you. I will sing your praise. I will sing praise to Your name Most High."
I like this verse and I love this passage. As I was looking at some of the Bibles when they were printed, the editors and publishers put different things and even as they put chapters and verses in later, publishers, some of them will say, this is a prayer of thanksgiving.
I dug more into this Psalm, and I wanted to see what else was in there. Goodness, if you dig into it, there's anything but Thanksgiving, from here on out. It just falls off a cliff. I was curious, and I did a little bit more digging. Then I found out there's something going on with this Psalm. In fact, there's a lot of scholars who believe that this Psalm naturally got separated from Psalm 10 that they were really all part of one Psalm together.
One of the reasons they do is that there is a style in Hebrew poetry where sometimes the writer would decide just to make it even more artistic so that if this verse would start with our vernacular, the letter A and then the next verse would start with the letter B and C and D. This helps not only with the memory of it but in the creation of it.
Well, if you start with A and these two verses all start with A. Then if you actually hold 10, together, it carries all the way through to the last verse that starts with taw, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, so it fits but it does something even more. As it goes through, and as it finishes the same-- If you put these two Psalms together, what starts with gratitude, at the end it says, "O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek. You will strengthen their heart. You will incline their ear, to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed so that those from Earth may strike terror no more."
Why am I telling you all this? Did you need a lesson in Hebrew poetry? No, but it is because the way this Psalm has been constructed that the author is not just with words, but in the very structure of the Psalm is giving us a message and it's a message that's consistent throughout the Bible.
When we begin with gratitude, we often end with confidence, and resilience, and courage, all the things that make for faith. In between, then we can deal with all kinds of terrible things going on. Gratitude is not a way of avoiding life as it is. It is a way of encompassing it. In the Hebrew, there's these cryptic notes at the top and nobody knows exactly what to do. The best we can guess is when it says, "This is for the death of a Son." This Psalm was written on the occasion of the death of a son, whether it's David's son, a friend's son, or somebody who was like a son we don't know.
It begins with gratitude. Then it deals with life as it is not as we would have it be. It begins with the oppression. It begins with the hurt. It continues on into all the dark places. Then it comes out at the end with confidence, resilience, and courage. It ends with faith. The very structure of the Psalm is pointing the way. It says, "begin with gratitude." It's not a way of denying anything. It allows you to see life as it is and to engage it in all that it is.
The great saints. Think of the great saints in your own life. Think of the great saints who have blessed us whether in the last century. The Mother Teresas, the Albert Schweitzers, you name it. All these people and one of the things that always typifies their life and one of the reasons that they are called Saints is there's a certain buoyancy to them. There is a certain gratitude to everything they do.
I don't think it's a coincidence that the people with this great buoyant gratitude are also the people who are able to live with courage and persistence and vulnerability and determination and passion, all the things that you and I would say, "That's part of what it means to be wholehearted." I think there's a connection there. In fact, what I would say is out of this Psalm and other places, that it is gratitude that not only reveals what's going on in our life and the condition of our heart, it's the medicine for creating wholeheartedness; that as we practice giving gratitude, as we practice doing the things and telling all the things that God has done, it begins to change the way we see ourselves in this world. It begins to change the way that we engage in this world. It begins to change the way that we see who God is, and what God wants us to do.
I have said gratitude makes our Hearts whole. The second part is that not only does gratitude make our heart well, our heart-whole, not only should we begin with gratitude so our heart becomes whole, but it also makes our world more sacred or sacred again. Because in truth, this world is sacred. It's we who don't see it and the medicine and the antidote for all of that is again gratitude.
Listen, we live in a world where we have never been more busy and yet, people seem to be more bored. We live in a world where people seem to be everywhere, going everywhere and just never seem to be physically present. Where we are has never been more connected in so many different ways and at the same time, we live more fragmented and isolated. There is something that is going on where we begin and we are at the risk of losing the center, the soul of our entire world.
Begin with gratitude is a way of addressing that. It's a way of reconnecting ourselves in powerful ways and to make the point I'm going to tell you a story about my grandmother. The youngest I can remember and it's about three or four. Whenever I would go to her house, there was this rocking chair. This was a rocking chair, that accompanied her nearly just about her whole life as a teenager. She found a chair, reconditioned it, put new material on it, reupholstered it, and this chair was there. Every time we would go to my grandmother's house, we would play on it. We would sit on it. We would rock on it. She would rock us.
Now I'm an adult. Every time I would come there's this rocking chair and one time I said to my grandmother I said, "Every time I see that chair, grandma, I think of you. I think of all the ways you cared and loved." That just symbolizes so much. Now what my grandmother said next would not surprise you if you knew my grandmother. She just says, "I want you to have it." I said, "That's not why I'm saying this. I'm just telling you this just reminds me and this just has become a symbol of all the years growing up."
She says, "No, I want you to have it. It would make me happy."
That's a line grandmother's use when they want to get their way. I said, "Well okay, we'll need to talk about it. That's nice." She goes, "No, I want you to take it now because you're going to move and I want you to have it now so that while I'm alive, I know you have it. It will make me happy."
Then I said, "Grandma, there is no way in the world I am going to take your chair."
For the last 30 years in my house has been this chair and it has been amazing. Now anybody else is going to come and they're going to see this chair and they'd say, "There's an old chair." Somebody might say, "That chair's a little over 100-years-old, it might be worth the x number of dollars." The real value of that chair has zero to do with its value on the market. What makes that chair sacred and holy and so valuable priceless to me is because it's connected to the giver.
That chair is valuable beyond belief because it's connected to the giver. Here's what I think that's important. When we separate anything from its source, its giver, and its purpose, then it is devalued. It just becomes a thing and that's true for people, and that's true for resources, and that's true for anything else that we own. If you separate the thing itself from the giver and its purpose, it just becomes an object. We live in a world where things have become separated and so being separated, we have said, well, these things over here maybe come from God that everything else is just profane, it's secular.
When we do that, we have devalued our world and we have devalued the people. When we do that people become objects to use, when we make this world profane, creation is nothing more than matter to be consumed. When we do that, our communities just become commodities to promote ourselves. When we do that, our politics are nothing more than a game in which we need to win.
Worse than that, God becomes more and more separate and aloof and God is nothing more than a judge because we have disconnected God from God's primary creator. Lover, giver, source, father. If we want to heal this world, if we want to do something to speak into this world in powerful ways in ways in which this world is becoming more and more fragmented and pieces are flying off all the time, we would do well to begin with gratitude, because it's in gratitude that we are able to take that person, that thing, that resource, that property, this community, and connect it to the source and its purpose.
Now it takes on a new value, and now it is treated differently, and now it is talked about differently, and now we see ourselves differently because we have done the good work of beginning with gratitude and connecting it.
We have put the world back together again and we have given it its true value. I honestly believe that's why the prophets often will talk about the value of the poor, and the oppressed, and the widows, and the orphans. It's because in that day, just like in ours, there are people that we think are worthless. We have disconnected them. They don't fit into our world and our worldview and so we have made them worthless.
By starting with gratitude, beginning with gratitude, then we begin to connect things again and that we start to elevate the value even if the least valued things. That's why the orphans and the widows and the poor and the oppressed become of great value it's because they have been given back their value because we have reconnected them to our Creator, our source, the purpose why we are here.
This month, I want to begin with gratitude. I want us to take this verse and perhaps, you will take and use it and make this a memory verse. Begin with gratitude. I will give thanks. I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart and as we do, our hearts will become whole. I will tell of all your wonderful deeds and as we do, all those deeds will start to connect in new ways. I want to challenge you to do the five times throughout your day, to find ways to rejoice and be grateful out loud, put it in a journal, tell somebody else.
Now, if you've been doing five by five, you know that I'd like to do it in the evening. This may be one of those times you want to just do it in the morning. When you wake up, what are five things that you want to rejoice in right now or if you really want to go over, do five in the morning, do five in the evening? You won't waste your time in whatever way you do. Let us find the way so that as we go through this month, that even the common things, that even the worthless things, even the things that seem have no value, even those things become portals, sacraments, if you will, that connects us to God and tells us who we are and point us and what God has yet to do, so let's begin.
Would you begin with a prayer with me? Just before we do anything else, let's begin with gratitude and the next 30 seconds would you locate in your life one, two, three, four, five, how many things for which in this moment right now you are grateful?