It was around Thanksgiving many years ago when I met a woman who lived in one of the Bridgeport shelters. Alice was her name and Alice had come with the social worker to the church where I was working to pick up coats that we had collected for distribution. After loading up the van Alice and I sat down for a cup of coffee and she began to tell me how much she appreciated the coats.
Her gratitude was overwhelming. She kept saying over and over again, ‘you don’t know how thankful I am for this gift, you don’t know, you just don’t know how thankful I am for these coats. You know it’s supposed to get real cold this winter and you just don’t know how thankful I am.’
Later in the day I was thinking about our conversation. She was spot on! I don’t know. I didn’t have a clue as to what it is like to not have a winter coat, or a roof over my head. I don’t know what it is like to be homeless. I don’t know what it is like to be down to my last buck and having to rely on the shelter and the outpouring of others for my daily bread. I don’t, at least in this moment, have these sorts of worries. And I am thankful for that.
My life was blessed that day by Alice’s gratitude and thanks. She ministered to me in a way that opened my eyes to God’s extraordinary benevolence in my life, for the way in which God zooms in and in unexpected ways helps to relieve me of my worries and concerns. You see none of us are exempt from worry. We just worry about different things. She modeled for me a way in which I should be thanking God for my life.
Our text this morning finds Jesus in the upper Galilee, sitting on the grassy hillside with his disciples and hundreds of others. Now these were not rich people. They were fishers and farmers, those who struggled hard to put pita on the table. They didn't have 401K's, or even checking accounts. They too, had a lot to worry about; much that would keep them up at night.
So Jesus begins to talk to this gathered group. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. (Matt 5:3) Jesus has begun his Sermon up there on the Mount. He continues his discourse interpreting and reinterpreting Judaic law. He makes it plain and simple for these hard working folk. “You are the salt of the earth”, (Matt 5:13); “You are the light of the world.” (Matt 5:14), “Give to everyone who begs from you”, (Matt 5:42), “Love your enemies”, (Matt 5:44), “Pray like this…Our Father in Heaven”, (Matt 6:9), “No one can serve two masters”, (Matt 6:24) and then Jesus says, “THEREFORE”.
Therefore do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body and what you put on it. Heaven knows! The big One up there in heaven knows exactly what you need and I’d add also what you want but that’s a whole other sermon. If heaven can make sure that the little sparrows are fed without human intervention, and if heaven can expend all that energy to grow those stunningly gorgeous lilies and sunflowers that will wither and die tomorrow then don’t you think that your God in heaven knows what you need to live your life?
Of course. Of course heaven knows.
Jesus does not turn a blind eye to his followers concerns and worries. He accepts them, in fact he embraces them, that’s what his life and his work and his ministry are also about. His human nature is in full gear; he knows all too well about the human capacity for excessive worry. He knows exactly what we are about, he’s on to us!
Thursday – Thanksgiving Day – it’s a day for gratitude and goodies. We will gather together to ask the Lord’s blessings around the Thanksgiving table. It will be warm, it will be satisfying, and we might feel as if we are the most blessed people on this planet without a care in this world.
Yet we know that’s not entirely the truth. The Thanksgiving table is not only a place with fancy-schmancy decorations and flowers, succulent turkey, stuffing, pie and enumerating all of the good things about your life. The Thanksgiving table is also the place we will bring our worries and concerns – you know how they follow us everywhere like catalogs that annoyingly arrive in the mail every fifteen minutes.
The Thanksgiving table is a place where you can recognize those worries, perhaps even give voice to them and then express your gratitude to God. It’s a place where you can just look up to heaven and scream out thanks in total surrender!
Cast all your burdens on the Lord and then say thanks! Thank you God. Thanks God for picking me up from that ally way, what was I thinking? Thank you God for having my back. Thank you God that my child didn’t get any sicker, thank you God that when that tree fell on my house I wasn’t hurt and I still have my house to live in. Thank you God.
I am reading Anne Lamott’s newest book, “Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers”. In it she says, ‘You breathe in gratitude, and you breathe it out, too’. She says…. ‘My general-purpose go-to mystic Rumi said, “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”’[i]
She’s right. She takes it us to the next level of gratitude. We can express our gratitude to God for all those pick me ups, all of those close calls, all of those reprieves from a potentially bad situation, we can express our gratitude in so many more ways than solely around the proverbial Thanksgiving table once a year. There really is more than one way to kiss the ground and there is more than one way to say thanks.
We breathe in gratitude and when we breathe out our gratitude there is no other alternative than to put that gratitude into action. Thank you God, now what can I do to help you out? What can I do to help other people? Heaven knows, the world does not lack for opportunities for us to give God gratitude and thanks way beyond Thanksgiving Day. ‘A Day of Service’ that Kevin talked about is just one of them.
That’s the real gift of Thanksgiving. It opens our eyes to the blessings we have and the blessing that we can be to others.
So on Thursday after we have given thanks to God for hearth and home, family and friends, let us also give thanks to God for knowing deeply and intimately our every worry and fear, our every anxiety and pain and for the reassurance that heaven knows all about them.
Let us then resolve to exhale our profound gratitude in this world through our actions. Thanks God. No Really, Thanks!
[i] Anne Lamott, ‘Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers’. Penguin Books, 2012.