Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thanksgiving C

 Embodying Gratitude

This sermon was written by Rev. Ali Smith at Forest Hill United in Fredericton. My off the cuff sermon was based on these notes.

My Autumn Drive

Throughout the Season of Creation,
I have been sharing with you
how much I have been enjoying Autumn this year.
I know that every year Autumn rolls around
and the leaves change colour
and fall to the ground
in preparation for winter.
But this year,
it's beauty has really struck me.

This week,
I went for a drive on the winding highway
between Fredericton and the Miramichi,
as I often do -
through some of the most picturesque places
New Brunswick has to offer;
places like Nashwaak and Taymouth,
Boistown and Doaktown,
and finally Blackville and Renous.

Most of the leaves, at this point,
had changed colour.
So, my eyes were met with a beautiful palate
of browns, golds, oranges, and reds.

Pine needles, like confetti,
covered the road.
The air was clear
and the sunshine was warm
as if hanging on from summer
for just a little bit longer.

Every now and again,
I would come across a produce stand,
filled with crisp delicious-looking apples
and bright orange pumpkins
that looked like they came
straight out of a child's colouring book.
And most of the people I saw out of my window
were wearing cozy Fall sweaters.

At several points,
birds soared gracefully overhead
in the blue sky.
And as I got closer to my destination,
a family of deer jogged across the road
up ahead,
with their white tails
standing at attention up in the air.

Driving down that road,
I felt blessed to have this time,
to have this beautiful scenery
that was speaking to my soul.

For two full hours,
I breathed it all in
and indulged myself
in my surroundings,
in the feelings stirred inside of me,
as if I had spent the afternoon at the spa.

I felt a deep appreciation
for what was before me
and found myself saying aloud
to no one in particular,
"This is beautiful."
And it was beautiful.
And it made me feel good.
And though I don't recall saying any words of prayer,
I could feel gratitude for God and for nature
deep in my bones.

My awareness, my alertness, my enjoyment
was my prayer of thanksgiving.
Words weren't necessary,
as something more powerful was happening;
I was embodying gratitude.

A Simple Thanks

How can one possibly come up with the words to say to God
when one experiences holy moments like this?
How are we to pray to the One who gives us so much?

As I was preparing for Thanksgiving Sunday,
I was pondering how we can possibly say thank you
to this generous God that is a constant presence in our lives.
A quote from the 13th century German mystic kept coming to mind.
I think I might have shared it with you last year
in the Thanksgiving bulletin.
Meister Eckhart is credited with having said:
"If the only prayer
you ever say in your entire life
is thank you,
it will be enough."

When giving thanks,
the words don't really matter
but the feeling of gratitude is important.

God is not sitting around
waiting for us to offer appropriate praise.
God is concerned with how we live our lives.
God wants us to live lives of gratitude -
to be thankful in the ordinary moments of our day -
moments like when we drive in our cars down a country road.
God wants us to feel gratitude
with our bodies and our hearts and our minds.
That will change who we are.


We see this embodiment modelled for us in scripture.
At Story Time,
we talked about the leper
who felt such gratitude for the help that Jesus had provided
that he could not stop himself
from getting down on his hands and knees
in an act of thanksgiving.

It wasn't what the leper said that impressed Jesus
because all that the leper said was "thank you".
He didn't make any great speech of praise.
What impressed Jesus
was the deep gratitude that the leper obviously felt.
The gratitude that he embodied
and thus shone right through him.
Jesus could see that he was thankful
and had great faith.

This morning,
we hear another wonderful story of gratitude embodiment
as we hear a thanksgiving story of the Israelites.

These ancient people had journeyed for generations.
Sometimes the journey was rewarding,
other times tedious,
and sometimes it was downright painful.
But with every step they took through the wilderness,
they felt a connection to God
and walked on with thanksgiving.
Even when they grumbled
or were ready to give up,
they continued to give thanks for God's promise
to bring them to a land all their own.
And then when they got to that land,
they gave thanks each and every year
in a great act of thanksgiving
that went well beyond words.

Each year,
they worked the land with their hands,
digging deep in the rich soil,
caring for crops until they were ripe.
When the time was right,
they gathered the first produce of the harvest
and put it in a basket.

They then carried this basket of first-fruits
to the altar -
a special place set aside for worshipping God

Then, with the same hands that tilled the land,
they put their offering on this altar.
Then they would physically bow to God
and say some words
to remember the many blessings
that God has bestowed upon them.

Once everyone had offered their first-fruits in this way,
the people got together and had a feast -
an ancient potluck, you might say.
And everyone was invited to feast -
neighbours and strangers alike.

This is another journey of sorts,
shorter perhaps,
but not unlike the journey
of their people
into the promised land.
And it is a journey filled with thanksgiving.
The words aren't what's important in this act.
It's the feeling of thanksgiving
that fill the people deep down to the bone;
a gratitude so deep that their bodies can't help but respond.

This became the ritual of the Israelites
and our thanksgiving ritual is not so different, is it?
We too gather the fruits of the Fall
but, instead of an altar,
we put them on our decorated dinner tables.
Then we gather around with those we care about
and share a delicious meal
that has been lovingly grown and prepared for us.

And while this is a great ritual
that most of us look forward to,
we must remember that
the Israelites weren't just doing a single act of thanksgiving on this one day;
they lived thanks with their entire lives.
And we are called to do the same.


So, how can we live thanksgiving with our entire being?

Today, when you look at your plate of food,
whether it is elaborate or simple,
take a moment to recognize the colours and the aromas
before you dig in.
In simply admiring what is before you,
you are giving thanks in a deep way.

Each week when you come to church,
take time to look around this circle,
perhaps when we sing a hymn,
and really take in the faces that you see.
See what you can see in those that share your space.
This is a great act of thanksgiving.

When you exercise this week,
whether it's a high intensity workout
or a simple stroll around your neighbourhood,
pay attention to what your body is doing.
Feel the way your muscles move,
the way you use energy,
the sweat the forms on your brow.

In doing so,
you are giving thanks for this beautiful body
you have been given.

When you spend time with your pet,
allow yourself to really feel connected to her.
As you touch her fur with your fingers
or feel her rub against your leg,
fill yourself with gratitude for this presence.


Live out of a place of deep gratitude.
Live your life as a response
to being given all that you will ever need for free.
Live knowing that God is always with you.
Live thanksgiving.

This week, a wonderful Canadian writer
won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Her words are a blessing to us.
So, I end my sermon
with words from Alice Munro.
They are from her story "Gravel":

            "The thing is to be happy," he said.
            "No matter what. Just try that.
            You can. It gets easier and easier.
            It's nothing to do with circumstances.
            You wouldn't believe how good it is.
            Accept everything and tragedy disappears.
            Or tragedy lightens, anyway,
            and you're just there,
            going along easy with the world."

Thanks be to God!

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