This is Christ the King Sunday. It’s the last Sunday of the
church year. Next week we begin Advent and start the yearly cycle again. And
this time as we end our year I wanted to look at Gratitude. Walter Bruggerman
once said “During November we reach the conclusion of the church year. We
remember our dead and ponder the God of life. We begin Advent and the season of
alert waiting for the newness that God will give. Between, in American
“civil religion,” is Thanksgiving. Perhaps thanksgiving is the right
segue from old to new. It’s appropriate that the great festival of gratitude
should provide the transition from old to new. Gratitude is, in the life of
faith, for every season.”
As we turn from this year into the next, we take time
to be thankful for what we have been given. Which all follows nicely, but what
on earth does gratitude have to do with this gospel passage on worry?
I am a natural worrier. Now, I don’t like to brag,
but I can go from calm to worry in almost no time at all. I can get worried
over just about anything. Or nothing! I worry about things that might happen
and things that won’t happen and things that shouldn’t have ever happened. My
worries used to be so bad that I would have trouble functioning around them.
I’ve gotten better over the years, but I still have times when I am consumed by
I worry about getting a chaperon to help lead the
mission trip and I worry about getting all the Christmas presents taken care of
for the family this year. I worry about sermon writing and holding events where
no one has fun. I know these are minor worries to say the least. Just imagine
how tied up in knots I would be if I really had something serious to worry
Without a doubt, my worries are small. And usually,
they are about things I have little, if any, control over. Still, even my small
worries get in the way of my living in the moment God has prepared for me. They
distract me from doing things I do have control over. Worries keep me from
So when I read this passage where Jesus admonishes us
not to worry about our life. I have trouble. Really Jesus? Just don’t worry?
How does that help? Doesn’t reading these words heap guilt on we who are
worried for worrying? You make it sound so easy. Just stop worrying. If I could
stop worrying, don’t you think I would have done that already? The advice seems
overly simple at best, and downright self defeating at worst.
And yet here it is. “Therefore I tell you, do not
worry about your life.”
Alright Jesus. How?
Protestant theologian Paul Tillich characterized the
most common modern anxiety as spiritual; that is, we are anxious about
meaninglessness. We are anxious because we recognize there is something missing
in our lives. Now if Tillich is right about that, then perhaps the Jesuit theologian
Anthony de Mello, following Jesus’ advice, offers the way to stop worrying. De
Mello said, “You sanctify whatever you are grateful for.” In other words,
instead of nursing our worries, change the focus. Look elsewhere, beyond
self-absorption. Cultivate a grateful heart. By focusing on what we are
grateful for, we stop worrying.
We focus on our worries, and by so doing, we feed
them. We have to deliberately turn away from them and towards something else.
Now, I’m not saying this is an easy thing to do. The grateful attitude does not
come easily, especially when we are caught in the grip of anxiety. Nor does
gratitude come in a sudden conversion. It comes through a slow turning away
from worry by intentionally stopping to find something, anything, for which to
thank God. In the midst of worry, it can be a really hard to find a way to say
Jesus understood this. Take something simple and
common, Jesus says, for which to give thanks: a bird, a flower, a blade of
grass. Anything will do: a breath of air, a dog’s loyalty, a glass of water. It
is the small step of moving out of self to notice something or someone beyond
the self that matters.
One of the tricks with gratitude when you aren’t
feeling very thankful is to be specific. Rather than just being thankful that I
have clothes and a house and food to eat, it helps to be thankful for a
favorite shirt, a comfortable piece of furniture or a well cooked meal. Listing
five things to be grateful for every time we start to worry, helps to drive the
anxiety away. Taking the time to think specifically about the good in our lives
changes our attitude.
As I was working on this sermon, I decided to try to
focus on all I had to be grateful for when my worries sprung up again. I always
started by thanking God for my dog Dylan, because it’s always easy to be
grateful for him. Then I would thank God for things like hot showers and
comfortable beds and a good cup of tea and indoor plumbing. Before too long, I
would forget what I had started to worry about in the first place.
Studies have shown the amazing power of gratitude. It
can drag us away from our own concerns and focus us on things that really
matter. It can even make us happier people. Those of us who tend to focus on
what we have to be thankful for, are happier people in general. Jesus wasn’t
being idealistic; he was being practical. Science has even shown that by not
worrying, we can actually add to our life span.
And let’s be honest, God has given us so much. Even
if it doesn’t always seem like it. Just by being born where we were, we are
better off than many. If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your
back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of
this world. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in
a dish someplace, you are among the top 8% of the worlds wealthy. If you have
access to clean drinking water, you are better off than 70% of the world.
God has given us so much, and given it in abundance,
and yet too often we take all that we have been given for granted.
It’s so obvious that we forget to give thanks. Think
for a moment of the benefits of being here right now: We can laugh and sing and
cry. These benefits are a part of God’s wonderful love for us. One of the
greatest benefits of being fully alive is to give thanks for all of God’s
benefits. What benefits go unnoticed because they are too obvious?
I’d like to share with you a story by Mike Minix that
I ran across a few years ago. “There was a father and mother of a young man
killed in the military in a little church. One day they came to the pastor and
told him they wanted to give a monetary gift as a memory to our son who died in
battle. The pastor said, “That’s a wonderful gesture on your part. He
asked if it was okay to tell the congregation and they said that it was. So the
next Sunday he told the congregation of the gift given in memory of the dead
On the way home from church, another couple were
driving down the highway when the father said to his wife, “Why don’t we
give a gift because of our son?” And his wife said, “But our son
didn’t die in any conflict! Our son is still alive!” Her husband replied,
“That’s exactly my point! That’s all the more reason we ought to give in
thanks to God.”
How often do you tell the people in your lives how
much you appreciate them? When was the last time you told someone how thankful
you are that they are in your life?
By focusing on the good in our lives, we push away
worries over things we have absolutely no control over. By focusing on the
good, we realize all that we have previously taken for granted. By saying Thank
you, we remind ourselves that we live in plenty.
We have so much, and yet we’re often deeply unhappy.
It always strikes me as strange that the day after we celebrate being thankful
for all we have, people go wait in lines for hours in a desperate need to get
more, buy more, have more. I don’t understand how the two are linked. If we
can’t be grateful for what we already have, why do we think more stuff will cure
the problem? Worry takes away so much of our lives. It damages our health and
our quality of life.
We all have so much. As we start the new church year,
let us take time to acknowledge all that God has done for us and be thankful.
Let us realize that getting more will never solve any of our worries. As we
turn towards Advent and begin to await our Lord again, let us take the time to
say Thank you. Thank you Lord. For everything. Amen.
Rev. Cara Milne Gee
November 25th, 2012