Commitment Sunday 2017
As we continue our year-long journey through important words in scripture, our word this Commitment Sunday is “Gratitude.” Let me offer some background on our text.
The church at Colossae, in what is now modern Turkey, was set amidst a cosmopolitan setting. We don’t know the specifics of what prompted Paul’s letter. Most likely that diversity occasioned false teaching and challenges to the congregation’s sense of faithful living. In response, Paul offers a series of ethical principles expressed in contrasting “put off, put on” style. It is all a bit abstract, so he turns to more practical, down to earth advice on vesture to be cultivated for living faithfully.
Paul writes: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ[b] dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
The word of the Lord.
“…and with gratitude in your hearts…”
You are chosen of God. Holy and beloved, imagine that. Paul’s advice is that the only way to fully live as god’s faithful in such a condition is in gratitude.
“Gratitude is the quality of being thankful.” It is about our whole being. Paul would have us put on gratitude at every turn and in all moments of life. To live each breath in thankful gratitude that we are God’s. As the psalmist proclaims: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord…Know that the Lord is God…we are his people.”
For Paul it is a proper guide for all our relationships. In gratitude to God that Christ dwells within us, we find the treasure within that allows us to act with compassion and kindness toward others. To reconcile our brokenness and to live humbly in the presence of others.
I often use this text as a final charge at wedding services. It is sound guidance for a couple setting off on life together. In the same way, it is sound guidance for all of our relationships as we seek to live as God’s own.
Thornton Wilder caught the spirit of this when he wrote: “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
That is to say, living thusly, with an attitude of gratitude, opens us to the fullness of life.
The other night I caught an old episode of MASH. It was a Christmas show filled with the usual stress of staffing a wartime hospital. Major Winchester, the snobby, elitist surgeon was particularly obnoxious toward his colleagues and dismissive of subordinates like Radar, who is always trying to please.
Winchester is particularly miserable as he longs for his Boston home. He is irritable and snaps at everyone. Seemingly more so than usual. At the Christmas party end, he disdains the merriment. When Radar hands him a small box with a Merry Christmas wish, the major snarls and mocks that the young corporal could possibly give him any gift that mattered.
Mumbling snide comments, wishing he was on Boston Common, as he opens the box, he stops abruptly as he opens the paper. Suddenly he begins to weep. Then, holding the red knitted stocking cap, complete with deer and a knit ball on top, he turns to Radar- gratitude etched into his face, “My old toboggan. Radar, you saved me.”
Radar had contacted the major’s mother in Boston and asked her to send something that would make the major feel at home. A simple bit of effort, and a heart is turned.
Studies have shown that practicing gratitude increases positive emotions, optimism, aides health outcomes, decreases negative emotions and physical symptoms, and can make us feel more connected and satisfied with life.
Recently two conversations highlighted the positive impact of gratitude. Both were with older adults living in senior communities. One mentioned how her children had “tricked” he into giving up her driver’s license. Understandably, she was forlorn at the loss of her independence. Her new accommodations were nice enough, but it wasn’t the same as being able to get out and go when she wanted to. She had not met many of her neighbors because she was down and didn’t see the point. Needless to say, it was a difficult conversation. I felt for sorry for her.
The other conversation was with a fellow who also recently gave up driving. He mentioned he chose to do it, so he finally did. “Best decision I ever made. Didn’t want to cause an accident. Now I don’t have to pay for gas, car repairs, any of that stuff. We’ve got a group here that takes the bus to all sorts of places. I wasn’t driving at night, but now I get out and see stuff. The other night we went to a high school play. Those kids were amazing.”
Based on gratitude, who is going to have a fuller life?
Yet like anything, we just can’t turn a switch and practice gratitude. It takes regular work to train our hearts to offer gratitude as our first response rather than something else.
So, some how to’s:
Create a gratitude journal. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to jot down things you were grateful for that day. A good breakfast, the smile from the barista at Starbucks, the hand you played at Bridge. What ever it is, list them each day.
Put up a small whiteboard somewhere. Call it a “Wall of Thanks,” invite everyone in the family, through out the week, to note something for which they are thankful. A good grade, a FB meme that made them laugh, a book they can’t put down, a phone call from a granddaughter.
Fine a way to serve others. Tutor here at church, visit your neighbor down the street, ask if you can get them something at the store, knit a prayer shawl, create a quilt for a family in need, serve dinner at Grace Café.
During meals, with spouse or family, discuss a gratitude question for the day. Perhaps begin by discussing all the people involved in creating the meal, the farmer, the baker, the trucker, the staff at the grocery store…
Or think about the the elements of weather and how they impact us in positive ways.
Find a way to write or say thank you, ten times a day. Write notes to people you are grateful for.
Read a book once a month on gratitude.
Today we are asked to make financial commitments to support the ministries on this corner for 2018. Our responses ought not to be to pay for the budget. Rather our commitments should come out of gratitude for God’s presence in our lives and in our world.
In gratitude we give thanks for the sun, for an eclipse, the color of all in the trees, the healing ocean breeze, the laughter of children in the street, for the medicines that heal us, and the care that consoles us. These are but a few of the vast array of grace God has placed in our world. As God’s chosen ones, putting on an attitude of gratitude can unlock the treasures within you, and those around you.