This morning I want to think and to talk with you about gratitude. And, for a moment, about our annual stewardship campaign whose theme this year is Gratitude. And about the work and witness of this congregation, which (and I am making an assumption here) that because you are here you believe in and support. So, let me begin with the nuts and bolts.
- First, thank you.
Thank you David Hardy and Jorge Pedraza and Dave Keeffe and Lara DiCorpo and Alan McDougall and Roy Hermansen and Steve Skillman all those others who are so thoughtful and careful about each dollar which passes through this congregation on its way to something else. Often, something more. They are indeed faithful stewards of our finances.
- All of us understand pledging and charitable giving.
We pledge to colleges and universities and to the CROP Walk and to the renovated movie theater in Bedford. And, we pledge to the church. Your financial support is added to mine to support the ministry and mission for the coming year. And, in addition to those pledges, I have not doubt that, like Shodie and me, your generosity pushes out into the world in many, many ways as you support a host of other programs and causes which cares for and enriches and supports the lives of countless others. Thank you. I know from personal experience how much of a difference it makes both here and elsewhere in the community. But with all that, I also want to say this. I believe how we give matters. May all our giving be more about gratitude than about obligation.
- And, here are the numbers…
The annual budget for our congregation is roughly $650,000.
$100,000 comes from investments and other income.
$480,000 from the pledges you and I make each year.
The rest comes from other contributions that are made.
- And, while Dave and Dave and Jorge and Lara and the others are good stewards of our money, they are not magicians. And funds to support the ministry and mission of BPC – Staff. Snow plowing. Sunday Spirit. Electric bills. Youth Groups. Food Pantry. – does not grow on trees. Those who are stewards of our money can only work with what we entrust to them. In other words, your pledge matters. Information and your opportunity to pledge is, or will be, in the mail and online. Please be thoughtful in your response.
So, with that said, as important as all that is, this may be that much more important. Because, in the end, it is less about budget or about dollars and cents, and more about who you are and who you want to be, and about how you view your life and how you look out at the world. I want to piggyback on what Jorge Pedraza said last week about gratitude and about what it means and what it takes to nurture or to embrace an attitude of gratitude and generosity.
So, let’s begin here. With an honest look at what we are told each day about who we are and who we should be and what it takes to be happy or content. I read last week that the average American, maybe not you, but most of us… the average American is exposed to 360 advertisements every day. Assuming the people who design these ads know what they are doing, these ads are leveraging something in us or in our culture. They are designed to reflect something of who and how we think we should be and to ignite or to reinforce a sense of longing or inadequacy or need. So every hour we are awake, we are told 22 times that we are not rich, thin, young, beautiful, ripped or stylish enough. That is the air we breathe.
Then, alongside that, there is this.
While unreleased it uses language and captures a sentiment which you and I hear each day.
That is where we live.
But, counter to all of that is this. The Biblical witness.
The good news.
Which has a decidedly different way of looking at and thinking about life and world. Which counters the not good enough of those 360 daily ads with created in the image of God. And counters never enough with enough for all. Here is what I understand to be at the center of the Biblical witness.
Caring for and about the well being of others.
Including, maybe even especially, those whom Jesus called the least of these.
And about a place for all and enough for all and a welcome for all.
In other words, God’s Kingdom for all.
And, despite the claims of the prosperity preachers, the only time the Bible talks about what I deserve is to remind me that in the providence of God I DON’T GET what I deserve.
Which brings me to gratitude.
There is something about gratitude which understands that life is a gift. That today is a day that was not promised to you. That while you have worked hard for what you have, you are a steward of that which has been entrusted to you and you are to use what you have faithfully and thoughtfully and well. I remember thinking and saying to you before that I think gratitude is one of the identifying characteristics of people of faith. I still believe that to be true. In the world in which we live, the ability and the inclination or instinct to say Thank You and to be thankful and to nurture a spirit of generosity and openness is counter-cultural. Counter to so much of what you and I are told 360 times each and every day.
We all know what gratitude feels like.
- When we receive a good report from the doctor.
- With the birth of a child or grandchild.
- When we are caught off guard by that unexpected kindness which makes our day.
We have all known moments like that. But then there are all those other moments when we don’t feel it and don’t know it.
- When we feel our age and grit our teeth.
- When work is tedious and the children are cranky.
- When illness intrudes and the headlines overwhelm.
- When all we can do is the next thing which needs to be done.
It is all those moments when the inclination is:
- I deserves something better than this.
- We deserve something more than this.
- If I just had this or could just do that it would all be different.
Those are the moments when we are left to decide.
It is those moments when Thank you is the hardest that Thank you is the most powerful because finding the strength and the courage to say Thank you in those moments reorients your life and, even if it is just a crack, creates space for something else to push its way into the craziness of life as it is. Kindness. Compassion. Forgiveness. Beauty. Grace. God.
While I continue to have much to learn and a long way to go, here is what I think I know about gratitude. Gratitude is primarily a choice. A decision we make. That in that tension between never enough and enough for all and between I deserve it and life is a gift, we get to decide which story is true. That story or God’s story. And, you get to decide which story is going to be the one which directs and shapes your life.