An Attitude of Gratitude (Revisited)


Psalm 100 (from the Inclusive Psalms)

Acclaim our God with Joy, all the earth. Serve our God with Gladness! Enter into God’s presence with joyful song. Know that Adonai is God! Our God made us, and we belong to the Creator; We are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture. Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and the courts with praise. Give Thanks to God! Bless God’s Name! For our God is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever, And God’s faithfulness to all generations.  

An Attitude of Gratitude (Revisited)

I remember the first time I shared a message called An Attitude of Gratitude. It was in Scales Mound Illinois, many, many winters ago, when I was still an undergraduate student and serving as a licensed pastor in a small, rural congregation. I remember it so clearly, because it was only the second time we had gathered for worship post-911. The week before, and the week leading up to that Sunday, were fraught with fear, raw emotion, conspiracy theories, and perhaps most troubling, words of hate and blame toward our Muslim neighbors.

Now, I wish I had a copy or could recall the message in its entirety, but I don’t and I cannot. But do remember two things. First, the overwhelmingly positive response to a message about gratitude, patients, and love defeating hate during such difficult times. And second, I remember I shared a quote from the famous mystic Meister Eckhart. Eckhart said of gratitude, “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Interesting. He’s saying in essence that the very heart of prayer, the core of our relationship with the divine, is gratitude. If our only prayer is “thank you,” that’s enough. Eckhart goes on to elaborate, “…acknowledging the good that you already have in your life,” he said, “is the foundation for all abundance.”[i]

Now, I share this experience today because I think we, as a people and as a nation, find ourselves once again mired in fear and angst. And who can blame us? This second-wave of the pandemic continues to rage out-of-control. It’s isolating us, it’s infecting us and killing too many of our neighbors. It’s cancelling or altering our holiday traditions and there’s no real end in sight. People are just getting tired of it. And if that’s not enough, elected officials at the very highest levels of our government are refusing to accept the clear and legal results of our election threating the very core of our democracy. And of course, there’s still poverty and hunger and homelessness, there’s the existential threat of global climate change, and there continues to be racism and inequality across our nation. So, yes, there are plenty of things of worry about.

But here’s the thing. Thanksgiving is more than just turkey and football and anticipating Black Friday deals. Thanksgiving is even more than pilgrims and feasts. Thanksgiving is about taking stock of our lives and then showing our gratitude to God for our blessings. Thanksgiving is about renewing, reestablishing, “revisiting” an attitude of gratitude each year. “If the only prayer we say is, ‘thank you,’ that will suffice.”

But what if things aren’t so great? What if 2020 has kicked my butt and I just don’t feel like I have any gratitude left in me? Well, I came across an ancient saying from Buddhism this past week that might help us shed a little light in the dark places of 2020. The Buddha said, “…rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.”[ii]

This wisdom is a stark reminder of the serious-ness of our times. We all know someone, an acquaintance, a friend, or God forbid, a family member, who has died from this disease. That’s the reality of our times. But we also know, we also know deep within our being, that we do not tread these troubled water alone. God is with us! God is present in our relationships and in our interactions with each other. God is present in our religious traditions, although they may look a little different this year. God is present out there in the natural world, calling to us upon the breath of the wind and with the lapping of each wave and in the gentle rustle of the trees. And God is present within us, within our very being; in our thoughts, our reasoning, our consciousness. And for all of these places where God is revealed, we can be truly thankful.

You see, the blessing here is that even in our isolation, even when there’s civil unrest, even while injustice still exists and hatred boils just under the surface; we don’t face this world alone. We have each other and we have God. That’s the essence of faith. A faith that carried our forbearers through difficult times and it’s the very same faith that has the potential to carry us through as well.

Now, the Psalmist understood this. In Psalm 100 the author says things like, Acclaim our God with Joy, all the earth,” “Serve our God with Gladness,” “Enter into God’s presence with joyful song,” and “Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving.” And we know that life was no picnic in his day. We know this because these “Psalms of Assent” we see in the 100’s are bracketed by “Psalms of Lament.” Laments, crying out to God for liberation from the trying times that they were experiencing; times of civil unrest, injustice, and disease. Sound familiar to anyone?

So, here’s the challenge from today’s text. Even amid all the changes to our traditions, even with all of the worries of our times, we are challenged to adopt an attitude of gratitude. We are called to be the church, the church isn’t a building, but rather a people. We are called to be a people of hope, a people of faith, a people of justice, we are called my friends, to be a grateful people, thanking God for all of our blessings. May it be so. Amen.

[i] Matthew Fox Meditations with Meister Eckhart (Inner Traditions Bear and Co.) 1983

[ii] A Saying from Traditional Buddhist Wisdom

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