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The sermon for week November 29, 2015

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Gratitude

Matthew 6:24-34

The holiday has me in a grateful mood. It also has me in a football mood, so Iíll begin with a quote from the great coach, Vince Lombardi. To keep his team from making trouble in the small town of Green Bay, he told them, ďYour priorities will be God, family, and the Green Bay Packers, in that order.Ē

For me, my priorities are God, family, and Sylvania United Church of Christ. I am thankful for all three.

Iím thankful for God. When I say "God" I really mean, "my experience of my reality living in this universe." And this universe seems to know my name and speaks through coincidences, and science and it's amazing that our math even WORKS! If it was all chaos, our math and science would never work. We never stop to consider why...

Everything is connected. The world is not linear, it is a web. My view of God is one of generosity and love. A force of compassion and abundant life. I am thankful for my existence and for the time spent alive.

Iím thankful that I got to meet all of you! I get to be here, right now, in this moment that has never happened before and will never happen again. I could be sad at this fact, but I take great joy in it and treasure it. There is so much mystery in this moment: What brought each of you here? Why did you chose to sit where you did? What dreams and hopes do you have? What a gift this moment is, sent to us over the eons, through the processes of evolution, both stellar and biological, to us right here, right now. Thatís why itís called the present because itís a gift.

My favorite people in the whole world is my family. My mom and sister. My wife and children. For my in laws! I especially thankful for Kate. Iím so thankful that weíre married. If I have anything written on my tombstone it would be, ďKateís husband, Eve and Samís papa.Ē Thatís accomplishment enough.

Yet how strange it is to be married. Marriage is weird.

I mean, imagine the first person who invented marriage. Probably two cave people. The caveman turns to the cave woman and says, ďHey, do like this hanging out and stuff?Ē

ďYes,Ē She says. ďThe cave is nice, we have food, you protect me from saber-toothed tigers. Youíre a good conversationalist, have a handsome brow-ridge, and youíre a passable kisser.Ē

ďCool,Ē says the caveman. ďDo you want to keep doing this until one or both of us is dead?Ē

ďWhat?!Ē she says. ďLike, keep hanging out and stuff?Ē

ďYeah, but you canít kiss anyone else or sleep in another cave. Like itís just you and me until one or both of us is dead.Ē

Thatís an insane proposition! Itís insane for a lot of reasons. First off, itís a gamble. Itís not a sure thing. The statistics say marriage is a coin flip. 50% fail. Thatís the common idea anyway, Al Palmer informed me that itís a little better than that, itís more like a 1/3 end in divorce. I guess those are pretty good odds, but Iím not a betting man. I like certainties in life. Ambiguities are for theology and philosophy.

Itís a coin flip because things happen and people change. We become different people. We change over time. Who knows whatís going to happen in the future or who we will become.

I never thought Iíd be a pastor. Kate never thought sheíd be married to one. But here we are. And Iím pretty sure my college-self would not really recognize my present-self.

Iím thankful to those two cave people and Iím thankful that Kate vowed to be with me through sickness or health, rich or poor, or whatever may come, until one or both of us is dead. I am thankful for whatever mysteries of the universe brought us together.

I think the basis of love is gratitude. Itís noticing the little things and taking joy. When we were first dating, I wrote many a bad teenage poem in praise of Kateís little character quirks and traits. And she wrote emails about mine and made plans for the future. We were overcome with gratitude for one another and that has carried us through.

Like any marriage, we must strive to keep that practice of gratitude alive. Often we take each other for granted, we miss the little things because weíre so busy living and parenting and working. As John Lennon once said, ďLife is what happens when youíre busy making other plans.Ē

Yet Jesus calls us to notice the little things. ďGod takes care of the birds and clothes the lilies of the field. Theyíre feasting and clothed better than we are! Godís eye is on the sparrow, how much more does God watch and care for you. Donít worry. Godís got this!Ē Jesus tells us not to worry about what we eat not too long after many of us planned and agonized over the Thanksgiving menu. God is still speaking, and itís often through irony. Who says the Bible isnít relevant to our day? Yet heís talking about the type of worry about ďwhat will people think?Ē Heís calling us out of trying to move up the social ladder. Heís trying to remind us, as Gloria Steinem stated, ďHuman beings arenít ranked, weíre linked.Ē We worried about the food out of care for one another, not out of moving up the hierarchy.

We often take God for granted. Yet itís Godís love for us that brought us into being. At least, thatís why I think thereís something rather than nothing.

Taking the time to remind myself of my priorities helps remind me of the very thing I tend to forget-- God shows up in my life over and over again. I overlook these moments because all I can see is what I wish would have happened. Or maybe the story is just too big to understand a world without me or anyone I know in it and all the events that had to take place for me to be standing here now. My desires sometimes keep me from seeing the gifts of God in the present moment. Desires for an event to unfold in a certain way or my desire for a person to act a certain way, or my desire for things in my life to look a certain way. Jesus is saying donít do that, look at the little things that are gifts to you from a loving God.

Love is working against the odds to build something stable in an instable world.
Love is holding someoneís hand as they die. Love is visiting, and checking in and asking after feelings. Not just the surface feelings but those deep down that weíre really afraid to share. And love is also hearing those feelings and not getting defensive.

Liking someone is easy. Liking is just clicking something on Facebook. But loving someoneÖ loving someone means that you know everything about them and still invite them over for dinner.

Loving someone means you acknowledge that youíre not really in control. You can only have faith in the person, hope for the future, and love. Love that is best defined in Captain Corelliís Mandolin by Louis de BerniŤres, (burn-yayh)

ďLove is a temporary madness; it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part.
Because this is what love is.
Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of eternal passion.
That is just being in love, which any fool can do.
Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.

I love that line, ďLove itself is what is left over when falling in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.Ē Living is a fortunate accident and we must craft a life of gratitude. That is how we are to live artfully.

The other aspect of having a God who notices the things we ignore, is that this same God works through the small things we so easily donít even take notice of. Sparrows and lilies and sees how theyíre connected. God shows up in the casseroles we give to new parents and grieving families. Itís the time spent in the kitchen by the fellowship committee for funerals and church gatherings. It is boards and committees diligently doing their work to keep the lights on, the building updated, policies in line, music selected, and people connected. Itís the notes of encouragement just when we need them and the birthday cards sent.

God shows up when you suddenly think ďI should reach out to that personĒ or do a kind thing for someone else, or just ask this person how theyíre doing. Those nudges are meant to be paid attention to for when you do these things you never know when unknowingly you are the casserole of God. You are the one being used to show Godís love to Godís child and this too is a gift.

Iím thankful for the invisible roots of love that make me one with you. Iím thankful for my wife and family. Iím thankful for you, the church; gathered here and now. Coming out on a Sunday morning is a counter-cultural act and an important one. Iím thankful for the historic witness of the church that came before us here and since 1834 has witnessed to the gospel here.

Iím thankful for a God of love, a God of sparrows and lilies. A God of gravity and quantum physics. The God of reality who loves us and comes to us in each and every nanosecond. Let us pause for 10 seconds and be thankful for God, family, and Sylvania United Church of Christ, in that order. Iíll watch the time.

Thank you. There is no better attitude than gratitude.

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