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Thanks: The Practice of Gratitude and Appreciation

Sermon Series based on Brian McClaren’s book Naked Spirituality

Preached: February 3, 2013

We are on a 12 week journey diving into simple spiritual practices to awaken ourselves to a meaningful life with God.  Our first word last week was Here, reminding us that we need to be present here and now, where we are, and wake up to the presence of God.  Today we look at The Spiritual Practice of  Thanks: the practice of gratitude and appreciation.  The Practice of Awakening to the Goodness of God.

Story: One Christmas, a mom decided that she was no longer going to remind her children to write thank you notes for their presents.  As a result, their grandmother never received acknowledgment of the generous checks she had given them. The next year things were different, however. “The children came over in person to thank me,” the grandmother told a friend triumphantly. “How wonderful!” the friend exclaimed. “What do you think caused the change in behavior?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” the grandmother replied. “This year I didn’t sign the checks.”

Did you know that advertisers spend a lot of money trying to keep us from being grateful? They want to inform us of what we don’t have and get us to think more about what other people have, so that we will all want more and rush out to buy their stuff.

McLaren suggests that the more we have the more we need to practice gratitude, because ingratitude tends to turn yesterday’s luxuries into ……..today’s necessities.

An American tourist was on vacation in Costa Rico and complimented a village fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them. “Not very long,” answered the Costa Rican.  “But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American. The Costa Rican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.  The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs…I have a full life.”
The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from Wharton and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third until you have an entire fleet. Instead of selling your fish to a middle-man, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to the US!  From there you can direct your huge enterprise.”
“How long would that take?” asked the Costa Rican.   “20, perhaps 25 years,” replied the American.   “And after that?”   “Afterwards? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American. “When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!”   “Millions? Really? And after that?”
“After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your grandchildren, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife, and spend evenings in the village, have a few drinks, play the guitar and enjoy your friends!”

The spiritual life begins when we realize what is enough, and give thanks for enough.
Give us this day our daily bread.  Acknowledging our dependence on God’s provision.
Appreciation means gratefully holding rather than simply having without gratitude.

 We often cannot change our circumstances.  In Matthew 6, Jesus tries to tell us that we cannot add a day to our lives, or make ourselves taller or shorter. Most of life is out of our control. Jesus suggests that by recognizing our lack of control over most circumstances, and recognizing our vulnerability and dependence on God actually increases our happiness because it liberates us from the addictive drives of the never-enough system.

Paul tells us, I have learned to be content with what I have, and to “Give thanks in all circumstances” (I Thess 5:18).  This should not be confused with “for all circumstances”.    I know so many people who have survived unsurvivable losses and have endured insurmountable challenges.   In those moments “Thank you God” are not necessarily the first words out of our mouths.  Yet even in the midst of pain, we are invited to practice gratitude.  Sometimes it is even in the moments of the difficulties of life that people all of a sudden realize that they are cared for and will say to me, “I never knew so many people cared about me.”

Grace can be the experience of a second wind, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina and poignancy and the strength to hang on. ~Anne Lamott from Thanks, Help, WOW!

Day after day we are given water, air, breath, daylight if not sunlight here in the PNW, food, family, friends, and a million other blessings, again and again.  Yet one of our biggest temptations is to take it all for granted.  So when we notice that we are doing more grumbling and groaning than expressing gratitude, it’s time to rededicate ourselves to the practice of gratitude.

Spiritual practice – two words – again & this:
Again, God, again you have blessed me.
Again I savor this gift.  Again I appreciate.  Again I say thanks.
Thank you for: this day, view, this meal, this breath, this moment, this song.
Thank you for this, and this, and this, again and again.

Hebrew Prayer, Shecheheyanu:  Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe,
who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
Holy One of Blessing, Your presence fills creation. You have kept us alive, You have sustained us, You have brought us to this moment.

There is a Jewish word that is ritually used once a year at Passover – Dayenu..a word of thanksgiving, gratitude, and appreciation.  At Passover, Jewish people recount their oppression and slavery in Egypt, the 10 plagues, and the subsequent delivery from oppression.
They sing a song – Dayenu.  It would have been enough…

If God had brought us out of Egypt, dayenu – it would have been enough
If God had split the sea for us, dayenu  – it would have been enough…
If God had led us through on dry land, dayenu – it would have been enough…
If God had provided for our needs in the wilderness for 40 years, dayenu –
it would have been enough…

This sense of dayenu fills one with a sense of surplus, of being abundantly blessed, of one’s cup running over.

From – Thanks, Help, WOW!! by Anne Lamott
I personally clutch at my chest and cry, “Thanks God.”  Then I usually move on to, “I owe Y0u big this time, I’ll never ask for anything else.  This time I mean it.”  It is easy to thank God for life when things are going well. But life is much bigger than we give it credit for, and much of the time it’s harder than we would like.

We and life are spectacularly flawed and complex.  Sometimes circumstances let us glimpse how thin the membrane is between here and there, between birth and the grave, between the human and the divine.  When we get that glimpse we open our heart to say thank you.

You can look at what was revealed in the latest mess, and you say thanks for the revelation,
because it shows you some truth you needed to know.

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was thank you , that would be sufficient.

Someone has said: It’s not how much you have that brings happiness;  it’s how much you appreciate however much or little you have.