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Living in the Light: Gratitude

2nd Sunday after Epiphany, Common Lectionary Year A

Ps 40; 1 Corinthians 1: 1-9

©2014 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

audio file

For this Season of Epiphany – the season of light, we are using the lectionary texts to explore what it means for us  as individuals and as a community, to “live in the light”,  to live our lives as if God matters, and as if the way of God’s love and justice, shown to us in Jesus Christ, is our way of living in the world; as the Bible calls it, living as children of the Light.

Last week we saw that the light of God, motivating commitment and passion among the most ordinary of people, can change the world.

Today, thanks to our psalm, and to the apparently innocuous  greeting from Paul’s letter to the Church of Corinth, we  discover how life- and light- giving the grace of gratitude can be to our lives.

From the cradle, as soon as we’re taught to speak, we’re taught to ‘say thankyou.’ (And Gran moment here, when your two year old granddaughter  says “Tankyou Gan”, it melts your heart!)

Gratitude expressed can enrich, even mend the world.  “Thank you”, an acknowledgement of our interdependence, that we inhabit this world better because of the help, the care, the skill of others. “Thank you” acknowledges the giving presence of the other.  When we say “Thank you” we tell the world we are not alone.

So, following the lead of Paul, and the Psalmist, thank you….those of you, who this week while I was working for the Church in BC, looked after Pastoral Care, the church office, the day-to-day decisions that make this church live its mission to be a place to feel at home, fulfil purpose and feed spirits in the name of God. Thank you to those who make, serve and clear up the coffee this morning, those who prepared food and washed dishes for F4 on Friday, those who take donations to S. Columba House, those who run the AV desk, those who clean the building, shovel the snow, put grit on the parking lot, who sing in our choirs, teach our children, serve on our Board, who reach out in countless acts of friendship and care to one another. to those who pray for the work of this congregation, to those of you who are here today. Thank you for your part in God’s promise that we are not alone, that we are given to one another to serve and be served with the graces of God.

But Paul is throwing in a couple of extra words to his thanks which I want to echo. He does more than thank the members of the church in Corinth, for their faithfulness, for the ways they live in the light of the Gospel; he says “I thank my God always for you.”

“I thank my God for you.”   If that sounds typically pious for an apostle,  don’t dismiss it too quickly, because he’s on to something really important: that dimension of gratitude which points beyond the human-to-human interactions, to something greater than ourselves.

You know it, that gasp of gratitude when looking up at a full moon over the frozen lake;  that glorious sunrise over the gulf mountains, painting the sea mist pink; that squeeze of a newborn fist around your finger, those moments of utter beauty and wonder that draw unbidden from the deepest self a “Thank you!” cast to the sky in the direction of that Blessed, Creative Other, whom Jesus taught us to call “Abba”, loving parent, God. We are made for gratitude, and somehow, deep in our spiritual DNA, we know whom to thank.

And how important this gratitude to God can be, not just in those moments of wonder and delight, but even more so in the moments of despair, terror, or outright conflict that so often beset our life.

The psalmist was able in whatever ‘ditch’ and messy mud she found herself in, to thank God for God’s saving presence, and in so doing, transformed not so much her life, but her way of seeing it.

In much the same way, I believe Paul is doing the same thing.

It’s not obvious this early in Paul’s letter, but as we’ll read further into the letter in the coming weeks, we’ll see that Paul is giving thanks to God for a community which would drive most of us to sentiments of judgment and condemnation, rather than gratitude. (Suffice to say at this point, that this is a bickering community, with all the threats to wholeness that come with conflict.  And let me also say that I give thanks to God that this community of faith is NOT Corinth!)

The question is why would Paul “thank my God, always” for them, if it seems he should be tearing his hair out in lamentation?

The way I see it, in this letter, and discovering it in my own life and ministry, is that to make the deliberate turn to gratitude to God the Giver of life, even, and especially in moments that seem not to call for it, is to open ourselves up to seeing, hearing, becoming aware of the  God-given possibilities for healing and hope that we, by ourselves, could not possibly imagine or create.

I imagine it like the way even the smallest of lights can pierce the greatest darkness; gratitude is like the gap in the curtain of turmoil, that lets the light of God’s grace shine through. It comes through as a glimmer of possibility to be less fearful, less judgmental; to be more aware of the innate giftedness of life, and so to love more, to be more generous, more just, more courageous, because we have reminded ourselves in a simple “Thank you God” that this world, and therefore all our joys and sorrows, are all held in God’s care.

By taking the 30 seconds it takes Paul to utter his rich prayer of gratitude to God for these all too human sinner-saints in Corinth, he is making a deliberate turn to live in the beam of light cast by the Gospel of God. In so doing he sees them also, held in God’s light, and to see even in their fractiousness, glimmers of possibility for blessing, grace, for forgiveness, for joy, for peace.

For us at Cedar Park, we can do a lot worse than adopt Paul’s practice of gratitude to God, for in so doing, we open ourselves up to even greater awareness of our gratitude for one another, and even greater awareness of how God is at work in us, lighting our path, enriching us in our fellowship, and in our service to others.

I invite us all then to begin right now, with this echo of Paul’s prayer, saying together, to one another: I give thanks to my God always for you, because of the grace of God that shines in and through you. Amen.

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