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Resistant Gratitude (Thanksgiving ’09)

Joel 2:21-27

Psalm 126

Matthew 6:25-33 

As some of you know, this has been a particularly challenging week for me. I’m grateful to Elisabeth Jones, who not only picked that up but also asked what she could do. Knowing her for the theologian she is I asked her to look at the scriptures for me because I wasn’t sure when I was going to get a chance to do that this week.  And amazing scriptures they were! So many thanks Elisabeth for doing that. Hope you’re looking at her blog on scripture as well. It’s fabulous!

A theme began to emerge for me early on…resistant gratitude.  Gratitude in the complex messy places. Each scripture speaks of thanksgiving in times of uncertainty, and of finding God in those places, and of gratitude rising up with resistant hope and life.

Sometimes it is hard to feel grateful when pain overwhelms.  Yet, as I share with you most Thanksgivings, the famous hymn Now Thank We all our God  which we will sing in a few minutes, was written in 1648 by  Martin Rinkart, the only surviving clergy person in a Saxony town ravaged by war and plague. Finding God in the messy places, resistant thanksgiving rising up with hope.

Some may say such thanksgiving indicates complete madness. Either that, or it is involuntary response to a spirit that leans over the wild world like a mother over the cradle of her fretting baby.  A spirit that is undefeated by the worst that comes  hunger, suffering, exile,  death itself.  A spirit that bends the years to its slow use, that never gives up, never leaves us alone.

The ancient prophet Joel’s words were written after devastating drought- the land had been in crisis; Doesn’t that sound familiar! Yet he writes…“Do not fear O Soil; be glad and rejoice for the Lord has done great things! Do not fear you animals of the field, the  pastures of the wilderness are green and the tree bears its fruit…and then the call to the people to be glad for rain has come to rescue the barren land to feed the people. How we long for that for our time! Imagine Darfur, Sudan, dry and barren places experiencing liberation.  Restoration of damaged creation!  Hope to begin again!… No wonder Joel is grateful to God who has done great things! Imagine a world where creation did not have to fear, where humans were working as partners with God is to care for creation.  

Resistant gratitude comes through loud and clear in the Psalm which speaks also of restoration;  of the delirious delight when the captives of Babylon are brought home. That captivity was very real, devastating, as are all our captivities. Yet the God we encounter in this psalm is busy about the business of restoration, of wiping tears, of freeing captives,  of scattering seeds we can harvest, of planting dreams, and laughter into human hearts and mouths.  Seeds sowed in tears come home in a harvest of great joy! God has been doing great things right in the middle of the mess!! And who knew it?

I’ve certainly witnessed that powerfully in the two funerals I have been part of this week.  Tears and loss have been very real, but so has laughter, and songs and stories of resistant joy and gratitude for lives lived with courage and grace, and creativity and love. God has been doing great things!!!  in the midst of loss and pain.  When God liberates from captivity, no wonder there is joy and thanksgiving!  Resistant gratitude

Yesterday I married two women who have found the courage to come out the captivity of the homophobia of the culture to proclaim their love and to commit to one another for life.  Before God, they gathered families and friends to witness their vows to one another. It was a very moving event. When God liberates from captivity no wonder there is joy and thanksgiving…. Resistant gratitude…

The gospel too is about plugging into resistant gratitude rather than drowning in inward looking fear and anxiety and worry.  Jesus is not speaking to the fortune 500 crew.  He is speaking to people living on the edge;  Peasants feeling powerless in an occupied land; their lives  full of fear,  uncertainty and worry.  Jesus in his compassionate awareness picked up what was paralyzing them; and often, I would suggest, us. Worry, anxiety, fear.

When we get weighted down by anxiety and stress and fear in our lives, we lose sight of the sacred, of the goodness of living, of our generous God.  When we don’t know how to trust and be thankful, life is nothing but distress, because we focus on need and want. Worrying cultivates an attitude of powerlessness and of  distrust.  Distrust of yourself, distrust of other people, but also distrust of God, distrust in the fundamental goodness of Life.   Jesus calls us to shift the focus get our focus on God, on God’s generosity, on God’s kingdom, which is in our midst if we open our eyes and our hearts to it.

Jesus invites us to get outside ourselves; to stop and pay attention to the simple abundance of creation: to look at the lillies of the field, the birds of the air; to notice how God cares for them; to notice how they live in a perfect balance of giving and receiving  with their Creator. Get your focus off you and your worries Jesus seems to be saying.;  shift your world-view-  get some perspective-Wake up to the Generous Sacred Source whose way is unfolding constantly all around you.

So…. I’m sitting in the car this week, heading to Toronto  for our family funeral, this scripture is running around inside my head.  I decided to do what Jesus suggested… get outside myself and my worries, to pay attention to creation and  to notice what I might learn from it as we drove along. There weren’t too many lillies of the field, but I could not help but wonder if  Jesus  were in Canada, if he might spoken of autumn leaves, or of  flocks of birds heading south…

When I paid attention to creation one of the first things I noticed was change all around.   The leaves, the grasses were a variety of colours, in seemingly endless combinations of beauty, but they were all part of the cycle of growth and decay and rebirth…all in their dying time before winter.  such incredible beauty in the face of  learning to let go.. yielding their fruit and seed to new generations.  If only I could be so gracious, to embrace the changing times, to learn the wisdom of  letting go, to embrace the beauty of each season of life.

The day was grey, the skies dark and often rainy.  But riotous joyful colour surprises would burst out suddenly,.. And then I noticed how much deeper and more vibrant those colours were against the dark sky than in the odd moments when the sun came out and bleached the colour out of the leaves.    It’s interesting, how much more poignant joy, gratitude, beauty are when times are dark.  That certainly seems to resonate with the message of all of our scriptures today. Meeting God in messy times,Resistant gratitude and joy rising up in the dark painful times.  

And then there was the wind; an indication that one system is changing and a new one is coming in,  Wind  to blow in new clear cobwebs, to carry change  Wind the same word in scipture as Spirit,  Spirit Wind that blows where it will.    

And the birds of the air were everywhere;  starlings flying their amazing patterns of trust and interconnection that allow them to move as a whole, while flying individually – a reminder to stay connected, to trust the flow, to know that there are patterns of creation that have been laid down from the beginnings and I am part of a whole.

But mostly the birds of the air were Canada geese, flying their amazing V’s across the sky, looking for warmer places to winter. I had read an email earlier in the week about what can we learn from the geese.  I thought about them as we continued our journey.  First the V pattern. Why that formation?  As each bird flaps its wings it creates uplift for the bird following. In a V the whole flock adds at least 71% more flying range than if each bird flew alone.  When a goose gets out of formation, it feels the drag or resistance of trying to fly alone and quickly gets back into formation.  Like geese the writer of the email had said, people who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier than those who try to go it alone.

I remembered another lesson from the email. When a goose gets tired, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies at the point position- a reminder to work as a team, taking turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership.

When a goose gets sick or wounded, two other geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it is either able to fly again or dies, then they continue their journey, either joining another flock or catching up with their own.  Just some of the lessons the geese can teach us as we pay attention to them,

It seems that considering the lilies of the field, and considering the birds of the air does put us in touch with a wisdom and intelligence in creation that call us out of ourselves, and invites us to listen to the wisdom of the Creator.  It calls us to tune ourselves from worry and to look for God in the middle of the mess; and to live thankfully and hopefully with a resistant gratitude that celebrates life in the midst of complexity, of life.  It lets us proclaim with the Psalmist and with Joel, God has done and is doing wonderful things. not in some perfect world, but when creation is in crisis, when we come out of whatever holds us captive, when we are drowning in anxiety and worry.

While worry shrivels us, gratitude orients our soul towards God, It connects us with a heart of powerful  Love that beats at the centre of all creation,-the creating God, who is invested in this Creation in ways we can only grasp at. Gratitude heals; gratitude grounds us in God’s grace; gratitude makes us realize that we are not alone; we live in God’s world.  Let’s cultivate resistant gratitude in our lives this Thanksgiving!

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