Paul writes words that give us a key to an attitude of living thankfully. These are not just pious words. They are written by a man who was suffering in prison.
The Hebrew scripture from Deuteronomy which we enacted at the very beginning of the service describes an ancient festival of thanksgiving.For the Israelites, the first fruit was considered sacred and needed to be offered to God before any human use was appropriate. This acknowledged that God was the Source of all things and that people need to use what God gives in a way that honours the Creator, and the responsibility to share. The people are called to put first things first. To honour the Source before using the harvest for themselves. To set aside a tithe-a tenth of all that was grown, for sacred purposes, and for care of the marginalized-widows and orphans, and foreigners in the land.
The scripture gives the ritual to be followed. After bringing the first
fruits, the people are to recount the story of where they have come from, and how God has been there for them, and why it is appropriate to give thanks. Remember where you came from…. Remember how God has been with you through your life, Remember God’s blessings. Feel Gratitude….. Then honour God as the Source of all that is by returning to God a portion to be used for the needs of others. That is in a nutshell the movements of living thanks.
Both scriptures invite us to a stance towards life that is very much in opposition to the way of life of many in the culture; to live from a stance of gratitude that comes from deep connection with a deep knowing of the Source of all life. Again in new movements of the Spirit in this century, we are hearing of the importance of living Gratitude.
A lot of us live centred more in anxiety and worry, caught up in a
whirlwind of doing, or in our habits of brooding: projecting onto the
future, dwelling on the past, nursing old wounds, holding imaginary
conversations, indulging in comparisons, feeling less than if we do not fit the consumerism myths of beauty, success, happiness. A lot of us conduct endless mental calculations about conversations, gnaw away on regrets, ruminate on problems at work, or in the world, anticipate the worst.
These habits of brooding are rooted in the past or in the future and can rob us of the present moment with all its harmony, and joy, and awareness of life’s abundance. They keep us from caring for our soul, attending to the spiritual dimension of our living, attending to our contentment and our gratitude.
In my experience these habits of being are rooted in poverty thinking; a belief that there is not enough to go around, that we need to hang on to all that we have for fear of losing it. It has an insidious way of permeating us as individuals, but also as a whole society. When we live out of a stance that at the very centre of life is danger, poverty, negativity, we tighten, turn inwards, operate out of fear and anxiety about the future. If our life experience has dealt us blows which seem to validate this world-view, it is even harder to break out of the negativity spiral.
Yet that is precisely what our scriptures today invite us to do. They call us to a radical shift in our stance towards the world. They call us to live lives operating to different drumbeat, a Holy drumbeat. They call us to tune ourselves to gratitude and thankfulness, and God forbid…. joy!
Every aboriginal ceremony begins with honouring of the Creator, and a prayer of thanksgiving, naming all the gifts of creation. Taking the time to remember, to celebrate goodness, to feel gratitude for life, for the day, for the earth, air, fire and water. A stance of gratitude for life, by people who have known incredible adversity.
Paul is giving the Philippian church a similar message when he writes to them. His words, calling on them to rejoice in all things are not trite naive, words. Paul is in prison. HeÂ¹s writing to a congregation struggling with division, where he is in conflict with other leaders. Experienced through that lens, his words have more power. “Rejoice in God always,” he writes, “know that God is very near. Connect with God in prayer bringing your pain and needs, but do so from a heart of thankfulness, rather than a heart overwhelmed by anxiety.”
Paul, calls us not to become so weighted down by the anxiety and stress and conflict of life, that we lose sight of the sacred, and of the goodness of living and of our God. Keep your perspective suggests Paul, don’t get blinded to the goodness and beauty of life by the painful part of it that seems most stridently demanding at the moment. Key to that process for me, is the experience Paul writes about, of opening to joy, opening to thankfilled living, opening to the presence of the God who is very near, opening to the peace of God which surpasses all our understanding, that guards our hearts and our minds in Christ. Keeping a Christ-centred perspective is a constant challenge, but also a constant calling.
I find I need this faith community to keep me grounded in this perspective on living. For in community we can renew our hope as we huddle around GodÂ¹s word and remember again God’s dream for creation. We can be recalled to the knowing that we bear, in each one of us, God’s image. We can share the stories of our journeys. In community we can know and be known, beyond the masks we often wear, in a way that is healing. In community, we can hear and be heard into being, we can hold and be held, challenge and be challenged, strengthen and be strengthened. In community we can be healed, even as we are being a healing presence for others. We can be challenged to live in ways that are not self-betraying, and God-betraying. We can claim the spiritual power that works in us, and through us, and among us even in these times. We can become a community of loving resistance based in gratitude living. Let us give thanks to God.