The Practice of Gratitude

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?

And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink? ’ or ‘What will we wear? ’”

Matthew 6:26-31

I. Stop

The people Jesus was talking to—his audience—in Matthew, chapter six, were considerably closer to the edge than most of us in this sanctuary tonight.

‘What will we eat?’

‘What will we drink? ’

‘What will we wear? ’

Some of us have never known poverty of that sort. Some of us have worked hard to escape it. Some are on the edge of it. Yet, we know that at least a billion human beings on the planet live there right now.

When I worked as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, our coordinator had a saying: “Everybody is just three meals away from committing a felony.”

I’ve carried that with me because I think it’s true. The question is how many meals we have in reserve before we get to that point of desperation.

My grandmother had a saying when she thought someone was being too uppity and full of themselves: “You’re born but you ain’t dead.”

By that she meant exactly what the community organizer in south Chicago meant: desperation can drive us to do things we don’t wish to do.

‘What will we eat?’

‘What will we drink? ’

‘What will we wear? ’

For the people listening to Jesus—

A people suffering under the occupation of a foreign power,

A people being bilked by collaborators among their own people—

these were the daily questions of their desperate existences.

They were an audience close to committing felonies.

Imagine their hope when they heard,

“Look at the birds of the air;

they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns,

and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

Are you not of more value than they?”

II. Notice

Jesus had something else to say about barns and gathering in. In Luke 12:16-21 we hear this parable:

“The land of a rich man produced plentifully,

and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do,

for I have nowhere to store my crops? ’

And he said, ‘I will do this:

I will tear down my barns and build larger ones,

and there I will store all my grain and my goods.

And I will say to my soul,

“Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years;

relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’

But God said to him, ‘Fool!

This night your soul is required of you,

and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

So is the one who lays up treasure for himself

and is not rich toward God.”

The message is clear: Those with nothing have no need to worry; those with much DO.

Those of us who are a long way from a felony

Too often find ourselves as well

A long way from gratitude.

III. Wonder

The great German theologian Friedrich Schleirmacher defined religion as “a feeling of dependence.”

This feeling is what I think Jesus is talking about in the parable of the larger barns. The rich man has lost his feeling of dependence. He has come to believe—he has deluded himself into thinking—that he is in control of his own fate. Is self-sufficient.

The has lost his feeling of dependence.

He has lost the attitude of gratitude.

He is not thank—full.

Filled with thanks.

In Jewish tradition the Kabbalah teaches that nothing can be given without the willingness to receive.

Take, for example the snow. You can go out onto your sidewalk and offer the sky a hundred bucks to not snow on your sidewalk.

The sky won’t take your hundred bucks. You can offer all you like.

Life says to us, “Here, have this wonderful childhood.”

We say, “No thanks. I want to be a teenager.”

Life says, “Here, you’re a teenager.”

We say, “no thanks. I want to have a job and spouse and a home.”

Life says, “Here, you’re a grownup.”

We say, “No. I didn’t mean THESE kids. Or THIS job!

I want to retire so I can go to Pago Pago!”

“I will be happy then!”

And so on it goes—the Universe offering us so many marvelous gifts.

And we keep saying,

“No thanks. That’s not quite what I had in mind.

That’s not quite good enough.”

We have to be willing to take a gift

Before we can enjoy it.

That’s a very simple but ironclad spiritual law.

We must understand our dependence,

Or we are doomed to live our lives saying,

“I will tear down my barns and build larger ones.”

The writings of the Kabbalah agree with the point Jesus maes: we must not just keep taking.

At some point we must look around and realize that our barns are large enough

And we need to give back.

The rich man who built larger barns never reached this point of spiritual understanding. He lived in a reality of profit and loss.

There’s a basic problem with living in this spiritual reality: in the end . . .

YOU LOSE . . .

Again, a saying from my grandmother: “Ain’t no pockets in a shroud.”

But how do we express gratitude?

Because here’s the twist: the Kabbalah goes on to teach that God doesn’t want anything back. The sacred does not NEED the rich man’s charity!

And when we realize this, the Kabbalah says, we begin to eat the Bread of Shame.

We are ashamed to take and take and take and never give.

We look around and realize that it is not God who needs our gifts.

It is others in our human family.

God doesn’t need food; or drink; or shelter; or a kind word. But many in our human family do need.

At that moment we realize that we can stop munching on the Bread of Shame by

sharing.

Thus gratitude leads us to the work of God.

Then, we join in, saying to our sisters and brothers, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink? ’ or ‘What will we wear?’ Don’t worry.”

Don’t worry.

Then we are partners in the sacred work.

The Kabbalah goes on to teach that when we act from these realizations, service to our sisters and brothers is not an obligation—it is a joy.

Because we are acting not out of selfishness; not out of guilt;

not out of obligation or ego-fulfillment

but as part of a sacred transaction—we are part of the sacred flow of spirit.

Gratitude becomes our spiritual practice. And we join our voice, saying

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

AMEN

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s