“Two kinds of gratitude” - Highlands Presbyterian Church
This is Thanksgiving week. It is the gateway to the celebration of Christmas. It’s a time to begin preparation for Advent. It’s a time of gratitude. Edwin Arlington Robinson was an American poet who wrote wonderful poems about life, the end of life, and the gratitude he felt about his life. He thought deeply about life and concluded, “ There are two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we are given and the larger kind we feel for what we give.
It’s not that one kind is good and the other to be avoided as vain. Both are appropriate. Neither is separable.
I have a dear friend whose prayer each day is, “Remind me Lord what my life would be if I had today only that for which I gave thanks yesterday.” Profound, huh?
There’s an art to gratitude. And like all good art, it doesn’t come naturally and is never achieved without great thought and practice. It is counterintuitive in a world that seems to focus on that which troubles us, bedevils us, and distracts us. And so we set aside a day…one out of each 365 days…to give thanks. What if instead we set aside one day…one in every 365 days…Complaint-giving Day…one day to complain and gave thanks the other 364?
But it’s like most everything else Jesus said. If it were easy to give thanks, to love our neighbors, to turn the other cheek, if it were easy to give to all who ask and invite sinners to our table and be grateful…if any of it were easy…God would not have needed to send us a teacher.
But here he is. Jesus. Standing there…for at least one hour on one day out of every seven…with a message which today is, “do not worry about your life.”
Please Jesus, there you go again. Life is defined by worry. Mine is…how about yours?
I worry about my sermons, my deadlines and timelines and hairlines. I worry about my children, my grandchildren. I worry about the high price of food, health insurance, and gasoline. I worry about tax time, dinnertime, quality time and bedtime. I wish I had been paid minimum wage for all the hours I spent worrying over the years. I wouldn’t have to worry about whether my money will run out before my life does.
And then here comes Jesus and blithely says, “Do not worry about your life.” Easier said than done, right? But why does scripture spend so much of its time speaking of worry? It seems that even God’s word worries about worrying. In Matthew Jesus asks whether our worries can add even one more moment to our lives. It cannot. Proverbs 12 speaks about how our worries weigh us down…oh yeah, my weight, there’s another worry.
The Apostle Paul told the church not to worry about anything but to pray about everything. So we worry about praying and we pray about our worries, literally about all of those things Jesus said God will provide… what we will eat or what we will drink, about our bodies, what we will wear…sometimes even where we will park.
Jesus asks whether our life is defined by the things about which we worry. Which is why he begins the teaching with the familiar admonition, “You cannot serve two masters.” Life, he says is about more than what you eat and what you wear. It’s about more than all the things about which you worry…and if you focus on your worries, you cannot focus on what life is really about.
Our worries are solely about what the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson referred to as the gratitude we feel for that which we are given. And it is important to give thanks for that which we eat, the clothes we wear, the warm home in which we lives, the things of life that make us secure and hopeful about the future.
I think what Jesus is saying this morning is that we must find our life’s energy not in the kind of gratitude that comes from what we take or receive but in what Robinson called, “the larger kind we feel for what we give.”
When Jesus says, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” he is saying that “gratitude” is a verb…an action word…gratitude has something to do with how we respond to that with which we have been blessed. Life indeed is about what we eat and wear, whether we can afford food, healthcare, gasoline and more…but Jesus says…it’s also about something more.
On this Thanksgiving week as we begin to look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus…as we prepare for a season our culture has made about what we receive…let’s think about gratitude and what life would be like if all we had today was that for which we gave thanks yesterday.
Let’s put the gratitude we claim to work as a way of actively giving thanks. You see our gratitude for our own good health shows in spending time with Alzheimer’s patients who have lost theirs…gratitude for having enough to eat is sharing food with those who do not, tilling the community garden, bringing food to this alter, bringing a meal to Family Promise…gratitude for having a warm home is spending time with those who do not, providing a hot cup of coffee for COMEA and conversation with families at Connections Corner…gratitude for your own recovery is helping others see the promise in their own lives…
…turning gratitude into action allows us to move beyond our worries…it allows us to notice the birds of the air who neither reap nor sow but are fed by our “heavenly Father.” It is what allows us to see and to smell the lilies of the field, how they grow; neither toiling nor spinning, yet even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
Let’s be honest. Despite Jesus’s teaching we will continue to worry about tomorrow even though, as he said, tomorrow will bring worries of its own.” Jesus said, “Today’s trouble is enough for today” but we know better. It is in our nature to worry but it is also in our nature to feel gratitude and to act gratefully.
So the next time I worry about the high price of food, I will remember those who can afford even less than I and will bring and extra can of vegetables to the alter. The next time I worry needlessly about my grandchildren I will remember those children who are not nearly so well loved, those who have fewer opportunities and far more challenges; when I worry about the high cost of my keeping up my home, I will send a few more dollars to COMEA, spend a few more hours with Family Promise.
As we are being grateful for what we have received, my Thanksgiving prayer is that we all feel the joy of the larger kind of gratitude we feel for what we give. AMEN.