The Gift and Humility of Thanksgiving (1 Cor 1:3-9)

This is the text to the sermon I preached two weeks ago.

Thanksgiving and Advent_

The meaning of the word Advent is “Coming”

This week is the First Week of Advent. Typically, we at Camas Friends, take the Sunday after Thanksgiving to reflect back over the year so that we can remember what we have been graced with. We reach back into our stories over past year, and look for the places where God’s faithfulness came through, places where we saw those glimmers of hope, experienced the nudges of grace, the motions of love.

Advent begins in darkness, to a world desperately waiting, watching, and in total despair. We wait for the coming. At the beginning of advent, all we can do is hope, in the midst of trouble, that God will hear, just as he did with the Hebrew People in Egypt, our collective prayers.

At the opening of advent we struggle with a fragmented world: The rich continue to get richer, while there are hungry children and houseless families all around us. Violence of all kinds seems to be unending, and divisions among people and religious groups continue to deepen like an abyss. Many of our elderly friends feel more alone and isolated now more than ever and many of our Young people are afraid there will be no world left for them to even have these kinds of concerns. Many of us in between struggle to make sense of who we are and where are lives are at currently. Our bodies continue to age, and we see loved ones around us pass away.

There is no doubt in my mind why we have such a sense of urgency in our prayers and conversations about these things, “God we don’t have forever, hear our cries.”

We may be afraid, we may panic, we may complain, but we must also wait and anticipate “the coming.”

One the one hand, to stop and remember, to talk of gratitude might seem at best trite, or at worst a distraction from our real problems. But on the other, gratitude is not to forget what is happening right now, or to negate it, it is to recall a collective memory so that we might move forward hand in hand. This is why we find in the Psalms so regularly drawing on the people’s history together with God.

[Read Psalm 78:2-4]

We need to constantly, as a community, draw on our collective memory, and on the stories that empower us, and remind us that God is faithful. Before we can move forward, we need to be able to appreciate where we have gone. In order to receive, we need to be empty-handed.

To me the discipline of gratitude offers us a place to stand during the darkness, and a path forward through it to dry land.

If Advent is about coming, are we poised, ready and able to receive what will come?

Gratitude as the Starting Point_

Gratitude is to be our standing point if we are going to be awake enough to see where God comes.

Paul begins his letter in Corinthians with thanksgiving.

[Read 1 Cor 1]

This is somewhat surprising, considering what follows in the letter. The Church in Corinth that Paul writes to here is one really dysfunctional group of people. They’re struggling with all kinds of issues, from the theological, to the immortal, Corinth is struggling with much division. And yet, Paul, opens with thanksgiving. [Read?] Gratitude is the basis and the context of everything else he will write.

For Paul, To open a letter with thanks is not to simply following a polite custom, it is to radically re-frame the discussion, and attitude, within the reality that Paul operates from.

And what is that reality? He states it beautifully: “God is faithful.” The faithfulness of God is Paul’s reality, it is how everything works. Even in those difficult places like Corinth God at work, God has been busy.

God is faithful even in Corinth.

Isn’t it the case that we too often the case that we operate from a “deficit” mentality.
We think about what we don’t have, rather than the grace that fills our lives.
We think about who we want to be like, rather than accepting and loving who we are.
We reflect on all the regret, rather than seeing each step and choice as the basic material of God’s grace in our very lives.

Here’s a quote from Mother Frances [From Edinburgh, joined All Saints Sisters of the Poor, a brother with one lung, founded Douglas House 16-40 with life-shortening disorders].

She said this:

“Nothing in your life is so insignificant, so small, that God cannot be found at its centre. We think of God in the dramatic things, the glorious sunsets, the majestic mountains, in the smile of a passer-by or the gnarled hands of an old man, in a daisy, a tiny insect, falling leaves. God is in the music, in laughter and in sorrow too. And the grey times, when monotony stretches out ahead, these can be the times of steady, solid growth into God.

God may make himself known to you through the lite of someone who, for you, is an ambassador for God, in whom you can see the beauty and truth and the love of God; anyone from St. Paul and the apostles through all the centuries to the present day, the great assembly of the said and lovers of God. It may be that there is someone who loves you so deeply that you dare to believe that you worth loving and so you can believe that god’s love for you could be possible after all. Sometimes it is through tragedy or serious illness that God speaks to our hearts and we know him for the first time. There is no limit to the ways in which God may make himself known. At every turn in our lives there can be meeting place with God. How our hearts should sing with joy and thanksgiving. We have only to want him now at this moment – and at any moment in our lives – and he is there, wanting us, longing to welcome us, to forgive us all that has gone before that has separated us from him.”

Mother Frances states very clearly what kind of position to the world and to God we as the faithful are called to. One where “At every turn in our lives there can be meeting place with God.”

Paul could have started with a list of complaints, a list of “deficiencies” and then tackled them one by one, but instead he follows the path Mother Frances took and opens with:

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been give you in Christ Jesus.”

Rather than a deficient approach, we might call Paul’s opening in 1 Cor. heliotropic.

It builds on images that are most life-giving, it starts off by naming the themes and images of life and light. The places where the Corinthian church is leaning in, towards the sun. It let’s that frame and structure the conversation that will follow. What kind of affect do you think that had on his hearers in his time?

And what about for you? What are the images and thems that you have drawn life from in the past year? In what ways have you felt you were leaning towards the sun?

Gratitude creates a new space, a new frame for us to experience God. It opens up new possibilities of growth and change. Gratitude helps us stay awake to God’s movements all around us.

And if it’s true that gratitude helps us to reframe things, then maybe even the places where we are broken can be understood in light of God’s grace and faithfullness.

Facebook Meme: Day 21: I am grateful for the mistakes i’ve made to make me the person I am today.

To start from a place of gratitude, as the very core of where we operate, it is to recognize that every moment, even the broken moments, can be the real stuff of God’s grace and love in our lives.

The beautiful things, as much as our own brokenness can be moments were we grow, where we are put in contact with God’s most evident grace. This ties into what Jean talked about last week. Our vulnerability. The places where we are weak, are also those places where God is made strong.

Open Worship:

  • What are those places of deep gratitude?
    What are those ‘heliotropic’ images and experiences that for us have been life-giving over this past year?
    What have been the places of struggle, of brokenness and mistakes, we have experienced that have contributed to growth and transformation in your life?

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.