Sermon By Rev Joel Crouse The act of being grateful makes us feel better. We know this. It reminds us to appreciate what we have, to focus on those around us. It helps us become comfortable in our own skin. Gratitude requires us truly to see the world around us as a gift. It lessens the energy we put into envy, into striving in unhealthy ways. So, in a way, it’s odd that sociologists have taken to studying it, to prove the value of it. For example, one study found that people who express more gratitude were likely more generous, more agreeable. People who kept a gratitude journal – and wrote every day a list of things for which they were thankful – reported better well-being and optimism. They even, apparently, exercised more. Gratitude is linked to positive mental health. It correlates positively with spirituality. When psychologists sit down to treat people who are depressed or anxious, getting them to shift their thoughts to feeling grateful for what they have is one of the key steps in therapy. What are you thankful for? Do you contemplate this regularly? Do you have a ritual that reminds you to give thanks? At every mealtime, do you say grace? The evidence is clear: when we do, we are all healthier for it. The thing about gratitude is it works in direct contradiction to materialism. It is an antidote for our craving for more, for our natural inclination to rank ourselves above others. The advice that Jesus gives in our gospel is profound. He is teaching us a lesson of faith, yes. But it is also a valuable recipe for happiness. Do not covet the food that perishes but rather the food that lasts to the end of your days, Jesus cautions the disciples. For it is the “bread of God which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” The food that Jesus speaks of is not just what we put on our table at dinner time; it includes all those material items which we desire. The bread of God is not a pile of do-gooder platitudes. It is a gift, for which we do not need to strive, which sits there, waiting for us to choose to open it. It is a gift that teaches us to seek out love and not gold; to have presence in the moment rather than always chasing the future; to live as one fulfilled, rather than never feeling full. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry,” Jesus promises. “Whoever comes to me will never be thirsty.” Can we learn to incarnate those words if we find gratitude difficult? I think we tend to underestimate the power of our inner voice prompted by God to change our thoughts, to shift our perceptions. What if we woke each morning, and said to ourselves – not, how shall I get ahead today? – but how shall I show how grateful I am for what I already have? What if we stopped asking ourselves: how can I justify my place in the world, but instead asked, how can I use the place where I stand to do real good? In our second lesson, we are given an elegant passage to remind us of what that would look like: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is commendable – if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think of these things.” The truth is, if we fill our thoughts in this way, we won’t have much room for anything else. We are, indeed, living off the Bread of God. Now, some might say, what is honorable and true for one person is not necessarily so for another. I would say they are wrong. We are individuals, that is true; our stories are unique, our beliefs may differ. But at the core, the Bread of God is what it is. It does not make up facts to suit bigotry or racism or homophobia or sexism. It does not argue for exclusion. It does not cozy up to those who would use their power over others. It does not fling around insults. And yet so much of the posture is fed by a lack of gratitude, a failure to be thankful, and a tendency to see what one lacks as something that has been stolen away by another person. We are all served the Bread of God. But if we cannot say thanks for that, we will not be filled by it. I have been sitting with people, listening to their stories, for 25 years. Stories of grief and regret, anger and envy, pride and success. And I can tell you, that in the end, the people who have been most content, who have seemed to shine with an inner light of peace, and who have been the most giving, the most loved by their families, are the ones who could so easily speak about the things that made them feel thankful. I sat with a man last Sunday night who was having a 9-hour surgery then next day for a very aggressive kind of cancer. He asked me to come the night before his surgery because he knew he needed the Bread of Life before he closed his eyes. He ended our visit with a thanksgiving for the gift of communion. I have sat with legions of people who expressed the same kind of gratitude living in situations that called for lament. Were they always that way? I doubt it. Did gratitude flow from them naturally? I don’t think so. They worked to see the better side of a situation, the good in a difficult loved one, and the bounty on every table. They were filled by the bread of life. In the end, on this Thanksgiving weekend, let us remember this lesson, the secret to happiness that Jesus offers to us this moment: Wake each day, and fall asleep each night, remembering what we are thankful for. Amen.
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