An Attitude of Gratitude

An Attitude of Gratitude
A sermon by Pastor Teddie McConnell for May 15, 2022
Psalm 148 starts and ends with “Praise the Lord” written in a different style like the covers of a book, which is why the bulletin has it in blue. By the end, the word “praise is repeated eleven times as a verb and once as a noun. The intent is to make praise literally universal. Analysis aside, Psalm 148 is a delight. It’s a wonderful list of everything in creation, both living and inanimate, praising the God who made them. It’s a huge celebration to which everyone and everything is invited. First those in heaven, then the animals, storms, and plants, and finally the people, starting with the ones who are the most likely to be full of themselves instead of God, the kings, rulers and princes. Nothing and no one is exempt, because we are all Gods’ creation, less than perfect, less than all-powerful, way less than the Almighty Great I-AM. Our purpose, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, is that we are created, ‘to glorify God and to enjoy God forever.’ Each of us is unique, designed by God to live and move and have our being in the service and love of God in our own way. God uses us, even when we don’t think we’re allowing it, despite our personal quirks and failings.
A minister once asked a child: “So your mother says your prayers for you each night. What does she say?” The youngster replied, “Thank God he’s in bed.”
If God is so powerful and great, some would ask, why are we told to praise God? Surely such an amazing being has no need for our worship and praise.
The key is in that last verse, which says, “He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him.” That means that God in turn protects, strengthens and praises us. God loves us, and knows that praise is good for us. Praising together helps us grow, connect and become a more cohesive community. Singing our praise is especially helpful. What a gift music is!
Praise reminds us of the incredible God we serve, one who is literally awesome. We can become jaded by the advertising we’re inundated with that praises the things we’re being sold. If we’re not careful, praise can lose its special meaning when it comes to worshiping the one true God. Praise points out that we are NOT the center of the universe – God is. It’s puts the focus on God, where it should be, and off of our ourselves and our performance.
Praise also helps us to notice with wonder the world around us, all the creatures and plants and minerals, an encyclopedia we can’t ever finish because the universe is so vast, and we are so small. According to NASA, we have better maps of the surface of Mars and the moon than we do the bottom of the ocean, because it’s much harder to access and study. God is creatively active in all of it, much more than we can ever understand. God is also working many transformations in us personally over the course of our lives. It’s reassuring to know that someone, somewhere, is not stupid.
On the other hand, when we neglect, misuse and pollute the earth, we risk the destruction of our home and its ability to praise the creator.
Praise becomes empty words if we fail to move into gratitude for what God has done. Theologian Catherine L. Kelsey said, “We resist gratitude in those moments in which we are unwilling to acknowledge our dependence on God. More commonly, we resist gratitude when we are unwilling to acknowledge our interdependence with the rest of the creation in which God has placed us.”
We don’t want to be reminded of how fragile our lives are or trust that God will sustain us. Our selfish sin nature wants to take credit for what God does for and through us. We like to think we’re strong and independent, right up until we need something which only God can supply, like unconditional love, deep healing, and protection. Gratitude makes us more aware of our dependence on God and on the rest of creation.
What about being grateful for the things that people have invented? Personally, I’m very grateful that God gave us the brains and the materials to make indoor plumbing, heating and air conditioning, and vehicles of all kinds, just to name a few. I find the periodic table of elements to be profound evidence that God made it all with a plan. The scientists who came up with it just recognized what God set up at the big bang.
There’s a passage in 1 Thessalonians 5 which reads: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” This is a verse where one word makes a huge difference to how you understand it. Give thanks IN all circumstances, not FOR all circumstances. God doesn’t want you to be thankful for the pain and suffering in life. No one would say, “Thank God I have a fatal illness,” for example. God wants us to remember what is good, what is true, what is lovely, even in the hardest of times. “Thank God I have family who love me.” Thank God I have a place to live, food to eat, and doctors to help me.” “Thank God I live in the USA, where I have freedom of speech and can’t be legally persecuted for talking about Jesus.” And most importantly, “Thank God for sending Christ Jesus to bring us forgiveness and eternal life.” An attitude of gratitude becomes the lens that let us see the good in our lives even when there isn’t much.
Corey ten Boom and her family were Christians living in Holland during World War II. They built hidden rooms in their house and helped many Jews escape the Nazis before a neighbor turned them in. Corey and her sister, Betsie, were sent to a concentration camp, were separated from their father and never saw him again. Corey hung a Bible on a string around her neck under her clothes before they left. As they entered the camp, everyone’s luggage was confiscated and everyone was searched – everyone except Corey, that is. Somehow, the guard skipped her. The sisters lived in barracks where they slept crowded with many other women on plain wooden platforms that were full of fleas. The conditions were horrendous. Betsie insisted that they pray and thank God in everything, including for the fleas. Corey drew the line at thanking God for the bugs. Then it dawned on her that the fleas kept the female guards out of the barracks so that they could hold regular Bible study and prayer meetings, which gave the prisoners courage. Betsie died in the camp, and Corey was released not long afterward. She lived to tell her story and inspired many people with books and lectures about what God did for them, even when it seemed hopeless.
Today’s passage from the book of Revelation predicts how the world will change when God revitalizes it. Even what is currently heaven will change at the end of the age. God will start by eliminating the evil that divides us. There will be no more villains to plot against us. The defunct sea John mentions is the sea of chaos from Genesis, home of the dragon that threatened to ruin God’s creation, and a physical barrier that divided people from each other. All barriers to relationships will be gone. All of creation will be radically renewed in Christ. The atonement brought by Jesus will extend outward from humanity over everything that exists. All will be restored to the way God intended it to be. The new heaven and new earth result from the transformation and healing of the old, not just God wiping out all that was before. As we sang during our first hymn, even death will be relieved of duty, no longer part of the natural order of things. God will wipe every tear from our eyes.
Heaven will be everywhere, because it’s the place where God lives in splendor, dwelling among us, all living in unity and harmony. There will be no need for a temple, because God is the temple. There will be no need for lamps, because God is the light. The setting John describes is a holy city, much different than a garden like Eden was during the first creation. A city is a place where everyone depends on each other and works together to make it run, rather like a church only much larger.
God is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. Both are good. It’s the middle where we live now that has problems. The New Jerusalem points us toward faithful discipleship in the present, not an empty hope that sits and waits. We can imagine and thank God for our joy in the future, even while we work in and wait to be released from the world as it is in present age, even when we are criticized or mocked for our beliefs. We’re called to walk by faith and not by sight. We don’t need to deny the disasters that befall the world and our personal lives. Our news is different than what is broadcast on tv and radio. Our story ends with a new beginning, not an ending. Christ is the center point of the story. This text gives us hope in desperate times of disease, war, poverty, and strife. These promises apply to everyone who has ever lived. Life with God is our destiny. Praise God for that. Thank God for that. And all God’s people said, Amen.

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