November 15, 2015 // CULTIVATE THANKFULNESS / Sara Wolbrecht / Colossians 3:12-17
So in the midst of watching the Hawks we had a homework assignment of sorts asking each other this question – What am I grateful for? What responses did you hear form others?
As you know, it’s the middle of the November and we are t-minus 11 days until Thanksgiving. This month, more than any other, is the month where people practice gratitude. And we see that in FB posts, and tweets, and photos on Instagram … Anyone here been doing some of that?
I know for me, I know being thankful is a good thing, but I also struggle a little sometimes because a little part of me that feels like it can be cheesy, insincere kind of thing, oh, what are you grateful for? Just look for the silver lining! And I just want to name that, because maybe like me, you have a hard time embracing that. But. Here’s the thing. Thankfulness is a game changer. Not only that, thankfulness is a life-saver.
There is science to prove it. In recent years there has been study after study about how our brains are affected by practicing gratitude. And what research reveals is that being thankful has the same affect on our brains as antidepressants, like Prozac. It changes our brain on a biological level, with a fabulous boost of goodness.
And even when we feel like we have nothing to be grateful for – let’s be honest we all have those times – it doesn’t matter if we can’t come up with anything. It’s not finding gratitude that matters most; it’s remembering to look in the first place. That affects our brains.
So to ask this question: what are you grateful for? is actually a really big, life-changing question to ask. Sciencey stuff proves it.
And also the Jesus-following life, the life of God, is a life that holds gratitude as a central piece of what life is about. I do love it when research actually supports the stuff of Christianity.
The Bible is packed with people practicing gratitude. And for us today, we’re going to take a small slice of life out of the book of Colossians. This is the apostle Paul writing to the folks, and this is some of his best stuff as he describes the kind of life we live together with others in and with Jesus – and how we ultimately clothe ourselves with love. Here it is (listen, it is not on the screen. And this is The Message translation, which is a fun way to hear it…):
12-14 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: (which is) compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
15-17 Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness.
(Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way).
Did you hear that last sentence? Three words: and cultivate thankfulness. Which is really just a two-word sentence: cultivate thankfulness. And I love the word cultivate here.
What present-day research also tells us about thankfulness is that it is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger and more resilient it becomes. To cultivate. And again, it changes our brains to make us healthier, happier, and more fulfilled. It’s central in science, and it is so central to this life of Jesus, that Paul names it as he encourages what life together in community can be like. Cultivate this kind of life.
And then live from THAT place – as we face a week like the week we’ve had. We are aching for so many heart-breaking things that have happened this week. The bombings and shooting in Paris. Earthquakes in Mexico and Japan. A funeral bombed in Baghdad. So may reasons to pray for our world – so many reasons to feel like we should disengage from our world. To run and hide. To feel helpless and hopeless. Scared.
And that is exactly what folks who engage in acts of terror want us to do. But the thing that we can do instead is rise up in response. The apostle Paul gives us the kind of response we’re called to – you see, Paul is writing to community that faced similar violence and fear – as well as all the typical human challenges of life together in community. And his word to them is this: start with love, clothe yourself in love and gratitude.
It’s not a: Hey, just focus on what you’re thankful for and don’t worry about all that bad stuff. It is: focus on what you’re thankful for, so you have the strength to get out there and show up for the suffering you see in your life. Do the slow, intentional work of being people of love and thankfulness because that fuels you to roll up your sleeves and kick serious butt for the sake of yourself and this world that is in need.
And so for us. Today. We’ve started to flex our gratitude muscles this evening a little bit. And I want us to spend the rest of the game doing that too. So, for the second half: keep thinking of the things you are grateful for. And write them down. As much or as little as you want to write. Have your gratitude commentary going on in your inner monologue, even as you cheer and shake fists at the screen. There is paper and pens at your tables for you to do this.
And then, as you feel comfortable, bring those things forward. We say it here at Salt House – there is power in naming things. Two weeks ago we stepped into our grief – naming all kinds of grief that we carry – and we courageously brought it to our Wailing Wall, a place where we name and witness to our grief and that of one another.
And today we name and witness gratitude, too – knowing that following Jesus is about holding the vast spectrum of emotion and experience together – we hold the good, beautiful things, alongside the hard, painful things. Because Jesus calls us to an authentic life – where yes, we give ourselves permission to feel ALL the things.
And I encourage you, as you head home today, to consider how to build a regimen of gratefulness into your day, your week. To strengthen those thankfulness muscles – to become, together, people who cultivate thankfulness.
Let’s pray – God, we thank you that your invitation to us is always to discover the best possible life we can live – and to do the courageous, authentic work of showing up and diving in, and letting ourselves be a continuing work in progress. Thank you, thank you, that you never call us to that work alone – but that we have each other, present in our grief, and present in our thankfulness. And we have You, at work in us and the world – which means there is always enough of what we need for today, and the next day.
We turn now to the Holy Communion, where we grab hold of bread and the cup that give us the physical reminders of how you give us what we need – and you meet us as we are, with grace, with love, with gratitude. May this meal ground us in gratitude, for the sake of our world. Amen.