Monday, November 21, 2011

The Attitude of Gratitude

I had the privilege of giving the sermon at the United Methodist Church, Morgan's Chapel, in Bon Secour yesterday. They were celebrating United Methodist Women's Day. Here is the sermon I gave:

The Attitude of Gratitude

        Good morning. Thank you, Edith, for that introduction, and thank you all for having me here to give today’s message on this Sunday before Thanksgiving for United Methodist Women’s Day. 
Normally, in the past, when I have been privileged enough to be asked to give the Sunday sermon, I have always used the Gospel Lesson from the Lectionary. So when Judy first contacted me to see if I would be interested in giving today’s message, I looked up the Gospel Lesson. It’s about sheep and goats. 
A perfectly good parable on which to preach, but not very much in keeping with Thanksgiving; which is more of a turkey and stuffing kind of day rather than a sheep and goat kind of day. So when we spoke again I asked Judy if I should do the Gospel Lesson as I usually do or if you all wanted something different. After reassuring me that I could do whatever I wanted, she then said ‘or you can talk about women, or you can talk about Thanksgiving.’ How perfectly brilliant is that?
So, here I am – to talk about both. After all, who does most of the preparations for Thanksgiving Day? In most households, it’s the women. And it starts several weeks before the day, am I right, ladies?
First, we have to know how many people are going to be coming to eat. I’ve had anywhere from 13 to 20 people, and I am sure some of you have had even more than that. 
Once you know how many people are going to be eating, you have to figure out how big of a turkey to get – counting for leftovers, too, of course. But on the other hand, it has to fit in the oven.
Then, how many side dishes? Do you just make all the favorites again or try out something new that might become a tradition in the future? Are other people bringing a dish as well? And if so, do you dictate what dish they should bring, or do you just accept whatever they show up with and hope that it fits in with your menu?
Now, it’s time to set up a timeline. What dishes go in the oven at what time? What temperature? For how long? Can some things be made on the stove top, or in a crock pot, or made ahead and reheated in the microwave? And do I even have enough room in the refrigerator for all this food? 
Okay, now it’s on to the presentation. Is the table big enough? Do we have enough chairs? Who should we sit next to each other, and who should we keep far away from each other? Tablecloth. Napkins. Place mats. Place cards. Dishes. Silverware. Glasses. Candles. Centerpiece.  Serving dishes. Serving spoons. Carving knife and fork. Platter. Bread baskets. And on and on and on....
What?!? You men thought all of this just “magically” happened?
Then once everything has magically somehow come together and you sit down to eat, and grace has been said, and perhaps you have gone around the table for everyone to say one thing they are grateful for this year, then what happens? Yep. “Let the feeding frenzy begin!!!!” 
Ten minutes later, everyone slumps back in their chairs and moans “Oh, I am SO full.” 
Then they drag themselves away in a trytophan-induced stupor to veg out in front of the TV to watch football – through their eyelids.
And if you are lucky, someone may help you clean up. I used to be very resentful of this aftermath – especially if no one offered to help clean up. Here I had slaved away for hours... days... weeks... to make this beautiful feast and it’s wiped out in 15, 20 minutes, tops!
But as I began studying God’s word more and reading daily verses and devotionals, I realized that I was not looking at the situation properly. The Bible tells us that we should do all things as though we are doing them for God. 
In Colossians 3, verses 23 and 24, the apostle Paul says, “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Jesus Christ you are serving.”
1 Corinithians 10:31 reminds us, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
I needed to change my attitude from one of resentment to one of gratitude. I needed to become grateful that we could afford to buy all that food; that I have the ability to prepare the food in an appetizing manner; that I have enough dishes (probably too many if you ask my husband); and that we have family, friends, and loved ones with which to share our bounty.
I had become like Martha. You have probably heard stories about Mary and Martha who are the most familiar set of sisters in the Bible. According to the account given by Luke, Martha was head of the household as she was the one who welcomed Jesus into her home. Mary was probably younger. Like most sisters, these two women had conflicts which came about because of their different personalities, their different roles, and simply the fact that they were siblings.
Luke chapter 10, verses 38 through 42 tells the story: Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."
Jesus gently rebukes Martha for being "worried and distracted" by her many tasks and her resentment of Mary's behavior. Jesus tells her that she has lost her focus; she needs only one thing. And what is that one thing? Martha needs to focus on loving God and her neighbor as herself; to do this one thing is to “choose the better part” – to be a disciple of Jesus.
Like Martha, instead of being resentful that I was doing so much work for so little perceived “reward,” maybe I needed to learn to relax and enjoy the true meaning of Thanksgiving.
No, I am not going to give you a history lesson on Thanksgiving Day – I am sure we all heard that in grade school. I’m talking about the word itself – Thanksgiving – literally to “give thanks.” 
The word ‘thanks’ in its many forms, thankful, thanksgiving, etc., appears 139 times in the Bible. Many of the Psalms are psalms of thanksgiving.
Psalm 100 is such a psalm. In my NIV Bible it is subtitled “A psalm. For giving thanks.” and reads: Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. (See? I did manage to work sheep into it...) Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his court with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm 105:1-2 instructs us: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.
And Psalm 69:10: “Then I will praise God’s name with singing, and I will honor him with thanksgiving.”
Sacrifices of thanksgiving were given in Old Testament times. In Psalm 107: 2 we read, “Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.”
And Jonah, while still in the belly of the whale, finally coming around to heed God’s call to be his prophet, said “But I, with a song of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.” (Jonah 2:9)
The apostle Paul has been attributed with writing thirteen epistles to various early churches. And in all of them, he always gives words of thanksgiving, both for God and for the congregation.
Communion re-enacts perhaps the most memorable story of thanksgiving – the Last Supper where Jesus broke the bread and gave thanks, and raised the cup of wine and gave thanks.
Indeed, the Bible is full of many instances of giving thanks. And we should be full of thanksgiving as well – not just full of Thanksgiving turkey.
While it’s nice that a national holiday has been set aside, basically instructing us to give thanks – we, as believers and followers of Christ – should be giving thanks daily. “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
So, if any of you women have been like me in the past and felt resentful of all the work with little thanks – try the new approach of giving thanks for the opportunity to serve others as though you were serving Jesus. 
1 Peter 4:9 tells us, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
And if any of you men or children really didn’t know how much time and effort it takes to create this yearly feast, maybe you could take the time this year to be sure to say an extra “thank you” to those who prepared it. 
And THEN slip into your turkey coma.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, we want to thank you for your glorious goodness – not just on Thanksgiving Day – but every day, Lord. You give us so many blessings to be thankful for; they are beyond counting. Help us always to serve others with a thankful heart as though we were serving you. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

It was especially gratifying when an elderly gentleman who sings in the choir with me tapped me on the shoulder after the service and said "You gave me a whole new perspective, thank you." (I hope his wife gets an extra thank you this year!)

And a woman came up after the service when we were sitting waiting to eat Thanksgiving dinner and said "I have never been at a Sunday Service where the message was so totally directed at ME before!" She said she had 47 people coming for Thanksgiving! She said, "I just have to give  you a hug, and my husband will probably want to give you a hug too, because he has been listening to me complain about this all week!" She said that they were talking the night before about how much $ they had spent already (about $1,000) and she said "but, you are right, we should be thankful that we can buy all this food." 

It is always so heartening when God's words reach people through me. I am blessed to be able to bring his word to others. I have to admit it was slightly intimidating to preach at this church because there were probably about 90 people there. Not only was it UMW Day, but it was also their Thanksgiving Dinner Day, so the pews were full, and then some!

But, the current pastor said a prayer for me before I began, and I always say "for your glory, Lord" before I get up to speak. 

The past pastor, Tony, also came up to me afterward and told me what a good job I did and I thanked HIM because he was such an inspiration to me when I first began my Lay Speaker's training. I had told him how much I admired the way he preached and he said "I just tell the story," so that is what I try to do now. 

Lynn said a lot of people told him "you should be proud of your wife," and he is, which is also very gratifying. GOD IS GOOD! ALL THE TIME! I can do all things through Him who strengthens me!

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