Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
I’m a big fan of word pictures, or metaphorical language, so I’ve long enjoyed the language of the Psalms. And around this time of year my thoughts often turn to this particular Psalm of thanksgiving we’ve just heard this morning. Did you catch the wonderful imagery there? Rather than simply using words like sunrise and sunset, the poet says to God: “You make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy!” … Can you also see, in your minds’ eye, how many sheep it would take to “clothe the meadows with flocks?” Can you imagine valleys dressed up in grain? Can you picture overflowing wagon tracks and overflowing pastures, just bursting with nutritious food for God’s creatures? “God, you crown the year with your bounty.”
I’m grateful to Anné Wikstrom and Laurie Trettel for the beautiful display on our communion table today, giving that language of abundant harvest and overflowing bounty a visual expression.
We know there is a great deal of need in our world, including practical, material needs for people. Not everyone has access to the abundance we do, and that leaves us with plenty of work to do, doesn’t it? As individuals, as congregations, as cities and nations, we can’t neglect the importance of getting our act together in the sharing and distribution department!
But it’s also important to pause in our efforts now and then simply to notice what we have been given, and to give thanks.
There are all kinds of ways to remind ourselves to be grateful on a regular basis. Some households invite everyone to share at the end of the day, around the dinner table, something they are thankful for. Some people keep gratitude journals, or at least make sure to say a prayer of thanks as they get ready for bed each night.
I’m grateful to our once-and-future Children’s Ministry Director, Liina-Ly, for introducing me last year to a fantastic resource by Ann Voskamp that encourages me to count up 1000 different gifts for which I’m thankful over the course of a year. Each calendar date offers a few specific suggestions that have helped open my eyes to thinking about gratitude in new ways. For instance, one day she encourages the reader to watch for 3 gifts that are heard or overheard, another day for 3 gifts that are blue, other days for 3 gifts in writing or 3 gifts made of cloth or 3 gifts sitting in our kitchen. I confess I didn’t stick with this strategy all year long but it was enormously helpful when I did. Especially if I consulted the list first thing in the morning, so I was prepared for that day’s gratitude search, and then revisited the list in the evening as well. I’d start the day wondering - what might be the 3 gifts I’ll find over the course of the day today, that are picked up or put away? Where might I be surprised by 3 gifts in my work? In my family? Or where will I notice 3 gifts while driving in my car? It’s a valuable tool. To be fair, I didn’t resonate with every single suggestion on Voskamp’s list, but it was easy enough to adapt here and there in ways that spoke to my own heart. I’ve just pulled it out again to keep those kinds of suggestions front and center.
Because I don’t know about you, but I don’t need any more reminders of what’s wrong with the world. Those seem to come at us with relentless frequency. But I can definitely benefit from reminders to notice what is right in the world. I want to be sure I don’t forget the advice Paul gives in Philippians: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8) It’s important to note that Paul didn’t have his head in the clouds when he wrote those words. He was actually writing from a prison cell! But even there, especially there, he looked for ways to give thanks. So even when the world is in as much chaos as it clearly is right now, and perhaps especially at such times, we too can look around for reminders to give thanks.
I’m indebted to my sister for finding a beautiful gratitude reminder in the form of this music video we’re going to share with you here in a minute, and I’m grateful to Pete Smith for helping me show it to you today. In this case it’s a resource that’s not specifically Christian – you’ll see interfaith elements as you watch – but I find I’m really grateful for that too. In such divisive times, when it’s far too easy to see one another as “us” vs. “them,” I find myself longing for reminders like this of all we share in common, as members of one human family. You’ll see some lovely hand gestures along the way, as these folks enact their gratitude – hands patted on heads in a kind of universal sign of blessing, sign language thank you’s, joyful dancing, and arms raised to the heavens.
The way I see it, Thanksgiving may be a national holiday rather than a liturgical one, but it certainly provides us in the church with helpful reminders to give thanks to God. So too can tools like this, not made specifically for Christians, offer valuable reminders to us here in this room, to give thanks where thanks is due. Let’s watch it together now.
The gift to realize that everything is a gift…
We offered you a small gift in your bulletin this morning, in the form of these cards with the word “Grateful” on them. They’re meant to call to mind for you that final scene in the video, with the lovely woman hanging the word “Grateful” on her tree of thanks.
My hope is each one of you will take your “Grateful” card with you today and put it somewhere you’ll see it regularly. It could be used as a bookmark, or it could sit on your dresser. It could be tucked into the corner of a mirror, or taped to your front door. It could live in your wallet or your briefcase or your car, on your desk or on your dining room table. It could even migrate over time from place to place. Put it, or bring it with you, anywhere you feel you could use a reminder to be grateful. Anywhere you might not otherwise remember God’s bounty. Anywhere you might be tempted to forget what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.
So much of life truly is, as the song says … “A blessing. It’s so amazing.” Let’s be “thankful for it all. For it all.”