"Living with gratitude" Sermon by Vicar Sarah Kretschmann
Read Psalm 34:1-8
What does it mean to live with gratitude?
Our psalm today is one of twelve psalms of thanksgiving in the bible. It is an acrostic hymn of gratitude, with each line beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The psalm begins,
1 I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
3 O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together.
The psalmist has recently passed through a time of deep distress and now invites their community to join in giving thanks for God’s saving power.
What was a time of fear and strife has been transformed into a joyful celebration of deliverance. Through this psalm and the psalmist’s invitation, we are able to see what it can look like to faithfully move from troubled to joyful times. This and other calls to praise God throughout scripture urge us to remember the importance of living with gratitude.
So what does gratitude look like in action?
One of my favorite authors and poets, David Whyte, describes gratitude this way:
" Gratitude is not a passive response to something given to us, gratitude is being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. Gratitude is not something that is shown after the event, it is the deep state of attention that shows we understand the gifted nature of life. Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life is that we are part of something, rather than nothing. Even if that something is temporarily pain or despair, we inhabit a living world, with real faces, real voices, laughter, the color blue, the green of the fields, the freshness of a cold wind, or the tawny hue of a winter landscape... Thankfulness finds its full measure in generosity of presence, both through participation and witness. We sit at the table part of every other person’s world while making our own world without will or effort, this is what is extraordinary and gifted, this is the essence of gratefulness. Thanksgiving happens when our sense of presence meets all other presences. Being unappreciative means we are simply not paying attention." (Consolations by David Whyte, https://davidwhyte.com/pages/consolations)
As many of you know, my current full-time call is with Lutheran World Relief. Founded by Lutherans in the United States at the end of World War II and grounded in Lutheran theology, Lutheran World Relief helps people throughout the world adapt to the challenges that threaten their livelihoods and well-being. As an organization, we provide aid in emergencies and help families restore their lives. We work to break the cycle of poverty, so families and communities can thrive.
One of my recent projects in my work was writing a devotional based on the stories of gratitude shared by our neighbors all over the world. One story of thanksgiving I wanted to share with you, which I think exemplifies the generosity of presence that David Whyte reflects upon, is the story of Elsa.
Elsa Marina Amaya was just a child when her entire village in Honduras was destroyed by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. The destruction was so complete that everyone carried their few remaining belongings across the river to rebuild the village on higher ground.
Today Elsa is 30, and she has three young daughters of her own — ages 9, 3 and 6 months. When back-to-back storms Eta and Iota swept through her village last fall, they brought a level of devastation that Elsa and her neighbors had hoped they'd never see again.
Even before the storms hit less than two weeks apart in November 2020, Elsa was struggling to make ends meet. In the past, she has provided for her family by working as a cook. But when COVID-19 reached Central America last spring, all the kitchens closed and her income dried up.
By the time Eta and Iota arrived, Elsa had been unable to find work for months so she could feed herself and her children. She was overwhelmed with fear. What future could they have?
But God had plans for Elsa. God ensured the storms of uncertainty, instability and destruction did not overwhelm her family. Elsa’s biggest needs were food, diapers, milk, medicine and vitamins for her children — the basics for their health and survival.
When all seemed lost and the storms' heavy rains completely wiped out the village's primary livelihoods, the hygiene supplies and emergency food packs Elsa and her neighbors received from Lutheran World Relief were the reminder that God is with them.
Elsa shared that she gives thanks to God that she and her family have enough food to nourish their bodies, supplies so that families can repair their homes and hygiene kits to stay safe from COVID-19 and other diseases.
Like the psalmist, Elsa experienced the power of God’s presence. When she weathered the waters of raging storms, God was with her. When she passed through the rivers of life, they did not sweep her away. God has delivered Elsa from her fears as does the same for all of us.
God is continually the Calmer of Storms, present with us even through the most difficult of times. In times of pain, weariness, anxiety or distress, God surrounds us with care, love and peace. The Psalmist reminds us today that when we cry out, God will deliver us from all our fears.
What storms have you been facing this season? How has God helped you through those challenges?
I am not going to give you homework, like our beloved Deacon Dorothy this morning, but I have some group work for you instead. It is a little different than what we usually do, but I think we’re up for it…Are you ready?
I invite you now to please turn to your neighbor and share your answers to these two questions:
What is a time when you called out to God, and your prayers were answered?
How do you share your gratitude with God for being with you through whatever storms you have faced in life?
We will take five minutes for this sharing time. At the end of those five minutes, I will invite you back for a closing prayer with the ringing of a bell.
Let us pray.
God of Love, You tend to the needs of your people, even the sighs of our hearts. Hear those who cry out to you in distress. Deliver us from every fear that we might bless your name always.
Nothing can separate us from your everlasting love. Draw us to you, O Lord, that we might not be lost in our grief or fear, but that we may find joy and gratitude in your goodness.
We give thanks for your power revealed to us in creation and for your presence in all things. Strengthen and renew us with your Spirit.