The Rev. Marj Funk-Pihl
Assistant to the Bishop for Congregational Mission
Director of Evangelical Mission
Rumi says: “Gratitude is the wine of the soul. Go On, Get Drunk!"
Despite Rumi’s advice, I suspect many of us would barely get tipsy on the amount of gratitude we have left in our souls. Individually we may manage moments of gratitude, but the cultural air we breathe is full of dissatisfaction. I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about – but I’ll list a few of the reasons for our discontent just for emphasis:
- COVID-19 brought so much loss; from the death of our loved ones, to the death of our former life with colleagues, friend and families, we are all grieving.
- The Racial Reckoning movement continually reveals how awful the experiences of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Color) are, and how defensive I and my fellow white people can be.
- And politics – well…let’s just not go there today.
So - yeah - Thanksgiving.
But maybe we don’t have this whole gratitude thing quite right.
The Gospel of John tells us that we have all received “grace upon grace” through the gifts of God in Christ which are “life and light” (John 1). Grace and Gratefulness both come from the Latin root “Gratis” which means “unmerited favor.” God’s gifts - life and light and grace - are given freely to all. Light is a gift of creation: of air, water, and all nature. Life is the gift of relationships: of family, friends, and all people.
I don’t know about you, but not many of those made it onto my list when I counted my blessings. If I’m honest, my list looks more like a record of the benefits of being white and middle class in the US today, than it does John’s “life, light, and grace.”
The first chapter of James goes even further when it says that “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the father of lights…” We don’t get credit for giving people a bit from our pile of wealth. Instead, when we give anyone anything – we are simply passing on the gift that God gives meant for everyone in the first place.
This is all countercultural. Our world teaches us that there are two kinds of people: the haves and the have nots; benefactors and beneficiaries: givers and takers; the fortunate and the less fortunate. The gifts of God are dispensed hierarchically, and nice people find it in their hearts to share some of what they have with those who do not have enough. But that is not what John and James tell us. That is not what will get us drunk.
Dissatisfaction encourages us to hoard privilege and give out of a sense of charity to help those we consider less than ourselves. Gratefulness helps us to see the shared humanity of all people and the divine value of all creation. We are all recipients – but some people don’t end up getting what God meant for them to receive –so we work to provide what is missing in care, in provision, and in justice. Gratefulness fills our souls, dissatisfaction doesn’t.
I see people living out of gratitude all over our synod. Because of the generosity of members across the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we were able to share funds to help forty congregations share God’s love with their neighbors devastated financially by the pandemic. I asked a few of them to make a short video about their ministries. Their testimonies show that these ministries are gratefulness in action.
“This is what we believe: that nobody should be hungry in this world.”
“We do this so that everybody can be blessed with all that they have coming to them.”
“We are an extension of God’s hands, God’s voice and God’s heart.”
“He thanked me for introducing him as a friend.”
No dissatisfaction here, just gratefulness for life, light and grace. Join Rumi and get drunk on gratitude. There are lots of reasons to be distraught this holiday season, but none of them can dim the light of Jesus and the gifts of life and grace we have all been given.