Senior Warden's Report
By Ray Warren
"Just a thought, not a sermon"
Gratitude as a Biblical Imperative
My spouse and I got our first jab of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine last Sunday. It was a great relief. And, in a sense, a gift, because the initial appointment had been secured by a friend who is amazing at snagging very limited appointments on the Internet.
In our case, when an appointment was finally secured, we were overwhelmed with GRATITUDE. And we were taken aback about how our world view seemed to change just knowing it would happen.
Like each of you, we tried to carry on during the past year and thought we were doing OK mentally. But apparently, it is only when one can truly see a path to a different existence (something many are still waiting to experience) that the stress of preceding year becomes apparent. Sometime losing the weight of the world makes one a bit unsteady.
On reflection, the more I think about it, the more I realize that gratitude is an important emotion to nourish right now. And the more I think about it, the more I see clear Biblical imperatives to nurture and nourish a sense of gratitude in all things – and particularly in a time that, to many of us, seems like deliverance.
Gratitude is more than relief and happiness. Gratitude involves an acknowledgement that we have received a gift – more often than not, one which we did not earn on our own. It means internalizing the words to the hymn Amazing Grace on an ongoing basis. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound …”.
Writers of the Old Testament sometimes record the Creator as remonstrating with Israel to remember who delivered her from both bondage in Egypt and exile in Babylon. In other words [paraphrasing, of course], to “show a little gratitude.”
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one, a Samaritan (an outcast in Jewish society), came back to thank him. “Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well’.” Luke17:17-19.
Wow. Talk about being called out publicly.
If we think about it, gratitude underlies almost all we believe. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37.
But why are we commanded to love God first and foremost and our neighbor right after that? Maybe that too is related to gratitude.
Because gratitude arises from unearned grace and unearned kindness, it can foster a virtuous cycle. The more we focus on gratitude, the more we want to reciprocate – and the more good there is in the world to engender further gratitude. But when we forget our good fortune, or take it for granted, the circle is broken. Gratitude impels us to “pay it forward”. Lack of gratitude makes us mere consumers and not contributors to the common good.
God, who created us, knows what is good for us. Just as a parent wants a child to have fresh air, sunshine and a healthy diet, so God wants us to be part of the creative process for our own well-being – because it is good for us and good for the created order.
When my friend helped me and I secured an appointment I received a gift. I’m not sure how, but I will pay it forward. I know that the woman who helped me get an appointment, (a Jew – not even of my faith) presented me with a gift. There was no contract, but I feel the debt – not to her, but to the universe and to the Maker of the universe. “May the circle be unbroken” indeed.
Please join me between now and the Day of Pentecost on May 23 in focusing on gratitude. What good fortune and unearned grace have we received today? How much have we taken for granted? What can we do to pay it forward?
Maybe then we can circle back in late May and see the results. I’m guessing it might be an Easter season to remember.