The Miracle of Gratitude

So, at our last confirmation class for the year I gave our confirmands a challenge. That challenge was to rewrite the Lord’s prayer in their own words. Now, I specifically asked them to make it as gen-alpha as possible. So, I take full responsibility for what you’re about to read, and I hope that you will have a sense of humor and an open mind about it.

“God in the crib above, your name is fire.
Your community is my community,
so let love happen now and later.
Give us our carbs and forgive us our fantom taxes
as we forgive our fantom taxers.
Lead us not into L’s, but into W’s,
for yours is the rizz, and the flex,
and the triumph forever. Amen.”

Now, if you didn’t understand any of that, that’s alright. Personally, I’m still not entirely sure what a fantom tax is, but nevertheless, I am grateful for having the opportunity to see God through the eyes of these 8th graders.

With each new generation, the Bible must be reinterpreted anew. It is read through new eyes, by people with new experiences, living in a world with access to new ideas, new art, and new stories. Each generation has new questions to ask of the Bible, new tools to use in its interpretation, new neighbors to reconcile themselves with, and new forces of evil and injustice to face in the world. Yet, despite all that change, this faith is the same as it has always been. It is the faith of human beings doing their best to find their place in the world; to understand why we’re here and what we’re meant to do; and trying to put words to the mystery and awe that all of us encounter.

It is the way of living things to change, to grow, and to reimagine ourselves and our world. The only time we stop changing is when we die. I am grateful that our faith is alive here, and that we can keep coming back to these ancient stories to find new meaning and relevancy for our lives. We are the living body of Christ. Our creator is still shaping each of us like clay in the potter’s hand. The Holy Spirit is wind and fire and divine inspiration. So, I am grateful for our youth’s perspectives. I’m grateful for the time I get to spend with them, and for what I can learn from their faith. I’m grateful for the parents and the mentors who supported our class work and our outings and explorations.

The verses we read today were Paul’s parting words to the Thessalonians, in a letter which he began by expressing his gratitude for them. He gave thanks for their hard work, and for their faith and love in the face of ongoing persecution and difficulty. The times they lived in were far from easy, and yet Paul was incredibly grateful for the people of faith he worked alongside of. It is from his gratitude for them that Paul instructs them. Be at peace among yourselves. Be patient. Do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances. Do not quench the Spirit. Hold fast to what is good.

Paul and his followers had plenty of hardships to face, and they did it without so many of the resources we have today, but one resource we do have in common is our gratitude. Though we may face challenges that seem impossible to overcome, and injustices that seem too deeply rooted for us to resist, the miracle of gratitude is in how it works like an antidote for the overwhelm of negativity and hopelessness. Gratitude can interrupt our negative thought patterns and help us to get unstuck and moving again.

When gratitude hits you, it can be like a wake-up call. Gratitude reminds us to be present to the joy that is right in front of us when we have become too busy, too jaded, or too stuck in the downward spiral of our feelings to notice the goodness of the present. Gratitude is not pretending that everything is okay when it isn’t. However, it is noticing what’s good in the world, despite the bad. Gratitude is a stronghold for our joy. Gratitude is a firm foundation for our hope. All that is wrong with the world, and with our lives, may threaten to swallow us up, but what is good can be our rescue rope. Hold fast to what is good and the people who are on the other end of that rope will be the ones who pull you out of the muck.

On hard days you may need to start small, being grateful for the breeze, the song on the radio, or the cat in your lap. But even when it’s for small things, gratitude is a kind of magic that can shake us, reminding us, heart, mind, and soul that there is more to life than the things that drag us down. I know from getting to know you all that there is so much goodness here, embodied in all ages. We are alive. We are growing together. We are seeking peace and helping each other. There is a lot to be grateful for.

Let gratitude be our guide. Gratitude for the people who think differently than us. Gratitude for the movement of the Spirit that is always challenging us through our neighbor. Gratitude for the empowerment of people as they rise, and find their voices, and claim their place among God’s people. Let the magic that is gratitude open us up and make space in our hearts for the gifts of the present, where God is the movement in our midst. The one who calls us each by name is faithful to us and will do even more than we could ever imagine through us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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