Holy Trinity Episcopal Church


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    Jan 27, 2019

    Third Sunday after the Epiphany

    Passage: Luke 4:14-21

    Preacher: The Rev. Sarah Carver

    Series: Year C: 2019-2020

    Category: Epiphany


    Mary Oliver, beloved poet who died last week, writes this:

    The place I want to get back to is where in the pinewoods in the moments between the darkness and first light two deer came walking down the hill and when they saw me they said to each other, okay, this one is okay, let’s see who she is and why she is sitting on the ground like that, so quiet, as if asleep, or in a dream, but, anyway, harmless; and so they came on their slender legs and gazed upon me not unlike the way I go out to the dunes and look and look and look into the faces of the flowers; and then one of them leaned forward and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life bring to me that could exceed that brief moment? For twenty years I have gone every day to the same woods, not waiting, exactly, just lingering. Such gifts, bestowed, can’t be repeated. If you want to talk about this come to visit. I live in the house near the corner, which I have named Gratitude.[1]

     Do you live in gratitude? Or is gratitude less of a house for you and more like a bus shelter? If you, like many, are not finding life to be a restful sit in the woods with friendly deer, than it may be that experiencing gratitude is also a struggle. Sometimes, gratitude may seem like the last thing you can muster in your emotional toolbox. As we emerge from a record setting government shut-down where people’s housing, food, safety and indeed lives having been in jeopardy, I can truly appreciate how gratitude can seem out of reach, or even, out of place. In anxious times, it is hard to be grateful.

    Gratitude has a lot of different facets to it, depending on its context. In her book, Grateful, Diana Butler-Bass explores these different expressions of gratitude as well as stressing how we might best understand and embrace it. Gratitude, she explains, comes from the word “gratia, meaning “favor, regard, pleasing quality, goodwill,” [which] is the Latin translation of the Greek word kharis. Kharis, she explains, was the name of one of the three goddesses, collectively called the Kharites, who bestowed the gifts of charity, beauty, joy, festivity, and song. The Kharites were indiscriminate givers and embodied gratitude and benevolence in the ancient world. Kharis, who also personified both giving and beauty, was sometimes conflated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love.  [2]

    Butler-Bass notes that this origin of gratitude shows us that gratitude is so much more than a social nicety, or an obligation, or mere sentiment that comes and goes like the wind. Rather, gratitude rests, as she says, somewhere in the heart, and she seems to almost imply that it is in that same location as love, and that while she reminds us that gratitude can have political, and economic usage, and can be seen as a purely transactional tool, she lands on the understanding it is best seen as a spiritual practice that is good for us and for our souls. This is deep gratitude.

     It is that deep gratitude that remains whether we find ourselves in dire straights or having the time of our lives. Butler Bass writes that this kind of gratitude is not attached to things, but rather, to being: “it is the ability, she writes, to embrace the gifts of who we are, that we are.” She quotes Henri Nouwen: “To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives—the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections—that requires hard spiritual work. Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to the present moment.”

    This, he concludes, is how we claim the “fullness of our beings as gifts of God to be grateful for.”

    As people who gather weekly to worship and partake in the Eucharist, we are a community of grateful disciples who practice this deep gratitude.  In our worship, we give thanks for the gifts of life and salvation that God in Christ has bestowed upon us. We give thanks for the gifts of this community as the Body of Christ, we give thanks for creation, for all that God has made. In the words of institution, before Jesus claims the bread and wine as his own body and blood, he first gives thanks to God. Our faith is framed by gratitude, our knees are bent in thankfulness.  We are not unlike the Jews in the Book of Nehemiah, who have returned from a long exile to their homeland, to their temple, and to their God. The Law is how one walked with God, and the Law was considered a gift from God. For all the people to hear the Law being read aloud and interpreted was a not just a moment of instruction, but a moment of reconnection with God, with one another and with everything that had been taken from them. The emotion is palpable in the reading: people wept as they heard the law, and they bowed down in worship when the book of Moses was opened. When all was finished they were admonished to celebrate the day, and to share their celebratory food with those who had none. Indeed this was a day of gratitude.

    As part of our faith, as a spiritual practice, as something that comes from our innate emotional make-up, gratitude is more than just a feeling but can be something that we choose to do every day. Let me suggest that that practice be two-fold: First gratitude is recognizing those gifts that we have been given--taking time to pause and bring to mind what we do have. Some days that is easy, some days the only thing we might have to be thankful for is that we are still breathing, but it is important to in some way name a gift that is ours. The second part of the practice of gratitude is then giving some kind of gift away. You see, gifts and gratitude go together. In its fullness, gratitude is not just about us getting good gifts, but giving them as well. When we are deeply grateful, we see abundance rather than scarcity, we can see that there is enough for all. And it is part of our worship. When we leave the table after we have received Jesus and experienced God’s grace here, we are sent out into the world to love and serve the Lord—to share what we know in here with those out there, that Jesus has “proclaimed release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” These are gifts meant for the world, and we who have them are meant to share them with abandon.

    Earlier last week on the internets, comedian and actor Patten Oswald was insulted by a random man online whose name was Michael Beatty. Mr. Beatty called Mr. Oswald a “sawed off little man” among other things. There’s that phenomenon in the social media world where people take it upon themselves to act out and go after others through comment sections, facebook…and we all know about Twitter. What usually happens in the end is that everyone ends up outraged which is exhausting and soul-sucking. I would dare argue that it is easier to be outraged these days than grateful. Fortunately, this story does not end that way. Rather than responding in kind or by blocking Mr. Beatty, Mr. Oswald looked back at his attacker’s posts and discovered that Mr. Beatty had been suffering from significant life-threatening health problems. In fact, he’d just spend two weeks in the hospital in a coma while he battled sepsis, AND he was also having to manage his diabetes. His bills were mounting up and life was tough. When he saw that, Mr. Oswald, who has a large online following, shared Mr. Beatty’s go fund me page and asked people to help out. Mr. Beatty was asking for 5000 dollars. As of the writing of the article, 13,000 had been raised, far exceeding his initial ask. A humbled Mr. Beatty responded saying: “Patton, You have humbled me to the point where I can barely compose my words. You have caused me to take pause and reflect on how harmful words from my mouth could result in such an outpouring. Thank you for this and I will pass this on to my cousin who needs help. A cascade.”[3]

    Both of these men know suffering. Patton Oswald lost his wife suddenly a few years ago, and Michael Beatty knows illness and poverty. Their exchange could have gone like so many do…increased hostility and continued suffering. But somewhere in all that compassion and gratitude won the day. And that is a choice each man made.

    Over the last few weeks we have been throwing these little blue boxes at you. They are United Thank Offering boxes. The work of the United Thank Offering is to engage in God’s mission in the world and it does that through encouraging people to take seriously the spiritual practice of gratitude. You see you take the box, and you give thanks for something…anything and then you place a coin in the box. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but remember how gratitude begets abundance. Your coins are gathered up with everyone else’s coins until this one little box of change becomes a million dollars. Your gratitude and gifts have joined with other’s gratitude and gifts and in all of that we here at Trinity have helped provide funds for an Anglican Center on the Camino Pilgrimage route, a refugee center in Rome, Italy, a community run business in one of our fellow Episcopal Diocese, Navajoland where they are making a number of natural products including the Shima soaps we are selling in our very own book store.

    Now gifts do not have to be physical items, they can be any good thing we give away. Perhaps they are gifts of kind words, encouragement, love, perhaps even just ourselves in being fully present to one another. As Butler-Bass writes, gratitude is connection. As our coins in blue boxes show us, we are connected to all of these far away places and people through our gratitude and all of us are being transformed through that gratitude as we give thanks for the life in Christ that we have been called into and for all the gifts that life imparts. Gratitude is a choice, it is a way to see the world, to see ourselves. May you see all the gifts that you have been given, may you see yourselves also as gifts. Amen.






    [1] https://thepoetryplace.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/the-place-i-want-to-get-back-to-by-mary-oliver/

    [2]  Bass, Diana Butler. Grateful (p. 12). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

    [3] Google it.