Sermon: A Call to the Grateful Way

This is the final installment of a series on developing an ethic of gratitude. As with the others in this series, this sermon is based on the book Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks by Diana Butler Bass. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from that book.

I will begin tonight with a quote from the 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic Rumi: “Gratitude is the wine of the soul. Go on. Get drunk!” This quote seems a fitting end to our discussion these past weeks about how we can adopt a sense and a culture of gratitude.

We have spent time meditating and praying, learning and listening about gratitude both on a personal level and on a corporate or communal level. We live in a world today where anger and division is the way. Politics, and to some extent religion, has caused deep divides in our country, in our churches, and in our families.  So many relationships have been broken or estranged because of what is happening in the world, fear and anger are dangerous to our souls, but gratitude is good for us on a physical as well as a spiritual level.

There are plenty of reasons to not be thankful, but for us to change how all of the negativity in the world affects us, we need to adopt a culture and an ethic of gratitude. Some days all we can do is be grateful that we are alive and that we get to see another day because gratitude, like interest, compounds and the more we are grateful, the better off we will be.

In the final chapter of Grateful, that we have been reading together this summer, author Dina Butler Bass writes about how she slowly began to feel more rested and more resilient after she started to feel grateful for just being alive. She writes, “Gratitude is not a form of passive acceptance or complicity. Rather, it is the capacity to stare doubt, loss, chaos, and despair right in the eye and say, ‘I am still here.'”

We just cannot let the world get us down, we have to rise above all that is swirling around us and find the little things to be grateful for, like being alive, and slowly, over time, our worldview will change, and all will be right with the world again.

Bass continues, “Gratitude is defiance of sorts, the defiance of kindness in the face of anger, of connection in the face of division, and of hope in the face of fear. Gratefulness does not acquiesce to evil – it resists evil.” It means standing up for something even if it requires sacrificing everything. As Christians, we are called to be part of participants in the resistance of evil in all walks of life, and we face evil and hatred not with more evil and more hate, but love and gratitude.

In the latter part of 1989, during a speech by the Romanian Dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, the crowd assembled outside the government building in Bucharest started to chant anti-government slogans like “bring down the dictator.” They were reacting to events that had taken place a few nights before when people gathered in peaceful protest outside of the cathedral church, Timișoara had been gunned down by the military and local police. The people had had enough and took to the streets to bring down evil.

One of the most poignant scenes from those days of fighting was when a group of women walked into the street, face to face with the armed military, and placed flowers in the barrels of the rifles they were carrying. These women risked their lives to make a change in their world, and it worked. Not long after those flowers were placed, the military started to come to the side of the revolutionaries, and the tide shifted.  I am certainly not calling us to armed rebellion instead we are to be the ones putting the flowers in the barrel of the rifles. As Christians we are to offer an alternative way to violence and oppression, we are to provide the way for love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

“Gratitude strengthens our character and our moral resolve, giving each of us the possibility of living peaceably and justly. It untwists knotted hearts, waking us to a new sense of who we are as individuals and in Community. Being thankful is the very essence of what it means to be alive, and to know that life abundantly.”

Gratitude empowers us.

Gratitude makes joy possible.

Gratitude makes all things new.

In the words of Robert Emmons from his book The Little Book of Gratitude;

“Gratitude amplifies goodness, rescues us from negative emotions, and connects us to others in meaningful ways.”

Every day there are hundreds if not thousands of reasons to not be grateful and to not practice gratitude. We all have pain in our lives as individuals and as a community and for those things we cannot be grateful.  Gratitude never calls us to give thanks for anything that is evil or unjust in the world, for violence, lying, oppression, or suffering. Do not be grateful for these things.

“Gratefulness grounds our lives in the world and with others, always locating the gifts and graces that accompany our way. Gratitude is an emotion. Gratitude is an ethical way of life. It is a disposition, an awareness, a set of habits. However, ultimately, gratitude is a place – perhaps the place – where we find our trusted and best selves.