Saturday, December 7, 2019

Advent 2A_2019

Advent 2A_2019 December 8, 2019 In a sermon I gave several months ago, I shared a story with y’all about a plant someone had given me—a bromeliad, to be exact. Do y’all remember this? It came in this little glass container, and I watered it sporadically until one day, I picked it up to water it, and to my horror, the whole top of the plant came off in my hand! (I am accustomed to killing plants, although since coming here, I’ve managed to “turn over a new leaf,.” But this was a new low, even for me!) After church and my show and tell during the sermon with my poor bromeliad, our resident plant doctor, Selina, offered to take it to her plant hospital and to try to coax it back to life. Several weeks later, she broke the news to me gently—the bromeliad was beyond any saving. Her diagnosis was that the container it had been planted in had actually killed it. It was too small, too contained, without enough air or drainage. She kindly brought me a new plant that requires very little attention or water to keep it alive and some specific handwritten instructions to assist me. Time passed, and one day Selina found me after church and said, “You’re not going to believe this! I dumped the dirt out of your old bromeliad into my yard, and now, there’s a bromeliad growing there! I’ve put it in a pot and will bring it to you next week!” The reading from Isaiah for today begins with the words, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,/ and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” The passage goes on to talk about the peaceable kingdom that will be ushered in by God through this new kind of king. It’s all about Israel’s future hope: what it means to hope even when the future seems uncertain. And it is all about the connections between justice and peace. Because at this point in Israel’s history, things are really bad. The once united kingdom has been divided into two; the king of the southern kingdom has sold out the northern kingdom to their mutual enemies, and the northern kingdom has fallen. The people in the southern kingdom, including Isaiah, know that it’s only a matter of time until they, too, are conqured. So they long for a new kind of king who will hold justice and peace together, a king who will be God’s agent in ushering in the peaceable kingdom where enemies, predators and prey will all lie down together and be at peace. For Isaiah, he is looking at something that seems dead or dying, and he is hoping that new life will yet spring up from it. This is not an unfounded hope. It is, in fact, the hope of our calling as Christians. It can be true for society, and it can be true for own lives as well. As another writer puts it, “According to Isaiah, the transformation from a culture of fear to a world at peace begins with a stump. Out of something that appears finished, lifeless, left-behind, comes the sign of new life—a green sprig. This is how hope gets its start-it emerges as a tiny tendril in an unexpected place.”i Much like my now resurrected bromeliad-which went from being a pile of dirt in Selina’s yard to a newly re-potted plant in my office (where plants go to die!). I became curious about this bromeliad resurrection, so I’ve been doing some research. Apparently, there is a saying in the northern counties of England where something is described as being “wick.” This basically means that it is alive or lively. In the classic book The Secret Garden, Dickon teaches Mary how to determine if something is “wick”—meaning that it looks to be dead on the outside, but then when you prune it or cut deeper, you can see that there is still life and growth there. (There’s even a whole song about this in the musical version of The Secret Garden). “Bear fruit worthy of repentance” John the Baptist tells his listeners. What if, for us, that involved reflection during Advent about what containers our lives may have outgrown that may be slowly killing us? What if it meant a closer examination of the stumps of our lives—those places that appear to be dead—to look for possible signs of new life there? What if it meant examining our old, dead dreams and seeing them in the light of God’s hope, looking for ways that God may be resurrecting them, recreating them, to help us become agents of God’s peace and justice in this world that desperately needs signs of hope and new life? What if it means looking for signs that something is wick when it appears to be lifeless, dead, useless? Your invitation this week is to look for shoots that grow out of stumps, things that you once thought were dead which may exhibit signs of life. iFrom Feasting of the Word for the Isaiah passage for this week. I don’t have the book with me to cite author and page. Sorry!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Last Sun after Pentecost-Christ the King Proper 29C

Last Sunday after Pentecost/Christ the King-Proper 29C November 24, 2019 Today is the last Sunday after Pentecost, the last Sunday in our season of ordinary time, and the last Sunday of the church year. In our church, this Sunday is designed to lift up the theme of Christ as King or the Reign of Christ, and then we move next Sunday into a whole new church year and into the season of Advent with its themes of waiting and hope, of expectation and longing. So what does it mean to say that Christ is King on this day? Our readings give us three depictions of kingship that are startling in their differences. For Jeremiah, a true king is one who is responsible for the people and should not allow them to be scattered through ruin and disaster. True kingship is the promise of one who will not only gather up those who are scattered but he will also fulfill the kingly task of bringing all people together and being present with all people. In the hymn to Christ, the writer of Colossians gives us a poetic smattering of images of Christ’s kingship: his glorious power, his inheritance of light, the image of the invisible God, first born of all creation; “he is before all things and in him all things hold together;” in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him God reconciled all things to God. It is a high and lofty expression of what it means to see Christ as King as compared to the humble shepherd depicted in Jeremiah, except that both images of king involve bringing people together in and through God. Then suddenly we find ourselves right in the middle of Jesus’s crucifixion from Luke’s gospel, and we see Jesus being mocked by his tormentors and ridiculed in his kingship. We witness his humiliation, and his sublime power as he forgives again and again and again. From the cross he forgives those who crucified him; those who stood by and watched; those who betrayed him; those who mocked him; those who failed him. “Father forgive them [all] for they don’t know what they are doing.” And we see him honor the thief’s request and his confession of faith as he grants him a place in his kingdom. So how do these three different pictures of Christ’s kingship come together to inform us and help us in our relationship with God? My husband used to like to share a quote that I never knew where it came from. I recently learned that the original quote is from a Religious News Journalist named Cathleen Falsani. The quote is “Justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. And grace is getting what you absolutely don't deserve. ...... benign good will. unprovoked compassion. the unearnable gift” (read it a 2nd time) The Franciscan priest Richard Rohr writes about this topic in his meditation for today, where he talked about the difference between our economy—capitalism, where everything we have is earned—and God’s economy, where nothing that we have is earned; everything that we have is, instead, a free gift from God.i Jesus Christ’s kingship is characterized by mercy, by forgiveness, by 2nd chances. It is in and through mercy that he gathers up all us wayward sheep and restores us together in and through God. As another writer put it, Jesus is the “king of second chances.” Think about something that you would like to have a second chance for. The mercy of Jesus, the kingship of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus means that there will always be room for a 2nd chance in the Kingdom of God. And it means that as citizens of that kingdom, we must also practice mercy and forgiveness. Think of someone you know who may not deserve your mercy, your forgiveness, and think about how, as a citizen of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of mercy and reconciliation, you might begin to offer it. Your invitation this week is two-fold. First, it is to be mindful that you dwell in the realm of Christ the King, where nothing is earned and all is freely given. Second, it is to look for opportunities to both ask for and offer second chances to those whom you find yourself cross-wise with. i.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

23rd Sun after Pentecost-Proper 28C

23rd Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 28C November 17, 2019 Behold, I am doing a new thing, says the Lord God to Israel. Israel, who has been taken into captivity for generations in Babylon, is now being delivered back to their home land, the land promised to their father Abraham and his subsequent generations. They have faced heartbreak and what must have seemed like the end of the world, and God is assuring them that God is doing a new thing for them. Our readings for today are a reminder to us that it is always God who is doing the new thing, even when it is tempting to think that we are the ones doing the new thing. It is God who does the new thing, and God will do it, sometimes with or without us, but what our readings drive home for us today is that always, no matter what, our job is to show up and to try to be faithful. “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right,” the writer of 2nd Thessalonians exhorts the discouraged community, the community who has expected Jesus’ return and who has been frustrated in that expectation. And who has seen strife in the community as a result of that. And Luke’s Jesus warns his disciples that it’s going to feel like the end of the world for them; they’re going to be persecuted; the temple will be destroyed. And still, they are supposed to show up and be faithful: “By your endurance you will gain your souls” he tells them. I have found in my own life of faith that it is so much easier to show up and continue to be faithful when God’s new creation is clear and evident—like it seems now for us here at St. Thomas. Our pledges are up; we’ve got great energy, are connecting new people to the good news of Jesus Christ through this community, and we are doing interesting, creative ministry together. Life is good here and it is easy for me to see God’s new creation at work in and among us. But there have been times in my life of faith when it has felt like the end of the world, when just showing up and being faithful seems to be more than I have left in me to give. And those are the times when it is most important, to continue to be faithful to the tradition that we have received from the apostles, to join together in prayer and in worship, breaking bread together—showing up and being faithful. Because often, in those darkest times, in our fear and our discouragement and in our heartbreak, it is through our showing up and being faithful that God reveals to us the new thing that God is already at work and doing in our lives, in our churches, in our diocese, in the world. I am just back from the 198th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia where, among other things, we elected Frank Logue as the 11th bishop of Georgia on the first ballot. Truly God is doing a new thing in the diocese of Georgia as Scott Benhase’s episcopate moves toward an end and Frank’s is beginning. But it is important for all of us to remember that it is God who is doing the new thing, not any of us-from the bishop on down to the people in the pews (and all of us in between). And it is also important to remember that we are called to show up and to be faithful, to not grow weary in doing what is right. I was especially reminded of this truth by the youth of our diocese who wrote prayers for our morning worship this morning. These prayers are all about what it means for each of us to be faithful, and I’ll share them with you in closing, even as I plan to pray them in the coming days. A Prayer in Thanksgiving for Bishop Scott A. Benhase, 10th Bishop of Georgia We thank you God for Bishop Benhase and the many wonderful ways he has served you through the Diocese of Georgia. Bless him as he gets ready for his retirement, with overwhelming joy and great love. May Bishop Benhase know that the impact he has had on the Diocese of Georgia will always be appreciated and honored. We ask that you bless Bishop Benhase with happiness and health for him and his family. May he continue to serve you and show your love through his actions, words, and way of life. Amen. A Prayer for Bishop-Elect Frank Logue, elected to become the 11th Bishop of Georgia Please help our Bishop-Elect, Frank Logue, as he embarks on this new journey that you have set for him. Help his wife, Victoria, and their daughter Griffin adjust to this change. Help him to continue to lead our diocese in your way. Keep Frank safe as he travels from church to church. Help keep him strong in his faith during this transition and keep him in your eye. Amen. A Prayer for the Diocese of Georgia in this Time of Transition Watch over our diocese as we adjust to our new bishop. We pray that our hearts may be open to his new way of leadership. May we not be hasty to criticize his new ways. May we show our Bishop support and offer our work and our guidance that there may be a smooth transition for him and for our whole Diocese. Amen. A Prayer for Our Communities during this Transition This time may be challenging for us and our communities, and so we pray for those communities, asking you to ensure a positive future for us all. We pray that this change does not get the better of us, and that our communities remain intact. We pray that our congregations will remain faithful and free from the sin of resentment. Above all, Lord, we pray that good will come out of this change and that our communities will be blessed with new ideas and ways to bring a positive difference in our world. Lord, we pray that we will all remain good stewards in your name. Amen.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Sunday after All Saints' 2019

Sunday after All Saints’ Year C November 3, 2019 Years ago, I attended a Stewardship Summit where the speaker asked us a question. He asked us to think about the first memory that we each had about money. He gave us time to think about that, and then we talked about it in table discussions. Think about it for a second. What is the first memory you have about money? Then, after we talked about that, he asked us to think about how that first memory of money is connected to how we understand God? It’s a strange concept, right? What on earth does our first memory of money have to do with our understanding of God? My first memory of money is one that came easily to my mind that first time I heard this question. I was a young child, maybe 5 or 6? and I had started taking piano lessons, but my family did not have a piano. One day, I remember my paternal grandfather, who was a Methodist minister we called “Pop,” telling me that he was going to start saving the quarters from his pocket change every day to help me buy a piano. And not long after that, Pop took me on a little trip. He and I went to the Citizens’ Bank in Columbia, Mississippi, where he lived, and he opened a bank account with his collected quarters, with both of our names on the account. I was given this little blue bank book which he would write all the deposits in, until, one day, we had saved enough to buy me a piano. When I grew older, I never thought to ask my grandfather why he did that—helping me buy a piano and putting my name on the account with his, even though I didn’t contribute a single quarter (although I do remember finding quarters in their house and bringing them to him and telling him I’d found another for our bank account). But I suspect that for him, there were similar themes that we will hear when Bobby Minis speaks in a few moments: the ribbons of gratitude and generosity and love woven throughout. And what this story says about my understanding of God is that God’s love is so abundant and so overflowing that it is God’s very nature to need to give. And God gives joyfully, thankfully, and God invites us to be full partners in giving as well. We, who are created in the image and likeness of God, need to give. Nothing that we have is really ours, but God gives us a full and equal share—the inheritance of the saints (as the writer to the letter to the Ephesians calls it), and we are not truly fulfilled until we also, in turn, give. One of the things that I discovered that day at the stewardship summit was that I was not unique in having a story that involved a family member or loved one or fellow church member in my first memory of money. Everyone who shared around our table learned something from someone else about money and this informed their understanding of God. Today, we celebrate the feast of All Saints’, one of the 7 major feasts in the life of our church. It’s a time when we give thanks for all those who, (as one of our Wednesday service participants put it), “have held our hands along the way”. These are the folks who have lived lives of faithfulness, and whose faith has shaped ours, even if we have not personally known them. And even though they have passed beyond the veil of this life, they are still with us, and we are all connected and united together in the body of Christ, invited by God to be full participants in that life, even though we have earned none of it. The inheritance of the saints includes them and it includes us, even now. This week, I invite you to ponder a number of things. Think about your first memory of money and what that says about your understanding of God. Think about what saints in your life had a hand in teaching you those things. What have the saints in your life taught you about God? About gratitude? About generosity? And then, as we all prepare for our Consecration Sunday commitment next Sunday, where we will gather in worship and turn in our commitment cards for the year and then break bread together at God’s altar and at table for lunch together, think about how you have been created by God to give, and how it is a practice of faithful discipleship of Jesus for us to be intentional in our giving, paying attention to what percentage of our income we give and giving to God through the church of the first fruits of our life and not merely what is left over. In just a minute, you will each be invited forward to light a candle. That candle can represent the one who first taught you about money, about God. It can represent other saints who have held your hand along the way. As you light the candle, think of at least one saint for whom you are grateful, whose life has shown a light in your life and faith, and know, as you light the candle, that you participate in the inheritance of the saints, even now, as your life shines for the light of God’s abundant generosity.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

20th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 25C

20th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 25C October 27, 2019 It feels to me that it has been a season of comparisons. We are fresh off the walkabout for the next bishop of this diocese, where we heard each of the 5 candidates answer questions. We also have election day coming up soon, so some of us are comparing candidates to determine who we want to vote for. And then we have this next parable in Luke’s gospel, where Jesus tells a story of a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee is doing all good things, actually doing more than he is supposed to be doing (fasting twice a week when he only has to fast once a week and giving 10% of his income), but when he lifts all that up before God, compares himself to the tax collector he sees praying in the temple near him; and the tax collector, who is quite a scoundrel, but who is aware of his sinfulness, prays for forgiveness from God. Amy-Jill Levine tells us that this parable would have been unexpected for Jesus’s original hearers because they would have expected to hear the story of a saint who was revealed to be a sinner and a sinner who was revealed to be a saint, and this does not happen. The other thing A-J Levine says about this parable that struck me is that the context of the Jewish community in this parable is actually like those horrible middle school group projects—you know, when you have one of two strong students grouped together with some not as strong or diligent students, and the more diligent students end up carrying the group. She says that righteousness in a community can be accomplished by a handful of righteous people, with the unrighteous being brought along with them. Or the converse is also true: that a handful of unrighteous people in a community can tip the balance for the whole community toward unrighteousness. And interestingly enough, this parable falls in our lectionary on this week—week two in our Consecration Sunday Stewardship program, where Jamie McCurry is going to get up here in a minute and take us through the big picture of giving in this parish and invite us to see where we fall in comparison to that. So the question I have been wrestling with is “Can there be any grace in comparison?” And here’s what I’ve come up with: that comparison just for the sake of comparison or trying to make ourselves feel better at the expense of others is what Jesus is condemning in the Pharisee of the parable. But there are ways that we can examine ourselves within the context of the community through which we can become more self-aware, and that increased self-awareness will bear all sorts of different fruit. I’ve started reading a book about the Enneagram; the Enneagram is theory which says that there are 9 different personality types and when we learn about the gifts and challenges of our particular type, then that can enrich one’s self-awareness and relationship with God through greater spiritual development. In this book titled The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron (an Episcopal priest) and Suzanne Stabile (a long-time teacher of the Enneagram), I read two different quotes that get at the heart of this that I’ll share with you today. The first is “To know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against Truth, and not the other way around. The first product of self-knowledge is humility.”i (I’ll read that again.) That’s from Flannery O’Connor. The second is a quote from the monk Thomas Merton: “Sooner or later we must distinguish between what we are not and what we are. We must accept the fact that we are not what we would like to be. We must cast off our false, exterior self like the cheap and showy garment it is…We must find our real self, in all its elemental poverty, but also in its great and very simple dignity: created to be the child of God, and capable of loving with something of God’s own sincerity and his unselfishness.”ii So, this morning, we are going to do an exercise where we will measure ourselves against Truth and not the other way around, not for the sake of comparison but for the sake of self-awareness which will help us deepen in our relationship with the God who knows us and loves us. [Jamie McCurry] Your invitation this week is to spend time in prayer reflecting on your need to give, what you are currently giving and how you feel about that, and what a change in giving might look like in your life and in the life of your family. “To know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against Truth, and not the other way around. The first product of self-knowledge is humility.” Cron, Ian Morgan and Suzanne Stabile. The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery. IVP Books: Downers Grove: 2016, p 17. Ibid. p 18

Thursday, October 17, 2019

19th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 24C

19th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 24C October 20, 2019 I was a brand-new, baby priest, and I was sitting in my annual appointment with the bishop, a time that I later began calling my “well-baby check-up.” We had dispensed with the small talk, and he sat there with his blank yellow legal pad, and his face kindly, he asked me, “So, how’s your prayer life?” I remember thinking, “Wait, I didn’t know this question would be on the test!” Every year I would go back and I would squirm uncomfortably, knowing the inevitable question was coming, and not knowing how to answer it. “So, how’s you prayer life?” “Fine?” “It could be better?” “I have two small children and scarcely the opportunity to go to the bathroom by myself, so I think it’s safe to say it’s almost non-existent.” Year after year, I would sit in his office, and he would persistently ask me that same question, “so, how’s your prayer life?” And I found that over the years, my understanding of prayer shifted, and I began to look forward to that question, to see what surprises my answer might reveal to myself in any given year. Our passage from Luke’s gospel today is yet another parable. In this reading, the writer of Luke sets the stage saying, “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” Starts off good enough. But then the actual parable is a very short story about two people with very ambiguous motives. There is a widow who continues to nag a judge to “grant [her] justice against her opponent.” (We learned in our study of this parable this past week that the word translated for justice can also be translated as “vengeance.” It kind of changes how you look at this poor, helpless widow who is demanding of the judge that he grant her vengeance against her opponent.) And then there is the judge himself, who is a strange mix of self-interested and self-aware. He continues to refuse the widow’s request until finally he says to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" (The Greek word that is translated here as “wear me out” is actually a boxing term which literally means “give me a black eye,” perhaps showing some quirky humor on Jesus’ part.) Then the passage picks back up again with Luke’s commentary, which further complicates this short, quirky and morally ambiguous parable by bringing in issues not just of prayer but of justice and of faith. Are we supposed to understand that a part of faith includes tenacious, almost nagging prayer? That through our persistence we can affect God, change God’s mind, and that this is what we are to aspire to? So, how’s your prayer life? Years ago, I got to hear the newly retired Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold speak, and his words did more for me and my understanding of prayer than anything else I have ever encountered. He quoted Paul in Romans 8:26-27: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” And then Bishop Griswold went on to say of this that the Spirit is always at work, praying within us, below our consciousness. He said our very urge to pray comes when this ongoing prayer of the Spirit within us bubbles up, like a well-spring of life-giving water, into our consciousness, encouraging us, then to pray, to be in relationship with God.i So, how’s your prayer life? What I found was that the bishop’s annual question invited me to pay more attention to the ways that prayer was already bubbling up in me, to pay attention to the times when I actually paid attention to the Spirit’s prayers at work within me. Another way of considering this in light of this gospel passage is to ask myself, “am I giving as much attention to the Holy Spirit’s prayer that is already at work within me as I would to a grievance I wanted righted or vengeance that I sought?” Prayer is about creating time and space for listening. It is already happening, already at work deep within you. You do not have to do anything but pay attention and to be aware that this ongoing prayer often reveals itself in unexpected ways. In that same season of my life, I read a book titled Natural Spirituality by a woman named Joyce Rockwood Hudson. (She’s an Episcopalian who founded the Natural Spirituality Center in Athens, GA.) In this book, she writes about the different ways that the Holy Spirit tries to get our attention in this work of her ongoing prayer within us. Hudson writes about how sometimes when a song is stuck in our head, that can actually be a way the Spirit is trying to get our attention. Right after I read this, I was working in the church office and in a horrible mood, and suddenly I realized that I had the song, “The itsy-bitsy spider” stuck in my head. I became curious as to what on earth the Holy Spirit might be trying to get me to pay attention to with that particular song, and as I reviewed my morning, I remembered that MM and I had been singing that song with new and creative lyrics and motions as I had been driving her to pre-school that day. That memory transported me back to an earlier part of my day where I was fully present and taking pure delight in what I was doing in that moment, and it helped me get out of my funk and get back on the track of being attentive to the workings of God in my life and in the world around me. So, how’s your prayer life? Your invitation this week is to consider this question; to examine the ways that you make space in your life to listen to the prayer that is already being prayed in your soul by the Holy Spirit. Pay attention to what songs are stuck in your head this week, both literally and figuratively, and follow the path to return your attention to the workings of God in your life and in the world around you. i. From my sermon preached at Mediator-Redeemer, McComb-Magnolia on the 21st Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24C) on October 21, 2007

Sunday, October 13, 2019

18th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 23C

18th Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 23C-2019 October 13, 2019 I don’t think I tell y’all enough how grateful I am for you. I was the guest preacher in Tifton last week, and the people of St. Anne’s were lovely. And I missed y’all. We seem to have energy just bursting out every-which-a-way here. And I’ve been thinking about that this week in light of our gospel reading. Our reading from Luke for this week follows right on the heels of last week’s reading—Jesus has just told his disciples about the demands of discipleship. They cry out in despair, “Lord, increase our faith!” And he answers them that they already have everything they need. They just need to show up and do what they know that they need to do. Then we pick up with our reading for today, where Jesus and his disciples find themselves in an in-between time and in an in-between place on the road to Jerusalem where Jesus is going to die. They encounter from a distance 10 lepers who cry out asking Jesus to have mercy on them. He heals them from a distance and sends them to be purified by the priest so that they can be reinstated into the community from which they have had to live apart because of their disease. But on the way, one realizes that he has been healed, and so he disobeys Jesus and turns back to thank him. Then Luke continues with a portion that we did not hear today: “Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The Kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For in fact, the Kingdom of God is among you.” All 10 lepers were given new life. They had been living their lives separated from their communities because of their disease, and Jesus healed them, restoring their flesh to its fullness of life and enabling them to go back to their homes, families, and communities to resume their lives. It’s a huge gift that I am sure they all enjoyed. But when the 10th leper returns, Jesus makes a point of showing how expressing gratitude is an important aspect of our faith. The kingdom of God is already right here with us, and it is often through the lens of gratitude that it is revealed to us. And just like in practicing our faith, there are some seasons of our lives in which it easier to practice gratitude. That is why it is important to cultivate that practice, so that we can rely on it more when times are not as sunny and it is not as easy to be grateful. Because gratitude connects us—to God, to each other. Gratitude is a gift to both the one who receives the gratitude and also to the one who extends it. Several years ago, I heard an interview with the Quaker poet and songwriter Carrie Newcomer, and she talked about how she ends every day by naming 3 thing for which she is grateful. Through the voicing of these three things for which she is grateful, she said, she sends herself off to sleep from a place of wholeness and thanksgiving. So I started doing this practice with each of the children when they would go to bed. We would each name 3 things for which we were grateful about that day. Jack and I continue to do it. (MM usually stays up later than I do these days.) Some days it is easier to name three things than on others. Some season it is easier to name three things than in others. But part of the discipline is doing it every single day, no matter if we feel grateful or not. One of the things that I tell people when they ask me about y’all, about this church, is that we needed each other when we were first called together. Y’all eagerly received my gifts that I brought with me, and I recognized in y’all your gifts of hospitality and your joy in fun, the high energy that had been dormant under the surface and your willingness to embrace creativity. Together, I think the Holy Spirit has healed in us parts that needed new life and love, and for that I continue to be grateful. I believe that there is still room for healing here in all of us; healing that Jesus will continue to work through the gift of the Holy Spirit. This week, I have been especially noticing the times that we complain, because complaint is really the opposite of gratitude. In most instances, complaint is not the way that we build each other up. Instead, it is a way that we try to relieve some of our own anxiety, often at great cost to the receiver of the complaint. While gratitude unites us in the light of thanksgiving, complaint divides us, often setting us at odds with the one receiving our complaint or at odds with the one who we are complaining about. Now, hear me clearly. I am not saying that all complaints are bad; sometimes we need to speak our truth to what we perceive is injustice in a way that others can hear it to build up the community of faith. But most of the time, I think, our complaints reveal issues in our own souls that we have not yet dealt with, and rather than deal with them, we voice them in the form of complaint in an effort to make ourselves feel better and at the expense of others. So I am saying that we need to practice discernment before we complain. And that often the antidote to complaining is actually practicing gratitude. So, my invitation to you this week is two-fold. First, work on practicing gratitude. Set yourself to acknowledging three things you are grateful for at set times during the day—maybe first thing in the morning and at bedtime, maybe before each meal. Commend to God three things you are grateful for in the ordinary things of your life on that day, for in that you will find the kingdom of God. And second, work on censoring your complaints. When you find yourself about to complain, stop, and examine your soul before you say anything to anybody. Is this complaint an expression of your own anxiety that will not be helpful in strengthening relationships or community and which may actually be harmful? If you find yourself about to complain about someone else, then instead, list three things for which you are grateful about that person. Gratitude is an essential part of our faith, and it is also an essential part of a healthy community. This is why Jesus tells the leper that his faith, through the expression of his gratitude, has saved him. The medieval mystic, Meister Eckhart said: “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was ‘thank you’ that would suffice.” Thank you. Amen.