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November 12, 2017 Gratitude as Active Faith
Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 100, Philippians 4:4-9

It’s easy, I think, to understand gratitude as a response to an action, as in ‘thank you for the birthday present,’ or ‘thank you for being my friend,’ or ‘thank you for forgiving my mistake.’ Thank you for something is how the formula goes. Parents teach their young children to say thank you in response to another person’s kindness and generosity. We understand this to be polite, and generally we find it a helpful and mindful way to live.

But, understanding gratitude as a response, a reaction to what others do, can get us into  a bind. What if life is not presenting us with things to be grateful for? What if my workjob is at 7am and it is cold and I’m hungry and tired and can’t finish my homework? What is there to react gratefully to? What if a friend has lied to me, or if my family member is seriously ill? What if I feel that my leader has betrayed me, or my parent has hurt me? How are these things we can react to with gratitude? These are situations in which we are likely to abandon thanksgiving all together, if we understand gratitude primarily as a response to the circumstances of our lives.

Yet, this can be the very place of faith, because faith will happen where our rational logic proves insufficient to sustain us. Where our formula of gratitude as a reaction doesn’t work, gratitude as an action can take over. Faith can be gratitude anyway and gratitude going forward, rather than gratitude because of.

Today’s scripture passages paint a picture of gratitude as faith, and they do so by highlighting two things; our own stories of identity, and how we can worship and be in relationship with God.

Firstly, gratitude as faith compels us to know our story. That’s what we see in Deuteronomy. There is a recounting of how the Israelites got to the place where they are currently, through life as a foreigner, then a slave, then to deliverance into a new life. Gratitude as faith compels us to know our own story; what societal powers have we been in bondage to and how does our identity as a child of God, and of no other, free us up to live out our full potential? Embracing this story and believing this story going forward is gratitude as faith.

Secondly, the Psalm and Philippians passages suggest that gratitude is how we worship God; it is our praise of God. Gratitude is an expression of our faith that God is the Creator, and we are the creation. It is our starting point, our acknowledgement of where we stand,  our understanding of reality. Gratitude, then, becomes what we do anyway and always going forward; it is not a sometimes event as a reaction to other events. ‘Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing,’ reads Psalm 100. ‘Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people.’ Give thanks to God; why? Because the God we have faith in is a God of goodness, love, and steadfastness. Gratitude is our opportunity to declare our faith in this kind of a God. It’s not a matter of logic, but of a decision to live our faith into reality.

Finally, the Philippians passage is affirming, and even comforting to those who live a life of grateful faith. ‘The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.’ This is also an invitation. I hear the writer of Philippians saying to us, ‘experience where your attitude of thanksgiving leads you. I believe it will take you to God’s peace that far surpasses our own understandings of logical give and take, and of right and wrong.’ No matter what, the God of peace is with you. So, why not come to God with a disposition of gratitude willing to bless God’s name?

I always find that the scriptures fundamentally are not about convincing us to a point where we have no choice. The scriptures are always about an invitation, which honors our own stories and our own experiences with God.

How have the scriptures invited you this morning?
(You are welcome to share with us your experience.)
As you live with these words of the scripture, may you find the freedom to try out gratitude as active faith and experience the peace that passes understanding.