It is November, the month in which we celebrate Thanksgiving Day in
the United States. It is a day set aside to celebrate. We will eat
large amounts of food and relax with family. Or will we? This year
Thanksgiving will be different. We won’t be packing 30 people into the
kitchen, dining room and living room. There will probably not be any
children gathered around card tables. However, Thanksgiving will still
come. We will have a day set aside to be thankful for all of the
blessings God has showered on us. Even in the midst of a pandemic,
we can still be thankful.
Gratitude is a virtue – and a practice — for all times, not just for
good times. Indeed, in some of the most difficult times of life, gratitude
can make a positive difference. I think that is why St. Paul wrote,
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in
Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:18) and “Giving thanks always and
for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”
(Ephesians 5:20). Paul encouraged people to be grateful in all
circumstances, and Paul knew about difficult circumstances. He was
beaten severely, shipwrecked, bitten by a poisonous snake,
persecuted by his own people, and imprisoned several times. Paul
had some terrible times. And yet he could write, “Rejoice always; pray
without ceasing; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will
for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).
God’s will for us is to “rejoice,” to delight in the good things that
God has given us. God’s will for us is to “pray without ceasing,” to be
in constant contact with God, knowing that God is with us and in us,
closer to us than our breath. Because we have spent time rejoicing
and because we continue in prayer, we are able to “give thanks in all
circumstances.” It is true that there will be times when we are just
worn down, and we will not be able to genuinely give thanks. There
will be times when our strength will leave us, and it will be hard to be
grateful. We need not feel guilty. God knows our weakness. In our
weakness, God provides strength.
Even in those times when we do not feel we can be grateful,
we can remind ourselves of God’s goodness, we can remind
ourselves of times when we were thankful. We can also think back to
other difficult times and remember how God has helped us endure.
Perhaps we had not thrived, but we endured, and sometimes that is a
genuine gift of God. When we remember this, the beginnings of
gratitude may start to flow from our hearts, from the Holy Spirit within
us, and things will seem less bleak.
Gratitude is not magic. One can feel sad and grateful at the
same time. In fact, I think this is a very common mix of emotions at
funerals. Great sadness that someone we love has died, and great
gratitude for the blessings that person brought into our lives. But the
gratitude tempers the sadness and keeps it from becoming
overwhelming. The sadness is still there. The sadness is still real, but
it is not as deep, and the gratefulness slowly becomes more and
more prominent.
Members of Alcoholics Anonymous talk about “The attitude of
gratitude.” That’s just another way of saying, with St. Paul, “Give
thanks in all circumstances.” An attitude of gratitude helps us see the
things for which we can be grateful. We can almost always, fairly
easily, find something or someone to be thankful for. What about that
sunshine yesterday? That cup of coffee/tea/hot chocolate. The person
who called you just to say “hello.” The fact that you have a place to
live and a warm bed. It is easy to think of people and things for which
you are thankful. Doing so will make your life better. It will help you
see more things and people for which you are thankful. That’s not a
bad deal.
One last thing: I am very thankful for all of you. Together, as a
church family, we get to listen to God, be filled with God’s Spirit, and
be transformed more and more into the likeness of Jesus as we join
God in blessing others. Together, we receive God’s grace and
encourage one another. Together, we make a difference in the world.
How could I not be grateful for that? Thank you. Thanks be to God.

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