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The Art of Gratitude

Sermon #284 St. Martin’s #42 (Riverway) 11/20/22

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34

So, we have entitled this Sunday, “Gratitude Sunday” for obvious reasons. And so, I’m really tempted to have my sermon be something like, “Three tips for living a grateful life.” Wouldn’t that be nice? Just follow these three easy steps and you’ll be a better, and more thankful, human.

But Jesus isn’t much of a “three helpful tips” kind of guy, and preaching isn’t supposed to be like every self-help book that is on the shelf these days.

Instead, this morning we hear Jesus tell us about birds and flowers, and somehow that is supposed to lessen our anxiety about the busy lives we live.

It is amazing, if you think about it, how much this passage speaks directly to our culture today—one that is so anxious, so focused on consuming more and being more.

But then think about Jesus’ original audience; they were subsistence farmers, fishermen, and craftsmen. How much did they have in their savings account? Where even did they keep their savings account? Where did they go on vacation? Was it an all-inclusive resort, or was vacation when they visited their relatives a few miles away?

“Do not worry,” Jesus says, “about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than your possessions?”

Many of those who first heard Jesus say this had legitimate reasons to worry. If drought or insects ruined their yearly crop, the whole village could be in serious trouble.

How could this itinerate rabbi who has most of his bills paid for by a group of women, tell these people, who work hard to keep food on the table, to not worry about such things?

But notice that Jesus doesn’t say these things are of no concern, rather he is addressing the central role of anxiety and fear when it comes to one’s basic needs.

The birds don’t worry, and God takes care of them. Don’t you think you’re more valuable than them? The bluebonnets outshine Solomon in all his splendor. Wouldn’t you think you matter more to God than one simple bluebonnet?

We put so much value in what we can produce, and what we possess, that Jesus’ words either bring us comfort today, or they come as a personal challenge to how we have built our lives.

Jesus reminds us that we are not the sole provider of ourselves or our family, and the anxiety we may have to accumulate more to protect ourselves (and those we love) from pain or illness, or grief does not accomplish what we think it promises.

At times, we have built a castle, dug a moat, and locked ourselves inside in order that we will finally feel secure.

But Jesus shatters that notion with one fail swoop: “Can any one of you by your worrying add a single hour to your life?”

Instead, Jesus gives us an image of a kingdom instead of a castle. And in this kingdom, we are told it is another’s kingdom and not our own, and we are to seek after his righteousness rather than our own.

The key word here is “seeking.”

He doesn’t say we can possess it—that we can make it ours or hold onto it like we can the other things of this world. No, the kingdom and righteousness that is sought for is only the Father’s to give.

We learn that this is not another thing to accumulate or another feather to put in our cap—no this is the thing. The kingdom, God’s kingdom, is the goal, and righteousness is the path.

Anxiety then is a useless currency in this kingdom. God watches over the economic activity of the birds of the air and provides for them, then we too must move towards this simpler form of seeking.

A seeking that is not principally about ourselves, our wants and desires, but seeking after the One who so graciously provides for his creation…because in the end, he loves his creation, he has always and will forever be in love with his creation.

The worries of life can make us forget that. We get distracted and forget this simple path of seeking that which is already in front of us.

This made me think of an interview I recently heard with the actor Shia LeBeouf. He starred in a film that came out this year based on the life of the 20th-century Catholic priest and mystic, Padre Pio who was known for his great faith and devotion to the Lord.

As he prepared for the movie LeBeouf read the gospels. He grew up in a nominally Jewish home, having had a bar mitzvah but not much else when it came to religious formation. As he read the gospels, he was struck by what he encountered, and it ended up leading him to convert to Catholicism.

As he read the Gospel of Matthew, he encountered John the Baptist who had this “grizzle” to him. As he read further, there opened up this route or map for redemption. And as he kept going, he felt the invitation to let go. That’s how he would sum it up: let go. After thirty-five years of holding onto life so tight, he saw a route in the gospels to let go.

A route to redemption, a map that shows us how to let go. Do you need that today? At the very least, do you need to be reminded that life was never meant to be held onto very tightly? It is always and forever a gift.

We are reminded that the source of our life and our delight is not ourselves, not even the things we have accumulated, it is God the Father, our Father, who has created all things—and cares for all things—out of his abundant love.

For us today, gratitude is not three easy steps away. Instead, it is a natural reaction to the God who provides…whose provision is so graciously showered upon the creation he, in the beginning, called good.

Our only response is to live in gratitude for this fact; to behold the route to redemption and begin walking in that direction.

But to put it more simply, you are already doing it whether you realize it or not. Worship is the way that we give thanks to God. Everything we do here today (and every Sunday) is about giving thanks to the One who continues to provide—in small and big ways, in the highs and lows of our life.

Week after week, we come into this place to give thanks for God’s faithfulness, and then we are sent out as his witnesses into this over-anxious world that needs to know that everything is not on their shoulders; their value is not made up of what they accumulate or create, but it is rooted in the purposes of their Creator.

The One who cares for the sparrows also cares for them, and he cares for you.

I want to end with this. The Dolomite Chant, which is found in many hymnals, is a beautiful summation of this passage, and it is my prayer for us today.

Not so in haste, my heart! Have faith in God and wait Although He linger Long, He never comes too late.

He never cometh late; He knoweth what is best; Vex not thyself in vain; Until He cometh, rest.

Until He cometh, rest, Nor grudge the hours that roll; The feet that wait for God Are soonest at the goal;

Are soonest at the goal That is not gained by speed; Then hold thee still, my heart, For I shall wait His lead.

Matthew 6:25-34. Dale Bruner’s Matthew Commentary v. 1.

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