Follow the links for previous sermons:
Reckless Generosity a sermon with a Monty Python flair!
Who IS God? – Not One, Not Two – inspired by Garrison Keillor & Joan Chittister
The Blessing of Michael’s Story – a Thanksgiving
Brussel Sprouts, Ebola, and Thanksgiving – seeking the ONE who IS
To Whom Shall We Go to Say Thank-you
After You Move Beyond Personifying God?
Over the course of the past nine years a group of little people have come into my life. Lovely little people who call me Gran. There are seven of them and participating in their little lives is a source of such great joy. Each stage of their development is a wonder to behold. I particularly enjoy watching their parents as they attempt to teach these little darlings the things that they need to know about being human. One of the first things that we teach little humans is the fine art of saying thank-you. It takes a fair amount of repetition to teach a child to say thank-you. Over and over again, after giving them exactly what they want, we ask, “Can you say thank-you?” and the little darlings repeat the words “Thank-you.” Sometimes all we have to do is ask the question: “What do you say?” in order to hear the words “Thank-you” uttered in such a delightful way as to inspire us to praise them as such good little girls and boys.
Expressing gratitude is a skill that all tiny little people must learn in order to develop into well-rounded human beings. Indeed, scientists insist that being grateful is a prerequisite of happiness. Happy humans it seems, are humans who embody gratitude. But there is more to gratitude than simply saying thank-you. I remember learning that gratitude includes more than simply expressing our thanks. It happened when I was about sixteen and actually noticed the beauty of a sunset and for the first time I realized that I was part of something so much bigger than myself. I know I must have seen the sunset before, but this time I actually saw the sun set. We were driving down the road, my friend Valerie and I were riding in a car driven by her mother, Lola. It was a partly over-cast day on the west coast of British Columbia. Just a few clouds. You could see the mountains off in the distance. We were chatting back and forth when all of a sudden, Lola pulled the car over to the far side of the road, switched off the engine and got out. Valerie followed her mother out of the car, so I figured I had better do the same. Val and her mother scampered down from the road and onto the beach. When they reached the water’s edge, they stopped and just looked off into the distance. Apart from a tanker-ship making its way across the horizon, I couldn’t see much of anything. Lola had the most amazing expression on her face. She positively glowed with happiness. Valerie wore a similar expression. I must have looked somewhat puzzled because Val smiled at me and said “Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?” This only confused me more. What were they looking at that had made them stop the car, scamper down the bank and stand there at the water’s edge on a cold autumn evening.
These happy, glowing, smiling people made me nervous. There they stood grinning from ear to ear. What were they on? And then, I saw it. For the first time in my life, I saw it. It had been there before. But I had never really seen it before. The sky was amazing. The colours were overwhelming. It almost didn’t look real. It looked like someone must have painted it that way. It was magnificent. A work of art. The most beautiful thing I have ever seen. If you’ve never seen a late October, Pacific Coast Sunset before, you’ve missed one of the great wonders of the world. Neither Emily Carr’s paintings nor picture perfect post cards do a western sunset justice.
Believe it or not, even though I had been living on the west coast for about four years, at that point I had never before really noticed just how beautiful a sunset could be. No one in my experience had ever taken the time to stop and look at one. No one had ever pointed one out to me before. I would never have dreamed of stopping a car and getting out to watch as the sun put on a show while setting. So, I stood there. Overwhelmed by it all. Amazed at just how beautiful it was. Wondering just who or what could be responsible for such a spectacular thing as this. Before long my thoughts drifted to the Creator. Actually noticing a magnificent sunset was the beginning of a journey beyond myself as the reality that I am part of something so much bigger than myself continues to permeate my being.
Back then, I expressed my gratitude by very much the same way as my grandchildren are being taught to express their gratitude, simply by saying “Thank-you”. The object of the Thank-you being God. At the time, God was an old bloke up there in the sky somewhere. As my images of God changed over the years, my Thank-you’s continued to be expressed to my ever-changing images of God. But I must confess, that it was a whole lot easier to say thank-you to God when God was some big guy up there, out there somewhere? It was so much easier when I thought of God as “Father” or even as “Mother” to express my gratitude by simply mimicking the behaviour that I’d been taught as a child, “Can you say “Thank-you” Oh yes indeed I can say thank-you. “God is great, God is God, let us thank him for our food. By his hand we must be fed, Give us Lord Our Daily Bread.”
It is so much easier to say thank-you to a deity that we have personified than it is to give thanks to a deity that is Beyond the Beyond and Beyond that Also. Our thank-you’s to the One in whom we live and move and have our being, tend to be expressed in words that are so much more awkward than the simply “Thank-you Father” that sufficed when we personified God.
Thanksgiving is certainly easier when you personify God. I have said over and over again that there is absolutely nothing wrong with personifying God. Indeed, it is part of our human nature to personify things. Personification is how we relate to something that is not a person. Personifying God is only a problem when and if we actually begin to believe that God is a person and we then go on to worship the person who we have created. The One in whom we live and move and have our being, lives and moves in, with, through, and beyond us. Which means that each one of us is in God and God is in each one of us, so expressing or gratitude for the many blessings that we enjoy moves our attention beyond ourselves to those around us.
Embodying our thanks, takes on whole new dimensions when we begin to see God in, with, through and beyond all of creation. We all have a lot of learning to do if we are ever going to learn to give thanks to the source of our being, the One who lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. When little children are learning to talk sometimes it is difficult for them to say the words, “Thank-you”. In my family, we used to encourage babies to say “ta” or “ta, ta” as a first step along the way to learning how to express their gratitude. As we learn and grow in our knowledge of the ONE who is the source of our blessings, we use words like, “LORD”, “FATHER”, “MOTHER”, “REDEEMER”, “SAVIOUR”, all perfectly good attempts at expressing the inexpressible. So, if personifying God, helps, then by all means personify God. Just remember that your personifications of God, are not God, for they will always fall short of expressing that which is beyond language.
As we continue to live into our full humanity, we will continue to learn to notice, and name our blessings, and we will learn new ways of expressing and embodying our gratitude as the LOVE that is the source of our blessings continues to flow through all things. The One we seek to offer our thanks and praise, the One who is the source of all our blessings is the one we call God.
The ancient Greek noun for God, is theos; we get our word theology from it…theology means words or ideas about God. The ancient Greek noun theos, was derived from the Greek verb theo, which means to flow. Our ancestors, described God as the Light that flows through all things. Jesus taught us that God is Love. As followers of Jesus, surely we can begin to understand God as the LOVE that flows through all things. Let our Thanksgiving celebrations open us to the realities of our many blessings and let those blessings flow through us.
May our God who is LOVE, flow in, with, through, and beyond us so that everyone may know the One who in whom we live and breathe and have our being, by our love. Let us remember that LOVE flows both ways. Just as surely as our blessings flow through us, so too, the pain of our sisters and brothers flows. Let us remember that we are intimately connected one to another. Even though the LOVE that lies at the very heart of our existence is beyond our ability to imagine, it can be embodied in the love that flows in, with, and through us. Let that LOVE who is the ONE to whom we offer our thanks and praise, flow through us.
We have been richly blessed. Can we say “Thank-you”? Absolutely, we can say thank-you by continuing to learn what it means to be LOVE in the world. Let us enjoy our Thanksgiving celebrations, by pausing from our regular routines to take some time to count our blessings, let the LOVE flow as we embrace family and friends, and then as the knowledge of our many blessings washes over us, let us act out of the abundance we share, so that the LOVE, the ONE who IS, Was, and Evermore shall be the source of our blessings might flow. Let our gratitude take on flesh and live among us, so that all may know the LOVE who is God. Let our gratitude live and breathe in, with, through, and beyond us. Let LOVE flow from each one to each one.