Sermon for November 25, 2017
Texts: 1 Chronicles 16:23-34, Luke 19:1-8
The plan for Thanksgiving was our usual. Everybody gathers at our house mid morning. We pile into vehicles with four wheel drive and head up into the hills to play in the snow and cut a Christmas tree. We’ve had some weather surprises. One year down here in the lowlands, the sky was heavy and dark and drippy, the temps in the 40s. Up at Suntop at 5000 feet, we had bright sunshine and the air temps were in the sixties. It was hard to cut a Christmas tree. It felt like July.
We faced treacherous ice on the road and snow so deep, it forced us to stop short of our destination. But yesterday promised to be the worst ever.
The temperature at our house was in the 40s. It was pouring rain and the forecast was rain all day, even in the mountains. I began imagining a lazy morning in our warm, dry house, leisurely visiting.
Others began arriving. Wrapped in rain gear, ready for adventure. Ugh!
My son and his wife were loading mountains of rain gear and layers of insulation in packs. I could see I was going to have no out. Then my sister informed me that my niece was thinking of staying home. So it became my job to talk the niece into going. It was my job to persuade her to happily embark on a journey into misery.
I really had only one option. I couldn’t honestly voice hope that the weather in the mountains would be better. The forecast was quite definite . . . and miserable. I couldn’t fake enthusiasm. “I can hardly wait to get out there in the rain and cold and gloom. I had only one arrow in my quiver: I quoted a proverb first uttered by Bonnie on a previous occasion when I was resisting an outdoor adventure because of inclement weather.
“Dad,” she declaimed, “have you ever gone hiking and wished you hadn’t?” She was right.
I have gone outside and nearly died of hypothermia. I’ve collapsed from exertion. I’ve gotten lost, gotten blisters, suffered nearly catastrophic falls, run out of food and water. I’ve run in terror from lightning strikes. Not every hike has gone as planned. But I have never wished I hadn’t gone. Never, ever. Not even once.
So I told my niece, if you go, you will be glad you did. Or at the very minimum—you will not be sorry. You will not wish you had stayed home.
She yielded to the social pressure and joined the gang headed into the bleak outdoors.
We turned off the highway at Forest Road 75, drove until the ground turned white with old snow. Kept going to the pass where we climbed out of the cars into blowing rain mixed with snow. I tended the stove and made hot chocolate. Mark served his iconic pumpkin bread. Karin went in search of the perfect Christmas tree. The dogs raced around her. Parents hauled their kids up the track that climbed the ridge to the north. Then swooped down in Efrain’s sled on the packed wet snow. We stayed mostly warm. Karin came back and dragged all of us out to where she had found three candidates for “the perfect tree.”
Tree cut. Stove and cutting board stowed. Vehicles loaded. We headed home to heat and dry clothes and cranberries, mashed potatoes, and pie. And thanks.
This morning I’m glad I went. And I face a fork in the road. I could congratulate myself for having the strength of character to do something that felt like it was going to be unpleasant but my rational mind knew would end up being a net positive.
Or I could give thanks for the tradition and social pressure that dragged me outside.
It is true that I chose to go. It is also true that I would not have made that choice on Thursday without the help of family tradition and present social pressure. My adventure in the mountains was a gift from all the other people who were crazy enough to join in on this wild adventure. Because they were part of the story, I had a memorable Thanksgiving outing.
Giving thanks is a recognition that every good thing is a gift. Sure, many good things are also accomplishments. But before they are accomplishments, they are gifts.
Last week Mitch Webster texted me a picture of his boys at the Mt. Baker ski area. Blue sky overhead. Snow underfoot a dazzling white. Table Mountain off in the distance. I thought, that’s what I love. Blue sky and dazzling sunshine.
But then I remembered I live in Seattle and that our city is shaped by rain. I remembered the words of friends declaring their affection for the soft skies and gentle light of cloudy days. I recalled the magic of all the lights along the waterfront on watery winter evenings.
Sunshine and rain. Two of heaven’s gifts.
I give thanks for the twenty to thirty kids who gather here in the front of church every week for the children’s story. In my mind’s eye I see the light in their eyes, the beauty of their faces. I hear them answer questions giving evidence of their keen intelligence and curiosity. I think of the care and affection lavished on them from parents and grandparents, from aunts and uncles. And I give thanks for kids and for all those adults who enrich their lives.
Thursday night when we finally got around to dessert we were offered our choice of one of three different pies—pumpkin, blackberry, or apple. This year Karin used canned pumpkin, but the blackberries were from our yard and the apples from the neighbor’s tree. Some of us sampled all three. Some ate only one or two kinds. Most of us added whipped cream and ice cream. Some refused all toppings. After people had eaten their pie, we had a long argument about which pie was the best. Each pie had its partisans. It was a lovely argument.
I give thanks for the bounty that blesses our lives. For the food. For the skill in preparation. For traditions that add special piquancy to our enjoyment.
Not all people everywhere are so blessed. Even here in our city there are people who do not have their own kitchens and their own tables and refrigerators full of food. I am grateful.
What do I have that I would not have if I had had a ski accident when I was 19 and was paralyzed from the waist down? From the neck down?
Take some time now. And text a thank you.
If you don’t have a phone handy, take out your bulletin and a pencil or pen and write down the names of ten people who make you glad. People who have left a permanent, happy imprint on your life.
Text me a sentence or two you would be willing to have shared publicly expressing gratitude.
Discern the gift in everything pleasant, everything useful, everything helpful, everything delicious, everything beautiful.
The gospel reading this morning was the story of Zacchaeus. He received a great gift—the presence and attention of Jesus. Fairly quickly, his awareness of that gift turned into generosity. Which is the way of gratitude. When we are overwhelmingly grateful, we readily bless others. The richest reception of gifts comes when we know we have more than enough, enough to share.
This is where gratitude takes us. It is also true that the practice of generosity awakens our own sense of gratitude, and thus our capacity for joy.
Let’s take a little while to share thanks.
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