Sermon - 26th Sunday after Pentecost
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
Sometimes I’ll be at a retreat or a meeting of some sort or even last Spring’s Tri-Conference Annual Meeting and we’ll be asked to focus, to clear our thoughts so that we can be more centered. And almost invariably the leader will ask us to concentrate on our own breathing.
Breathe in through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Breathe in through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Focus on something as ordinary, but as necessary as each breath. Do this over and over and I guess a lot of people feel more in touch with themselves.
Me, I just feel self-conscious and awkward. So what I try to do instead of breathe in and breathe out with everyone else, I try to hold my breath. I try to see how long I can go without breathing at all. It sure makes me very aware of how important each breath is when I stop taking breaths.
Not breathing makes breathing again special, and I think this appreciation of the ordinary can help us get ready for Thanksgiving Day. I touched on this in November’s newsletter article. Sometimes I think we only offer thanksgiving for special blessings and we take ordinary blessings for granted.
We Americans are a blessed people. We who live here in the Happy Valley are a consistently blessed people. I know that many, if not all of us, have prayer-worthy needs, but overall, we are still a blessed people. We shouldn’t take this for granted.
Along this line, I think we’ve all heard stories from Paradise, California, the city that was destroyed by fire killing scores of people who could not get out of town quickly enough. I heard one family’s story on the radio last week. They’re in their car trying to escape. There’s fire raging on both sides of the road and embers falling directly on the road. The mother is praying to God for the safety of her family.
Then, all of a sudden, they break through. They cross from the depths of the inferno and they break through and emerge in the sunshine. They can see blue sky again. It’s hard to imagine what a sense of gratitude they must have felt just to emerge into the ordinary.
Think about what they’re grateful for at that moment. Obviously, there’s the extraordinary gift of escaping safely, but there’s also the gift of the ordinary: a plain old sunny day in California. They’ve probably seen a million of them. Do we have to experience tragedy to make the normal worthy of giving thanks? Can we only appreciate the normal after it’s taken away?
I remember stories of people I’ve known awaiting the results of medical tests. For those few days they didn’t know if there was something terribly wrong or just benign. How grateful they would be just to hear news about the ordinary.
I remember a friend’s father who was dying. All he wanted was to be able to again enjoy a pizza and beer. Things that seem so unnecessary to give thanks for, like pizza and a beer, can become so worthy of thanksgiving after they’re gone.
I saw on 60 Minutes last Sunday an article about scientists traveling deep into the earth. The deepest mines in the world are located in South Africa where they have been mining gold for generations. As they dig ever deeper, they disturb pockets of water that have literally been isolated for billions of years, and yet under these harshest of conditions the scientists have discovered life.
Going deep down is funded in part by NASA so that they can go way up. They’re looking for life on earth under extremely harsh conditions so that they will better know where to look for life in even harsher conditions on other planets. If someday they ever discover some oozing, disgusting slime growing beneath a rock on Mars, it will be headline news all over the world.
A long time ago, I went to a lecture at Deerfield Academy’s planetarium. It was around the same time that the book Rare Earth was published. Two professors, scientists, had argued that complex life in the universe is not common and may in fact only exist here on earth.
There are a ton of stars and planets, but the ones that are stable and conducive enough for life to start and to develop over billions of years and become complex thinking beings like here on earth are extremely rare, if not downright unique. We may be it.
So even to find oozing, disgusting slime on Mars would be huge. Shouldn’t that then make us thankful for the beauty of trees and snowfalls, waterfalls and people? Ordinary life is so extraordinary that we may be all that there is. Shouldn’t that help us to be thankful people every day?
So Jesus and those country-bumpkins from Galilee are walking out of the Temple. This is maybe the disciples first ever visit to the Big City. They’ve arrived at Passover. This is the Temple that Herod has constructed. It’s magnificent. It must have inspired awe among them.
One of the disciples turns to Jesus and marvels at the construction. It would be like me in New York City looking up at the skyscrapers or at the Hoover Dam and me looking down over the side. It would be just “Wow.”
But Jesus is left unimpressed. He foresees that this grand-scale architecture will not long last: “‘Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’” The disciples were impressed by the extraordinary: Look how large the stones and the buildings! But Jesus used these as the backdrop for His warning about “wars and rumours of wars,” of earthquakes and famines. Of destruction.
Jesus celebrated the ordinary not the extraordinary. He saw blessings where others saw only the everyday common. Think about the people He engages. Think about the lily He appreciates as more beautiful than Solomon in all his glory.
Think about Jesus sharing His Last Supper with His friends outside of that majestic Temple. The Bible’s Greek talks about Communion as Eucharist, and Eucharist is the Greek word for “to be grateful, to feel thankful, to give thanks.” It was ordinary bread, ordinary wine, ordinary people, and for these Jesus was thankful – not for grand buildings.
When we gather at table on Thanksgiving Day, let us be an especially thankful people because we are a truly blessed people, but let Thanksgiving Day also remind us to be thankful always, even for, or even better, especially for, the ordinary blessings God grants us.
As Paul closes his letter to the church at Thessalonica, as Maureen read for us, he leaves those earliest Christians with these words: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:18)
From Christians of day one to Christians of 2018, let us give thanks in all circumstances. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
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