Homily for Norwood Community Thanksgiving, Nov. 2016, Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
When I was a little girl, my Mom always made sure that we sent a thank-you note for every gift we received. And as a child, I remember this seemed like very, very hard work. When the fun of Christmas or my birthday was all over, I approached this task with great reluctance, even dread. After I had procrastinated as long as I possibly could, I’d get out my pretty stationery paper (which must have been a gift from someone) and I’d find a pencil, and I’d sharpen my pencil….and I would just sit there and look at that huge expanse of blank paper and think how hard it was going to be to fill it up. It was even harder at those times when I didn’t feel especially grateful. I remember many times when my Grandmother, who loved us all very much, sent us clothes that we would never, ever be willing to wear. I remember the time my Aunt sent me the exact same Bobbsey Twins mystery two years in a row.
But whether we felt thankful or not, my wise mother never let us off the hook, and I am so very grateful to her. Because what she was teaching us is how important it is – not just to be polite and thoughtful and not to hurt people’s feelings – but to be truly thankful. She wanted us to learn to be thankful, not for things, but for kindness and love. To be thankful, not first and foremost for the kind of presents that come in boxes, but for those people who are present in our lives.
Notice the place of thankfulness in the reading from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Paul is describing what it means to be a whole new person in Jesus Christ. And it turns out, Thankfulness is a big part of that. Gratitude turns up three times, in just these six verses. Paul begins by telling us to put on all the good and holy attributes that belong to those who are chosen and beloved of God: things like compassion, and kindness and humility and patience and forgiveness, wrapped up in love and crowned with his peace. But to make it all perfectly complete do this: be thankful. And then he talks about what it means that the word of God is at home in our hearts, how what happens to us is that the word of God will flow out of our hearts in song and in wise and edifying and comforting speech – and how all of this goodness and loveliness and wisdom flows from the Thankfulness we have in our hearts that God is present with us. And then Paul tells us to remember that as new people in Christ, every thing we do and everything we say, we do and say in his name, giving thanks to God our Father. winds up by reminding them that absolutely everything they do, they do in the name of our Lord Jesus – ALWAYS GIVING THANKS TO GOD OUR FATHER.
It turns out being thankful is so much more than we thought it was when we were children. Thankfulness is not a chore or a polite duty; it’s not even just an act of obedience. Thankfulness – gratitude – is heart-healthy. Thankfulness is joy and life to us; gratitude nourishes our hearts; because being thankful isn’t just something we do. It is part of who we are as a new creation. Thankfulness is a way of living abundantly. “It is good to sing praises to our God;” the psalmist wrote, “for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.”
At Thanksgiving dinner, it is a tradition in our family to go around the table and have each person say something they are thankful for. And that is a good and meaningful thing to do. But it is very important to know that giving thanks isn’t just for those times when we feel like it. Even in the darkest, most disappointing times of our lives – maybe especially in the darkest, most disappointing times of our lives – we need the gift of being thankful all the more. Because thankful hearts help us to see light in dark places. Thankful hearts help us to see kindness when we seem to be surrounded by disaster. Thankful hearts help us to find hope in the middle of despair.
Gratitude brings healing; ingratitude pours salt in our wounds. Gratitude enlarges our lives; ingratitude draws the walls of resentment and fear and bitterness close around us. And besides, if we once begin to list the things we have to be thankful for, we will not be done anytime soon.
I want to end with two quotes: King David wrote Psalm 34, a psalm of Thanksgiving. When his life was in danger, and he was living in hiding, he wrote these words:
I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
And finally, a short quote from Albert Schweitzer, who wrote:
“The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. He (or she) who has learned this knows what it means to live.”