November 26, 2019, Community Thanksgiving Service, Gratitude and Plenitude – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000165
This year, in the process of doing some reading on the subject of thankfulness, I came across a little quote that kind of stuck with me. I liked it so much that I put it up on our signboard in front of the church. It’s by Henry Nouwen, and it goes like this: “Gratitude and plenitude (and plenitude means abundance or wealth) – Gratitude and plenitude go together.” I liked the quote because it’s kind of catchy, and I also liked it because I found it thought-provoking.
I’d be willing to bet that almost everyone here – if not everyone – has seen the classic Norman Rockwell painting of Thanksgiving Day. It’s a picture of what we might think of as a traditional American family sitting around the holiday table. The grandfather presides at the head of a large table full of family members, both young and old. He’s standing up, about to carve a truly enormous turkey, roasted to a perfect golden brown, that Grandmother is just setting down in front of him. Grandfather is in his best suit, and Grandmother is wearing a lace-trimmed apron over her dress. There are happy smiles all around the table, which is all a-sparkle with china and crystal and silver.
Now, that picture seems to be the perfect illustration of this little maxim. Looking at the picture one gets the impression that here is a family that has plenitude; they are a family that seems to lack no good thing. They have an abundance of material things, a home, and good food, and nice things – nice clothes and pretty things like matching china and silver salt-and-pepper shakers. But we get the idea that they also have the abundance of the things that we all know are even more important – they have the closeness of family, surrounded by people whose company they enjoy. Love, and peace, and security are intangible things, things we can’t touch or see, and yet Rockwell seems somehow to have painted those things into his little scene as well. And one feels sure, looking at the picture, that that Grandfather is about to lead the whole family in a genuine, heartfelt prayer of thanks to the God who provides every good thing.
And that, you could say, is just exactly what Nouwen’s quote is all about. “Gratitude and plenitude go together.” When we count our blessings, when we take stock of our plenitude, our hearts are filled with gratitude. We look at our many gifts, and we are full of thankfulness to the giver of all good gifts. And we all know that’s true. When we hear the good news that someone we love is well after a long illness, when we get a loving card from someone far away, when we hold a new grandchild in our arms, when we enjoy the warmth and affection of a faithful dog, when we enjoy a really good meal – whenever we remember the many good things we have, we give thanks.
But – you might have noticed that Christianity – this faith we all profess – has a way of turning things on their heads. We worship a God who knelt down and washed feet. The last will be first, he says. Weakness is strength. The one who is great must be the servant of all. Love your enemies! What? By any kind of human reckoning, we are citizens of the most upside down and backwards kingdom imaginable.
So, knowing that, it should come as no surprise to hear what the apostle Paul wrote, as he sat locked in a dark cell in a Roman prison, with little or nothing in the way of countable blessings: “Rejoice in the Lord always; I say it again, rejoice!….Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need with a thankful heart. And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I don’t know about you, but my life hardly ever looks like a Norman Rockwell painting. How many of us have ever lived in a perfect home with a perfect family, where there is never any arguing around the table, where no one ever knocks over a glass of milk, where all the china and silverware match perfectly and there are no stains on the tablecloth? Maybe you’ve known times when there wasn’t a whole lot to put on the table, when the paycheck didn’t quite make it to the end of the month, when you had to decide between the groceries and the electric bill? Maybe you’re struggling with illness, or just the aches and pains of growing older? Maybe there are too many times when you are the only one sitting at the table? Paul was something of an expert on imperfect life situations – and he tells us, “Rejoice in the Lord always! And let me just repeat myself in case you didn’t hear it the first time: rejoice! Don’t wear yourself out in worry; instead, bring all your worries to God with a thankful heart!”
It should be noted that gratitude and plenitude don’t always go together. It is perfectly possible to be surrounded with every good thing that this world provides – to have family and friends, money and security and comfort and health – and to not have one bit of thankfulness in our hearts. Because here’s the upside-down truth about that: a person who has little or nothing in the eyes of the world, but has a thankful heart, is infinitely richer than a person who possesses an abundance of the world’s goods, but is never satisfied with what he has.
I wish you a Thanksgiving this year that is full of all those things that bring you true peace and joy.