The Gift of Gratitude

Rev. Megan Huston
November 23, 2014
Ephesians 1:15-19
15I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

I was at a meeting in Louisville on Tuesday where the youth and children’s ministers from around the state gathered to discuss the future of youth, young adults & children’s ministry. The conversation somehow turned to mission trips and one of my colleagues explained that how her church does mission trips is that students are required to participate in a combination of community service, church work, and fundraisers in order to attend the trip. Another colleague cut in and said, “We don’t do it that way at our church because we don’t see mission trips as a reward for church participation or good behavior. Many of the students who attend mission trips with us have never participated in the life of the church and this is the transforming experience that invites them into a life of faith.”

My other colleague jumped in again and said, “But we also have an option for people like that who are new. The youth decide themselves who deserves to go, for instance, if there is some circumstance that has prevented them from participating in the other things. We call it the ‘Grace Option.’”

I was just watching & listening to all this transpire but at that point I laughed out loud. First of all, a group of people picking out who deserves something, that is not grace and second of all I’m thinking is this like running the option in football? Or is it like when the quarterback picks the second or third option play? Or maybe it is kind of like when you are eligible for some sort of upgrade in your cable package.

The grace option… what an interesting concept in youth ministry.
But it made me wonder is grace really an option?

We are entering a week that is designated as the one during which we give thanks. It is the week where we pick the Gratitude Option and put a little more effort into focusing on what we have instead of what we lack. I love Thanksgiving because I think we need to be reminded to choose the grace option, but I also find it ironic because like grace I’m not sure that gratitude works that way.

Gratitude is not something that we try on every once in a while by participating in an activity or craft. It isn’t the executing the perfect meal and pretending that our family is oh so perfect. Gratitude is not what we offer up exclusively when things seem to go our way.

Gratitude is more like the air we breathe. It is a way of life that reminds us that everything is holy and that each moment is a gift. It is having an attitude like Debbie Hill when she found her car window smashed in after a fun night at church with the girls. She stared for a moment while several of us surrounded her. She assessed the damage and noticed that her laptop was still there. And then, she laughed her loud & contagious laugh and said, “Man, my laptop is a piece of junk, I wish they would have taken it!” And then all of us standing in the freezing cold, with rain sleeting down, we all burst into laughter together, deeply saddened that our security and personal space was violated, but breathing in the gratitude that our friendship & sisterhood is stronger than any thief could even try to be.

As we enter into this time of Thanksgiving, it is appropriate that we take the time to do special things to express gratitude- whether it is going around the table and naming what we are grateful for or traveling long distances to be with family. But this is just a small expression of what exists beyond us.

The writer of Ephesians is giving a shout out to the Christians in Ephesus for their great faith. And as one commentator points out, faith is not just a mental assent to some creed, but active trust in what God has done and will do, and life lived in participation in, response to, and reflection of what God has done.

Grace is not an option because it is all about what God has done. There are a lot of things we can’t explain in life. And when it comes to really bad and unfair things happening, I don’t think that is God. What God has done has to do with the moments amidst the rubble of life when someone shows up who cares or when you finally learn to laugh again. Grace is all about the unexpected room to breathe that only God could provide but often happens in the form of a friend or a random stranger. And then gratitude just can’t be captured in words, but instead becomes who we are in choosing to focus on grace instead of focusing on all the bad stuff we can’t explain.

I asked on Facebook for you to list some of the things you are grateful for that relate to FCC. I found it interesting that many of you posted not only the positive experiences or perfectly charmed moments of life that you have experienced here. But, rather, you named the hardships you have faced and that this has been a place where you could face them with people who love you and where you could be honest about when you have questioned God.

Gratitude is the air we breathe not just when life is good. It is especially poignant when life is hard and dark and ugly. It shows up through our friends who tape a cardboard box on the window that someone busted out of our car so you could drive home. It shows up on the softball field when you need a break from the churchy stuff but still want to connect with your community. It happens when your kid is being a total jerk and you need someone else to love them for a little while so you can worship. (I don’t mean that in a rude way. I firmly believe we are all total jerks sometimes.) Gratitude is choosing the good in people instead of dwelling on the bad.

This summer we had a routine maintenance of our phone systems. The guy doing the work came in to ask for a key to a certain closet and then came back to let me know he was done. I was feeling impatient because there were several things I needed to do and he seemed to be sort of lingering in my office like he had something else to say. And me, not choosing the grace option, was assuming that whatever it was, that I had something more important to do. Finally, he walked out and then turned back around and said in his very Kentucky accent, “You know, I don’t see many women ministers. I think that is pretty cool. Then he put his fist in the air and said completely sincerely, “Girl Power!” and I could tell that what he needed to say that he got off his chest.

I think my jaw may have hit the floor. I sat there thinking, “What just happened?” I guess even though I didn’t choose it, grace came along and showed up anyways. Maybe we don’t choose the grace option or the gratitude option. Maybe it chooses us.


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