In Gratitude

Sermon by: Father Mike, 8/19/2020

Introduction: Over the past week, I was lucky to spend time resting and enjoying vacation. For part of my time, I decided to spend two days bikepacking in Pisgah National Forest. I knew that this would stretch my limits—the trip itinerary logged more miles than I’d usually ride in a day, and I’d never even gone bikepacking before. Knowing this, I planned carefully, packed my bags precisely, and headed out to the forest. After a long, grinding climb, I finally reached my first prolonged descent. I sailed down the gravel road for miles, thinking I was making great time and doing much better than I’d expected. I stopped to rest at a waterfall, and then something seemed not quite right. I quickly began to realize that I’d missed a turn, and those glorious miles of downhill had all been in the wrong direction. The only way to right the ship, of course, was to climb right back up that miles-long mistake. What had been great progress and exceeded expectations turned quickly to fatigue and a worry that I wouldn’t make it where I needed to be by night’s end. As I trudged on, I found the correct turn, but then soon got lost again. At this point, I’m feeling disoriented, dehydrated, and thoroughly exhausted as I’m quickly losing sunlight. Just as I was beginning to lose hope, I stumbled upon a camp sight that I’d stayed at once before. This familiarity was such a blessing—I knew where I could find water, set my tent, hang a bear bag—this site was a welcome oasis. As I broke down my gear and prepared for sleep, I began to wonder why I’d set out on this journey. After all, I’d gotten lost multiple times, exhausted myself, and ended up behind schedule on the itinerary. In the midst of these thoughts, I had a moment of grace where God showed me so clearly that I had a conscious choice between focusing on all of the mishaps throughout the day, or to look at and be grateful for all of the beautiful things that had happened that day, and even the beauty found in the midst of the mishaps. In reality, these things had all helped me to see myself and God more clearly. I lifted my hands, surrounded by the silhouette of towering trees as the sun dropped behind a Pisgah ridge, and I found thanks for all that God had done to guide me. Since then, my mind has been considering gratitude, and how its presence opens us to the divine reality set before us. So our question this week is simple, but I think it’s important—what are you grateful for?

Question: What are you grateful for?

Scripture: Psalm 133

Question: What are you grateful for?

Reflection: If we blink, we may miss Psalm 133. Only two verses, it’s one of the shortest of all the psalms. We might mistake it’s brevity for irrelevancy, but I think that its short message holds deeply important insight for us about unity with one another and unity between ourselves and God. The first verse tells us, “Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity.” The psalmist poetically expresses what this unity looks like, how it feels—it’s like Moses, placing his hands upon his brother’s head and anointing him, oil dripping down from his beard and his spirit up towards the heavens, as he was ordained high priest of Israel—that’s what unity looks like. It is like the morning dew falling upon the hills—anyone who has spent dawn in Pisgah or anywhere in these beautiful mountains knows, that’s what unity looks like. But what does the road to unity look like? This is less clear to us. To begin to know this, I think we must look towards the psalm’s last verse…”For there the LORD has ordained the blessing: life for evermore.” Life  is often complicated. It’s not always fine oils running down the beard of Aaron, dew sprinkled along the tall grasses as the mist rises off the parkway. We are well acquainted with suffering, death, illness, abject poverty, and all that feels so far from life evermore. And yet, even in the midst of this, the opportunity for gratitude is always present. Thomas Merton tells us, “I must look for my identity, somehow, not only in God but in other people.” Unity is found when we make a continual and concerted effort to find the ordained blessing of life for evermore in every moment. Our commitment as Christians is to face the tomb and somehow see resurrection. Gratitude is always an option. I pray that together we can ask this question not just today at 1:30, but each day for the rest of the week—what am I grateful for?