There seems to have been a movement arising around gratitude in recent years, and certainly, there are lots of organizations, philosophies, and spiritual guides that promote gratitude as a life orientation. Much of the interest in gratitude seems to focus on gratitude as a self-help strategy: I’ve read a number of pieces about research on the effects of practicing gratitude.
Research has revealed, apparently, that people who regularly think about things they’re thankful for and express gratitude feel less pain and less stress, suffer less from insomnia and depression, have stronger immune systems and greater emotional resilience, experience healthier relationships and do better academically and professionally. Noticing and being thankful for the good things in life increases our sense of well-being and lowers our blood pressure.*
These effects of gratitude are obviously terrific – the more we can cultivate “attitude of gratitude”, the better off we are – BUT we should ‘grow gratefulness” in ourselves NOT primarily to benefit ourselves, but because we have so much to be grateful for!
The gospel we’ve heard this morning continues the sequence of teachings we have been following from Jesus’ “Farewell Discourses” in the Gospel of John.
We began, several weeks ago, with Jesus reminding the disciples that he is “the Good Shepherd”, and then sharing the analogy of himself as the Vine and the community of his followers as the branches, and then last week last week we heard Jesus sharing the command that we love one another.
Today’s passage bring us to the climax of the “Discourses”, in which Jesus offers a prayer to God, known as “the High Priestly Prayer.”
Today’s gospel an excerpt from that prayer – Jesus asking God to protect the disciples from the dangers of the world, as Jesus prepares to depart from them.
Jesus’ words in the prayer are a means of teaching the listening disciples; they are a means of John teaching us.
There’s a theme in this rather grammatically challenging reading: did you notice it? In the thirteen verses of today’s Gospel, Jesus uses a form of the verb “to give” nine times.
Throughout his telling of the “Good News” John wants us to pay attention to what we are “given” by God in the life of Jesus: in fact he uses the term seventeen times in this chapter and seventy-five times in his gospel overall.
Two years ago this month I spent a week at CREDO, a conference that the Church’s Pension Fund provides for Episcopal Clergy. CREDO provides space away from the demands of active ministry to reflect holistically on our lives – as well as the physical and spiritual aspects of our lives, CREDO asks us to look at our vocational and financial lives – and it does so to promote renewal and, where appropriate, to invite change.
One of the exercises we took part in that was very powerful for me that week was an exercise relating to gratitude. Sitting at our individual desk spaces in a large classroom, we were given ten minutes and asked to write down at least one hundred things that we were thankful for.
Starting my list was totally easy – expressing thanks for my family, my health, this congregation that I work among, the beautiful place I live, and so on, is a regular part of my own prayer, and came quickly to mind.
What was fascinating was discovering the places that my mind went as I pressed myself to go beyond thankfulness for the things I think about all of the time. My mind went to places both small and large, listing not only individuals in my life who have cared for me, inspired me, and sometimes challenged me, but I also listed specific pieces of music that have brought me joy.
I realized that I am thankful for electricity, and science, and color, and otters.
Considering the incredible number of things I am thankful for and realizing how much they enrich my life and how much I appreciate them gave me a tremendous sense of joy.
If we had time for it this morning I would insist that we pause right now, and I would hand out (or ask you to go find for yourself) paper and pencil and have each of us to list one hundred things we’re thankful for, but I don’t think we do have the time. Instead, I’m going to invite and encourage you to really make some time this week and write your own list – I expect each one of you to get to AT LEAST one hundred items on the list. And I’d love to hear what YOU discover – send me an email after you’ve done it!
It is God’s incredible generosity given to us that provides us with all of the things that we write down on our lists. God’s generosity provides the boundless opportunities that lie before us every day, to say nothing of the gifts given to the ancestors who have gone before us over the generations. And as John’s gospel reminds us, God’s love gives us the life of Jesus, that shows us and opens up the way to fullness of life.
We should not just BE grateful, but to live a life of integrity, we must also LIVE our gratitude: just as Jesus saw the disciples as gifts, given him for safekeeping,
so too is the world today given into our safekeeping - the world itself and all of God’s children who inhabit it. The choices we make in the ways we use what we have been given express our deep gratitude, or not.
With God’s help, we can continue to grow into ways of living that express our gratitude, that make a positive difference to that world given into our care. We can make and be our own “Grateful Farm.”
We need to do it NOT just to maintain inner peace and a healthy blood pressure, but because it is the only reasonable response to the love with which we are surrounded.
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