Monday, December 8, 2014

Sunday Sermon - Gratitude

I gave my first Sunday sermon, at the Cirque Lodge, yesterday. I was told to expect 2-4 people, there were 8, which was awesome. I gave this first sermon on Gratitude, breaking it down into 3 points, with a call to action at the end of the sermon. The entire service was about 45 minutes. I need to add more worship/music time next Sunday. I am happy. Below is that sermon.

If you have suggestions for interfaith sermons, topics you would like to see addressed, great readings, experiences, quotes, please, please send them my way:

Dec. 7. 2014 Sermon

People passing through the same events will respond differently.

·         There are many things we cannot control in our lives. This is clear in our own experiences and in scriptures, even with people like Job of the Old Testament —health, wealth, relationships, success are not certain. In many instances we can’t decide what is going to happen to us—all we can decide is how to interpret and react to events. *Share text from Shirlene

·         Every day we make some kind of decision to choose faith or fear, hope or despair, charity or selfishness, love or hate, knowledge or ignorance, pride or humility, and gratitude or ingratitude. Today I want to talk about how we can choose gratitude. (I recognize Thanksgiving has passed, but just because it is over doesn’t mean we should cease to be thankful. The Christmas season can foster greed if we get caught up in all the commercialization.) *We ask children – what are you asking for, what do you want, rather than, what are you giving?

Now I ask, what separates those who interpret life gratefully from those who don’t? In my research I’ve found three things that are hindrances to gratitude.

1. Pride
Pride prevents us from being grateful. I love Christian leader Ezra T. Benson’s talk: Beware of Pride. In it he states:

“Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.

The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.” It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.

The proud make every man their adversary by pitting their intellects, opinions, works, wealth, talents, or any other worldly measuring device against others.

In the words of C. S. Lewis: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.”

President Benson goes on to say: “Most of us consider pride to be a sin of those on the top, such as the rich and the learned, looking down at the rest of us. There is, however, a far more common ailment among us—and that is pride from the bottom looking up. It is manifest in so many ways, such as faultfinding, gossiping, backbiting, murmuring, living beyond our means, envying, coveting, withholding gratitude and praise that might lift another, and being unforgiving and jealous.”

* Reading:
“Take full account of the excellencies which you possess, and in gratitude remember how you would hanker after them, if you had them not.” — Marcus Aurelius

* Continue:
We are surrounded by people who are like us but more or less bright or witty or a little taller or shorter, or a bit more or less thin, or somewhat poorer or richer, or more or less charismatic, or more or less accomplished, or whatever.

We are constantly appraising and giving value to who we are and who others are through friends/acquaintances, GPA or years of education, salary, age, number of children, job title, etc. And this is troublesome.

Comparing ourselves to others is incongruent with gratitude because as President Benson states, “pride is hatred, hostility to, or a state of opposition—certainly out of line with gratitude which is a readiness to show appreciation and to return kindness.”

When we are competitively comparing ourselves against others we are less likely to compliment others, find joy in their accomplishments, and be happy with our own journey through life. It’s easy to be disoriented when we are caught up in comparisons because we see the highlight reel from others and see our own behind the scenes production. *I compare my worst to someone else’s best, and therein lies the self-centered sin of comparison – I will never measure up.

People’s worth can’t be quantified—and neither can our individual value. People are not the best or worst things they have done and we can’t see what others have passed through. All we know is that “The worth of souls is great in the sight of God” and every person on the earth has a soul.

So what’s the answer to pride getting in the way of gratitude? President Benson states:

“God will have a humble people. Either we can choose to be humble or we can be compelled to be humble.

“We can choose to humble ourselves by receiving counsel and chastisement, forgiving those who have offended us by rendering selfless service, by confessing and forsaking our sins and being born of God, and by loving God, submitting our will to His, and putting Him first in our lives.”

Humility is a choice, much like gratitude.

2. Getting caught up on “endings” gets in the way of gratitude
German author Dieter Uchtdorf gave a great talk on gratitude, stating:
“Often [those who are ungrateful experience] grief caused by what seems to them as an ending. Some are facing the end of a cherished relationship, such as the death of a loved one or estrangement from a family member. Others feel they are facing the end of hope—the hope of being married or bearing children or overcoming an illness. Others may be facing the end of their faith, as confusing and conflicting voices in the world tempt them to question, even abandon, what they once knew to be true.”

Sooner or later, all of us experience times when the fabric of our world appears to tear at the seams, leaving us alone, frustrated, and adrift. It’s easy to be caught up in the disorientation of daily drudgery and to feel too busy to be happy and grateful. In such times it’s particularly easy to be caught up on endings.

To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives-the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections-that requires hard spiritual work. Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to the present moment. As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for.

Let's not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God.

There is always something to be grateful for, even when life seems hard. When times are tough, whether we are having a bad day or stuck in what may feel like an endless rut, it can be difficult to take the time to feel grateful. Yet, that is when gratitude can be most important. If we can look at our lives, during periods of challenge, and find something to be grateful for, then we can transform our realities in an instant. There are blessings to be found everywhere. When we are focusing on what is negative, our abundance can be easy to miss. Instead, choosing to find what already exists in our lives that we can appreciate can change what we see in our world. We start to notice one blessing, and then another.

* Examples

When we constantly choose to be grateful, we notice that every breath is a miracle and each smile becomes a gift. We begin to understand that difficulties are also invaluable lessons. The sun is always shining for us when we are grateful, even if it is hidden behind clouds on a rainy day. A simple sandwich becomes a feast, and a trinket is transformed into a treasure. Living in a state of gratitude allows us to spread our abundance because that is the energy that we emanate from our beings. Because the world reflects back to us what we embody, the additional blessings that inevitably flow our way give us even more to be grateful for. The universe wants to shower us with blessings. The more we appreciate life, the more life appreciates and bestows us with more goodness.

God can work with us no matter how discouraged we feel at times.

There seems to be something inside of us that resists endings.

This too shall pass.

So how do we prevent fixating on endings from interfering with feelings of gratitude in our current circumstances? Keeping perspective seems to be the answer. For me, resetting perspective when times are tough comes from contemplation and prayer, talking to family and friends, and choosing to turn attention away from areas of life I can’t control to things I can control.

3. Fixed expectations for the future get in the way of gratitude
The beauty and horror of life is that we don’t know what the future holds, but we should have goals we are working toward. It is easy to get frustrated when life happens and things get hard. Sometimes the hard times bring the biggest blessings.

The Farmer's Judgment—A Sufi Tale
Once upon a time there was a farmer who had some land a ways outside the village. He had a son to help him and one good horse. Indeed, it was a magnificent horse. 

So magnificent, that when the King passed through the village, he heard about the horse and asked to see it. 

The King was so impressed that he offered the farmer a considerable amount of gold for the horse. But the farmer would not part with his horse, and the King went away.

The next day, the horse ran away!

The villagers rushed to the farmer and exclaimed, "Oh, how awful. Your horse is gone and you don't have the gold! What a bad thing has happened to you!"

The Farmer replied, "Well, I don't know that it's a bad thing, but I do know my horse is gone and that I don't have the gold."

A few days later, the Farmer's horse returned. And, not only did the horse come back, he brought six wild and beautiful horses with him. Each would be worth a great sum once they were broken and trained.

When the villagers heard, they rushed out to see the horses and to say to the Farmer, "Oh, you were right! It was not a bad thing that your horse ran away.  Now he has returned and brought you six more fine horses. It is a good thing!"

"I don't know if it's a good thing or not," the Farmer said. "I just
know that my horse has come back and brought me six more horses."

The following day the Farmer's son was trying to break one of the wild horses and he fell off and broke both his legs. Again the Villagers visited the Farmer and they exclaimed, "Oh, you were right! It was a bad thing that your horse came back with six more horses. Now, your son has broken both legs and cannot help you with your crops. Surely you will suffer great losses. Oh, what a bad thing!"

And the Farmer said, "Well, I don't know whether it's a bad thing or not. I only know that my son was thrown from a horse and that both his legs are broken."

The next day the King returned to the village. He was leading his soldiers to the border where the kingdom was engaged in a terrible battle with a neighboring country. The enemy was fierce and most of the young soldiers were marching to their death.

As the King passed through the village he rounded up all the young men to join in the fighting. Of course, the Farmer's son, with his broken legs, did not have to go.

After the King and his men left, the Villagers rushed to the Farmer and exclaimed, "Oh, you were right! It was a good thing that your son fell off the horse and broke his legs. Now he will certainly not die in this war as will so many other young men.

The Farmer replied, "Well, I don't know if it's a good thing, or not. But I know that my son did not have to go with the King to fight this battle.

And so the story goes....

Uncertainty is one of the few certain things in our life and we can’t interpret single threads in the tapestry of our lives independently. We can make ourselves miserable trying to appraise every event in life as good or bad.

I’ve read that a blessing is anything that brings us closer to God—not just things that bring comfort and immediate happiness.

As the farmer in prior story, we don’t know what a turn of events will lead to.

In Psalms we’re told, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Finally Hinckley stated: “Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to just be people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old time rail journey…delays…sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling burst of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

If there is only one outcome in our lives that we will accept to make us happy, we will almost invariably be unhappy.

Gratitude can be learned. A few ways we can develop gratitude include:
·         Gratitude lists
·         Contemplation
·         Consistent expressions of gratitude – a letter, note, simple “thank you”
·         Pray for it. Gratitude is a gift from God.

* Call to Action:
It’s my hope that we can have the strength and desire to choose to be humble and not live through comparisons that we can value and appreciate one another.

That we don’t fixate on endings in life by having an eye of faith towards the future and a belief that God can and will do miracles in our lives.

Finally it’s my prayer that we can accept the tapestries of our lives as a weaving of events that cannot be clearly categorized as good or bad.

And that we can thank God every day for beautiful moments, encouraging relationships, and tender mercies along our way.

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