On Being Thankful

Recently I was thinking about how much life has changed over the last several months, and how — thanks to COVID — we’re each discovering in our own ways how little we actually have control over.

It made me think of all the things I miss from “before”:  worshiping together in one location, sitting in a crowded stadium watching the Packers play football, laughing with family at one dinner table (and not over Zoom). At the same time, I realized how little gratitude I had for all those things when I had them.  How I rarely, or never, felt and expressed true thankfulness.

I think there may be a direct connection between how much control we think we have over parts of our lives, and the measure of our gratitude. Think about it. It’s simply impossible to be thankful or grateful to someone else when you think you’ve accomplished or experienced something all on your own merit.

If I think I have total control over the things in my life, then I’m it. There is no one else to thank. But friends, let me tell you: Every human being is a debtor. And until I admit how little I have sole control of, and how much difference others have made in my life, I’ll never truly be able to express appropriate gratitude.

Unfortunately, that’s what happens too often in my relationship with God. Saying thank you, showing gratitude, acknowledging God working in my life and the lives of others… How many opportunities have I allowed – continue to allow – to slip by?

Think about it. What gratitude and thankfulness is going unspoken in your life right now? How can we heighten our awareness of just how blessed we are, and then live out our gratitude? Pray with me…

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My Heavenly Father, thank you for the blessings in my life. Thank you for providing me with wisdom and discernment in unsettling times. Thank you for providing me with strength and courage in frightening situations. Thank you for wrapping me in the reassurance of your love through scripture, and the working of the Holy Spirit through others during times when I think I’m completely alone. God, thank you. Jesus, thank you. Holy Spirit, thank you. Amen.

Kingdom Building

“What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.” – N.T. Wright

Holy God, you have called us to follow in the way of your risen Son, and to care for those who are our companions, not only with words of comfort, but with acts of love. Seeking to be true friends of all, we offer our prayers on behalf of the church and the world. Guide us in the path of discipleship, so that, as you have blessed us, we may be a blessing for others, bringing the promise of the kingdom near by our words and deeds. Amen. (Revised Common Lectionary)

Reading Stack

It has been a tough and challenging time for humanity, hasn’t it? It’s hard to know what to say or where to begin. Today, I’ll refer you to the words of others who have helped me think about and process the hurt, pain, confusion, and sadness so many are feeling.

  • In Reaping the Whirlwind, Eric Crawford (WDRB) works through his feelings after being asked to comment on the recent shootings and protests in Louisville. Take your time with this one and pour over what he has to say. His writing is well worth it.
  • Esau McCaulley, a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and an assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, has written A Nation on Fire Needs the Flames of the Spirit for Christianity Today online. Based on his most recent sermon, this essay discusses how Pentecost can help the church find its voice during times of racial strife.
  • I’ve been blessed to be invited to join my best friend’s Sunday School class that meets over Zoom every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening from North Carolina. We recently read and discussed Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor, which offers “a way to find spirituality in those times when we don’t have all the answers.” It couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. I highly recommend it.
  • Last, but most definitely not least, I found the text of the prayer given by Rev. C.B. Atkins, pastor of First Baptist Church Bracktown in Lexington, KY, during one of Governor Beshear’s press conferences. It was so moving to listen to Rev. Atkins’ words; I pray you find as much in the printed version:

“Let us pray together. Eternal God, the God of all people, because you are omniscient, there is nothing we can tell you that you don’t already know. So let me start by thanking you for clearing up busy schedules, for allowing us to pause to collectively acknowledge you today. We are aware that not all storms come to disrupt our life, some come to clear our path. Your ways are not our ways and your thoughts are not our thoughts. Isaiah reminds us that there is no searching of your understanding. So we did not come today to call you on the carpet to explain, we came to thank you for your power and willingness to sustain. 

“Worldwide COVID-19 has claimed 350,000 reported deaths, 100,000 in the United States, and 400 in Kentucky. These are staggering numbers of the arresting reality of this horrific pandemic. Still I refuse to be guilty either as a messenger of God or a man of color.

“I’m mentioning the racial pandemic that has been devastating a segment of your people in this country for over 400 years, emboldened now afresh by people in powerful positions in public places. It is not that the minority population has been silent, but rather that the majority population has been deaf. The high number of deaths from coronavirus has been needless, and the continuous deaths of innocent black men and women in this country is senseless.

“Frantic searches are underway in laboratories around the world for a vaccine for COVID-19. But even if one is discovered, and I pray it will be, but if we ignore the cure for that pandemic as we have ignored the cure for the racial pandemic, having done so for political, economic, and aristocratic expediency, then all efforts will ultimately be in vain.

“I pray God that you strip us of the false assurance that grows from pride in our powers and ignorance of our ignorance. After you strip us, then bathe us in compassion so our shared pain will generate a powerful passion that will eventuate in reaching a divine purpose.

“As dark as this day may be, I am assured you did not bring us this far to leave us now. Hatred, divisiveness, and even death are but finite happenings. We cling to an infinite hope. You’ve already given us the panacea for this and all pandemics. You have told us what is good and what you require, that is to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before our God. You have not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.

“If your people who are called by your name would humble themselves and pray, turn from our wicked ways and seek your face, you promise that you will hear from heaven, forgive our sins, and heal our land. Comfort us, oh God. Guide, guard, and govern us. God of all nations. Known by many names. Do it through Christ Jesus my Lord. Amen.”

-Reverend C. B. Atkins 5/28/2020

Jesus is King

No matter where we are this day, let us come together in one voice, joined as the Body of Christ by the gift of the Holy Spirit, to give thanks and praise to our Lord and Savior.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son:
and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be:
world without end. Amen.

 

Mark 11:7-11

When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts.

 

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It is right to praise you, Almighty God, for the acts of love by which you have redeemed us through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. On this day he entered the holy city of Jerusalem in triumph, and was proclaimed as King of kings by those who spread their garments and branches of palm along his way. Let these branches be for us signs of his victory, and grant that we who bear them in his name may ever hail him as our King, and follow him in the way that leads to eternal life; who lives and reigns in glory with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.  (Book of Common Prayer)

An Intercessory Prayer

From churchofengland.org

Let us pray to the Lord,

who is our refuge and stronghold.

For the health and well-being of our nation,

that all who are fearful and anxious

may be at peace and free from worry:

Lord, hear us,

Lord, graciously hear us.

 

For the isolated and housebound,

that we may be alert to their needs,

and care for them in their vulnerability:

Lord, hear us,

Lord, graciously hear us.

 

For our homes and families,

our schools and young people,

and all in any kind of need or distress:

Lord, hear us,

Lord, graciously hear us.

 

For a blessing on our local community,

that our neighbourhoods may be places

of trust and friendship,

where all are known and cared for:

Lord, hear us,

Lord, graciously hear us.

 

We commend ourselves,

and all for whom we pray,

to the mercy and protection of God.

Merciful Father,

accept these prayers

for the sake of your Son,

our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Poetry as Prayer

poets prayToday’s read is When Poets Pray by Marilyn McEntyre.

From Amazon: Poetry and prayer are closely related. We often look to poets to give language to our deepest hopes, fears, losses—and prayers. Poets slow us down. They teach us to stop and go in before we go on. They play at the edges of mystery, holding a tension between line and sentence, between sense and reason, between the transcendent and the deeply, comfortingly familiar. When Poets Pray contains thoughtful meditations by Marilyn McEntyre on choice poems/prayers and poems about prayer. Her beautifully written reflections are contemplative exercises, not scholarly analyses, meant more as invitation than instruction. Here McEntyre shares gifts that she herself has received from poets who pray, or who reflect on prayer, believing that they have other gifts to offer readers seeking spiritual companionship along our pilgrim way.  Poets include: Robert Frost, Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, Mary Oliver, and the psalmists.

From the book…

“A Prayer in Spring” by Robert Frost

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
To which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends he will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.

Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
    so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than those who watch for the morning,
    more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
    from all its iniquities.

 

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)