PASTORAL MESSAGE – MARCH 7, 2021
The Gospel verse today is John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.” It is a passage that we have heard often and are reminded of by signs at sporting events stating, “John 3:16.” It’s all so familiar that most of us simply take the passage for granted: “Of course God loved the world and sent His son…Did you catch the score of the game last night?” When we take things for granted, we develop attitudes of indifference (“So what?”), entitlement (“It’s the least He could do for this messed up world”) and resentment (“Sending His son didn’t help me very much!”).
In the reading from Exodus, God reminds the people that he “brought [them] out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.” You would think that they would have been eternally grateful for that great rescue. Yet, they took it for granted as they wandered through the desert. Similarly, they did not appreciate the great love that God displayed when he delivered the Commandments to Moses. It wasn’t until many years later that the Psalmist wrote that “the ordinances of the Lord…are more precious than gold.” At least the Psalmist recognized that they should stop taking their relationship with God for granted.
Similarly, the temple in Jerusalem was under construction for more than 40 years and was an amazing, massive structure. Yet, we read that the temple area was overrun with those “who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers.” Apparently, those folks and all the other Jews visiting the temple took the whole thing for granted. It didn’t matter that this was the house of God; it was no big deal to visit this remarkable structure, “Wow, it’s crowded here. I hope we can still get some grilled lamb from the nice lady over by the pigeon stand.”
Being grateful is the opposite of taking things for granted. Being grateful involves shifting our focus and being mindful that even during difficult times there is always something for which to be grateful. Experts say we can train ourselves to become more grateful and that the more we practice gratitude, the more it becomes a habit. Those same experts have discovered that people for whom gratitude is a habit tend to be healthier, happier and have stronger relationships.
Yet, society today seems to be based on an odd mix of selfishness and entitlement. Many people put themselves and their needs above all else. They regularly take people for granted or even complain and become angry because others don’t meet their every wish. We view people by what they do for us instead of who they are to us. Moms become taxis and dads become ATMs. How many marriages and other relationships eventually fall apart because of the sin of ingratitude? Above all, we fail to thank God for His blessings. Thankfulness keeps our hearts in right relationship with God as well as with one another. When we start thanking God for the things we previously took for granted, our perspective changes. We recognize that God has given us people who love us and are there for us whenever we need them, even when we don’t deserve their love or support. Our grateful attitude compels us to thank God and others for all that they do and especially for their love.
Of course, it’s tough to be grateful when we experience difficult times in life; when we fail in ways that we hoped we would succeed; or when people who are close to us get ill or die. However, it’s especially important to thank God for his presence in our lives when we face challenges. We’re not thanking him for the challenges, but for His love, support, guidance and the strength to endure the situation. We can have thankful hearts toward God even when we don’t feel thankful for the circumstances. We can grieve and still be thankful. We can hurt and still be thankful. We can be angry at sin and still be thankful toward God.
We cannot always change the circumstances, but we can always choose how we react to those circumstances. Giving thanks keeps our hearts in right relationship with God and others. Gratitude saves us from harmful emotions and attitudes that rob us of the peace God wants us to experience. Gratitude leads to civility, kindness, gentleness, and generosity. Saying “Thank You!” in every situation goes a long way toward helping us to be our best Christian selves.
And so, THANK YOU for your attention, prayers, and support!