The Intention of Giving Thanks

Sermon for Sunday, January 15, 2023 || Epiphany 2A || I Corinthians 1:1-9

The action of giving thanks is a profound spiritual discipline. It may not seem so at first because we often think of spiritual disciplines as arduous additions to our lives, while we already tend to do a lot of thanking. We thank the cashier at the grocery store. We thank the person holding the door open for us. We thank our kids when they do something especially considerate. We’d be hard pressed to find a day in which we didn’t say “thank you” to someone. But the idea that a spiritual discipline must be an arduous addition to our daily routine sort of misses the point. A spiritual discipline need only be intentional, not necessarily arduous. And it’s even better if we build that intentionality off of something we’re already doing – like giving thanks.

I’m talking about thanksgiving today for two reasons. First, we just read the beginning of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Most of Paul’s letters, including this one, open with a paragraph of thanksgiving: “I give thanks to my God always for you,” Paul says, “because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus.” Then he goes on to point out why he’s so thankful to God for the people of the church in Corinth. He begins like this before writing a fairly long letter that in equal parts admonishes them, teaches them, and encourages them. Beginning with thanksgiving is always a good way to start.

The second reason I’m talking about thanksgiving today is that this past week, I celebrated my 40th birthday. And instead of getting all morose about the fact that I am now “over the hill,” I decided, I’d like to start the second half of my life with thanksgiving. So this morning, I’m going to offer my thanks for many things and also talk about why the spiritual discipline of thanksgiving is so important for our lives of faith.

In a couple of weeks, I will begin my tenth year as the pastor of this church. That alone is cause enough for thanksgiving because this wonderful community of faith has welcomed my family and me into your midst in a way I never thought possible. You might recall, when I was growing up, my family had some rocky times as a priest’s family, so to have found a community of mutual care and support and love like this one was never something I dreamed could happen. But it has. And for that I give great thanks to God for you.

This is a particular type of giving thanks. This is giving thanks to God for providing something so lifegiving that we couldn’t possibly imagine it before it arrived. So this type of thanksgiving, then, opens us up to all the unimaginable possibilities God’s grace showers upon us. This type of thanksgiving expands us beyond our standard narrow focus. This type of thanksgiving  helps us to incubate hope within ourselves, especially during times of trial, because something deep within us tells us that God is not through with us yet.

The people here at St. Mark’s have also supported me as Leah and I bought a house here in Mystic. I was a little worried about what people would say when I told them we wanted to move out of the rectory, but pretty much everyone has been excited for us. And several people started listing off all the reasons it makes good sense before I could start listing them myself. I suppose buying a house is my midlife crisis. As crises go, I’ll take it. I’m not really into hundred thousand dollar sports cars anyway. The buying of the house symbolizes for me another reason for thanksgiving. My therapist asked me recently why (beyond the normal answers) I was excited to own my own house. And the word jumped immediately to my mind: stability. By the time I was my children’s age, I had lived in seven different houses in four different states. My childhood was so nomadic that I didn’t really make friends until late in high school. My children have lived here in Mystic their entire lives. And for that stability I give thanks.

This illustrates another type of thanksgiving – giving thanks for the way God is most present in your life at any given time. In prayer and reflection, we can find a particular value or intention through which we hear God speaking into our lives. For me right now, this value is “stability.” In the past it has been many other things: creativity, community, solidarity, peace. Giving thanks for these things helps us to discover all the ways God is touching our lives through them. The act of thanksgiving sharpens the lenses of faith so that we more readily discern God’s movement.

And finally, this morning, I am giving thanks for the everyday things that sustain life, things like food, clothing, and shelter. And not just food, but that particular croissant from Sift, made by particular hands from particular ingredients. And not just clothing, but these old clothes I’m wearing today, clothes I’ve worn hundreds of times that have served me well for many years. And not just shelter, but the new house my family can call a home. The particularity of our thanksgiving allows us the opportunity to focus our vision on these everyday things that we easily overlook. When we focus on them, we remember that God is not only present in the big moments of our lives, but in every moment, no matter how small. 

That’s one reason we make a big deal about giving thanks before sharing a tiny piece of bread later in this service. That “Great Thanksgiving” celebrates the biggest of moments, the turning point of all creation – the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. At the same time, we celebrate it in a small, intimate way, by sharing a humble meal together as the Body of Christ.

This week, I invite you to notice when you say thank you. What are the circumstances that prompt those words to move from your heart to your mouth? Each time you say “thank you,” God is offering you a moment to pause and focus on how God is moving in your life. At the end of each day, think back also on when you could have said “thank you” but didn’t. What is God prompting you to notice is those moments? A spiritual discipline is an intentional action that we take to cultivate our lives of faith. Giving thanks is something we all do already, and I invite you to make your thanksgiving more intentional. Make it a spiritual discipline. Begin this new year with thanks to God on your lips and in your hearts.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash.

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