All Lands Summoned to Praise GodPsalms 100 (NRSVUE)
A Psalm of thanksgiving.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him; bless his name.
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever
and his faithfulness to all generations.
This morning we set our table of Thanks-giving and we gave thanks for many of the gifts in our individual lives and in the life of our church. This time of year, people often make lists of the things that they are thankful for as they prepare for Thanksgiving Day. Some even make it a month-long practice to acknowledge something that they are thankful for each day during the month of November. Now, it’s not that we are NOT thankful the rest of the year; we just don’t think about it as much as we do around Thanksgiving.
In years past, I’ve preached sermons about how we should look at it as “Thanks-living” instead of Thanksgiving, because rather than celebrating and giving thanks for just one day or even an entire month, we should look at Thanksgiving as a way of living every day. Thanksgiving makes more of a difference in our lives and in the world around us as a verb, or something we do, than it does as a proper noun or the name of a holiday.
Folks I wonder, you have ever gotten a new car, at least a “new to you” car, and then noticed that there are lots of other cars just like it on the road? Or someone in your family finds out that they are expecting a child, and suddenly you see pregnant women and babies everywhere you look? Or maybe you learn a new vocabulary word, and then over the next week, you see it in an article you are reading and you hear it used in casual conversation with a friend? Seems strange, doesn’t it?
Now some might call it a coincidence, or as Pastor Katrina (the last pastor that served here in Oldtown) used to say, it’s a God instance. But the truth is, the things we concentrate on become important to us and we notice them more often, just like the things that we do over and over again become routine and comfortable, like second nature.
Well, there is a psychological term for that. known as the “frequency illusion,” or the “Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.” (Did you know that my undergraduate degree is in psychology?) It occurs through a process of selective attention, meaning that you are hyper-focused on something, so you recognize it over and over again in lots of different places.
Now some of you might be thinking, “Am I in some kind of a science class or in church?” But friends, let me assure you that science and faith don’t oppose each other; they actually work together hand in hand. And I personally believe that Jesus would have celebrated new understandings and inventions. I mean, if cars had been invented two thousand years earlier, when Jesus and his disciples were traveling all over Galilee, Judea, and Samaria, I’m sure Jesus and the disciples would have had a minivan!
Okay, so this frequency illusion, or the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, also works with our being thankful as well because when we concentrate on being thankful, we find that we have more to be thankful for. And being thankful really does change things because gratitude is a spiritual awareness. It’s pausing to recognize the good in our lives and in the world all around us. And the more time we spend being thankful or living lives of gratitude, the more we recognize that life is a gift. And the everyday ordinary things that we so often take for granted we begin to see as wonderful blessings.
Diana Butler Bass is a historian and progressive Christian author who published a book titled Grateful in 2018. I was looking back through it this week and I read a line that said “ingratitude caught up with me. I realized I needed to do better, understand more deeply, and trust that a life of thankfulness held out new possibilities for hope, joy, and love.”
Did you hear that? New possibilities for hope, joy, and love? As I read that line, I suddenly had an idea. Now I fully understand that Thanksgiving is a national holiday here in the United States and that Advent and Christmas are holy days in the Christian liturgical calendar. But just like faith and science can work together, I started to wonder if a national holiday and religious holy days could too.
Our Thanksgiving traditions and practices of thinking of and sharing the things that we are thankful for open our hearts and our mind to the blessings that are all around us, to the goodness in our lives, and to the amazing gifts that we so often take for granted.
During Advent and Christmas, we often talk about and experience that special magical Christmas feeling, you know, when everyone is kind to each other, sharing hope, peace, joy, love, and goodwill for all people. So, I wonder, does Advent actually make that happen, or does our focus and our act of Thanksgiving just before Advent open the door?
Because folks, especially now, when it’s dark at 5pm and it’s cold outside, when we feel overworked and underappreciated, when we are frustrated by politics and people who don’t follow through with their responsibilities, when we don’t see eye to eye with family, and we feel like we don’t fit in at church, it’s difficult to be appreciative.
Thanklessness can so easily take over and wrap us in darkness. That’s when we become frustrated, grumpy, discouraged, and unmotivated, and we treat our family, our friends, our neighbors, and even ourselves less than kind. It is in moments like that that we quickly forget our blessings and joy is nowhere to be found. But taking time to be thankful, even for the smallest things in our lives, reminds us that everything is a gift, that there is goodness all around us. And we quickly see and remember that a blessing shared is a blessing made double!
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you head out into this week of Thanksgiving, whether you are looking forward to seeing family or stressing over cleaning your house, how long the turkey needs to cook, and where everyone is going to sit, please take some time to count your blessings. Make a list of the things you are thankful for and allow yourself to experience a few moments of gratitude. Because it really does make a difference. It’s a spiritual practice that opens your heart and your mind to see and experience the blessings all around you. It’s a gift that only you can give yourself. And I encourage you with this gift to be generous!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!