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Nov 18, 2018

Choosing to be Grateful

Passage: Psalms 126:1-6

Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

Series: The Choice Is Yours

Category: Sermon Series


A week ago I was visiting with a couple after worship in the Friendship Center about their Thanksgiving plans.  It seems that for years, their children (and grandchildren) all came to their place in Decatur but last year, they tried something different.  The whole family spent Thanksgiving elsewhere.  Afterwards, the children all rebelled and protested that they didn’t want to do that again.  Because Thanksgiving just wasn’t the same without everyone “coming home.”  So this year, they are all reuniting back at the parents’ homestead in Decatur… as it should be. 

Why is it that we like homecomings so much?  What is it about “coming home” that we love?  Is it the familiar smell that greets us when we open the door of “home” for the first time after being away.  And let’s face it, all homes – and the land they sit on – have a unique smell and the sense of smell just happens to be one that is tied strongly to memory.  Is that we love?  The smells that surround us when we’re home?  Or is it mom (or dad’s) home cooking?  Comfort food?  Is that what we love about being home?  The meals we used to eat as a child, that were kind of pre-game meals that got us ready to go out into the world for the first time.  Even though we have those recipes and make them ourselves in our own homes, it never seems to taste the same as when it is done by mom’s hands, in her pans and dishes, and eaten around her table. 

Or is it people that we love?  Are people what make homecomings so special?  The people who are just as excited about our coming home as we are?  Who are there to run out and greet us with arms wide open as we arrive?  Or is it the land that we love?  Is what we like about being home putting out boots on the ground and walking the land that connects us to our true selves.  I know that’s true for my mom.  She’s a farm-girl, tom-boy at heart and she’s in her element when she goes back to Marietta, OH and walks the hills of the family dairy farm that raised her. 

Where is “home” for you?  And what do you love about going home?  What feelings does it engender in you to be home?  Comfort?  Safety?  Security?  Warmth?  Love?  How about Joy?  Laughter?  That’s what the people of God felt when they came home.  For centuries they had lived on their land.  But then, about 600 years before the time of Jesus, an invading army from Babylon conquered them.  The Babylonians destroyed their holy temple and burned it to the ground.  They also took many of the people hostage; to live in captivity in Babylon – hundreds of miles away from home.  They stayed there for the next six decades!  During that time, they grieved, they cried, they cried out to God and they struggled.  But after 60 years they were set free and came home.  They put their lives back together and they rebuilt the temple.  And every time they saw that new temple – standing on the same holy ground where the last temple had stood – and came near it for worship, they sang songs – like PS 126 (which is our scripture reading for today).  Here is what the people would sing as they saw this new temple:  Read PS 126.

Our sermon series in the month of November is “The choice is yours.”  We don’t always choose the way life unfolds for us, but we do choose how we respond to what happens.  The people of God did not choose to be conquered, or have their temple destroyed or be forced to leave their land.  They were not in control of all of that.  But they were in control of how they responded.  They kept the faith through those 60 years.  And when they came home and rebuilt their temple, they responded with gratitude. 

Verse 1 says “When we saw the temple and we realized that God has restored our fortunes, it was like a dream come true!”  Verse 2 says “Our mouths filled with laughter and our hearts overflowed with joy.”  And verse 3 says, “Because the Lord has done great things for us.”  The temple symbolized home for them.  It was a reminder that they had lost and suffered, but that God had provided for them and brought them home as only God could do.  And so the logical and natural response for them was gratitude and thanksgiving. 

But this raises the question: “Do we need to suffer and lose and fall in order to be thankful and grateful?  Are there things some kind of prerequisites for gratitude and thanksgiving?”  We discussed this at our men’s bible studies this week and the general consensus was, “No, we don’t have to suffer and lose and fall to know what gratitude is, but it does help.”  It helps us put our core values in perspective.  It helps us see a bigger picture of what’s really important in life.  To realize that we can lose something helps us not take it for granted.  Think of the Prodigal Son.  All those years he had been living under the shadow of his father’s love and provision.  But he wasn’t thankful or grateful for it – not really – until he had fallen, and suffered, and lost.  Only then did he come to see what was always there in front of his eyes. 

I believe that’s why homecomings are so special for us.  Homecomings are a great metaphor and symbol of God’s love.  That stable place in our lives that welcomes us back no matter how far away we’ve traveled; where we are received just as we are and where we are loved for who we are.  This is the role God plays in our lives.  God is our true home – as PS 46 says – “Our rock and refuge” that is never moved even if everything around us is shaken and uprooted.  Gratitude and thanksgiving begin with seeing this truth clearly.

Being thankful and grateful is a choice.  It is choosing to look at life through a wide lens and with a long view.  It is choosing to look backward and see the places and times we have suffered and lost and grieved, but how God has seen us through those difficult times.  It is choosing to see that we may have journeyed far and wide, but God has always welcomed us home.  It is choosing to see that all that we have is a gift.  It is not taking anything for granted because we realize it came to us through a gift of grace and it won’t be with us forever. 

So as we begin this Thanksgiving week, I invite you to choose to be grateful.  In particular, I invite us to think back on this past year, 2018, which is approaching its end.  Think of all the places you’ve journeyed; the things you have done and experienced; the things that have been done to you.  And consider these three questions (refer to sermon outline on yellow insert): 1) Where have you fallen and suffered in this year and how has God seen through that?  2) What has been the biggest blessing you’ve received this year that you don’t want to take for granted?  3) What is the most important thing that has happened to you this year (positive or negative) and how has it made you the person you are today. 

Cultivating gratitude in our hearts begins by choosing to ask and answer questions like these…