Monday, December 12, 2016

Nov 20, 2016 Sermon: "Saying Grace"

Stephen Baldwin
OT: Deut 26.1-11
OT: Psalm 100
Saying Grace

            One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies is when the Griswold family in Christmas Vacation asks Aunt Bethany to say grace.  She’s hard of hearing and a few marshmallows short of a casserole, so they have to tell her several times what they want. 
            Her crotchety husband leans over and says, “Grace, they want you to say grace.”
            She replies, “Grace? She died thirty years ago.” 
            “The blessing!” And she finally agrees. 
            The details may differ, but most of us start our family meals, especially at the holidays, the same way.  Why?  Because saying grace is the heart of faith.  It’s more than a tradition.  It’s more than a custom.  It’s more than something you have to endure because Aunt Bethany says so before you dig into that magnificent turkey.  Saying grace is the heart of faith. 
            In the Bible, when something important happens, it’s usually at a meal.  When the prodigal son returns.  When Ruth and Boaz make a pact. When Jesus is arrested.  When Jesus is resurrected.  I could go on and on.  Important things happen at meals all throughout the Bible!  God is a Presbyterian after all!   
            Saying grace is the heart of faith.  And Psalm 100 shows us the way:  “1Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. 2Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. 3Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. 5For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
            Historians tell us the pilgrims recited those joyous, grateful verses at the first Thanksgiving meal.  They probably even sang them.  Before you get too nostalgic and want to go back to those good ole days, remember that the meal was nothing like we remember it. 
No linens or silver or even a table.  Half the pilgrim colony had died.  They were constantly in conflict with the Native Americans on whose land they were encroaching.  They weren’t expected to live through winter.  So the governor decided they needed a morale boost.  He said they needed a feast.  They brought what they could scrape together, vegetables and beans and so forth.  They had no meat, so they invited the Natives to attend their meal…and bring a few deer if you can, thank you very much…and they did.  So they all stood together around fires and shared a potluck.  Historians tell us this was probably the turning point for the pilgrims, for they wouldn’t have survived without the aid of the Natives, and it took the pilgrims hitting rock bottom to put aside their pride and prejudices to ask for help. 
Good thing we’re not like those pilgrims, huh?  We ask for help all the time!  We share our gratitude freely!  There, I’ve just lied three times in church on Sunday morning.  The truth is…gratitude is counter-cultural.  Our culture teaches us, “This Bud’s for you!...Have it your way! …Just do it.”  Gratitude is counter-cultural in a culture that makes us think we are the center of the universe.  Which is why saying grace is the heart of faith. 
As the great preacher John Buchanan once said, “To praise God for,,,life, to thank God that all is grace—corporately in worship or in private prayer or at table with loved ones—is to be called out of yourself for a moment or two, to be called away from the relentless focus on me, mine, my needs, my feelings, and to focus on something greater. It is a countercultural, subversive act in a market economy and culture that tells us over and over that our needs are what really matter, that meeting our needs, whatever they are, will make us happy, that “this Bud’s for you.”
Wendell Berry is a Christian author who has spent his life doing just that.  For the past 35+ years, he takes an early morning walk in the woods, looks, listens, and pays attention to God’s creation.  Then he comes home and writes a poem of gratitude to God.  In one called A Timbered Choir he writes,
I go among the trees and sit still
All my stirrings become quiet
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle . . .
After days of labor,
mute in my consternation
I hear my song at last
and I sing it.
Gratitude is our song.  Saying grace is the heart of faith, whether you do it at the dinner table, on your lunch break, or during a walk through the woods.  That’s because gratitude is more than a feeling.  More than an attitude.  Gratitude is about remembering, about being part of a larger story, and telling that story everywhere we go. 
I’ve been thinking this week about our story as a church over the past year.  I’ve thought about special worship services and folks who have gone through hard times and renovation projects and the workcamp program (which hosted a record 17 groups this year).  But what defines this past year in our church, is our bulletin board.  It is filled with “thank you” notes, mostly from folks in the community that we do not know, sent to us because we provided flood relief, which we were able to do because folks from across the state and nation sent us help, which they did because…who knows why. 
I imagine us and all the families represented on this bulletin board, like the people of Deuteronomy 26, sitting down together with our first fruits, entrusting them to God, sharing with one another, and giving thanks that we are a part of the same story for another year.  It has been a hard year.  And it has been a beautiful year. 

As you sit down at a table with your friends or family this week, remember that saying grace is “the blessing!”  And it is the heart of faith.  Gratitude is a story in which we all have an important part to play.  Amen.  

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