St Johns, Johnsonville and Holy Trinity, Ohariu
Readings: 1 Chronicles 16:4, 7-13, 34; Psalm 149; Ephesians 5:15-20; Luke 10:21-24
You may recall the old harvest hymn: ‘We plough the fields and scatter…’ The refrain goes: ‘All good gifts around us / are sent from heaven above / so thank the Lord, oh thank the lord for all his love.’ The hymn doesn’t limit all those good things to harvest, but encompasses ‘our life, our health, our food…’ God is the giver of all good things: every mouthful of food we take; every breath of air we inhale; every note of music we hear, every smile on the face of another human being – all that, and countless more, are good gifts from God’s generosity.
As we’ve thought about stewardship, we’ve seen that it isn’t just code for ‘give us more money’. Rather, it speaks of a way of life – a way that acknowledges that all we have is a gift from God. Stewardship is about how we live out our lives as Christians. And that way of living has its heart the constant awareness of God’s loving goodness and generosity.
The stewardship of time reminds us that each day of life is a new gift from God, a new opportunity in our journey. The stewardship of our talents, those things we enjoy doing and do well, these also are a gift from God, and we’re called to discover these gifts, to develop them, and to deploy them for God’s use in the world. And then there’s our material resources, including our money, that money for which we worked so hard, that’s also a gift from God.
Stewardship is about how we manage everything that God has gifted us with. So the old harvest hymn has it right: ‘so thank the Lord, oh thank the lord for all his love.’ Thinking about this, it strikes me that the idea of stewardship is counter-cultural. It goes against the popular notion that what I have is mine. The British poet John Betjeman wrote a parody of the harvest hymn. His refrain goes: ‘All concrete sheds around us /And Jaguars in the yard, / The telly lounge and deep-freeze / Are ours from working hard.’ That summarises the attitude of many. There’s no recognition that God is the giver of all good gifts. Instead, I have these things by right – what’s mine is mine, and I can do with them just as I wish.
Being honest with myself, I recognise the Betjeman’s words are often true in the way I live, and perhaps it’s the same for you, and like me, you sometimes experience an internal tug of war. A part of me wants to hold onto what I’ve got, while another part wants to respond to the vision that it’s only on long term loan to me from God – that what I have, has been given to me to care for and use for God’s purposes. This is why stewardship is something that we grow into as we become increasingly aware of our calling as stewards.
Stewardship is a way of life. It’s involves a mindset – an approach that can radically change how we live. At the heart of it is thanksgiving and gratitude. Gratitude (which comes from the Latin gratus) has the same root as grace – the free, boundless gift of God. So it speaks of gratefulness and thankfulness, especially for what God has given us.
The Bible abounds with expressions of gratitude and thanksgiving. The Hebrew Scriptures are soaked in them. The Psalms, even those that are laments, reverberate with thanksgiving and praise: ‘Praise the Lord. / O give thanks, for the Lord is good / God’s love endures for ever’ (Psalm 106:1). King David chose certain priests to be ministers before the Ark of the Covenant with the commission ‘to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord’, and he appointed singers to do nothing but sing God’s praises (2 Chronicles 16:4,7)
Paul knew about gratitude. Writing to the Romans he said, ‘First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you’ (Romans 1:8). Then to the Thessalonians, ‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). The Bible speaks with a united voice, urging us to give ‘thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Ephesians 5:20). Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1327/8) said that ‘if the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.’ It was a prayer that stood at the centre of Jesus’ life. He was the ultimate thankful person. The signature written across his life was the prayer ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth’ (Luke 10:21). One theory is that those words were originally a part of a very early liturgy of blessing and thanksgiving. And thanksgiving stands at the centre of our Eucharistic life as a faith community (Eucharist, after all, means ‘thanksgiving’).
This reminds me of the old song I learnt as a child, ‘Count your blessings / Name them one by one / Count your blessings / See what God has done.’ Thanksgiving is like the thread that binds together all the patchwork squares of our lives. Difficult times, happy times, seasons of sickness and struggle, times of pleasure and delight – all can be sown together into something beautiful with the thread of gratitude. But if we lack that note in our lives, then the patchwork falls to pieces – it becomes fragmented and our lives can turn bitter, steeped in resentment and ingratitude. Then we know the truth of Shakespeare’s lines, ‘Blow, blow, thou winter wind, / Thou art not so unkind / As man’s ingratitude.’
Of course, it’s not always easy to give thanks, especially when life is tough. But we have a choice as to how we respond to what life presents. We each have the power to choose to be grateful people or not. That’s why gratitude is something we need to learn to grow in.
So many occasions present themselves in which we can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. Henri Nouwen said, ‘I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly. I can choose to listen to the voices that forgive and to look at the faces that smile, even while I still hear words of revenge and see grimaces of hatred… There is the option to look into the eyes of the One who came out to search for me and see therein that all I am and all I have is pure gift calling for gratitude.’
Thanksgiving is possible not because everything is rosy in the garden, but because God is present, and that all I have and am, is a gift from God – a gift to be received and celebrated. A life of gratitude is one that acknowledges our dependence upon God – that all we have is a gift from God.
There’s an old spiritual discipline of listing one’s blessings, naming them before God, and giving thanks. And I encourage you to do that. At the end of each day spend a few minutes reflecting on what has been, calling to mind at least three things you want to thank God for (they may be as simple as a smile received or a gracious word spoken) – and stay with them; share them with God, telling God what they mean to you.
Take some time now to be still and to recall what God has given you (refer to the suggestions in Contact) through
As you come to the altar this morning, stretching out your hands to receive the gift of Jesus’ body and blood, offer those thanksgivings to God as your gift in response to what God gives you. And in the days ahead practice a daily recollection of gratitude. But don’t leave it there. Keep asking how you might use your time, your talents and your treasures for God.