From Black Friday to a Sabbath of Gratitude

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I spent a good deal of time reflecting on Thanksgiving…on how we can not only understand it but embody it…live it in our daily lives….strive toward a state, a practice, of gratitude. After sitting with my daughter—who is my greatest teacher—I realized that Gratitude can only be understood in a space of love, when we know we are loved and we know that our belovedness is enough…when we stop striving and grasping and clinging and rest in our identity as the Beloved of God, wonderfully unique people created in the image of God who are growing into the likeness of Christ…who, in that wonderful orthodox image, are being Christed…being Christs in the world…continuing the Incarnation in our day and age…

The great Philippians hymn came to mind, that wonderful reflection by St. Paul as he wondered about Christ’s nature…on how Christ emptied himself. But you know, of course, texts are crazy things. We have all these different translations, and sometimes interesting things happen. Here’s the text in the New Revised Standard Version:

“If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete.”

Now, here’s the same text from the King James Version, or as we Anglicans call it, “The Authorized Version:”

“If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfill ye my joy…”

If it’s alright with you, I want to use the “compassion and sympathy” version rather than the version that focuses on our bowels….

St. Paul says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Let the same wisdom, the same perspective, the same ethos, the same embodiment… Not “just” to be like Jesus..like we are “just” tracings on paper of an original drawing, but that we are called to be embodiments… That there is a radical call, an invitation to a vocation…

But, what St. Paul wants us to realize is that at the heart of Christ’s nature was a self-emptying…that this self-emptying was what enabled Christ, if you will, to fully show—embody—compassion for others…because he was open…. And in that spirit, true gratitude could be experienced. The bling beggar was healed, the woman at the well had her self-worth affirmed, the bleeding woman received mercy, the little girl sat up in bed and hugged her family, a few pieces of fish and bread fed a multitude…. Out of Christ’s willingness to share himself there is gratitude for life…

It makes us wonder: doesn’t gratitude require an openness of us? A receptivity that demands that we step out of our ego-centered consciousness and live from the space of our spiritual heart…We can’t be truly grateful if we’re always grasping at things that we think will give us self-worth…

We begin to think: what does it mean that we say we are thankful for our blessings? How often does our gratitude for our blessings really consist of being thankful for only material things? Objects, wealth get most of our culture’s focus. We are told that we are wealthy if we have more stuff… Is this true?

And there’s heat in cold weather, air in hot weather, enough food to eat….yes….these are invaluable to those who need a home.

Good health, yes of course…

But even with these, what are they for? What are we grateful FOR?

True gratitude is experienced not when we simply tally up our material blessing scorecards. True gratitude is experienced when we realize the truth of our radical interdependence. We may not want to think that we are our brother’s keeper, even. But, in a state of gratitude, we move from being our brother’s keeper to being our brother’s sister or brother…(which requires even more compassion)…to even yet the deeper realization that we are our brother, we are our sister. They are us…We are all one in the Body of Christ… So, when someone doesn’t have a home to live in….

Isn’t this the image of the Thanksgiving table? All gathered around to celebrate God’s goodness—God’s Presence—together? Pass the rolls. Slice the turkey. Eat the pie. Who knew that green bean casserole was a sacrament?!

Make no mistake about it, the world around us has a certain idea of what gratitude is. There is a culture of possession and success and individualism that seeps into everything we do. Yes, St. Paul stands there with his radical hymn: “Be of the same mind, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourself. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…”

Here’s a thought, a challenge: What if we did things differently this year. What if, as a community, instead of spending that Thursday and Friday of “Thanksgiving” running around clutching and grasping at all the best sales on all the stuff that we have been convinced we need…

What if we sat together….spent time with family rather than spend money on stuff…

What if, instead of running around fighting crowds to by the perfect present for the person we love, we “just” spent time with the person we loved…helped our neighbor…emptied ourselves…embodied compassion…invited gratitude.

What if we said no to Black Friday in order to say yes to a true Sabbath of Gratitude?

Maybe you can’t imagine that…. But I think you can. I think we can…imagine that….live into that…experience that…

What if??

The Rev. Stuart Craig Higginbotham
Gainesville Community Thanksgiving Service
Philippians 2:1-11
Sunday, November 16, 2014

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