Nov 26th: Practicing Daily Gratitude in Good Times and Bad, with Rev. Tyler McQuilkin.
A Part of the Series:
Practicing Daily Gratitude in Good Times and Bad with Rev. Tyler McQuilkin. Series: All In A Spacious Christianity, First Presbyterian Church of Bend, Oregon. Scripture: Psalm 100.
This week, Tyler provides a message about practicing gratitude daily, even when facing difficulties, based on Psalm 100, embracing gratitude and acknowledging problems.
When I was in my last year in seminary, I took a class called exegesis of Matthew, with a New Testament scholar named Dale, Allison. Dale, Allison is probably not a name known in most households. But in the very niche world of biblical scholarship and theology, he’s actually a pretty well known name. Because of a commentary. He wrote on the Gospel of Matthew that is about 2500 pages long. And it took him a decade to write. He’s a pretty smart guy. I was never the top of my class when it came to Greek or Hebrew. And I’ve never been known as a person who has known the Bible inside and out. But Dale Allison was just that. He is a trained historian. He’s an expert in Greek. And it would take him almost three hours to unpack just a few verses each week from the Sermon on the Mount. He was probably the closest thing I’ve seen to a literal genius. One day in class, Dale, Allison paused, he looked up at the window, and he just said, I am weak, and a fool. And then he turned back to our class. And then he said, and I go to church every Sunday, not because I want to hear something new. But because I need to be reminded of who I am as a person in need of God’s grace every day in my life. So today, on this Sunday, after Thanksgiving, giving, I hope you didn’t come here hoping to hear something new and profound. Instead, in light of Thanksgiving, this is going to be another reminder of the importance of gratitude directed to God each and every day. Our Scripture today comes from Psalm 100. And it says, make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness. Come into God’s presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is God who made us and we are His. We are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture. enter God’s gates with thanksgiving, and God’s courts with praise. Give thanks to God bless God’s name. For the Lord is good. God’s steadfast love endures forever and God’s faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100 begins with the simple command to make a joyful noise to the Lord. Now, if you’ve been part of the Presbyterian branch of the church for much time, you know we are not quick to spontaneously break out into joyful noises, or praises or Thanksgivings, we are called the frozen chosen for a reason. A pastor friend of mine who is also Presbyterian likes to joke about this by signing his emails with the signature, stay frozen, stay chosen. Anthony, instead of sincerely Anthony or blessings. Our tradition often says do everything decently and in order. So it is not part of our common practice to make these joyful noises. We might even feel uncomfortable appearing to be happy in church out of fear of not being decent, and in order. But then the psalm gets to verse two, where it says to serve God with gladness. This is where a lot of us I imagine, feel like we align ourselves with the psalm. We like serving. This is a church full of kind, willing people willing to serve when and where there is a need. Serving is a good thing to do. And it is a great way to embody your faith and to respond to God’s grace by serving others. Now, I don’t want to assume everyone prefers service over making a joyful noise. But what this text does say is that there are different ways to show gratitude in life. And I think based on our differences in the way we are, we’re all created differently. I think this simply says that we can show gratitude to God in whatever way feels natural to us. Some feel more comfortable showing their gratitude through loud praise and worship, while others through studying to know God more closely. And others feel like showing gratitude through serving. As the songwriter continues. They right know that the Lord is God. It is God who made us and we are His. We are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture. Throughout Scripture, there are metaphors and imagery used to describe who God is, who Jesus is, and who we are. In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells, or says seven im statements, which are seven statements he made to his followers and the disciples to describe who he is, and Jesus’s relationship to humans. These include things like when Jesus said, I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the door, I am the good shepherd. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. And the last one is I am the true vine. Jesus like to remind his disciples and the crowds who he was and who we are. And this psalm doesn’t shy away from this theme in Scripture, either, we are reminded that we are sheep, and God is our shepherd. Something that is always important to do when reading scripture is to slow down before placing ourselves directly in the story. Maybe you have heard it called Disney Princess theology, where we often place ourselves as the hero or the important, important person in the story. We like to say that we are the prodigal son returning into the Father’s arms, we find it easy to say that we are Peter, the disciple and closest friend to Jesus. But we never like to say that we are Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. We like to see ourselves as King David, the King, who was chosen by God to lead the nation of Israel. But we are never one of the countless corrupt kings and leaders of Israel. So as we read the psalm today, let’s learn how we can be thankful. But let’s understand what the author originally intended for the audience. Ancient Israel was a nation constantly wrestling with God. They were regularly wondering where their place was in the world, why God allowed so many terrible things to happen to them. And they wondered if God even cared about their oppression, and exile, and if God was going to lead them into something new. So when we read Psalm 100, we have to keep this complicated relationship between God and the Israelites in mind, as we try to be thankful in the presence of the daily struggles and hardships we see and experience in the world. In these passages, we are the sheep. And God is the shepherd. We have to be especially careful not to turn this into a Disney princess theology, where we believe that we are the only sheep that the shepherd cares about. Instead, remember, we are sheep in a massive flock, and the shepherd is looking after all of us, even if we might not feel it. Now, I haven’t always been fond of being called the sheep. Sheep are not the smartest animals. In the words of Craig Barnes, I don’t mind the Lord calling the Lord my shepherd. But I’ve never been too flattered. By being called one of God’s sheep. I had hoped to be the Eagle of the Lord, or maybe the cunning Tiger. Sheep aren’t particularly smart. They scare easily and have a knack for getting lost. Most of us don’t look lost. We haven’t fallen through society’s cracks into homelessness and poverty. But David would say, oh, no, it is you who have lost your way, in a relationship that’s offered more hurt than love. In a job that leaves you depleted and spent, or in the guilt of not being good enough, pretty enough, or smart enough for someone whose judgment cuts deep. So despite not wanting to be called sheep, because of their lack of courage, their lack of brains, or their lack of direction, the psalm writer reminds us that we are in fact, sheep. We are in need of a shepherd to guide us in life. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can be stubborn. Being told I need guidance is not something that I easily accept. I think my ideas are generally pretty good. And I think I am somewhat smart and can figure things out on my own. So when I hear passages that tell me that I am just a sheep, my pride takes a hit. But then it doesn’t take me too long to continue in life, to realize that I am in fact just a dumb sheep in need of a shepherd.
And as this psalm reminds us, we Are we are all sheep in need of the shepherd. And we all have God as our shepherd. So this is where I think this psalm of Thanksgiving is especially relevant, because it reminds all of us that God is with us and God has for us. And that warrants a response of gratitude every day. A friend of mine that I think embodies this attitude of daily gratitude is named Gabriel. I call him game, but he also is often referred to as the Game Master. I was a great ahead of game what but we had a lot of interaction because we grew up going to Sunday school together. We then went to high school together and became better friends. And now we have stayed in touch since high school. Gabe was born extremely premature on Christmas day in 1994. Don’t know too much about his early story and the different disabilities that he has because of his premature birth. But I do know that he was battling for his life for the first couple months in the hospital. Then after finally stabilizing and knowing he would survive, his parents were able to take Gabe home on Easter Sunday of all days, the following spring. Gabe was born on Christmas and was brought home from the hospital on Easter. He loves this fact about himself and likes to refer to himself as a miracle baby because of these two dates that are so significant to his early life. Gabes early life is already a miracle. But since then, he has had some other challenges. Like he walks with a limp because one of his legs doesn’t operate as you would expect. I’ve been told he might end up in a wheelchair one day because of this, but for now he is still full of energy and able to walk around with ease. I say all of this simply to say that Gabe has not had the easiest road up to this point in life. But despite these difficulties in his life, Gabe embodies gratitude to life and to God each and every day. And he does this better than anyone I have met. Ever since high school. Gabe has found a reason to celebrate every day. He has a theme for every day of the week. So I texted him and right now his daily themes are mellow Monday, trash Tuesday, wild Walter Wednesday, thankful Thursday, meet Friday. I think he eats meat on Fridays, chill Saturday and Seahawks Sunday. Each day of the week, gave finds a reason to celebrate and he has a reason to look forward to what the day has to offer. Whenever he texts me, he will encourage me to celebrate his daily theme. So he’ll text me and say Happy thankful Thursday, Tyler, and then he’ll continue his text after that. Gabe practices gratitude better than anyone. And this has led to having an incredibly positive outlook on his life. There’s been a lot of research on the effects of a life of gratitude. The Mayo Clinic writes that behavior impacts biology in so many ways. When we incorporate practices in life, that change our behavior to see the world in a certain way and to treat other people well. Research shows that this can actually positively impact our brain chemistry and general outlook on life and the world. I know some people who take moments to pause and think of things they’re grateful for when they start to feel stressed or frustrated with life. Other friends of mine, keep a gratitude journal, where they start each day Listen, listing the things they’re grateful for in their life. practicing gratitude does not have to be anything more than taking moments to pause, reflect and identify things you are grateful for. But I’m sure a question some of us are asking right now is how can we practice gratitude? When we see the terrible things going on in the world right now? How can we practice gratitude while wars are going on in Ukraine and the Middle East? How am I supposed to be thankful for my life when my friends are suffering in their in their relationships? And what good is it that I am thankful for the food on my table when there are so many children in our world and country that do not have enough food to eat? Well, I don’t have the answers to these complicated questions. But this psalm is not telling us we have to either have either be grateful and ignore the world’s problems, or show no gratitude and just mourn over the world. We easily fall into this either or mindset, where we have to live fully into one view and can’t hold two things at once. Instead, this psalm is telling us to live in a both and mindset, where we are both grateful for what we have, and the good things in our life, while also allowing space to mourn the things we don’t have, and the things that are wrong in the world. Psalm 100 tells us, this is how to live in gratitude. Because we all all we have to do is remember the lives of the ancient Israelites. They were a people constantly wrestling with God. They were asking questions about their place in life, and if God was still on their side, because their existence and experience often seemed to say otherwise. Despite their complicated existence, they regularly sang this song, as a reminder to make joyful noises of Thanksgiving, to serve God and others with gladness. And to remember that even if they feel like the shepherd is distant from them, they are sheep. And they do in fact, have a good shepherd. Psalm 100 closes, saying, For the Lord is good. God’s steadfast love endures forever, and God’s faithfulness to all generations. So as we come off the Thanksgiving weekend, and prepare for the Advent season, let’s live into the mindset of a both and existence. Let us be grateful for what we have the people in our life, and the fact that God has given us life, while also allowing ourselves to mourn the things in the world that we can’t be grateful for. And remember that even if the list of gratitude seems to be shrinking, and the list of things to mourn seems to be getting longer and longer. God is faithful to all of creation. All of humanity belongs to God. And the faithfulness of God is something we can continue to place our hope in as we live in this complicated world. Amen.