Saturday, July 4, 2020

Gratitude - Jesus Style

"Gratitude - Jesus Style"

Rev. Paul Mitchell

Vashon United Methodist Church

June 7, 2020

Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Luke 18:9-14

Privilege is a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a designated person or group. For most of my life I have thought of privilege as a good thing. I would say, “It’s my privilege.” as a way of acknowledging that something special was happening – that I was in receipt of some honor or unmerited favor. The word privilege occupied the same realm for me as “honor” and “inclusion, as in “It’s an honor to be included in this company of important or smart or kind or special people.” It was even a tacit way of saying “Thank you.” to those special people for receiving me or “Thank you.” to those important people who had the power to invite me and chose to exercise it. So, privilege, in my mind, has long been linked to gratitude. Now, I’m in a quandary. Now, I’m not so sure. Now, I need to sort out what comes to me due to my white privilege, and what comes to me because of the kindness of others, and what comes to me because of the white privilege of the kind people who reward me with unmerited privilege. The problem arises when privilege comes to be expected.
Somehow, it does not seem right to be grateful for something given to me in small or large part because someone else was prevented from enjoying the same by the system of advantage and disadvantage that undergirds our society. A debt is created. And in our history, that debt has been extracted from people of color – especially from black people. The very idea of whiteness was created so that a class of persons could enjoy this special advantage due to a supposed hierarchy of value. Whiteness has been fluid. In its earliest expressions it excluded Irish and Italian immigrants to this continent – as if some human beings were not quite human – as if some where closer and more beloved of God than others. You can detect that it was anti-Catholic as well due to the immigrants that were lumped together with slaves. It seems like a peculiarly Protestant affliction.When we pay attention – when we are true to our heritage as followers of Jesus – when we consider the fact that race is a manmade (and I mean to be gender specific) social construct, we know this is not true. We know that God has poured being into all creation, and proclaimed it all good. It takes a powerful, invasive, and insidious system in order to maintain the blatant falsehood that undergirds inequity, poverty, and privilege. And the truth is that we need to de-couple gratitude and privilege. Gratitude – Jesus style must be a response to what is enjoyed by the entire beloved community. Gratitude – Jesus style must motivate a response which seeks to extend all that I have been granted as “privilege” to the entire beloved community.Gratitude – Jesus style is not simply a good feeling, a warm heart, an appreciation of an unmerited gift that we have received, but an action which extend that gift to others.If we understand privilege as unmerited gift, we are truly indebted to God for the unmerited gift of creation. Chapter one of Genesis tells us as much. We marvel at the sheer overabundance, beauty, and power of the natural world, as well as it’s fragility and interconnectedness. God needed no reason to pour out being into creation. There is no “why” in Genesis 1. It is in God’s nature to do so. God could not help it. Neither could God help making humanity in God’s own image and likeness – in other words, sharing the power and essence that is Holy Being. We are at our most human when we do likewise – when we pour out our being, sharing our essence and our power with the beloved community. There is much in that first chapter of the Bible that we take for granted or gloss overIt was written later than the second chapter and by a different group – the priestly class. They were elites in whose interest it was to keep order and prop up the hierarchy. Thus their expression of God is the One who hovers over chaos and acts to organize it – to bring order out of chaos. The phrase we remember in English is “without form and void.” In its original language, tohu vabohu means ruin and desolation. The experience of the Hebrew people that was to be avoided at all cost was the ruination of defeat and occupation. They imagined and desired a God who would defeat their enemies – who would upend the hierarchy of world powers.But there is a gift in their story as well. Humanity was created in the same day as the main of the animal kindom – in fact, part of the animal kindom. Those ancient priests knew that we are deeply interconnected with the animal world, and that we were given responsibility to live in the same day with it – in community of some form. And from the outset, all humanity is kin as well. Our very being is mutual, universal giftCreation is not a gift for some and not others – it is not privilege. We are rightly grateful.Gratitude – Jesus style goes beyond thanks. And Gratitude – Jesus style is not merely thanks to God for the gift of creation, but it is all we do to extend the reach of that gift. Gratitude is to move – from I to we, and to expand the we to all.Gratitude is cognate with graceGrace is freely given, but not an end in itself. Grace is kinetic – it moves us. The word and concept of grace shares the Indo-European root with gravity. It is serious business, and it is what holds all things together. It is a relationship of mutual attraction. It is as though, if we get gratitude right, all other things will follow. Ronald Rolheiser’s first invitation to mature discipleship is Live in gratitude and thank your Creator by enjoying your life.” That deserves some qualification. It hinges on who the you is. We must remember that to be a disciple of Jesus is to be in community – it is not a solitary practice. “Your” life is the life we all share. We, as followers of Jesus, are to enjoy this life we all share.Part of what the Coronavirus has done is to reveal how separate we have made ourselves, and how some have more access to that shared life than others. If we’ve had to make few adjustments or sacrifices in the pandemic it is a mark of the separation we already live. I know of pastors and congregations that claim God has sent the Coronavirus as a tool or lesson to teach us how to worship better, or worse, that in fact God does love some more than others. That would be a god filled with self-loathing. But the God of grace does work through all things for good, and so should we. Rohlheiser claims that Gratitude is the basis of all holiness. The holiest person you know is the most grateful person you know. That is true, too, for love: the most loving person you know is the most grateful person you know, because even love finds its basis in gratitude. Anything we call love, but that is not rooted in gratitude, will, at the end of the day be manipulative and self-serving. If our love and service of others does not begin in gratitude, we will end up carrying [other] people’s crosses and sending them the bill.”Surprisingly, Jesus teaches far more about money in the Gospels than about gratitude per se. or perhaps his stories about money are actually about gratitudePharisees, whose primary concern in Jesus’ time was not to upset the system, often bear the brunt of his teaching, being cast as callous and holding themselves apart. It is rarely that they are portrayed as guilty for what they do, but as incomplete in their righteousness. They believe in meritocracy. They have the means to live up to the stringencies of the holiness code. They benefit from a system that precludes access to grace for entire communities, assuming that they themselves are either intrinsically better, or have earned their privilege,  or both. “I thank you God, that I am not like that tax collector over there.” The tax collector was in a marginalized class – by society’s definition unclean. But it was the tax collector whose reliance on the unmerited gift of grace motivated humble gratitude. “The real task in life,” says Rolheiser, “is to recognize … that everything is a gift and that we need to keep saying thanks over and over again for all the things in life that we so much take for granted, recognizing that it’s nobody’s job to take care of us.”Beloved, I would go farther. Gratitude – Jesus style, is to take the next step. It is to engage in the third part of the four-part contemplative stance – to cooperate with God where the Spirit is moving. Today, and every day since she hovered over the formless void, Spirit is wooing us closer to each other and closer to the planet, coaxing us to eliminate any possibility of privilege – any possibility that we can enjoy unmerited favor that is cut off from anyone else. Are you grateful for your robust health care? Extend it to all. Are you grateful for the blessings of family and neighbor? Share them with others. Are you grateful for delicious and nutritious food, a safe place to sleep, time to read, exercise, listen to music, simply live without fear of losing your life or your loved ones because of someone else’s illusion of superiority or privilege? Do whatever is in your power to extend those to others. They should not be considered privileges – that is special rights, advantages, or immunities granted or available only to a particular person or group. Genuine gratitude for the other’s enjoyment is Gratitude – Jesus style.So.Do good.Do no harm.Stay in love with God and neighbor.Wear your mask.Wash your hands.Black Lives Matter.

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