To See the Blessings

To See the Blessings

Psalm 100   Ephesians 1:15-23

There’s an old song I know, much-loved but not much-used any more.  The refrain goes like this: “Count your blessings, Name them one by one; Count your blessings, See what God hath done; Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your many blessings, See what God hatch done.”  See what God has done.  We’re coming up to Thanksgiving Day here shortly—a day with plenty of traditions and expectations—a day when many of our familiar routines will not be realized this year.  But we can still see Thanksgiving as an opportunity to pause for a little reconnoiter.  [Whenever an expedition is groping its way through a forest, unable to see the lay of the land, someone has to climb to the top of a tall tree to get a clear look, to reconnoiter, to see if they are going the direction they need to go!]  And sometimes, the best way to move ahead is to look back at where we’ve been—to get some perspective on our life’s course.  Here’s a story about someone who did just that.

Sandra Joseph was a young woman when she discovered, on her honeymoon, that she had type 1 diabetes.  The early years of their marriage didn’t fit the plan she had laid out for herself.  All her photographs showed a young woman with eyes red from crying.  She didn’t, however, let her disease prevent her from having three healthy girls.  After 13 years as a stay-at-home mom, she started looking for a job.  No luck.

Her prayer was, “God, what do you want me to do with my life?”  And God seemed to answer, “Do what you really love to do.  I’ll take care of the rest.”  Then she saw a display at the fair—scrapbooks full of beautiful pages, annotating the lives of the people who made them.  Her husband and girls ambled up and asked, “What’s all this?!”

“Scrapbooking—the new way.  With gorgeous paper and stickers and calligraphy and…” she went on and on.  She got into it in a big way, and discovered that making a scrapbook of her family’s life had the power to reconnect her with the joys in their history…to see the blessings in her life.

She decided to help friends and neighbors get into it—and then had a sense that she could make a business out of helping people scrapbook.  She went in to apply for a small business grant and was told they didn’t disburse funding for home-based businesses except for people with disabilities.  Well, she had always tried to hide her diabetes—but she took out her insulin pump, explained what it was for, and walked out with $10,000!  She used the grant to organize a huge scrapbooking convention.  1700 people from 13 states came to learn how to chronicle their lives—and her business was born!  Her goal is to help people see that every birthday, every graduation, every wedding is a reminder of God’s faithfulness, a reminder to really SEE the blessings in one’s life.

Well, our Scripture readings for today offer a great insight on this Sunday before Thanksgiving.  We have the words to an ancient hymn of praise that has been sung for three thousand years (that’s Psalm 100).  And we have part of Paul’s prayer for believers—a prayer that we might have our hearts enlightened and know the riches of the glorious inheritance among the saints.  Or, to use Sandra Joseph’s phrase, “to really SEE the BLESSINGS in our lives.”  Let’s take a look.

Our Rich Inheritance

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he mentions “the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.”  In modern thinking, our inheritance is mostly about money and possessions passed down to us as heirs.  It includes our looks, personality traits, and history received from our ancestors.  And it encompasses all the values and traditions and culture of our community.

But when we talk about our inheritance as children of God, our focus is different.  In Galatians 3, we read “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”  In Romans 4, “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.”

Further, in Galatians 4, we are told, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.  And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts crying, ‘Abba!  Father!’  So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.”

So, along with anyone else who has been told that they have an inheritance, we want to know: What exactly are the riches of our glorious inheritance?!  Well, here are some hints:

  • When Jesus was in the synagogue in Nazareth, he read aloud from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
  • Freedom is our inheritance—freedom from death and fear!
  • Healing from our infirmities is also promised.
  • A purpose for living is part of our inheritance!
  • We also receive a heritage of FAITH.
  • This is all because God’s Holy Spirit has been put into our hearts, so that we may call God “Daddy”—because we are God’s adopted children!

A Recipe for Gladness (Psalm 100)

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”  This is an act of the will, not just a sound of joy because of feeling joyful.  Our praise is said out loud—we make a noise with it!  And our praise is “unto the Lord” as we acknowledge God as the Giver of every good and perfect gift.  We choose words of joy and gratitude in our daily conversations.

“Worship the Lord with gladness.”  Again, this is an act of the will (both as individuals and as a church).

“Give thanks.”  The Psalmist is clear: we are to enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.  We are to give thanks and bless God’s name.  Psalm 100 is a recipe for gladness!

Reconnoiter

Thanksgiving can be an opportunity to pause and take a look back.  You can scan your calendar starting from January 1.  You could dig out your old journals from 10 years ago, or from last week.  You can reminisce with old friends and extended family.  And, as you reconnoiter, you can count your many blessings.  This is a GUARANTEED antidote to feelings of scarcity—just expressing gratitude for all that God has done for us (especially through this pandemic).  Reconnoitering restores perspective and puts today’s worries and troubles into a larger context.

Well, I will finish today by sharing a chapter in the life of Sue Monk Kidd.  She’s the author of The Secret Life of Bees and many other stories—both fact and fiction.  But when Sue was a newly-wed, she had to experience her very first Thanksgiving away from home—and it was really tough.  Let’s hear it in her words.

“I groped out of bed at 11:00am that Thanksgiving morning without a thankful throb in my heart.  Sunlight hung in the bedroom in shafts of cold yellow.  I slumped against the window by the bed and frowned at a group of boys playing a noisy game of baseball in a vacant lot behind our apartment.

“Sandy and I had just married that summer.  He was a first-year graduate student in theology and I was a college junior.  Our apartment was cramped, we didn’t have the money to buy a turkey, and we were both bone-tired from heavy academic loads.  I had never been apart from my family on Thanksgiving, but now I was 1000 miles away.

“As I edged moodily around the bed, which occupied most of our bedroom, I could see Sandy hunched over a desk piled high with books.  He gave me a smile and said, “Good morning,” but before I could mutter my own, the phone rang.  I sat on the bed and answered.  ‘Hello, Honey.  Happy Thanksgiving!’  It was Mom.  I blinked back tears.  ‘Oh, Mom, I miss you all so!’

“When I hung up, tears were coursing down my cheeks.  I sat unmoving on the bed as the memories flooded back.  Mom would be bustling in her steamy kitchen, counting out gleaming pieces of silver, setting out the ancient pilgrim candles that presided over our table each year.  How I yearned to lean against the pantry door and be a part of the celebration!

“By now the kitchen would be filled with the sweet smells of all the good things to come.  Daddy would be bent over a browned turkey, tucking cranberries and pickled peaches around it in an artful wreath.  In between puffs on his spicy-smelling pipe, Granddaddy would be clucking at my teenaged brothers wrestling on the rug.  There would be the orange and brown quilt tucked around Grandma’s knees, a serene smile lighting up her soft features.  The long maple table would already be heavy with Mom’s best floral-pattern china.

“But these scenes, instead of comforting me, were a torment.  Sandy rustled papers in the next room.  I forced myself off the unmade bed.  I wandered into the kitchen and randomly opened the cabinets to find a large can of spaghetti, half a jar of peanut butter, six stale marshmallows, a dwindling bottle of catsup and four old potatoes sprouting leaves.  The refrigerator was worse.  Day-old tea, three apples and cheese with mold on one corner.  Dismal!

“’What’s for dinner?’ Sandy asked, when I appeared in the doorway.  ‘Maybe some kind soul will leave a Thanksgiving basket on our doorstep.  Otherwise you’re stuck with canned spaghetti and potatoes that look like potted plants,’ I said.  Fleeing to the bedroom, I left him staring after me with a bewildered face.

“I dropped onto the bed, certain a soldier in a foreign foxhole at Christmas couldn’t have been more heartsick.  I felt like a Thanksgiving Scrooge, hoarding my troubles like gold bars.  I muffled my face with a pillow and sobbed.  ‘Oh, God,’ I whispered through my tears, ‘I feel so awful.  Can you please help me?’  But nothing happened.  There was only the silence of the bedroom and the raucous baseball game in the vacant lot out back.

“I stared out the bedroom window.  The sun seemed to throw my own reflection back into my face.  A small figure hobbled beyond the window—a crippled boy, maybe nine or ten years old.  He stopped at the edge of the lot and seemed to contemplate how to maneuver his crutches across a shallow ditch.  A flash of light boomeranged from the silvery braces around his legs.  Sunlight and shadows played in his blond hair.

“He glanced over his shoulder at the boys in the vacant lot.  Red and blue caps dotted their heads and outsized mitts dangled from their hands.  One tall boy balanced a bat across his shoulders like a barbell.  They stood motionless, watching the crippled boy who turned and searched the tall grass.

“I glimpsed a baseball peeping through the weeds, just inches past the ditch, beyond his reach.  He must have discovered it at the same instant.  He slowly sank one crutch into the ditch and leaned forward, lifting the other crutch, his eyes fixed on the ball.  He swung his lifeless legs.  One landed with a thud against his crutch.  Suddenly his right shoulder dropped.  His crutches lurched forward and he sprawled across the ditch.

“I gasped as he went down, seeing the embarrassed pain on his face.  Lying on the ground, he looked backward once again at his friends, who waited patiently for him to bring the ball.  He had fallen almost on top of the baseball.  With a smile, he wrapped his fingers around it and tucked it into his pocket.  Standing the crutches before him, he inched his body forward—up, up, ever so slowly, dragging his legs behind him.  The struggle twisted his face until at last he stood erect.

“He paused a moment to catch his breath, raising his shining head and gazing past the Texas pines—an exquisite sculpture against the pale blue sky.  God’s joy seemed to leap from his face.  He turned and swept his legs through the crutches toward the other boys.  Up, out, down—the steel cages on his calves seesawed across the lot.  In those suspended moments, when my heart reached out to him, I had ceased to see my own troubled reflection.  Now, as I watched him go, my eyes refocused on my own image in the glass.

“With the sun’s warmth from the window and boyish shouts in the distance, I wondered, Did God nudge me to this spot to glimpse a small boy who was thankful for the chance to stumble after a baseball for his friends?  I turned abruptly and hurried to the kitchen where I climbed to the cabinet over the refrigerator.  The silver wedding gifts, not yet used, hid under a cloud of dust.  In a matter of minutes, I had polished them to a sparkling sheen.

“When I called Sandy to dinner, it was to a table glowing with silver, crystal and flickering candles.  His eyes roved over the covered casserole dishes.  I lifted the lids.  Steaming spaghetti garnished with cheese, creamy mashed potatoes, and baked apples glistening under marshmallow topping.  It looked delicious!  ‘Where did you get this feast?’ he asked in amazement.  ‘It was here all the time,’ I said.  ‘But it took a little gratitude to find it.’”

Friends, this Thanksgiving will no doubt be different from what we have known in the past.  But it is still a great opportunity to SEE THE BLESSINGS IN OUR LIVES.  I hope you will be making a Joyful Noise to the Lord!

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