October 7, 2018 – Gratitude

Text:  Matthew 6:25-33

Growing up poor, I sometimes had to forego things that gave me pleasure. I remember stopping at the toy store to watch a shiny red car toy only to know that it was pie in the sky. When instant noodles were first introduced in my country, I desperately wanted to try them. I was only able to imagine the taste when my aunt told me that it wasn’t that good. She tried to convince me how unhealthy it was. But that only increased my curiosity. Although our circumstance made things uncomfortable, we managed to stay strong, healthy and happy most of the time. Being poor is first and foremost about finding a way to live in the midst of hunger, discomfort, and violence. People are resilient. Enduring our circumstances is not enough. We must find a way to live our lives.

For my mother, it was gratitude. She modeled thanksgiving as her way of life. As a single mother she worked day and night. On her pay day, she literally set aside a large sum of money to give to the church saying “I must give back to God.” I grumbled inside about her generosity, thinking how could a poor family like us be so generous? Generosity, I learned, doesn’t come out of our material possessions, but comes from our faith in God. My mother taught me that we can be poor and generous at the same time. In fact, she often invited guests to our small and humble place to feed them. Sharing was a way of living among the poor community I grew up in. There was a shared responsibility for everyone in the community. Sharing, I learned, is the indication of how healthy a community is. Sharing doesn’t come out of richness, but comes out of shared humanity. When we feel that we are connected to everyone and everything else, there is no mine or yours; there is only the connected we, and sharing is the most natural way of living.

Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” I don’t take the words literally. I take it as an invitation to live with gratitude and to share. It’s almost impossible not to worry. We have good reasons to worry: our health, family, friends, church family, community, nature and nations. There is a fundamental difference between worrying because we care, and worrying because we fear. The former comes out of relationship, while the latter comes out of disconnection. When we are disconnected from everyone or everything else, we tend to focus on what we possess. Whereas when we know that we are connected to something bigger, and that we are part of everything, we care deeply and share generously.

Jesus said “Look at the birds of the air” and “Consider the lilies of the field,” It’s an invitation to move from an individualistic way of life based on possession to a God centred life based on love. To sum up, he concluded, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Arthur C. McGill, a Canadian born American theologian and philosopher explains the Kingdom of God in comparison to the kingdom of evil. He describes the difference between the two in terms of our identity and our need. The point he makes is profound and fascinating. So please bear with me.

In the Kingdom of evil, he says, our identity depends on what we have. Our identity is only as secure as our having, our possessing something. If our possession is taken away whether it’s our work or reputation or something else, our identity is destroyed. In the Kingdom of God, however, the opposite is true. It is letting go to another, giving of what we have, what is essentially our own is how we become real, how we share in God. According to McGill, those who do not give of themselves to their friends, those who do not love are already dead.

The opposition between God and evil can also be seen in terms of need. In the kingdom of evil, McGill says, need is the death of inadequate possessions, an unsatisfactory having. I need because I lack. Need is the great evil. Love in the kingdom of evil seeks to remove need from the poor, seeks to give them such possessions that they are no longer needy. But in the kingdom of God need is the ground of love. Need is what makes giving authentic and significant. It is the soil of life. To give is to lose, to become needy and therefore to call forth giving from another.

Need is the ground of love and the soil of life. Just let that sink in for a moment. If you have ever seen a baby in your life, you know that’s true. The most vulnerable ones, who don’t even know how to ask for help speak louder than anyone else, calling forth giving from us because they are so needy by giving their whole selves.

Perhaps the reason we, the poor family managed to stay strong and hopeful was because we knew each other’s need. We were lacking the material things, but we were never lacking love. Somehow our neediness made it possible for us to give our whole selves to each other.

“Strive first for the kingdom of God.” says the one who stored nothing, possessed nothing, but by giving his whole self, became vulnerable and needy. Yet, he has remained alive in the power of giving and letting go. On this Thanksgiving Sunday, as we reflect on the blessings we have been given, may our gratitude come not from our possession but from our loving, giving, sharing, and letting go.

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1 McGill, Arthur C., Sermons of Arthur C. McGill (Theological Fascinations Book 1) (pp. 119-120). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers, Kindle Edition.