First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
November 18, 2018
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
25“Therefore I tell you, 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? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Way back in September, we entered into a Season of Gratitude. Gratitude has been the underlying theme of our time in worship for the last couple of months. Sometimes that theme was more evident than others:
Gratitude and the awareness of abundance,
Gratitude for the blessed community that exists when diverse people come together in service, love and support,
Gratitude that emerges when we create the narrative of our lives from the positive rather than the negative,
Giving thanks in hard times,
And gratitude for the saints who have gone before us.
And, our Sunday School has been focusing on gratitude as well – they’ve created a Tree of Thanks on the wall in their room and they’ve been collecting food to share in thanksgiving baskets for families at West Elementary School.
Today, this afternoon, we will come together as a community of faith around our annual Thanksgiving Dinner. The tables are set in Fellowship Hall. The food is or has been prepared in our homes and will soon be gathered in and set before us. We sit on the horizon of our nation’s Thanksgiving Holiday where family and friends will gather around tables, large or small as we pause to give thanks as a nation. Come Friday, this arbitrary season of gratitude will be behind us.
So, what’s next?
Greg and I were and continue to be big fans of the TV series “The West Wing.” The fictional United States President, Josiah Bartlett had a favorite question: “What’s Next?”
So, what’s next for us? What comes after a season of gratitude?
Is it just Black Friday? Christmas? Advent? A new year? Yes all those things are part of what’s next, chronologically speaking. But what’s next for us as a community of faith after we have walked around in a season of Gratitude? What’s next for us as individuals? What’s next in our minds, our souls, our priorities, our lives? Is what’s next simply to slide back into more of what’s been? Perhaps. Is it to be some new things, perhaps something new that God has in store for us?
A couple of thousand years ago, an itinerant preacher sat on a hillside in front of a rather large crowd and taught them many things:
He presented them with a list of who is blessed, a list that revealed that what this guy was teaching was a little out of the ordinary for he told them that the poor in spirit, the ones who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the pure in spirit, the peacemakers and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness are the blessed ones. A list that was totally different than what they had heard before.
He spoke about the salt of the earth and light of the world.
He preached about loving enemies and turning the other cheek.
He taught them about prayer and told them how to pray, a prayer we say every week as we gather in his name.
And, he told them not to worry. Don’t worry. When it is likely that many of them had much to worry about: oppression, poverty, hunger, an uncertain future he admonishes them: don’t, don’t worry, don’t go there. Because he was the “what’s next” in the long and deep history of God’s involvement with humanity.
That teaching, that sermon on the mount, as we’ve come to call it, was just the beginning of what would be next. After this, he goes on to live into what he had said, blessing the poor and the lame, healing the diseased, hanging out with those no one else would be caught dead or alive hanging out with, challenging religious laws that had been stretched beyond their intent into something even God wouldn’t recognize and confronting those who insisted that it was their way or the highway.
So to the crowds that gathered so long ago, those who have gone before us in life and faith, he told them that what was next was not to worry.
And then he turned to nature and the little things. Birds of the air and wildflowers. He drew them out of their worries and told them to join the Audubon Society. Look at the birds, he told them. Notice. Pay attention. Move yourself out of the middle of your worries and notice. Notice the little things, the big things, the surprising things, the ordinary things and look for where God is in them for God is there. Feeding, sheltering, nurturing, bringing about justice, making sure that love wins, again and again and again.
We started the Season of Gratitude with the story of the ten lepers healed. The ten people who had leprosy who came to Jesus and they were all healed. He sent them off to present themselves to the priest so they could be fully restored into the community and they did. But one came back. One noticed. Something good had happened in his life and while he was moving on to what was supposed to be next, he noticed and the next thing changed. Instead of heading off into the future to step joyously into the next chapter, he noticed who had turned the page. He noticed. He noticed who was behind his reason to be grateful. He noticed.
And that’s what’s next for all of us – to live a life of noticing – not only what but who. The birds, the flowers and who designs creation to care for them. The sunrises and sunsets and the great star around which our world literally revolves and who set forth the laws of physics and chemistry and all the other sciences that makes such things happen. The moon whether it’s big and huge and lighting up the night-time sky or if it’s the smallest of slivers seemingly hanging on a celestial thread and the one who had the wisdom to give it just enough gravitational pull to pull the waters to and fro so tide-pools can form and life clan flourish. Notice the moments of healing and hope and seek to find God-given grace within them. Notice the day that was anything but good but eventually comes to an end to make way for the grace that comes with a new day. Notice the simple act of breathing and see within it the divine breath that blew across the face of the deep when time was new. Notice. It’s what’s next when it comes to living out a life of gratitude.
Once he had been healed, that one guy couldn’t help but turn back and share his gratitude because he noticed that he had nothing to do with that which had blessed him. He noticed that there was something outside of himself that was worth noticing.