“O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
In today’s reading, we find a psalm rejoicing in the comfort God’s presence brings to our lives. Saint Augustine must have known this psalm well because he wrote, “Our heart is restless until it rests in You.” When there is an Emptiness, a Thirst, or an Absence, it is difficult to be grateful. In the midst of struggle and hardship, gratitude is the last of our priorities. But in this psalm, we see a movement from Emptiness and Thirst to a celebration of Presence. The psalmist describes still searching for God in the midst of struggle, showing a faithful lament rather than a disconnected complaint. In the middle of a desert with no water, a wilderness struggle, the psalmist still looks to God for satisfaction. Author Brian McLaren says to imagine “you are banging on God’s door and won’t give God any rest until your thirst receives satisfaction,” (Naked Spirituality, p155). In times of difficulty, our persistence to seek God — to find rest in God — is often the most authentic and best manifestation of faith. It is this persistence that we can look back on our lives and be grateful for in this season of reflection. When have you had to hold on to your faith with persistence because you were in a wilderness of struggle? How did God respond to your persistence? Even though gratitude for the situation is hard to come by, you can reflect back with the eyes of faith to see yourself persistently pursuing God — restlessly searching for rest — and sometimes that is the most faithful thing you can do.
“Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
We must wrestle with today’s selection to find a lesson in gratitude. In today’s scripture, we find Jesus responding to a person’s trick question about who will be saved. The question was loaded: “Will only a few be saved?” It is as if he wanted Jesus to say, “Yes, and you are among them.”The question, with emphasis on only a few, was loaded and exclusive. Jesus responded in his usual unpredictable way. He responded by saying that even though God’s way is narrow, God’s salvation is wide. The good news here is that the people who are unexpected participants in the Kingdom of God are welcomed. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds as we see in the Gospel writer’s reference of them being from the east, west, north, and south. The lesson in gratitude in this text is that the kingdom of God is full of unexpected people, eating together, united in One. We have a tendency to only seek the Kingdom of God for ourselves. But, this lesson shows us that true gratitude for God’s grace — for the Kingdom of God — is in extending it to everyone. How are you inviting people to live in the Kingdom of God? When has been a time when you have learned a spiritual lesson from someone who was unexpected?
“And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.”
In this first letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul explains his perspective on why the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for so many years. He says that while God loved them, their complaints and inability to participate in God’s vision for their lives made it impossible for them to be the ones to settle in the Promised Land. As we talked about yesterday, the Hebrew people show us the danger of complaints. They show us that our complaints can derail the entire community. In today’s text, Paul challenges the Corinthian church, who also had their fair share of complaints, to learn from their past and not repeat the mistakes of their ancestors. Remembering our history is important because it gives us identity, as we talked about yesterday. But it is also important to help us not repeat the same mistakes. We see over and over throughout Christian history that thriving communities can be taken down by a culture of complaining. Think today about what you can learn from your history about complaining and gratitude. How have you seen complaining ruin communities in the Bible and in your own life? What mistakes do you want to intentionally not repeat? What steps will you take to make that possible?
“O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.”
This Psalm is a psalm of thanksgiving, in which the author is recounting the journey of the Hebrew people over the generations. This psalm shows us that gratitude and remembrance are intricately related. The Hebrew people shared their stories orally, creating a communal memory of God’s presence that carried them through difficult times. When they would begin to forget about all of the events that God carried them through, someone would come along to help them remember. Often, this was the role of the prophet: to point them back to who they were and who God was. Their communal memory fed their gratitude, but their communal forgetfulness fed their complaining. Remember when the Hebrew people were in the wilderness complaining about having little to eat? They forgot as a community all that God had done. They needed to be reminded of the ways God had carried their community through good and difficult times. As we continue this journey of Lent focused on gratitude, it is important to reflect on how communal memory feeds our gratitude. How does forgetfulness of God’s actions in your own life make you more likely to complain? How can you contribute to the communal memory that reflects with gratitude? What has God done for you and for this community of pilgrims at FBC High Point?
“Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" -- not knowing what he said.”
The Transfiguration is a beautiful story that teaches us about calling and beholding God before us. In this story, Jesus takes Peter, John, and James to the mountain where he is transfigured before them and they behold his glory. The three disciples who were given the privilege of witnessing this event seek then to build tents so that they can remain on the mountain with the transfigured Christ. This story teaches us the difference between gratitude and greed. Greed wants to hold onto an experience forever, letting no one else access it. Gratitude wants to express an experience, so that others can celebrate and experience it with us. Peter wanted to stay on that mountain out of greed. Jesus taught him that gratitude requires us to come down the mountain.
“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
God’s steadfast love does endure forever. We can get caught up in offering our gratitude for things: good job, running car, food to eat, etc. Objects are much easier to see and offer our gratitude for. The Psalm for today reminds us that we are not to just be thankful for objects that we can see, but also for qualities and truths that sustain us. When is the last time that you meditated on God’s goodness and love? What does it mean to you that God is good? As you think about that, think about the revolutionary message of God’s goodness in the time of the Hebrew people. The gods of other nations were vindictive and punishing. They were full of anger and capricious. Then the story of YHWH’s compassionate love unfolds in the lives of the Hebrew people and they consistently give thanks for God’s goodness and love. Today as you reflect on this text, reflect on the goodness of God and give your thanks to God for God’s goodness.
He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
In this odd text, we find one of the three mentions of Melchizedek in the Bible. Melchizedek, the great priest, comes and blesses Abram after a battle. Although we don’t know the details of the battle, we can find meaning in this exchange because of the blessing Melchizedek bestows upon Abram. “Blessed be Abram!” Melchizedek’s blessing was an expression of gratitude for the way Abram was letting God work in his life. We see God at work in people’s lives all the time, but fail to express our gratitude for it. As you think about this scripture today, invite God to open your heart and mind to the ways God is working through the people around you. As you begin to see God working in others, express your gratitude to them, just as Melchizedek did to Abram.
“The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward.”
This is the story of Abram settling in the land promised to him. He and Lot had a little bit of a time trying to figure out how they and all of their livestock would fit in the land. After Lot decided to move on to another land, Abram was still unsure about whether he was in the place God wanted him to be. About the time he thought that, God said to him, “Raise your eyes now,” showing Abram to simply look up and see the land that God has given to him. Abram’s confusion about where to be is typical of us. We often miss God’s gifts to us because we have our eyes lowered. When we practice gratitude, we are raising our eyes to “look from the place where we are.” Gratitude makes us aware of the gifts that we would miss otherwise. It wakes us up to the reality of God who surrounds us always. When you “raise your eyes,” what do you see? God’s greatest gifts might be right in front of us and we are unaware.
“He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’”
Job’s story is familiar to many of us: a faithful man with everything he needs in life experiences great loss but remains faithful to God. At the heart of Job’s initial response was a gratitude for the people and things that he was able to have for how long he had them. Job recognized that everything was given to him as a gift. His gratitude didn’t stop his grief. Grief and gratitude go hand in hand for Job. Because he is grateful for his relationships and the gifts he’d been given, he was grieved to see them go. His grief when he loses everything shows the love and gratitude he had for them in the first place. This doesn’t mean that he was grateful to lose them. Rather, his grief was in recognition of his gratitude that he was given them in the first place. As you reflect on this text today, how has grief functioned in your life as a sign of gratitude? When have you lost someone or something that has reminded you of your gratitude for having it in the first place?
“May their bellies be filled with what you have stored up for them; may their children have more than enough; may they leave something over to their little ones.”
In an unexpected twist in today’s psalm, we find the Psalmist asking God to fill the bellies of the enemy. Early in the psalm, the Psalmist is crying out to God for help. In this cry for desperation, we hear the desire to be liberated from the entrapment of the enemy. However, we do not hear from the Psalmist a desire for the enemy to be vanquished. Instead, there is a request for the enemy to be fed. Why would the Psalmist ask this? The Psalmist shows deep reflection throughout the psalm. Out of gratitude for the ways God has provided for the Psalmist, the Psalmist requests for the same provision for others. This text shows us that when we are personally grateful, our grace and mercy can extend to others with much more ease. How have you seen this dynamic in your own life? How are you extended grace and mercy to others out of your own gratitude?
“And David said to God, “Was it not I who gave the command to count the people? It is I who have sinned and done very wickedly.’”
A census and a plague don’t seem like two events that should make us grateful, do they? Necessary to understanding this text is the knowledge that leaders in the Biblical times would institute a census if they had intentions of raising taxes. Perhaps Satan in this story, is a representation of David’s inner voice of greed saying that taxes should be raised. David sends Joab to count the people and Gad comes back to him with a message of displeasure from God. Perhaps God is upset because God sees David’s intentions and greed. Rather than taking stock of all of the wonderful assets and gifts within Israel, David resolves to count the people to see how much more money he could get. His greed and lack of gratitude is a warning to all of us. Today’s story shows us the danger of greed can be avoided with the practice of gratitude. This can be with regard to money, but also material items, relationships and even community. Where are you tempted with greed? How is the desire for more impacting your ability to be grateful?
“Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.”
Today’s scripture comes from a long collection of laws found in the book of Deuteronomy. This particular portion is regarding the law of first fruits which required people to bring the first fruits of their harvest to God as a symbol of gratitude and trust. It is gratitude for growth and trust for more growth. This requirement shows that gratitude and trust go hand in hand. With gratitude, we can grow in our trust that there will be more for which we can be grateful. When we fail to be grateful, we lose our ability to trust that God will continue to bring us good things. Today, you are invited to reflect on how gratitude and trust have been related in your life? For what are you grateful? How does that gratitude reflect trust?
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
In this well-known text from the book of Ecclesiastes, we are introduced to the idea that good and bad events have their time. There is a time to lament, but there is also a time to celebrate and reflect with gratitude. The author of Ecclesiastes recognizes that it is easy to get consumed with the seasons of life, especially the difficult ones. But life, like the moon, waxes and wanes. For that, we can be grateful. This text teaches us to reflect with gratitude on the season in which we find ourselves. That does not mean be grateful for difficulties and it does not mean that God causes struggles. It means that we can be grateful for God being with us and bringing us through difficult seasons and we can be grateful for God gifting us with seasons of rest and seasons of growth. As you reflect on this scripture, think about the season in which you find yourself. What are you grateful for in this season of life?
“At that time they made a calf, offered a sacrifice to the idol, and reveled in the works of their hands.”
Today’s story is remembering the Hebrew people’s time in the wilderness when the people convinced Aaron to help them create an idol. Their leader was nowhere to be found, although he was interceding on their behalf to God. They were getting restless and their expectations of their liberation were beginning to be broken. They lost touch with gratitude. When we lose touch with our gratitude, we give in to the temptation of idolatry, just as the Hebrew people did. Reflect on a time when you have worshipped something or something else because you lost sight of gratitude. What did you worship? How did you bring gratitude back into your life?
“O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.”
In this story, we are given insight into the difference between lamenting and complaining. Lamenting is more about an expression of grief. Complaining is a personal dissatisfaction or annoyance. Lamenting is a positive exercise, while complaining will get us nowhere. In this story, we see Moses lamenting to God about the Hebrew people’s bondage in Egypt. Moses shows us that lamenting is most often directed at God, while complaining is directed at others. He is in grief because he thought his calling would be much easier. He thought it would be quicker. His grief is due to his misunderstanding of his calling. He is grieving his hopes and dreams for the people. Do not be deceived by the difference between lamenting and complaining. Lamenting is an exercise in faithfulness, recognizing that God is good and will tend to our grief. Complaining is an exercise in ingratitude, failing to recognize all of the gifts we have been given. As you reflect on the beginning of this Lenten journey, when have you practiced lamenting? How did it feel different from complaining?
-Rev. Katie Callaway
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
As we begin our Lenten journey, it is important to reflect on the ways that we have become distracted by ways that are not of God. This Lenten season, we are focusing on the ways that we have become saturated in the culture of complaining found throughout our world, even in Christian communities. We may present ourselves publicly as grateful, but in our hearts and homes, we suffer from ingratitude and complaining. Today, let us reflect on the difference between who we are alone and who we are in public. How do you present yourself to others? How is that person your true self or different from your true self? How can you be transformed this Lent by practicing gratitude?
-Rev. Katie Callaway
This year, for the season of Lent, we will be doing a few new things to help us grow. Lent is a time to intentionally seek God and reflect on the ways in which we may have strayed from life as God intended. It is a time that we can re-focus on what it means to follow Christ.
The Lenten journey is long and arduous but worth every bit of struggle. Lent originated as a fast for people who were preparing for baptism. Often, they had just spent 3 years learning about the Christian tradition. They learned how to pray, the stories of the Bible, how to live, and so much more. During the final 40 days before their baptism, the official marker of their entrance into this new way of life, they would fast and reflect on the ways in which their lives reflected (or didn’t) the way of Jesus Christ. Then, they would be baptized on Resurrection Sunday and truly experience new life.
They would spend time repenting for the ways they had strayed from The Way. Repentance is certainly a central theme in Lent. But they did not repent just for the sake of repenting. They repented because it was a part of the larger process of seeking God. These forty days of reflection showed their devotion to Christ and the new life he offered. They reflected upon the identities they are given by God at their birth and reaffirmed at baptism: beloved children. They were seeking a God of grace who promised new beginnings.
It is easy in our world, just as it was in theirs, to get sidetracked and distracted from seeking God. We can easily get caught up in our identities given to us by the world. What would it look like for you to become enveloped by the identity given to you by God? What would it look like for you to seek a new beginning with God on this journey? What do you need to do so that you can experience new life on Resurrection Sunday?
Here at FBC, there are multiple ways to engage with Lent this year. We will be focusing on being transformed by gratitude. We will provide a short thought for each day in a weekly format that will get you thinking about the themes of Lent and gratitude. You also have the opportunity to join with the entire congregation in tracking your gratitude. Each Sunday, you will have the opportunity to publicly repent for complaining and commit yourself to another week of transformational gratitude. On Easter Sunday, we invite you bring your gratitude notebooks, placing them on the altar as a visible image of the invisible transformation within each congregant and the community as a whole.
-Rev. Katie Callaway
Each day of the Lenten season, you are invited to participate with the rest of the congregation in offering our gratitude to God. Congregants have been given Lenten Gratitude Journals but you can easily participate at home without a journal. Read the page to the left that corresponds with the date and write out these steps:
Today, I am grateful for: