“He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.”
Can you imagine being the man who the disciples approached to help in the Passover celebration? In this Scripture, Jesus instructs the disciples to go find a place to celebrate the Passover meal. The man willingly opened his home to Jesus and his disciples, probably also supplying them with the food and drinks to complete their celebrations. As we draw closer to the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we must reflect on how we are welcoming Jesus into the homes of our souls. We may claim to welcome him, but do our actions reflect it? Do our words reflect our desire to welcome him and make space for him? Complaints close the door on welcome and hospitality. It is vital to our transformation that our words and actions express our desires and thoughts. How are you welcoming Christ today?
Just as I swore that the waters of Noah would never again go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you.
In this reading from the prophet Isaiah (this section of the large book of Isaiah is known as Second Isaiah), God reaffirms that God will never forsake the people and will continue to hold up the covenant created with Noah. To Noah, God said, “I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Notice that the covenant God makes with Noah is a covenant of compassion and care for all of the earth. Covenants that God establishes are to be everlasting. God will uphold them for all time. Thus, to the
Hebrews in exile, God is telling them, “If I’ve maintained my covenant with Noah, I will maintain my covenant with you.” The covenant with the Hebrew people as they return from exile is this: God will not be angry with them or rebuke them. Anger is banished from the possibility of God. Because of this, we too live in the covenant established with the Hebrew exiles. God will not be angry with us. This truth changes how we operate daily. Rather than changing our behaviors out of fear of retribution, it is love that transforms us. It is love that transforms our complaints to gratitude. The question is then, how is love transforming you?
“Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.”
As we draw to the end of the Lenten season, which officially ends on Palm Sunday, let us use this Scripture to reflect on our purposes and intents for the season. Remember, Lent began as a season for Christ followers to use to reflect on their own baptism as new Christ followers would prepare for their Easter morning baptism. During this season of reflection, we are to pay attention to the ways that we have “drifted away.” The Scripture for today helps us to recognize that as life goes, we all lose track of our spiritual journeys. We take on qualities and acquire habits that are opposed to who we seek to be as we follow Christ. But Lent is our chance to confess those driftings and repent, which literally means turn away. We have tried to intentionally look at how we have drifted away with regard to our complaining. Complaints truly take us off track.
"But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”
Jesus shared what his fate would be over and over again with his disciples. However, they never could grasp what he was saying. The disciples had other ideas in their minds as to how Jesus’ ministry was going to go. They could not fathom that the Messiah could possibly face the type of end that Jesus continued to talk about. For them, the Messiah would be a warrior king, delivering Israel from violence by defeating all of its enemies. Instead, they got a Messiah who would serve others and include the excluded. In doing this, Jesus challenged the status quo and gained followers, which frightened those in power. Jesus’ end in suffering on the cross was the natural conclusion to the message he preached and the life he lived. But the disciples never saw it coming, despite Jesus’ warnings. Why do you think they couldn’t see it coming? Was it perhaps that their idea of Jesus’ ministry was clouding their vision? How do our ideas about who someone should be cloud our vision for who they actually are? Often, when we find ourselves complaining about someone or a situation, it is because we are beginning to recognize the difference between the “should” and the reality. Reflect today on how to incorporate gratitude for people as they are and how that will impact your relationships.
“Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.”
Today’s reading comes from a psalm praying for victory. While we may joke about praying for victory for our favorite college basketball team during March Madness, prayers for victory were fervent in the time the Psalms were written. Opposing sides would square off praying to their own god. The winner would prove their god was strongest and the loser would be obliged to take on the winner’s god. Although our culture doesn’t hold war as central as they did now, we are still essentially practicing the same type of oppositions. We take pride in being proven right over our enemy (whether literal enemy or just someone with opposing ideas). The psalmist names that some really take pride in their defense mechanisms: chariots and horses. Have our complaints been turned into our defense mechanisms in conflict? Are our complaints the way we defend ourselves against being wrong or weak? How can gratitude change that impulse? Gratitude will show us how to truly take pride in the name of the Lord. It will hep us to learn to not find our identities in our defense mechanisms but rather in God.
“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.”
One of the most understandable ways of talking about Jesus and his importance in the time of the early church was by comparing him to the High Priest, a Jewish role of great importance. The High Priest would go to God as a representative of the people out of love and protection for them. The metaphor falls apart if taken too literally because Jesus was not protecting us from God. However, Jesus’ incarnation shows us an embodied Way to be united to God. Central to that Way is the way in which we love one another and encourage one another to do good things in our world. The problem with complaining is that it is contagious. It fulfills the opposite of the admonitions of this text. It pulls people down rather than provoking them to love. It perpetuates negativity rather than goodness. We take on the Way of Christ when we let go of our complaining and take on gratitude. When we take on gratitude, it too can be contagious. How have you experienced the contagious aspects of complaining? How has gratitude been contagious this Lent?
"Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”
In this very well-known Scripture, we find Mary anointing Jesus with expensive perfume intended for his burial. In a strange turn of events, it is Judas who is most concerned about Mary expressing her devotion in this way. Judas complains that the costly perfume could have been sold and given to the poor. He obviously is displaying concern for the poor when really he has ulterior motives. His complaint was rooted in his ulterior motives, unspoken and hidden from the group to disguise his flawed character. We all have aspects of Judas within us. How many times do we complain about something because of our own ulterior motives? How do we try to hide our ulterior motives by displaying righteous concern outwardly? As we journey toward Jerusalem with Jesus, we recognize that this is a journey of dying to ourselves. As we die to our ulterior motives and shed ourselves of them, we will awaken grateful hearts within us.
“So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, ‘What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.’”
As we draw near to Holy Week, we will begin to have more interactions between Jesus and the people in power. Whether it is Romans in power or Pharisees and scribes, Jesus clashed with the authorities because he challenged the status quo from which they were benefiting. In this text, we find Jesus continuing in his work to heal and announce the nearness of the Kingdom of God. One of the Pharisees saw all that Jesus was doing and became afraid saying, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him.” The anxiety was not simply in the way that Jesus was changing the society, but in his statement was also anxiety about not being in power. The Pharisee speaking in this event shows a grief over people believing in Jesus because he has come to realize that he is losing relevance and influence. Many times at the heart of our complaining is a grief that we too are losing relevance and influence. How have you experienced this?
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.”
In this reading from Psalm 126, we find a song praising God for bringing the exiles back from Babylon. Remember, they had been displaced over and over by conquering nations in order to prevent uprisings. Can you imagine what restoration felt like to people who had spent so long away from the place they called home? Let us pause today to reflect on the idea of restoration. The exiles were restored the identity they longed to have once again. Their sense of home was restored. Their sense of purpose was restored. Previously, this could only be dreamed about. But now, their dreams were coming to reality and it was better than they could have imagined. Sometimes our lives need restoration. We need restoration to refocus on our goals, our hopes, and our dreams. When restoration happens, gratitude abounds because dreams become reality. Reflect today on what is being restored in you during this Lenten season.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
The prophet Isaiah is known for his comforting statements to the Hebrew people. This particular section of the book of Isaiah, dubbed ‘Second Isaiah’, is hopeful and comforting to the Hebrew people who have just been given permission to go home. They’d been exiled for years from their homeland, which held for them the stories of their past, the Temple in Jerusalem, and their communities. When the Babylonians overthrew Jerusalem, they scattered the Hebrews throughout the Empire, away from anyone they knew and away from the place they once called home. It is into this context that Isaiah preaches these words of comfort from God: “I will be with you…You shall not be burned.” The Hebrew people had been through a lot up to this point yet they still found reason to hope when Isaiah spoke these words. As we think about our Lenten journeys with gratitude, we invite you to reflect on the difficult times that you have been through. How can you see now that God was with you? How does God’s faithful presence give you hope?
“And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.”
It is no mistake that we read about the bounty of God today, the day after we read about instructions regarding Jubilee and sabbatical years. We are far more ready to receive the bounty of God when we are rested, refreshed, and intentionally focused on our relationships with God and others. In this story, we find Jesus with thousands of people outside of the town. We can imagine he was preaching, teaching, and curing people in the group. The disciples, frantic, tell Jesus to send the people away because they don’t want to be responsible for feeding the people. To their minds only focused on scarcity, Jesus turns scarcity into abundance. He breaks up the crowd into more manageable units of 50. Have you ever wondered why he breaks up the crowd into smaller groups? Perhaps he does it so that people are more likely to look one another in the eye. Perhaps he wants them to connect in a more intimate way. Why? Maybe so that they will share what they have. If everyone shares in their group, scarcity is transformed to abundance. Now that is a miracle. As you think about this story in Scripture, where is God calling you to share what you have? How does connection to others make it easier to overcome difficult tasks and attitudes? How do your relationships affect the gratitude you’ve been seeking to cultivate this Lent?
“The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live on it securely.”
In this passage from the book of Leviticus, we receive deeper instructions about sabbath, particularly about the sabbatical year and the Jubilee year. Both the sabbatical year and the Jubilee years are created to help the Jews understand the pattern of creation; God’s creation—including land and humans—was never intended to constantly be producing. God sets forth a 6 and 1 pattern at the beginning of creation that is to be followed on the macro and micro scale. We are to follow the 6 and 1 pattern with regard to how we set up our days and even our years (sabbatical year is the 7th year). This 6 and 1 pattern is an opportunity for us to show our gratitude for the gifts we have been given that help sustain us. Sabbath is not intended to simply be a time to “Netflix and chill,” or watch ball games. Sabbath is a time to intentionally reflect with gratitude on the bounty we’ve been provided. It is a time to reconnect with God. And it is a way to reconnect with those around us who we’ve overlooked throughout the week. As you reflect on the rhythm of rest, modeled for us throughout the Old Testament, how do you incorporate a rhythm of rest or sabbath into your own life?
“And you shall do no work during that entire day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the Lord your God.”
The Day of Atonement, otherwise known as Yom Kippur, is one of the most holy days in the Jewish calendar. Some Rabbis even call it the Sabbath of Sabbaths. According to today’s text, the Day of Atonement is to be a day when no work is done. Denial, confession, and repentance define the day’s actions. Today in Christian circles, the word atonement refers to the way in which Jesus’ actions unify us with God. There are many theories of atonement, worthy of a lifetime of study. Largely, many people ascribe to the idea that God could not forgive the sins of the Hebrew people, so God sent Jesus to atone for the sins of the world. Unfortunately, that widely accepted idea, called sacrificial atonement, overlooks major narratives and traditions in the Hebrew Bible where God offers ways for atonement and forgiveness. Today’s reading is one among many of those places. We can learn from today’s text that true atonement requires action. It requires active repentance. We also can learn that the Hebrew people performed this special act of repentance once a year, showing us that their entire system of belief was not centered on repentance like many of ours have been. God didn’t begin forgiving sin with Jesus. Forgiveness has always been central to the character of God and for that we can be grateful.
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.”
In today’s familiar exclamation from Paul’s second letter to the Christians in Corinth, we hear that God is making all things new through reconciliation. The reconciliation available to us and to the entire created world is a continuation of the creativity of God. God is continuing the good work of creation through the reconciliation of all things. Everything we see and everyone we encounter is in process. We are all on journeys toward reconciliation — toward union with God. And because of that, we are called to see others differently. Rather than seeing with eyes of judgment, we are called to see every one and every thing as beloved creations of God. As beloved creations of God, we are called to see in every one and everything a potential and an innate belovedness—the image of God. God sees in us an innate belovedness and the potential for growth through reconciliation. When we begin to see with God’s eyes, we are no longer constrained by our own expectations of how people should or shouldn’t act. It is then that we will truly be able to be a new creation, free from the pressure to judge others and the judgment of others. As you reflect on the Lenten journey, how has the practice of gratitude changed the way you see?
“When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’”
Rejoice blossoms from gratitude. In today’s reading, we find two very familiar parables that Jesus tells of a lost sheep and a lost coin. He told these in response to the Pharisees’ grumblings that he “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Essentially, the Pharisees were complaining about Jesus’ inclusivity because who one ate with in that time period said a lot about a person. Jesus’ table fellowship sent a message to everyone that he was inclusive, welcoming, and hospitable. In response to the Pharisees’ grumbling, he shares a message of rejoicing. When we grumble or complain, regardless of what it is about, we are often missing out on an opportunity to celebrate and rejoice. Jesus was trying to redirect the Pharisees’ attention to rejoice at the fact that people who have been excluded by religion are actually interested. People who have been judged as unworthy still want to be included. Now that’s a miracle worth celebrating! It is important for us to reflect on the rejoice we are missing out on when we grumble and complain. How can we let rejoicing redirect our attention?
“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”
While this selection from Paul can easily be read as putting the body and spirit in competition with each other, we need to resist that interpretation. Throughout history, Christian theologians have shown us that we can indeed commune with God in an embodied way. Paul is instead, alluding to the way that many Christians can become “too heavenly minded for any earthly good.” We, like the Corinthian Christians, find it difficult to balance hope for the future and satisfaction with the present. Here, Paul is encouraging us to not forget the future but also to live in the present by acting in a way that is pleasing to God now. Gratitude can help us remain focused on the present because it forces us to look at the moment we are experiencing now rather than what could or couldn’t happen tomorrow. How has your practice of gratitude this Lenten season helped you to be more present in the moment? How can you continue to show gratitude in the moment?
“So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.”
In this interesting story, the Hebrew people are on the move to the promised land with the ark of the covenant. The ark of the covenant, for the Hebrew people, contained the presence of God on earth. They would eventually place it in the middle of the Temple in Jerusalem (the Holy of Holies). In this portion of scripture, God tells Joshua to command the people to pick up twelve stones from the Jordan river and carry them with them to the other side. They were to set them up as a memorial to their journey so that their children would eventually ask them the meaning of the stones. It was then that the Hebrews would tell the stories of God liberating them from Egypt and leading them through the wilderness, providing for them along the way. These stones were to be stones of remembrance, eben ezers, that would remind the Hebrew people and the generations that followed to be grateful for God’s presence and guidance along the journey. What are the stones of remembrance in your own life? Maybe they aren’t stones, but a family Bible or even photos of an experience. How do those objects stir gratitude in you? How do you pass those stories on to others? We learn from the Hebrew people that our gratitude for experiences will shine through in the way we retell those experiences. How are you retelling your significant life experiences with gratitude?
“It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed and yeast. It starts small and grows into something much larger than what could have been imagined at the beginning. What if the products of the Kingdom of God function in a similar way? What if gratitude and love grow and spread in a similar way, like a mustard seed and yeast? When we are living in the presence of God, in the Kingdom of God, gratitude and love will flow from us naturally. And it will grow. In this text, we see that the birds can find shelter in the branches of the mustard tree. When we are growing in our gratitude in the presence of God, others will be able to find sanctuary, or safe space, with us in a way that never could have happened without the gratitude we’ve been cultivating in partnership with God. We also see that yeast gets worked into the dough to make bread that will nourish others. In a similar way, when we are growing in our gratitude in the presence of God, we will nourish others. As you reflect on this text today almost halfway through this Lenten journey, how do you see your gratitude growing? How has it affected your relationships? Where are further opportunities for growth?
I said, “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will keep a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence.”
The psalmist, here it is likely David or someone writing in his name, models for us critical reflection on the words that come from our mouths. Today’s text shows us the recognition that our words carry weight and meaning; our tongues are capable of sin. The old adage is “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” The psalmist shows us that is far from truth. Words have the potential to hurt not only the one speaking them but many others. So the psalmist encourages hearers to reflect on the ways that our words carry weight. Common knowledge among psychologists is the fact that negative words stick like velcro and positive, affirming words take longer to integrate into the lives of the hearer. Our gratitude takes longer to integrate into our hearts and minds, while our complaints stick like velcro to anyone who hears them. As a result, we need to spend more intentional time reflecting on the positive words that come from our mouths and those that come through our ears. As we seek to develop a spirit of gratitude this Lent and beyond, it is important for us to reflect on the weight of our words. Take time today to think carefully about the words that come from your mouth and reflect on how they will affect those around you. Will they be negative and stick like velcro? How can you take more time to reflect on the words of affirmation, gratitude, and love in your life?
“Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”
At the heart of our complaints are judgments. We complain when we’ve passed judgment on a person or event. In this passage of Romans, Paul is reiterating the spirituality of non-judgment. Jesus’ words about a speck in our neighbor’s eye and a plank in our own echo profoundly in this text. We indeed, have no excuse for judgment because often the things that we pass judgment on others for are things that we are frustrated at ourselves for doing. It is just easier to judge another person than ourselves. As we transform our complaints and judgments to gratitude during this Lenten season, what would it take for you to see others with a non-judgmental, compassionate eye? How would honesty with ourselves help us be more compassionate when we look at others? “God kindness is meant to lead us to repentance.” God will accept and love the flaws we find in ourselves and those in our neighbors, so why can’t we?
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.”
In this passage from the prophet Isaiah, we get a picture of a forgiving, absolutely merciful God. Pardon is the manifestation of God’s compassion. Rather than punishing those returning to God, God embraces them. It can be easy to get frustrated at the mercy and compassion of God. As humans, we seek fairness and justice. It is tempting for us to desire for people to get their due, for them to receive punishment for what they’ve done wrong. We have a tendency to make God in our image, expecting God to react to people and events in a similar way that we react. Richard Rohr says, “We project onto God our way of loving.” As we reflect on gratitude during this season of Lent, we can be brutally honest with ourselves in saying that we are grateful for God being better than we could ever imagine. Not only is this good news, but it is humbling. We must set aside our slightly misunderstood images of God. How has your image of God limited you from seeing God’s compassion, grace, and mercy? How have you projected onto God your way of loving?
“The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”
Jesus taught throughout his ministry that the heart is the essence of who we are. If there is goodness in our hearts, goodness will manifest in our lives. If there is anger in our hearts, according to Jesus, it is just as dangerous as murder because anger will inevitably manifest in our lives. When we practice gratitude during this season of Lent, we are intentionally seeking to redirect our hearts from judgments and complaints to gratitude and joy. We recognize that even though we may not complain with our lips, the complaints within our hearts are just as destructive. The Good News is that the opposite is also true: gratitude within our hearts becomes manifest through our words and actions whether we intend it to or not. As we reflect on this experience of seeking to transform our hearts from producing bad fruit to good, reflect on the difference between what you say and what you feel deep within your heart. If you’ve successfully not complained with your lips, are the complaints still within you? How can you be transformed from within?
“Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God.”
Today’s text is an excerpt from the book of Revelation. Remember that John’s Revelation is not written to a person, but to several churches. John writes of his vision to the church in Sardis, warning the church to wake up. In this portion of the vision, John is referring to the hope for communal resurrection. He is trying to help the church wake up to the possibility of transformation through the Spirit of God. The church can be grateful for people like John who help them wake up to opportunities for transformation and help them see the places where they must commit to growth. In your personal life, who are the people for whom you are grateful who have helped you wake up to opportunities for transformation? In our communal life, who are the people for whom we can all be grateful who have helped alert the community to our needs for growth?
“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: