Summary: A reflection on the appropriateness of thanksgiving and glorifying God, even in the midst of intense personal suffering. Contrasted with the First World expectation of self-actualization.
“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? 6:31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, —What shall we eat?’ or —What shall we drink?’ or —What shall we wear?’”
Today is a day about gratitude, about being deliberate in order to give thanks for all that God has done for us. It is maybe something that should form a part of our daily bread, as one of the callings of the Christian is to be thankful for God’s grace. So let’s talk about this calling of those who follow Christ, and what it means to be thankful and to experience gratitude, and why it is so important that we live in that mode always. This is one of the things that can allow some handle on the age of anxiety that we live within today…as anxiety is really the defining characteristic of our era. I’m not suggesting a magic technique that will free you from anxiety, or that the right attitude will solve serious challenges with anxiety – that’s not it at all. What I am speaking of is what the Gospels tell us about contentedness, and how that forms a challenge to our culture’s fixation with happiness at all costs. There is also a question of suffering tied up in the question of thanksgiving, as in how can we give thanks in a world full of suffering. Our reading from Genesis speaks of the cradle of humanity bounded by the four great rivers: Euphrates, Tigris. This is the area current under the torment of ISIL, so there is a certain tension present. Also, if I may quote Gandalf, there are those who died who should have lived, and those who lived who should have died. The world is not a fair place. How then to we give thanks when we’re walking with suffering?
I’ll start by telling you a story about my friend who was a Manitoba farmer, one of those “salt of the earth” types of guys who is the image of the men and women that build, and continue to build this country. I met him as the husband of one of my seminary classmates. He came from mixed farming, understood in a way that this contact with the land teaches you, the cycles of life and death and our ultimate powerlessness to effect change in those circumstances. Not long after we developed a friendship, my friend was diagnosed with cancer. It was cancer that would ultimately result in his death a couple of years later.
I visited him in the hospital a number of times, including once in the ICU right after his second or third surgery. I anointed him each time, and prayed over him, including a prayer I almost always include in healing prayer – thy will be done. Ultimately, much of what we seek to have control over is far beyond our control, and only in the hands of the Lord. So while we pray for healing, we know too well that healing might be something entirely unexpected from what we had in mind.