How do we make sense of hope for the coming year? How do we begin the year of 2021 with hope after everything that has happened in 2020 and the pandemic will continue to rage on going into 2021? Reading on the work of Scholar and Theologian, Diana Butler Bass, I found that gratitude does not negate or downplay the struggles and challenges we have faced and will be facing. On the contrary, gratitude will also give focus on the reality of our struggles and challenges together with the reality of our shared and mutual response. Hence the first part of this sermon series is to recognize that it is very hard to be thankful when faced with pain, sorrow, sickness or even death. Gratitude is like a person trying to find a light, any light in a pitch black road or room. Looking for the light or any light in a darkened place actually makes us more aware of the darkness that is all around us. However, it also heightens our sensitivity against danger or road blocks and it allows our eyes to adjust in that darkness to be able to still see. It is hard to make sense or to talk about hope. It seems to be so abstract or ethereal but grounding hope in gratitude helps us to have some solid grounding to walk on or a small yet clear light to see. It is with this that we are using Gratitude as our framework for hope for the coming year: Gratitude as explained, elaborated and reflected upon by Diana Butler Bass.
But he learned something: Gratitude is not about repayment of debts. It is about relationships. Through his cancer, Jason discovered that courage and hope could not be summoned magically; rather strength and healing came through community. He spoke of the church’s greatest gift to his family in crisis: “We can endure all things because you’ve been with us. You’re with us. More so than all the stuff you’ve done for us, you’ve been with us.
With no dry eye in the congregation, he continued. “It was kind of you to share my nightmare. It was kind of you to share in my pain and suffering. It was kind of you to share in Ali’s worry, in my boy’s fears and anxiety. It was kind of you to make my cancer – our cancer – yours too.”
Gratitude is social. It is about, as Pastor Jason Micheli learned, “presence, participation, and partnership.” It is about being with one another, in life together. It is the thread of nature and neighbor. The seemingly fragile strands of gifts and goodness that weave our lives together.
Ultimately, gratitude is an aspect of empathy. To “empathize” means to “feel in[to] or with” another, to understand and be with others emotionally. If you are thankful for something that cuts you off from others or sets people at odds, it may not be genuine gratitude. It may be an emotion birthed in fear or control. Gratitude connects us, even across racial, class, and national boundaries, allowing us to feel together. We reach out toward one another. We are elevated toward doing good. We might share the “frenzy” of gratefulness. We might find ourselves serving others or dancing in the streets.Grateful: The Subversive Practice of Giving Thanks by Diana Butler Bass
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.Acts 2:43-47 (NRSV)