Only Prayer

Nov 6, 2016, Author: Rev. Ann M. Aaberg

Scripture – Deuteronomy 8:6-18 and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 – November 6, 2016

I have no idea why God took so long, but finally this year the Holy One became a Cubs fan! My guess is millions of people from Chicago to the most distant enclaves of Cubs fans around the world are thanking God for the first World Series win in 108 years. Thanks be to God…

It’s an interesting phenomenon, isn’t it, the role God plays in the lives of sports fans and athletes. Or maybe better to say the role we imagine God plays. Last week we witnessed successful base runners trotting towards home plate pointing upwards in recognition and thanksgiving. How many post-game shows during football season do we hear winning players giving thanks to their Lord and Savior? Yet, even the most faithful Christians are a little bit skeptical of some interpretations of God’s role in the outcome of sporting events.
But I do think we can all agree with Moses’ words in our first reading from Deuteronomy this morning reminding us that we don’t succeed without the power of God. Many athletes, when given the chance to explain, are not thanking God for the outcome of the game, but for the gifts bestowed on that athlete which enables him or her to accomplish what they do. Not just natural physical ability, but parents who nurtured, coaches who saw promise, any number of being in the right place at the right time situations – all beyond the athlete’s control and all deserving of thanks to God. As Moses’ reminds God’s people: When you have eaten your fill and built fine houses and …all that you have is multipled, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God…But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth…”

Notice, too, the timing of those athletic thank-you’s. The thank-you’s are sent up after the home run as the batter rounds the bases. They are sent up in the end-zone after the touchdown. They are gushingly uttered in the post-game interview.

Our season of Generosity begins today, a/k/a/ our annual Stewardship campaign. As we have done in previous years, throughout t the next three weeks we will name all the reasons why financially supporting our church, especially by pledging, is important, in fact, it’s necessary. Then on Thanksgiving Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent begins, we will thank God for the gifts we are able to direct to God’s church and Jesus’ mission in the world. All well and good, but like the home runs and the touchdowns and the games won, we will thank God at the end, when we’re finished. This morning I propose we start with thanksgiving today and I’ll tell you why.

Our small but mighty Stewardship Committee decided this year to continue our theme of growth. Two years ago in 2014 you may remember the theme was “Grow Our Mission” as we focused on expanding all the ways we serve God. Last year we focused on “Grow Our Ministry” as we had long recognized the need for additional ordained staff and saw an opportunity to seize upon it. This year, the Stewardship Committee agreed to a theme of “Keep Us Growing” in order to maintain the faithful leaps we have made and to reflect our survey-documented high levels of energy and satisfaction and openness to change. Keep us growing.

But “keep us growing” is not just about money or membership or the physical plant or financial health or even new programming. Before we can enthusiastically work together to address all those things, we need to keep growing closer to God, we need to tend to our spiritual health, we need to cultivate our souls. And the best way to spark that renewal is with gratitude. No matter one’s current life’s circumstances, whether it be more games in the loss column, being benched for the season or having to quit what you love altogether because of injury, when we’re down for the count,there is nothing that will lift us up closer to our God than the tiniest hint of a prayer of gratitude.

As we examine the circumstances of our lives and the condition of our souls, we usually interpret Jesus’ parable of the sower as the seeds representing all the different hearers’ mindsets and conditions under which the word is received. Jesus says that himself. But, how many of us have experienced all those soil conditions as our one life has unfolded? The rocky ground of conflicted relationships, the shallow roots of economic uncertainty, the thorns of addiction, the days of significant loss and acute mourning when we were bereft of any grounding at all.

No matter our conditions, beginning with gratitude can plant us firmly into a grounded, growing life of faith. Beginning with gratitude plants the seed of thanksgiving in our hearts and starts us off steeped in the most fertile conditions for spiritual growth. By planting the seed of thanksgiving first, we gain new eyes, new perspectives, new attitudes, new abilities to respond to the adverse conditions which will come upon us, and which could otherwise shatter our spirituality, undermine our faith and leave us stranded on the cold, hard path.

We often hear repeated the words of 13th century theologian Meister Eckhart who said: If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. Not because it’s short and sweet, not because that’s the only prayer God needs to hear, but because it is enough to save us from despair, to lift us up off the barren path and drop us into fertile soil, it is enough to renew our spiritual desire to keep growing closer to our God, the Source of all Life and Love, the Source of our power to be all we can in this earthly world.
Our life as a faith community on this corner in Mystic is no different than our own individual lives in that this church through its 164-year history has lived through rocky soil and thorny times. Today we happen to stand in good soil looking forward to yielding more fruit in 2017, continuing to grow our mission to welcome refugees, to feed hungry children on both sides of the river, to form the faith of our youth in the most compelling way we can, to praise God with the most excellent music we can offer …but let us not wait until the end of our effort to give thanks. Let us begin today with a prayer of gratitude to keep us growing – in the Spirit, in faith, in spiritual health – to keep us growing closer to God. Amen.