What do we have to be grateful for right now?
For some of us, the answer to this question may sound like “not much.” We’re being attacked by a virus we can’t see, and some days it feels like the cure of staying distant from one another is worse than the disease. Our lives – economic, social, recreational, mental, and spiritual – have been disrupted to the point of not knowing what normal is anymore. We’re worried, afraid, and angry at the loss of freedoms we feel we’re experiencing. We’re sad at having to let go of our expectations and hopes for the spring and summer. We miss church and worship the way it used to be. And we’re sick of being told we have to innovate, to try something different, to change. What in that is there to be grateful for?
And yet gratitude lies at the heart of our faith in God. As Paul writes, “Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart.” (2 Cor 4:15-16)
We do not lose heart. Instead, we live in our trust in the God who saves us. Grace -- the free gift of God’s unconditional love for you and for the whole world in Jesus Christ -- creates faith which grows gratitude in us like a seed in springtime soil. To follow Christ in faith is to live life in the Spirit’s gratitude. This a gratitude that remembers the deep and rich blessing we’ve received in Christ and the power of the Spirit always working in our lives.
But this gratitude is hard to do when it feels like we’re being threatened at every turn.
So what does living in the Spirit’s gratitude look like even in the tough times? Well, it pays attention to what it does have or can do rather than what we don’t have or can’t do. The Spirit’s gratitude sees problems we face not as roadblocks but as opportunities to find other ways of living out the mission of the gospel that God calls us to fulfill. The Spirit’s gratitude gives thanks for the positives that can come even out of the toughest experiences. The Spirit’s gratitude sees everything as a possibility because nothing, even life out of death, is impossible with God. For in Christ, the glass is neither half-empty nor half-full; the glass is always overflowing with the abundant love of God and the power of new life that God shares with us every day.
In the Spirit’s gratitude, we see the world and the difficulties of life differently. No, our problems don’t go away, but we see them through Spirit-lenses rather than fear-lenses, through Jesus-lenses rather than anxiety-lenses, as “having enough in God” lenses rather than scarcity lenses. “If you’re grateful, you’re not fearful, and if you’re not fearful, you’re not violent. If you’re grateful, you act out of a sense of enough and not a sense of scarcity, and you are willing to share. If you’re grateful, you are enjoying the differences between people and you are respectful to everybody…” (David Steindl-Rast)
But more than just changing our view of the world and those around us, the Spirit’s gratitude leads and empowers us to act on that gratitude. A thankful church and its grateful followers of Christ looks at the many gifts and assets of the community and then asks, what can we do to serve God’s kingdom with the abundance we DO have?
Ultimately service to others is an act of gratitude. As Henri Nouwen proclaims, “We are so full of God’s presence, we are so aware of God’s promise, that we don’t want to hold it back. We want to share it…it is freeing to know that the presence of God is practiced by acts of grateful service.” And we want to do so with those who are most in need.
And you all have done that! I am grateful to you and to God for all that you have given for the sake of the ministry of the gospel, not only in and around the Montana Synod and your communities but also for the people of Bolivia. I am grateful for the monetary gifts you’ve given to your congregations, the synod, and around the world, but also for your kindness, patience and support you’ve given to your pastor, the synod staff and your bishop. I’m grateful for the many ways you have stepped up or stayed home to take on the responsibility of protecting your church and your community. I’m grateful for your wisdom, gentleness, and faithfulness in these times when too many are choosing to express their fears and frustrations through angry demands and hateful speech. Your generosity humbles me as you share your gratitude for all God has done with the world around you. Thank you for living out the Spirit of gratitude in everything you do and say.
I close with this reminder from Paul as we seek to follow Jesus during this time: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
· Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
· Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the
Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
· Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
· And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.
· And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all
wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.
· And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to
God the Father through him.” (Col 3:12-17)
In gratitude, Bishop Laurie
 Henri Nouwen, “Following Jesus: Finding our Way Home in an Age of Anxiety, p. 130, 131.
Bishop Laurie Jungling
Elected June 1, 2019, Laurie is the 5th Bishop of the Montana Synod