Attitude of Gratitude - Week One: A Little Lower
This week we are beginning a brand new sermon series entitled, "Attitude of Gratitude," which will take us all the way to the end of the November and the season of Advent, which is nearly upon us.
November just seems like the perfect month to talk about gratitude, don't you think? We are becoming masters of the art it ti-ming around here, man. Boom.
Two recent studies conducted by the Pew Research group and the Public Religion Research Institute revealed something interesting about the attitudes of gratitude in the U.S.
According to the Pew study, 78 percent of people say they feel strongly thankful at least once a week.
But the Public Religion study revealed that most of us are more anxious, less hopeful and more distrustful than ever.
Clearly, there's a disconnect here. Diana Butler Bass believes it comes down to the fact that as individuals we value gratitude as a virtue, and we strive to express it in our own lives. But as a society, we are becoming less and less thankful. The same gratitude we feel individually is not making that much of a difference in our common life.
That's why I feel like this sermon series is so important right now. We need to not only develop our own attitude of gratitude, but we also need to let that gratitude spill out into our life together.
Each of the sermons in this series is coming right out of the Psalms, which is a bit unusual for me--I don't often preach on the Psalms. Typically we read from the Psalms on Sunday mornings in worship, or we sing songs that are drawn from the Psalms when we aren't reading from them--and sometimes we get crazy and just do both. But we don't often have sermons from them, so I thought we would change that a bit.
Let me read to you from Psalm 8, if you would indulge me...
1 O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. 2 Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. 3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; 4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? 5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: 7 All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; 8 The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. 9 O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!For a moment, I just want to focus on verses 3 & 4--we'll come back to some of the other ones in a moment...
3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; 4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?When I consider the heavens...
Did you know that the universe is expanding? It's true. Not that it needs to, mind you. Scientists have been able to measure the edge of the universe as being roughly 90 billion trillion miles away. I didn't just make up that number. The universe is vast. Our solar system fills less than a trillionth of the available space in the universe.
It may be small, but it's quick--our solar system moves at 558 thousand miles per hour and even at that speed it takes 200-250 million years for it to orbit the Milky Way Galaxy, which we are a part of. The Milky Way is part of 54 other galaxies that are part of what is called the Local Group, which is part of a larger group called the Virgo Superduster.
Scientists using the first of the Hubble telescopes and Hubble-made instruments began to pick up some crazy stuff in the 1950's. They noticed that there were galaxies far, far, away who were moving away from us--red tint meant moving away, blue tint meant moving toward. With some quick calculations, they determined that the universe appeared to be expanding... growing... into the future.
In 1964 scientists using improved Hubble stuff started picking up something else--radio waves from the past, echoes of a massive explosion that they believed happened about 13.7 billion years ago. Echoes of the past, from the beginning of something that no one really can explain.
Then things started getting really weird scientists began discovering that gravity didn't really work the way it was supposed to in some cases--like the Neutron Star for example. The Neutron Star is so dense and has such intense gravity that it kind of implodes into itself into concentrated matter. It weighs 200 billion tons... and get this... it fits into a teaspoon.
Did you know that the Earth weighs 66 billion trillion tons and is moving through space at 66,000 mph? It's also rotating at a speed of 1,000 mph at the equator, which means that Paris is moving at the speed of 600 mph which explains why you get vertigo when you go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Unless you go at night with your best girl, and then you get vertigo from being in love, baby.
On top of all of this--the continents are constantly shifting, there are at least 2 earthquakes every day somewhere on planet Earth. The current placement of the continents has only been in place for 1/10 of 1% of history.
And get this, when you look up into the night sky, you are gazing at light that began making its way to you millions of years ago. The speed of light is funky, too. If you were traveling in a train that was moving at the speed of that millions year old light you are seeing in the sky, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between where you were, where you've been or where you were going--everything would appear to be right... now.
So to recap... The universe is expanding, and is beyond our comprehension... The Earth is shifting, spinning, turning, rotating, slipping, sliding... There is no universal up, no universal down, no objective stationary place of rest, no absolute viewpoint only views from a point... And the sun, which is one of those stars that we gaze so longingly at in the evening, is made of matter, but is also energy... at the same... time.
And then there's you. A combination of water, carbon and a few other things that stumbles around in the dark looking for a flashlight for about eighty years--if you're lucky--before you go back to being dust for other things.
"What is man, O God, that you are mindful of him..."
You are small. You are dust. You are only here for a breath of time. And all it takes is a glance into the sky at night to be reminded of just how crazy-awesome-wonderful that all of Creation is, and how tiny, insignificant and not-that-awesome you seem to be.
Except you aren't... tiny and insignificant. To God.
"For you have made human beings just a little lower than the angels, and crowned them with glory and honor..."
To God you are amazing. To God, you are his best creation. To God you are the very thing that God, the creator and sustainer of all of that awesomeness that I related to you a moment ago, has decided to imbed with his very DNA. You are a co-creator, a shining composition of stardust and spirit that was put in charge of reflecting God's glory to the world.
What do you have to say... to that?
"Thank you," might be a place to start.
Throughout this sermon series we're going to be lifting up a very important truth that I know can change your life if you just embraced it as a way of living...
WHEN YOU FINALLY REALIZE ALL THAT GOD HAS DONE FOR YOU, THE ONLY TRUE RESPONSE IS GRATITUDE.
Let's return to Psalm 8 just for a moment.
There's some really awesome stuff about this Psalm that I would like to share with you. To begin, this is the first hymn of praise in the Psalter--it interrupts a series of hymns that are prayers for salvation, and it does so for a reason. Psalm 8 essentially establishes that when it comes to the story of how God is saving the world... humans are important. Additionally, it is the only hymn composed as a direct address to God, which sets it apart even more.
What the psalmist wants to convey is that it is God alone who has established dominion over the chaos--who brought order to the cosmos and has brought forth creation. And this same God who created all things and continues to create even now with surprising energy and wonder has given human beings an incredible charge. He created them, according to the hymn, a little lower than the angels, and put them in charge of being his under-shepherds, so to speak.
Humans have been given dominion over the creation on Earth to bring forth civilization to continue creating, to be fruitful and multiply, to care for the creatures and the Creation so that it will continue to care for them...
The psalmists says that God "remembers" and "visits" humans--speaking right into the divine response to human frailty and fallibility. In other words, it's like we are nothing but a bunch of toddlers who can't really speak, and who toddle around the room breaking things, wetting our pants, spitting up food, screaming when we want something and falling asleep at really, really, inopportune moments---and God is hanging with us anyway... never leaving, teaching, showing patience, "remembering" us and "visiting" us in our frailty with love and kindness.
Listen, it's easy to feel small when we think of these really big things. Looking up in the night sky in wonder shouldn't leave us lost in the cosmos, though. This is about feeling real awe and wonder at the God who chose to make us royal agents---to make royal agents out of small specks of carbon and water. We are created in God's image, imbued with God's creative energy, and covered in grace and salvation.
If that doesn't make you want stand up and say "Thank You!" I don't know what else will.
When I was a kid, I remember going to my father's hometown of Seibert Colorado. We would go outside at night when we were there, and look at the stars. The nearest neighbor was miles away. There were no city lights, no glow from terra firma to blind us. And the sky was choked with stars, so full it felt like it might burst. And I remember standing there with tears in my eyes as a child feeling small, and incredible and so blessed to be able to see the handiwork of the Master Artist.
I remember sitting in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome frustrated because I had prayed for a sign, a moment of clarity from God. I figured that if I couldn't find a sign of God in the very epicenter of the Christian religion for nearly two thousand years, I was hopeless. And then I missed the sign. I was in a gift shop when a pure white dove flew over the heads of everyone out in the courtyard, including my wife who hates to shop. The dove circles everyone in beautiful fashion and then disappeared leaving them exclaiming with joy. As I sat there on the pew moments later I was mentally punching myself in the face. That had been the sign, and I had missed it. I was hopeless. Then I looked up on the altar and saw a beautiful stained glass window of a dove descending. I heard almost as the sound of a voice next to me the words, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Beloved. You are Beloved." I don't remember crying as I walked back from receiving communion, but I was because the tears where rolling down my face.
The other day, I half-jokingly said to my ten year-old son, "God's timing isn't very good sometimes. I just don't get it." He looked earnestly at me and then said. "You have to trust him. God's timing is perfect." I felt like my heart would burst inside of me.
In the moment that Florida State beat Notre Dame last week I was with all of my boys--who stayed up late with me to watch the game. We had been on pins and needles the entire time. When when we won, all of us jumped up and down and found ourselves group hugging--even my four year old who was too little to know what had happened. I wanted to freeze that moment forever, it was so perfect, so incredible, so full of God.
All of the beauty in this world, all of those moments that feel divine they have a name. YHWH. The unmentionable, unknowable name of God in Hebrew. It is thought by some ancient rabbis that the name of God is described thus in the Hebrew alphabet because it sounds like a breath. YHWH. When you breath in, YHWH, when you breath out YHWH.
The psalmist says that the name of God is praised by infants. This is puzzling on the surface, but not if you understand what he meant. The psalmist is expressing that every human sound, every breath is a response to the universal reign of God. When you draw your first breath, you speak the name of God, and for all the days of your life from that moment. And when you draw your last breath you speak the name of God until life has left you and you are finally with God.
When you finally realize it... when you finally realize just how deeply and truly that the Creator of the universe loves you... when you finally begin to get just how interested God is in you... when you finally realize that the God whose name you speak each time you draw breath has exalted you, lifted you up and desires nothing more than your joy and fulfillment... when you finally see that this same God gave everything, suffered everything, took on everything to save you...
The only thing you can possibly say---or should I saw whisper... is Thank You.
When you finally realize all that God has done for you the only true response is gratitude.