During this season of Lent, we are taking a deeper dive into our expressions of gratitude. In doing so, we are guided by the book Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks by Diana Butler Bass and companion content from The Work of the People.
As we enter this season of thoughtful and spiritual introspection, I find a great deal of value in exploring gratitude. It seems sometimes as though gratitude is a distant concept for us as a culture. We struggle (or at least I struggle) to do simple things like writing thank-you cards. I’ve long been concerned about a growing sense of narcissism amongst the people of our time, and it seems to me as though this could be connected. Do we think we are deserving of the things people do for us, and so there’s no need for thanks?
As spiritual people, perhaps we can push back from this and realize that everything we have—both tangible and intangible—is a gift from God. It is through God that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). It is God’s breath that gives us life (Genesis 2:7), it is God’s son who redeems us, and it is God’s Spirit that sustains us. So if we are to step back from our (perhaps natural) tendency of self-centeredness and offer our gratitude to God, how do we do this? Where do we find God? How do we address God?
John 3:1-17 (CEB)
1There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. 2He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”
3Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.”
4Nicodemus asked, “How is it possible for an adult to be born? It’s impossible to enter the mother’s womb for a second time and be born, isn’t it?”
5Jesus answered, “I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. 6Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Don’t be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ 8God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9Nicodemus said, “How are these things possible?”
10“Jesus answered, “You are a teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things? 11I assure you that we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you don’t receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Human One. 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up 15so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. 16God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
Consider these questions:
- Who (and What) is God to you?
- Where is God?
- How does God move and work in the world to you? And how does this influence the way you live?
Post-Worship Update on 3/4
Audio from the sermon can be heard below, and video can be found at this link (will open in a new tab).
Sunday’s Lenten sermon began our exploration by focusing on our understanding of God. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus encourages us to change our perspective and to turn over (perhaps not unlike tables at the temple) the social structures that show our values. The last shall be first, the first shall be last.
Today, these social structures look like a pyramid with the few powerful and rich at the top and the larger groups falling below. This is likely informed—intentionally or unintentionally—by the ancient ideas that God can be found above, in the heavens. Therefore, those few powerful and rich at the top of the pyramid are closer to God, which must mean that they’re doing something right… and we should do whatever they’re doing, too.
But by addressing where we think God can be found, we can flip that lopsided structure. Jesus reminds Nicodemus that God’s Spirit cannot be limited by our structures and assumptions. God’s Spirit blows where it will blow. God’s breath exists beyond our class systems and social valuations.
I have had several interactions over the course of the last couple of weeks that remind me that God’s Spirit is tangibly present among our Project Grace guests. along the boardwalk on a sunny day in a vulnerable interaction, in a cry for companionship and help. This reminds me of God’s unending compassion and grace. When we really and truly look for God, I suspect this helps us to understand God in profound ways.
Consider these questions:
- Where has God seemed tangibly present in your life? Has it been during times of success? Has it been during times of heartache and pain? Has it been during in-between times? Where have you been most aware of God’s presence, and what does that say to you about who God is?
- Does this previous question change what you think about who God is and/or how God moves and works in the world? In what way? Contrast differences if there are any. How does this influence the way you will choose to live?