Scripture: Ephesians 5:15-20
Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 5:18-20
Learning to give thanks, to be grateful is a really important life skill. From an early age I remember my parents instilling in me the importance of saying thank you, the importance of being grateful for a special gift or someone serving you. My family wasn’t big into writing thank you notes, but I know others who were – my wife for example was instilled from a young age with the idea that thank you notes were an important part of the gift exchange. We have in turn passed the importance of thank yous, and gratitude onto our children trying to make sure that they understand the importance, even if sometimes their thank yous and gratitude comes out of obligation.
We might think gratitude and saying thank you is just a polite socially acceptable thing to do, but multiple studies have been coming out over the last decade showing that gratitude has an immense impact on our emotional, psychological and social well-being. In fact in one study, when participants were encouraged to write gratitude letters it was shown to significantly improve their mental health. In another study, keeping a gratitude journal (a means of counting ones blessings each and every day) increased the participants trust in other people – people were more likely to trust other people if they fostered gratitude in their lives.
We can all probably provide small anecdotes here or there from our own lives where we just felt better about ourselves and the world when we fostered an attitude of gratefulness.
Despite all the evidence pointing to the great benefits of gratitude and gratefulness – we often can find it hard to foster those attitudes, we can focus on the negatives, we can become too accustomed to our blessings that we forget to be thankful, becoming complacent or perhaps jealous of someone who seemingly has more blessings in their life.
In this context the words we heard this morning from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians can become difficult to hear. Give thanks to God at all times, give thanks for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Really all times? Really for everything? Even when a loved one is struck by a devastating illness or accident? Even when it seems that nothing can go right and the world is against you? Even when we witness terrible violence in our city like we did on the Danforth or in North York earlier this year? Even when men, women and children are dying across the world due to poverty, war and famine? Are we really supposed to give thanks for all that?
We could easily understand if Paul was encouraging us to give thanks for the good things in life, even if we sometimes fail to do so that is something we can all understand. We can understand giving thanks for our health, for loving families, for a great church community, for a world full of wonder and whatever else might be good in your life. But how can Paul, how can God expect us to give thanks for all things and at all times – after all you and I both know that our lives are not full of only sunshine and roses, and some of us less than others.
Life can be hard, it can be messy, it can be painful. And yet part of living the ‘wise life of Christ’ according to our reading this morning is to cultivate a spirit of gratefulness at all times, to find ways to give thanks to God even in the midst of suffering, in the midst of hardship and loss.
On the surface we might think that God is being cruel or callous with us humans and our limited mortal existence – but to believe so is to forget the whole context of this call to gratitude – it is rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The call to gratitude and giving thanks always is rooted in the fact that Jesus, the very Son of God became one of us; it is rooted in the fact that Jesus the very Son of God experienced the hardness and suffering of our humanity, experienced betrayal, experienced pain. The call to gratitude is rooted in the shame of the wood of the Cross used to murder Jesus and it is rooted in the glory of his resurrection on the third day. Our gratitude is rooted in Jesus’ self-giving love, in his self-giving life for us and for the whole world.
Paul spends much of the second half of his letter to the Ephesians instructing the church in the ways of righteous and wise living in the light of Christ – part of which we heard this morning in our reading. But all of it is based on the doxology that we say in our services found at the end of Ephesians 3. Paul writes:
“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. – Ephesians 3:20-21
God gives us the means to be thankful always even though it may seem beyond our meagre human ability and wildest imaginations; God sends himself in the person of the Holy Spirit to work within us even as we stumble, even as we are ungrateful and unloving in our lives, even as we struggle to give thanks always. God gives us the church, the body of Christ to encourage us, to support us and console us when we are downtrodden. That is why we sing hymns and praises together, that is why we respond with joy even in the midst of sorrow and despair – because God Father, Son and Holy Spirit is with us, is in our midst and giving us strength and comfort even in the hardest times.
We do not give thanks for the hardships and pains that we suffer, instead we give thanks that Jesus bears them with us, that he walks with us, that ultimately even in the face of suffering, evil and death God’s good purposes for us and for all creation are fulfilled in Jesus.
We do not need to become masochists giving thanks for an illness or the death of a loved – but we give thanks that God is with us in the midst of that hardship, that even when bad things happen there is light at the end of the tunnel, because God is good, and his purpose for you and me is ultimately good.
I want to be clear that I am not saying that God gives you the hardship, or the sorrow or the pain as a good thing or even that God has a plan behind those hardships that ultimately works for good and you need to be grateful for that. I hear that kind of pop-theology all too often even from some of you here. Because if God gives us pain and suffering He isn’t a good God and we should flee as far from him as possible.
At the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians Paul writes that through Christ, God has “made known to us the mystery of his will… as a plan for the fullness of time to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.” – Ephesians 1:9-10
Essentially, everything on earth – all of our lives and the lives of everyone and everything that has ever lived, the good, the bad and even the ugly will ultimately find its good purpose and end in Christ because of his death and resurrection. And it is because of God’s definitive act of salvation, his definitive defeat of the powers of sin and death that we can even imagine giving thanks to God always.
Each week as we come to worship we have an opportunity to practice this gratitude – to shout our praises, to sing hymns of thanksgiving, to be grateful for the blessings of this life and the life that God promises us and gives us a taste of each and every week as we gather at his table and share communion with him and one another.
None of us come with perfect lives, none of us come without hardship or challenge, none of us come without brokenness and sin impacting our lives – but we come to give thanks for a God who showers his love upon us, who heaps his mercy and forgiveness upon us, who gives us the very bread of life each and every time we gather.
May we all learn to be truly thankful, to always give thanks to God today and forever more.
Let us pray.