The first year of marriage is always a year of figuring out new routines – an important one being how holidays are celebrated in light of a recently-enlarged family circle. Lorie and I were married in October, so Thanksgiving was our first holiday as a married couple (if you don’t count Halloween). With the exception of our very first year, we have been in the routine of inviting our families to come celebrate with us. And over the years they have driven up Thanksgiving morning, given thanks with us, eaten with us, recovered from turkey coma with us, and returned home at day’s end. Right now, in fact, I imagine the grandparents and uncle are hopping into their cars, even as I speak; heading down I-40 and then I-85 for yet another Lindsley-Steinhagen Thanksgiving.
I am grateful for those rituals and routines that ground me and the people around me, and give me a clear vantage point from which to see everything. I’m also grateful when those rituals and routines occasionally change, either entirely or in part, because sometimes change is an occasion to open our eyes a little wider to see the source of our gratitude – what we’ve missed right in front of us.
There was both constancy and change in the life of Jesus, and in the lives of his followers, in our scripture today. This “new thing” that Jesus was well on his way to creating was getting everyone’s attention – and I mean everyone. Change was in the air, but it was a grounded change, not haphazard. There was a rhyme and reason to it. It was familiar, it was different.
And because it was all those things, it would require of God’s people a sense of something that, to some degree, they perhaps had lost touch with. And that was gratitude. More than simple “thanks-giving.” A way of looking at the world that affects all aspects of how one sees the world, and how one lives into and with that world….
And so there is Jesus, speaking to the gathered crowd, sharing with them familiar words: “Consider the lilies,” Jesus tells them. Consider the lilies…. It’s a curious phrase, is it not? What is there to “consider” about lilies – they are what they are, nothing more and nothing less. Why does Jesus choose, in this particular time and place, to call us to do something as odd as consider lilies?
It’s notable, I think, that the Greek word typically translated as “consider” means something a little different than what we might think. The word means “to look at carefully, to closely examine.” This isn’t some passive observation, in other words. This is intentional, thorough, dynamic.
And the word “lilies” – we instinctively think of the tall, majestic white flowers that adorn church sanctuaries at Easter time. But again, the Greek opens us to see something else, something more like wildflowers, really. Those flowers that grow all on their own.
I think about this and it strikes me that essentially what Jesus is directing us to do is this: “Take a good, hard, contemplative look at those things around you that happen naturally, that grow with or without you, and often in spite of you. Consider those things. Not the things of your own making. The things of mine. Because these are the very things you cannot fool yourselves into claiming credit for. I want you to consider those things, because only in doing so will you ever be able to understand what it means to truly be grateful.”
Our calling, then, is to be a people who make a habit of “considering the lilies.” For when we do this, we are on the way to becoming the very thing we have been created to be. I don’t know if you saw the article in the Observer this past Monday titled, “What’s the Anatomy of Gratitude.” In it, a scientist from the University of North Carolina has this to say:
Gratitude is about giving thanks, but also about feeling appreciation and recognizing what we have received. Adults who practice gratitude sleep better, have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, reduced anxiety and depression, and more satisfied relationships.
She goes further:
Research shows that people who practice gratitude begin to report greater gratitude over time, indicating that what we do in our lives can impact the extent to which we feel and act grateful. (1)
It may sound strange, this notion of “practicing gratitude,” as one might practice soccer or knitting or how to replace a dead car battery (which I’m personally grateful the AAA gentlemen had done before attempting it on my car in the back parking lot yesterday afternoon!) It may sound strange. But the church’s very existence is built on a significant history of “spiritual disciplines,” where we intentionally engage the very thing we wish to become. Prayer, meditation, service, study, worship, just to name a few.
For us on this day, perhaps part of our task is simply getting beyond the tired-old question, “what are we thankful for” and instead daring to ask, “how do we adequately express thankfulness for all which we are thankful?” And how does it change our lives, and the lives of those around us, after the turkey has been consumed, the football game ended, the leftovers crammed into the nooks and crannies of the kitchen fridge?
Consider the lilies, Jesus tells us. Be thankful. Practice gratitude. And in doing so, abide in me. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God; and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!
(1) http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/11/23/4334044_whats-the-anatomy-of-gratitude.html?rh=1, visited on 11.26.2014.