Remembering to Be Grateful

Patricia Matthews
Christ Church, Little Rock
Oct. 30, 2011
Proper 26, Year A

Tomorrow night, our home will welcome a warrior and a witch. These two characters will come in from trick-or-treating and pour their candy out onto our floor. They will sort it, count it, divide it, and trade it. Then the eating will begin.

And you know, there is nothing like that first bar of chocolate. The second piece may be almost as delicious. And for a few days following, that Halloween candy is new and exciting.

But what happens after that? I don’t know about your homes, but in our home, the kids lose interest in that candy pretty quickly. By Thanksgiving, the big bag of candy stored above the refrigerator is almost forgotten.

And I wonder: How can this be? How can something so mind-blowing become utterly mundane?
It happens all the time. We flock to new stores and new malls. We get excited over the new i-phone 4S. But soon, these new things become a regular part of everyday life. And we quickly forget to be amazed by something that once consumed our attention.

This isn’t only a 21st century American phenomenon. It was a recurring theme for the children of Israel in the desert as well. By the time we reach today’s story, they had, for 40 years, been surrounded every day by God’s abundance. With God’s help, Moses had parted the Red Sea, provided water from a stone, and brokered a deal for manna every morning. And when all that got boring for the people, Moses and God upped the ante with meat that fell from the sky. These were all amazing, mind-blowing events, but again and again the Israelites fell back into taking these blessings for granted.

In today’s reading, we find the children of Israel miraculously crossing another body of water. But this time, it was just a river, not the Red Sea. And it was Joshua, not Moses. And I wonder: were they less in awe the second time around?

Maybe they were only mildly stunned by the actual event because they had grown comfortable with all these blessings, and maybe they had even come to expect them or think they deserved them. They were, after all, God’s chosen people.

And maybe we aren’t so different. In fact, the way we tell the story of Joshua and the parting of the Jordan—or don’t tell it—may be a clue to the fact that we have this same tendency toward taking God’s blessings for granted.

You see, I was raised a good Southern Baptist, as was my husband. We know our Bible stories. We did our Bible drills. Yet when this reading rolled around, neither of us had remembered that Joshua parted the Jordan. My husband and I knew the Israelites had crossed it to get to the Promised Land, but the miraculous part of it had slipped our mind.

I found this fascinating, so I asked a few other folks: Do you remember any story about the parting of the Jordan River by Joshua? “No”, they said, “that was Moses, and it was the Red Sea. You must have the story mixed up.”

It is no wonder that many of us don’t remember Joshua parting the Jordan. It gets overshadowed by Moses and the Red Sea. After all, the Red Sea got Charlton Heston and a cast of thousands, directed by Cecil B. DeMille, AND those awesome 1950’s special effects.

And what did the parting of the Jordan River get? A few mentions in Gospel songs.

I wonder if this casual forgetfulness says something about us. By the time we hear the story of the parting of the Jordan River, we have already heard about the parting of the Red Sea. Hearing about the same miracle a second time just may not be quite as impressive, it may not have the same impact.

This same casual forgetfulness can crop up in our own lives. After we have been amazed once by God, by some blessing in our lives, do we lose our amazement the next time we encounter it? Do we, just like the Israelites, forget to notice that manna rains down from heaven upon us every day? Do we become numb to the wonder and sheer improbability of it all?

I am not suggesting that we see this correlation: That the more material blessings we have, the more we should suppose God loves us. But we need not shy away from naming the good things in our lives as being blessings from God.

We live every day in the midst of great blessings—people who love us, running water, food to eat, clothes to wear, a church like this – there are thousands of small blessings every day that we may not even notice.

Abundant blessings that, when looked at with clear eyes, are almost as amazing as the parting of a river. I know that after I have lived with these blessings for a period of time, I forget to see these things.

So this is our challenge- to practice seeing with new eyes. And the grace is that when we try, we will be amazed at how every moment, the pleasant and the unpleasant, is filled with God’s mysterious and amazing presence.

With these eyes, every day becomes transformed. And maybe when we see this way, we won’t forget how blessed we are.

There is a good part of our children forgetting about their Halloween candy. When they forget, that means the parents get to eat it all. For that reason alone, we may be tempted not to teach them how to be grateful.

But I know I am going to do my best to help our kids remember to be amazed by all the blessings that surround them. Amazed by the beauty of the people who love them. Amazed by the comforts of our home. Amazed by God’s constant presence.

Because when we are a people amazed, we stop being blind to our blessings. We become a joyful and grateful people – capable of sharing our abundance and spreading this good news of a world that is full of God, and maybe, just maybe, catching our own glimpse of the Promised Land.