Preached by Michael Cheuk, June 7, 2015
Taken from Psalm 138
There is an age-old question: which came first, the chicken, or the egg? Today, I’m going to ask a similar question – which comes first, happiness or gratitude? We might think that this is an unsolvable riddle, but more and more research is showing that thankfulness or gratefulness comes first. It is one of the keys to being happy. Last year, Brother David Steindl-Rast, an 88 year-old Catholic Benedictine monk, gave a presentation, a TED talk, called: “Want to be happy? Be grateful.”
Stendl-Rast asserts that all of us want to be happy, but he considers this question of whether happiness or gratefulness comes first. Most people think that first we have to be happy and then we will naturally be grateful. But is that really true? Have you known people who have everything they need or and even more, and yet, they are not happy? We may also know people who have had lots of hardship and misfortune, but are deeply happy. Why? Because they are grateful. According to Stendl-Rast, it is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy.
“Grateful living is a spiritual practice,” said Steindl-Rast, and he came up with a method to help us live more gratefully. He calls his method “Stop, Look, Go!”
“Stop” is an invitation to slow down the hectic pace of our lives. We rush through life, and in doing so, we miss so many opportunities to savor the present. “This moment is the greatest gift imaginable; it offers us the opportunity to come fully alive here and now.” After returning home from an extended trip to Africa, Steindl-Rast marveled at turning a knob and seeing warm water coming out of a faucet, and flipping up a switch and have the whole room light up. So he put stickers on light switches and water faucets as “stop signs” to remind him to be grateful for the wonders of indoor plumbing and electricity.
When you stop, then the next step is “Look,” which is an invitation to open our eyes, ears, nose and all our senses, in order to become aware of countless gifts we used to take for granted, to enjoy what is given to us. What we take for granted doesn’t give us joy; it does nothing for us.
When we look, it can also open our hearts for the opportunity to help others and to make others happy. When we open our hearts to the opportunities, they invite us to “Go” and do something. “Go” means to make full use of a given opportunity. “We do not show our gratitude by just saying ‘Thank you!’ but by doing something with the gift we receive.”
Our Old Testament lesson today is from the book of Psalms. In Psalm 138, we have what Professor Mary Lowe calls “one of the happiest psalms in the Hebrew Bible.” From my perspective, this psalm is happy because it is a heartfelt expression of gratefulness and thanks. This whole psalm is an exercise of “Stopping” in the midst of life to praise and give thanks for the loyal love and faithfulness of the Lord.
Once stopped, the psalmist looks around and names the countless gifts that the Lord has given…gifts of love and faithfulness, gifts of encouragement and inner strength, gifts of life and power even in the midst of deep trouble and wrathful enemies.
In this deep awareness of the good gifts of God, the psalmist takes the opportunity to go and worship the almighty God: “I sing your praise before all other gods. I bow toward your holy temple and thank your name for your loyal love and faithfulness.” You get a sense that out of this joyful witness, all the earth’s rulers are also led to give thanks and acknowledge the Lord’s glory. Happiness is contagious.
Yesterday morning, at our “Touch a Truck” event, I witnessed and experienced an abundance of happiness. The pictures we showed earlier this morning do not do justice to the positive energy of hundreds of people and young children enjoying a beautiful morning among lots of trucks and vehicles in our parking lot and across the street at the Children’s Hospital. But let me rewind a little bit to show you how we got here.
During the past year and a half, we took the time to stop in the midst of our hectic schedules to reflect on who we are as a church. In town hall meetings, deacon retreats, and informal conversations, we looked and identified the God-given gifts that we can be thankful for – our location, our wonderful church members, our identity as a university church, our facility, Will Brown and his experience as a hospital chaplain, and so many other gifts. With the completion of the Children’s Hospital across the street, we also saw opportunities to go and do something with the gifts God has given us. Through the leadership of Will Brown, we partnered with the Children’s Hospital and Shenanigans, and we three worked together in organizing this community-wide event. In talking to the volunteers and participants yesterday, everyone was very happy, with big smiles on their faces. And my heart was filled with thanks and gratefulness for how we were able to share the faithful love of Christ as UBC members wore their OIAM and Mission Madness T-shirts and welcomed all those who attended the event.
When was the last time you stopped, really stopped, to savor and reflect on the present?
What gifts, what blessings from God can you see, name, and give thanks for?
What opportunities beckon you to go and share those gifts with others?
As we now prepare for the Lord’s Supper this morning, let us stop and savor this present moment in communion with our Lord. As we take these elements offered to us, let us take the opportunity to come fully alive to the faithful, loving presence of Christ and to look and count our many blessings. During moments of quiet reflection, let us approach the fount of every blessing and tune our hearts to sing God’s grace. Then, let us go and find opportunities to serve others with a thankful heart.