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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving and Gratitude

“But strive first for the realm of God and God's righteousness…” Matthew 6:25-33
Thanksgiving Day – November 21, 2012
All Saint’s Church, Rehoboth Beach, DE
(the Rev’d Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

Gratitude. It’s the reason we gather today. To give our thanks to God for the founding of this country. To give thanks to God for all we have been given. And then, at five o’clock this afternoon, the stores will open early so we can buy more stuff.

It doesn’t make any sense to me. Really. I don’t get it. My experience of gratitude is that it changes your perception of reality. You see things differently when you are truly grateful. You appreciate what you’ve been given in a way that makes what may seem common and ordinary to some, an extraordinary gift to the truly grateful heart.

Let me give you an example.

On the evening of 9/11/01, Barbara and I were in New York City, working at the Seamen’s Church Institute, about a mile from Ground Zero. The Institute had been converted into a place of respite for those who were working amidst the rubble of what had been the World Trade Center: Firemen, police, utility workers, first responders.

The offices on the first floor had been converted into rooms filled with supplies. One entire office was filled with boots and socks. The ground was so hot that the rubber soles on the boot were melting. The guys would come in, maybe take a shower, get a change of clothes, and put on a brand new pair of socks and shoes.

The floors of several offices were filled with wall-to-wall mattresses and blankets, where weary workers could, perhaps, take a nap or just rest their weary bones before going back to Ground Zero to search for a friend or colleague or relative.

Upstairs, the rec room pool tables had been covered with pieces of plywood and turned into buffet tables where neighborhood restaurants had emptied out their freezers and refrigerators – now without electricity – and donated meals.

One restaurant had taken 70 pounds of ground beef and made a 50-pound meatloaf. The other 20 pounds were used to make grilled hamburgers on grills that had been donated by neighbors and set up on the outdoor patio.

After making a sweep of the downstairs offices to see if anyone wanted/needed to talk, I was heading upstairs to help serve meals when I ran into him. He was a fire captain. If the twinkling but exhausted blue eyes and mischievous smile weren’t a clue, he had the map Ireland in his facial features.

He had just gotten a new pair of boots and a clean pair of socks and was headed right back out when I convinced him to take a break and have something to eat. To my surprise and delight, he agreed. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it’s not easy to convince an Irishman of anything, especially that which might be actually good for him.
He started to take off his fireman’s jacket, but first began to slap the dust and ashes that had formed a thick covering all over his clothing. Dust and ashes, I thought and then wondered if the ashes were just from destroyed buildings. Might they also be the ashes of those whose bodies we couldn’t find?

He apparently had the same idea as I did at about the same time and stopped slapping his jacket and pants. A dark cloud of sadness moved over his face and his eyes welled with tears. I could see him will the dark cloud away and call back the tears as he smiled sadly and said, “Maybe, after all this looking for my friends, they’ve been right here with me the whole time.”

We hurried up to the second floor where Barbara was standing behind the pool tables now serving as buffet tables. They spotted each other across the room – an Irishman always knows another Irishman – and seemed to connect. She went over the evening’s menu and he decided he was going to have potato salad and a cheeseburger.

As he was scooping a mound of baked beans to go with his potato salad, Barbara said to him, “Sorry, no cheeseburger but these hamburgers are pretty good.” He moved over to her and his face grew dark again. “But, I wanted a cheeseburger,” he said. Their eyes met and Barbara smiled kindly and said, “I know. I’m really sorry. But it’s a hamburger.”

After everything he had been through, this – THIS! – seemed to be the last straw. His eyes filled with tears again and his voice chocked and he said, sounding like a 6 year old boy, “But, I really wanted a cheeseburger.”

Barbara held out the hamburger, squeezed the bun, closed her eyes and said a silent prayer. Even though my childhood was not spent in an Irish Catholic church, even I knew that this was a holy moment. It certainly was not lost on my Irish friend, the firefighter captain.

She opened her eyes, smiled warmly at my friend and together they said, “Amen.” He took the hamburger from Barbara’s hands and said, “I’m thinking this is going to be the best cheeseburger I never had.” They both laughed together as he and I went to sit down.

Gratitude changes everything. It changes your perception of reality. You see things differently when you are truly grateful. You appreciate what you’ve been given in a way that makes what may seem common and ordinary to some an extraordinary gift to the truly grateful heart.

It even changes thin wafers and a sip of wine into the full and real presence of Jesus who gives us a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet.

Jesus says that if we seek first the Realm and righteousness of God, we will receive all that we need. My Thanksgiving Prayer is that we may, with hearts brim full with gratitude, give glory and honor, thanks and praise to our Abundant God who is the source of life and fountain of hope.


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