This October 7 I will be fifty-five years old. It’s my “double-nickel” birthday, and you can guess where I’ll be celebrating it officially. But on my actual birthday I will get to celebrate it with you on a Sunday leading worship. With leaders at a Worship and Music Ministry Team meeting. With teens and adults while leading a confirmation Learn Event on the topic of “Newness of Life.” For all of this I am grateful. Grateful I have a job, a profession and vocation, I truly enjoy doing, and getting to be among such great people. Grateful to work with leaders and staff who seek to inspire people’s faith in our Lord. Grateful I get to share with 31 youth and two handful of parents the joy that comes from trusting in the “newness of life” that is promised us in the waters of Baptism and throughout our lives, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
And not just physical death. Any form of death. The “little deaths” Martin Luther referred to that we experience throughout our lives. Newness of life comes in the form of a new job when we are let go from our current one, or discover meaningful volunteer work after retirement. Newness of life looks like discovering love again after the death or divorce of a spouse, or new love after the breakup of a long relationship. Newness of life is ringing the bell at the cancer treatment center, engaging in social justice and advocacy work to those who walk through the valley of poverty, discrimination, and homelessness. I get to share this way of living our lives with our youth who are in the midst of discerning what it means to be a disciple, one who follows a risen Lord.
Do you see now why I’m grateful? Maybe it also has to do with two books I finished this summer. One was The Book of Joy by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama in which I read the following quote by Brother Steindl-Rast,
“When you are grateful you are not fearful, and when you are not fearful, you are not violent. When you are grateful, you act out of a sense of enough and not out of a sense of scarcity, and you are willing to share. If you are grateful, you are enjoying the differences between people and respectful to all people. A grateful world is a world of joyful people. Grateful people are joyful people.”
Being grateful changes not only us for the better, but the people around us and the world as well. In Diana Butler-Bass’s book Grateful she shared how keeping a “Journal of Gratitude” of at least one thing for which she was grateful each day slowly enabled her to live a more joy-filled and gratitude-centered life.
And so on my birthday I’m giving you a gift instead of the other way around; (not that I was expecting gifts when you came to church that day.) Everyone will receive a “Journal of Gratitude” from me to you. Nothing fancy. Just an inexpensive journal for you to jot down each day that for which you are grateful. You might be grateful for simply getting through the day. You might be grateful for a grade that reflects the work and study you put into the project or test. You might be grateful for a phone call from a long-time friend. You might be grateful for the ability to share your talents in a volunteer or social organization or group. It could be anything, but no matter what WRITE ONE THING each day for which you are grateful. Let’s see together how gratitude changes our attitude at the end of the journal and maybe even the world around us. And again, I am so very grateful for not only my family and friends this 55th birthday, but for this congregation I get to serve alongside of and lead in the gospel ministry.