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Princeton Ecumenical Thanksgiving Day Prayer Service 2014
27 November 2014 Thanksgiving Day Prayer Service Princeton, NJ
Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all for
the Lord dwells within all of us. Have no anxiety at all. Pray with gratitude, and the peace of
Christ, which is beyond all knowledge and understanding, will guard both your mind and your
heart in Christ Jesus. Finally, my brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any
excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing
what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be
with you. - Phil 4:4-9
One of the things Oprah is known well for her is ‘Give-Away Shows.’ During her 30+ on TV she
has been known to give away all kinds of merchandise to her live audiences – even new cars.
In those circumstances I would think it safe to say that gratitude comes fairly easy for the
recipients of her lavish gifts. But life is never always that good. So, unfortunately for you…I am
not Oprah. This is not her show. And each of you will not be getting a new Cadillac to take
But seriously, gratitude is often seen as the response for getting something tangible, something
physical – something that you want. And if you get what you want, most often you give thanks.
The problem with that form of ‘gratitude’ is that it is mostly ego centered. I wanted. I got. I gave
thanks. And while, there is nothing necessarily wrong with that model, I think it does little to
promote long-term wholeness and holiness.
And I think this is what Paul was getting at when he was writing to the congregation that he
established in Philippi – a place that I was able to visit last month. But when Paul first arrived in
this city, things did not start out well for him - for his teachings threatened the status quo of
those rooted in power, prestige and money: people focused on getting what they wanted. Paul
was beaten, flogged and shackled in prison. But how did he respond to this adversity and
persecution? Paul sang joyful praise and gave thanks to God. His message to his jailers and
those around him was not to be afraid of your faith and of what others think - but to give thanks
for God’s presence wherever you may be – even sitting in a jail cell.
Actually it was Paul’s actions, that attitude of joy, and gratitude for life that led to his release.
Paul’s message was soon accepted by the Philippians and led to many conversions. And after
18 months he continued on his missionary journey but years later finds himself back in prison –
this time in Rome awaiting his execution. He is near the end of his life. Chained, battered and
broken, Paul writes to the community he loves so much back at Phillipi, with the words we heard
this morning, encouraging them to do - what else, but “Rejoice!” and instructing them on what
clearly seems to be a “paradox of gratitude.”
Why a paradox? Because versus this sense of gratitude for giving thanks for what “I” have or
what I wanted – Paul’s constant instruction is for a model of gratitude that is ‘other’ centered.
1 Deacon Jim Knipper
He says, “Your kindness should be known to all.” His reason? Because God dwells within each
and every one of us – without exception….even those family members that will be coming over
for dinner later today and who drive you nuts!
You see, Paul’s model of gratitude is not ego centered – rather it is all about participation. It is
not about me, but about you. It is not about what I want, but about what others need. It is not
about how much I have, but what others don’t. We need to understand that our life is not about
us – but we are about life. And once we get that – we allow ourselves to be a conduit of God’s
love – filled with deep gratitude.
Letting go of our ego’s (or what Paul refers to as flesh) allows us to lose focus on our wants, our
needs and our desires...which allows us to let go of our cracks, our blemishes, and our faults.
We no longer have to spend our lives on waiting to receive all that we want or feel that is owed
to us. Rather, we are able to live Paul’s participatory message of gratitude, when he says:
“Keep doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me.”
You see, my sisters and brothers, all we are called to do is to be part of this One Life….this
Eternal Flow…or what many call the King of Glory, the Light of Israel, and the Prince of Peace.
And by simply being part of this flow of God, we do not have to have the right answer, we don’t
have to straighten everything out, we don’t have to fix those around us and we don’t even have
to be perfect like God. We just have to participate! And it is in living a life of participation that
allows us to be aware and grateful for the mutual indwelling that Paul refers to.
Then things like rejoicing, gratitude and compassion become as natural as the breaths that we
take. By Paul writing at least five letters from prison, he makes the point that there are no bars,
no circumstances, no addictions, and no hurdles that we face that are so immense which
prevent the Spirit from bringing gracious light and life into our lives.
Thus, even with all kinds of adversity in our lives, Paul teaches us that the joy and energy and
life behind each of our journeys toward wholeness and holiness is just immense gratitude for the
unconditional love and inner presence of God that each of us already have. And that, my
sisters and brothers, is something we can all rejoice! and give thanks for.
2 Deacon Jim Knipper