The past few weeks have taken us through what we’re calling the Cycle of Gratitude. But while that’s the title of this year’s stewardship theme, the main point of the Cycle of Gratitude is that it is ongoing and never ceasing. We happen to be taking the time to notice it more this month, but it’s not in fact confined to a single season. The point is to sustain our attention to what is always the case, that is, what we say every week at the Offertory: that all things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.
So far, we’ve meditated on this cycle as it pertains specifically to the people that we are grateful for in our lives, the things we take for granted, and even those hardships which we can now see as the source of growth. This week, the final week, we are turning to this parish to consider those things about Emmanuel itself, this particular space, this particular congregation, that cause us to give thanks to God for his good gifts. We’ve got purple slips this week, a color that represents the last color of paper available in the supply closet for me to chop up. And as with the previous weeks, I want you all to begin thinking through those things about Emmanuel Memorial which lift your hearts in thanksgiving. It could be something large-scale, such as our privilege to worship in a beautiful Gothic Revival sanctuary, a space that speaks to a lasting history inextricably tied to downtown Champaign. Maybe it’s our established liturgy that you know will always be here for you, even on those days when the most you can do is pray on auto-pilot. But it could also be that as you look around the room, what you see are the faces of a congregation without which you could not have made it through a hardship in your life.
I hope that can get you started, but to continue with our reflection, I’m going to ask Adam Dolezal to come up and give us his take on gratitude here at Emmanuel Memorial.
It turns out that our Collect for today is a fitting prayer to approach God with in gratitude for the life of this parish. Let’s hear it again, as you continue to write down your thoughts:
Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I want us to pray this prayer in such a way as to take all the things that are coming to mind about Emmanuel that we’re grateful for and root them in faith, hope, and charity. Notice how the Collect refers to faith, hope, and charity, the so-called theological virtues, as gifts. This is significant because it suggests that gratitude is at the very root of these virtues. We exercise faith, hope, and love in thanksgiving. Because they are gifts, the virtues are not our private possessions which come standard issue in our personalities. We receive them only as the Holy Spirit indwells the soul and bestows them therein. What’s more, we don’t receive the Holy Spirit and the virtues off by our lonesome somewhere. The Holy Spirit, the giver of the gifts, comes into us in baptism, which is a sacrament of the Church. This means that our reception of the virtues is inseparable from the community that gathers around us at our baptisms. There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. Your faith is our faith because the same Spirit works in us all.
So when you come to church, you’re coming to the place where you found your faith, even if it wasn’t specifically at this parish. The church is your faith’s supernatural habitat. As you consider your gratitude for Emmanuel, look over the things you’ve written down. Do you see in them this cycle of faith? I would suggest that it is the Spirit that is bringing these memories to your mind. Because it is only through the eyes of faith that you perceive these things as the gifts that they are. Faith comes of thee, O Lord, and it is of faith that we have given thee.
The same can be said of hope and love as well. Once our faith enables us to see how the life of this parish reveals God to us more clearly, our hope is then kindled to fix our soul on God as our chief end, our ultimate happiness. How has your gratitude for Emmanuel quickened your pace as you strive for God? That is your virtue of hope that is growing.
Perhaps you notice a pattern emerging. What I’m wanting us to see is how underneath all the many gifts that we have received from this parish is the increase of faith, hope, and love which we pray for in this Collect. And as gifts, their increase is itself a movement of gratitude. Every last thing that you’ve written down over the past few weeks, everything you’ve thanked God for, is itself a fruit of a deep gratitude welling up from the Spirit in your soul. And you can give thanks even for that as well.
Finally, there is love, or charity. It’s fitting that we consider love at the last. Because where faith opens our eyes to see more clearly the work of God in our lives, and hope compels us towards God as a result of that work, the gift of charity is what remains when you respond in simply giving your whole self back to God. It is the love of God for God’s own sake, above and beyond all the work he has done. Alongside faith and hope, you are likely here this morning because at some level, you simply love God and wish to commune with him. That love is nothing less that the gratitude of your whole being. In a sense, our Collect for today can be prayed as an exercise for all the weeks we’ve done in the Cycle of Gratitude, but when it comes to the life of Emmanuel, my prayer is that we will perceive through it that all of our gratitude for this parish is intertwined with the life of the Spirit in us. We only have everything for which to give our thanks to God. Amen.