Thanksgiving Sunday, November 21, 2021
Focused. He was very focused. The problem was his focus was about a half-a-mile down the road. He did not realize he had lost focus on what was around him. The result? He didn’t see the traffic light turn red. He didn’t see the cross traffic. Only at the last second did he realize his mistake, slam on his brakes and avoid hitting other cars!
Focus. What we are seeing—what we are looking at and paying attention to matters. A lot!
Jesus, in Matthew, chapter six, is helping us to focus. This section is from the Sermon on the Mount, and contains a core piece of Jesus’ teachings. Some may reduce Jesus’ teachings here to mere moralism—Do the right thing then you will be good and life will be good. Jesus is more than a great teacher. He is our Savior, our Lord, our Redeemer—Jesus the Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity, true-God-in-human-flesh. Jesus is the One who reclaims us. Through Him our relationship with God is restored and empowered so that we can make a difference in our world. What Jesus has to say to us in our Gospel reading is important to hear and read again and again; to let it sink into our souls, change our values and how we live.
“Don’t worry…” (Matthew 6:25)
That is one of the key phrases in this part of Matthew. He says it repeatedly in this passage. “Don’t worry. Be happy.” Remember that song? Jesus is not being simplistic here, but is challenging us to be aware of where our focus is.
Are you focusing on what is wrong with your life? Do you only see what you are missing? What is wrong? What you need that you don’t have? Are you focused on how vulnerable you feel? Most of us do not have to worry about food, clothing, or housing; the things Jesus mentions in our Gospel reading. But we do worry, don’t we!
A definition of worry might be, “assuming responsibility for something that we have no control over.” What do we worry about? Finances? Politics? Justice—or the glaring absence of it? Relationships with children/parents/partners/neighbors/friends? We worry about health concerns, whether we are okay—meaning how do others view us? Do they like or despise us, respect us or think we are incompetent and “stupid?” Am I good enough? Is God okay with me?
Worry distorts our focus. It robs us of peace. It destroys our inner wellbeing. And, like the driver in our opening illustration, worry sets us up for disaster because it clouds our vision to what is going on around us.
“Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things.” (Matthew 6:32)
Jesus tells us that God is aware of us, and knows what we need better than we do. We don’t have to draw a picture for God to see what is going on and to understand our plight! Rather than worry Jesus tells us to open our eyes to what God is going and to make the Kingdom of God our first priority. Seek, strive for, make your top priority—the kingdom of God.
“Seek/strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33)
So what is the kingdom of God that we should be looking for it with all our focus? God’s presence in us, with us, through us, for us. God’s being in control even when life is out of control, and learning how to rest in that knowledge!
Thanksgiving is a great time to refocus—to “wipe our lens,” to see more clearly. A great way to do that is to practice the discipline of gratitude.
Gratitude is life changing. Gratitude is life giving. It is more than just having good manners and saying thank you. It is more than just being naive or “pollyanna” happy. Gratitude is a vital force in the world. Genuine gratitude fosters and strengthens relationships, communities, and healthy hearts.
When we develop the discipline of gratitude we tend to have stronger relationships, we sleep better, our blood pressure is lower, we have fewer trips to the doctor and ER, we are less depressed, more patient, kinder, etc. Gratitude helps us to the world from a better, healthier vantage point. It helps us to have a more positive, happier, healthier disposition. Gratitude fosters better health.
Jesus is doing more than teaching us how to be healthier emotionally. Jesus teaches us to seek, strive, strain forward to discover what God is doing in us and in our world—to be aware of God’s presence, power and love at work—God sightings.
There are some things we can do to build the discipline of gratitude in your life,
- Count your blessings. In short, see the good. Don’t see, focus, concentrate on what is wrong. List them. Say them out loud. Write them down in a journal. Give them back to God in prayer. Say thank you. Out loud and often.
- Tell a friend, family member, acquaintance or maybe even a stranger you are grateful. Write them a note. Give them a quick call. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation or a long letter. Just a quick note, a quick call.
- Invite a friend or family member out to coffee. Don’t drink coffee, have tea or a soda, or ice cream. As you converse tell them what you are grateful and thankful for in life. It doesn’t have to be about them. It can just simply be your saying what you love about life, what gives you joy, what fills you up.
- Make you closing thoughts before you drift off to sleep thoughts of gratitude and thanksgiving. Go through as many things as you can—people you are thankful for, gifts you are thankful for, anything you are thankful for as you look over your day, your week, your life. And just say, “thank you” as you fall asleep.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts
Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly
teach others (use your influence for good)
admonish (encourage others to do good)
be seasoned with gratitude
doing all that you do in Jesus (in His name) with thankful hearts
Focus on serving Christ, not on the minute details of what you want and think you need.
Know that God can and will take care of you.
That frees you tup to focus on the first priority of kingdom living—community living, God honoring living.
Seize the initiative. Take the lead in seeing God, serving God, and helping others to discover God’s love, grace and power.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.