Joshua 24:1-3a, 13-25 NRSV
24 2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. 3 Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.
13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive yards that you did not plant.
14 “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
It’s November. Gratitude month. We decorate our homes and classrooms, and the sanctuary, with the sorts of things that remind us of our history and heritage. Of Fall and Harvest, and the super humongous meal we will be sharing in a few weeks. I will actually be sharing several of those meals, because just about every organization I belong to is having some kind of Thanksgiving dinner event. We complain because the stores are all Christmas-y already, and we haven’t even had our first turkey of the season yet. We try to think of things we are grateful for, but sometimes life gets in the way, and we forget about gratitude.
Normally, when this scripture reading comes around, the focus is on that last half sentence. “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” And usually the preacher talks about what it means to serve the Lord, and what false gods or idols might be taking our attention away from God. But this time as I read it, that statement in the middle stuck out as if it had been writ large, on a billboard, with bright lights shining on it. Verse 13.
“Thus says the Lord … 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive yards that you did not plant.”
So be grateful, you silly people. Because . . . seriously. Did they really need to be reminded of what God had done for them? Well, frankly, yes. These people did nothing but complain, even with God personally guiding them into their new home. Even though God provided manna and quail to feed them every day. Even though God provided sweet fresh water, enough for all the people and all their livestock. When we run into someone like this, we might say something like, “He’d complain if they hung him with a new rope.” Now, I have no idea why someone would complain about being hanged with a new rope. Maybe it’s scratchier around their neck than old rope? Anyway . . .
They had so much just handed to them, but still they complained. Still they neglected to be grateful. Still they turned to other gods, the gods of Egypt and Mesopotamia and even the gods of the people whose land they had just occupied.
There’s an old story about two friends who were shoemakers. One was doing pretty well, while the other was less successful. He asked his old friend for a loan so he could get a shop in a better location, and his friend, wishing all the best for him, gave him the loan. That new location was a success, and over the years his business flourished, eventually becoming a large and very popular shoe manufacturing firm. Meanwhile, the old friend, who still had his little shop back in the old neighborhood, was facing financial difficulties. He went to his successful friend to ask for a small loan, and was turned down. He did not understand. He said, “But back in the day, I lent you that money to put down on a better location and now you are one of the largest shoe manufacturers in the country. If I hadn’t helped, today you would have nothing.” “I know,” said his friend. “And I appreciate that. But what have you done for me lately?”
I think the people of Israel were a bit like that. I think maybe sometimes we are a little bit like that. I was so very grateful to qualify for student loans so that I could attend college and seminary. I celebrated each semester when the money came to pay for tuition and books and housing and all of the other expenses involved. Years later I am somewhat less grateful when I make that payment every month. Truthfully, I’m not at all grateful. I can always think of “better” things I could do with that money than pay my student loans. But you know, I have enough. Even after I pay the loans, I have enough to live on, and feed the cats, and keep the lights on in the Parsonage, and get a pedicure now and then. I have all I need. And were it not for those student loans and the education they paid for, I wouldn’t be here now. So I really should be grateful.
Everything we have today comes from God. Everything that we have received throughout our lives, comes from God. Sometimes we forget that. Sometimes we think that the things we have come from our own efforts, and that we have no one to thank except ourselves. Yes, we have worked hard to achieve all the things we have achieved. But without God given talent, we wouldn’t be great musicians or singers or dancers. Without God given intellect, we wouldn’t be teachers and preachers and attorneys. Without God given compassion and care, we wouldn’t be willing to work with people less fortunate than ourselves. Without God’s love, we wouldn’t have any love to share with others.
“Gratitude turns what we have into all we need.” You all know, I think, that I have a practice of writing down ten things I am grateful for every morning. It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that coffee is almost always at the top of that list. And we all know that coffee is a gift from God. Sometimes I write down things, like a car that runs and my Roomba, but most of what is on my list every day can only come from God. Bird song in the morning. Sunrise. Rain. Cooler weather. Cats. Friends. People who understand me. I often note on my list that my needs are met. Maybe I don’t have everything I want, but certainly, I have all I need, and more.
Gratitude is more than a good feeling. Acknowledgement of gratitude has to be more than just a list. Gratitude is an action word. It is something we do. When we are grateful, we share that for which we are grateful. We are grateful that we have enough, so we buy tomatoes to put in food boxes for those who don’t have enough. Or toys for children who might not get a gift this Christmas otherwise. Or we help out at Christian Cafe. Or with food distribution at the SMART Center. We are grateful we have furry children, so we help Second Chance Animal Shelter with donations or by volunteering. We are grateful for our education, so we make donations to the schools we attended, or to the Disciples Mission Fund to support all of our institutions of higher education (especially Chapman University). We are grateful for our police, and firefighters, and city workers, so we say good things about them on Facebook and support them however we can. We are grateful God gave us voices, so we share our talent in the choir, or during congregational singing. We are grateful we have a church home, so we show up, and we help out where ever we can. As greeters and presiders, or decorating the sanctuary or baking cookies, or where ever our gifts and talents are needed.
And we are grateful that someone told us about Jesus, so we share the Good News with other people. April tells a story about telling one college classmate about Jesus while her roommate sat nearby. And then, how her roommate turned to her and asked, “Why did you never tell me that?” Our gratitude for God’s gifts - all of God’s gifts - should be shared, loud and proud, so that others can know how much God loves all us, and them, and all the people of the world.
It’s Gratitude month. Go out and be grateful.