The Greater Gift
One of the things I got for Christmas was this Garmin. It captures all my steps, heart rate, sleep patterns, calories burned and can be a motivator to stay active. If I sit too long it vibrates and tells me to move!
Recently I discovered that there is an app for my cellphone that claims that for just five minutes a day one can rewire one’s brain and produce an attitude of gratitude. The app has a variety of ways to do this, including a journal for inputting five things every day that one is grateful for, and a variety of settings to motivate one to do this for 21 days in a row, because it takes 21 days for any practice to become a habit.
Research indicates that a daily gratitude practice enables one to develop a deeper capacity to experience positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have a stronger immune system.
Some people, instead of using a cellphone app or keeping a gratitude journal have chosen to create a gratitude jar - every day they write a brief note about something they are grateful for and put it in the jar. At the end of the year they reread all those notes and experience a bounty of gratitude.
Paul, who wrote letters to the churches in the years after Jesus’ death, knew something about gratitude and love. But he did’t come by it naturally, in fact Paul, when he was known as Saul, was not a nice guy. But he met God one day when he was out for a walk and it changed every thing. To the church in Corinth he counsels them to love, “strive”, he writes, “for the greater gift.”
Paul’s letters to the churches are filled with teachings about how to love one another. And Paul is not talking about romantic love or being gratuitous. Paul is talking about life transforming love, the love that struck him on that walk one day, the love that God poured out in Jesus, the love that God asks of us, too.
Loving as God loves is flesh and blood love, it’s found in a body of hands and heart and feet, of mouths and eyes, and all of these parts are necessary for the body to be whole. One part cannot say to the other, I have no need of you. Each part needs the other.
Christ Church, this church, is made up of many parts that make us whole: the Vestry members who lead with compassion and wisdom, caring for the whole as well as the parts. Thank you. I am grateful.
The body is made up of those who serve on Sunday morning from Altar Guild, to altar party, from music to ushers to coffee hour, to Christian formation, each person brings their gift of presence, one part of the whole. There are those who tend to our finances helping us be good stewards. Thank you.
There’s the gift of Maryjane and all that she has given to us these last two and half years, I am thankful for her contribution to this body of Christ. I am grateful for our staff and the property commission who tend to this building. The gifts of time, talent, and treasure of each and every person are vital parts of this whole body, Christ Church. Thank you. Thank you.
But when Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians, he didn’t just stop with listing how important the parts are to the whole. No, he went on the talk about the relationship of all the parts living together in love. In chapter 13 of 1st Corinthians he explains what he means when he says, strive for the greater gift. He writes:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Paul didn’t need an app on his cellphone to remember to feel grateful and love as God loves because Paul centered his life in Jesus, which means he centered his life in gratitude and love.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things….
Strive for the greater gift. Love, and the fruit of love is gratitude.
It might be fun to have a gratitude app on my phone and it might be insightful to maintain a gratitude jar and reread the notes at the end of the year. But ultimately it is love that moves us, transforms us, and fills us with gratitude. Let’s strive for the greater gift.
A reflection on the reading for Epiphany 3C: 1 Corinthians 12 & 13, for an annual meeting day