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Bishop Richard's Weekly video Message - Transcript 21.09.2023

Video for September 21st, 2023

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.

In my curacy parish there was a 102 year old lady who was still driving! She could just about remember when Queen Victoria’s funeral train passed through her Norfolk village.  She was very generous, often supplying our children with chocolate. On one delivery she was clearly rather sad.  Gentle enquiry revealed that she had stopped making such gifts to her own great-grandchildren because they were never acknowledged. At that moment I was grateful for the Boxing day fight with our kids over thank you letters – if only she had known!

For most of our parishes now is the season of harvest thanksgiving. Its that season of the year where we consciously stop and give thanks for God’s gracious provision for us. Thanksgiving is fundamental to our prayer, indeed to our whole Christian life. So much flows from it.  God’s charge to the Israelites when they settle in the promised land is often read from Deuteronomy at harvest festivals. The passage lists all the features of the land they are about to occupy and finishes with the command, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.” If such thanksgiving was fundamental to their identity, Paul identifies the lack of it as a key feature of human sinfulness.  In Romans 1: 21he says, “for although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Thanksgiving is so vital to our prayer because it rightly orientates us towards spiritual reality. In our current culture of entitlement, where we are encouraged to demand things and get cross if we don’t get them, thanksgiving allows us to receive things as gift and recognise the world revolves around him not us.

Thanksgiving also fosters a spirit of humility. Again, our culture revels in self-aggrandisement. I well remember those Christmas letters from friends lauding in the wonderful achievements of their children.  Being proud of one’s kids is good for their self-esteem I’ve no doubt, but so much of what we have and achieve is the result of things over which we have no control.  We cannot control our genetic endowment, or choose our family background, or engineer many of the circumstances of our lives.  Were we to have been handed the deck of those we are quick to judge, we might have turned out just the same way, and vice versa. This was rather humorously and a bit rudely played out in the film Changing Places a few years ago.  A homeless street hustler and successful stock broker found their stations in life swapped over as a result of a social experiment to seal a bet.  It concluded that nurture and circumstance beat nature every time.

The new Testament is full of a wide -eyed wonderment at the Lord’s gracious provision for us in Jesus Christ.  How could it be, muses Paul, that a broken, wretched man like him could be in receipt of the extravagant, forgiving goodness of God. In our worship I wonder whether we have become so familiar with the gift of it that the joy and gratitude is strangely muted. Surely, the fact that the creator of the universe makes provision for the impossible gulf between him and his creatures to be bridged and invites us to participate in the very life of God himself; a life that begins now and goes on forever beyond physical death should induce a response of gratitude at the very least.

There are of course times in our lives when Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5: 18 to give thanks in all circumstance, can appear cruel and insensitive. In the face of terminal illness, or financial ruin or broken relationships – surely not. But be clear, he says give thanks in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. In some way God remains at work shaping and forming us to enjoy eternity even when our presenting circumstances appear desperate.  In such times thanksgiving will be an act of the will, a reflection on little things, a determination to find redeeming features even in the most disappointing experiences. We may find that such action can re-frame the experience in its entirety. 

As Psychologist and spiritual director Larry Crabb said, “We are always in danger of living for good things, of thinking that blessings from God satisfy our souls more deeply than God himself.” Thanksgiving ultimately re-frames our attitude to life and opens us to such experiences, both in the now and more fully in the yet to come.

+ Richard

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