University Congregational Church
Nov. 17, 2019
“The $100 Word”
I Thess. 5:18
Rudyard Kipling was a great British poet. Kipling was a famous writer before he died, and made a great deal of money at his trade.
A newspaper reporter came up to him once and said, ”Mr. Kipling, I just read that somebody calculated that the money you make from your writings amounts to over $100 a word.” Mr. Kipling raised his eyebrows and said, ”Really, I certainly wasn’t aware of that.” The reporter cynically reached into his pocket and pulled out a $100 bill and gave it to Kipling and said, ”Here’s a $100 bill Mr. Kipling. Now you give me one of your $100 words.” Rudyard Kipling looked at that $100 bill for a moment, took it and folded it up and put it in his pocket and said, ”Thanks.”
The word ”thanks” is a $100 word. It is a word that is too seldom heard, too rarely spoken, and often forgotten. Our traditional word for today is a short verse from the apostle Paul. He writes, “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I Thess. 5:18.
Give thanks in all circumstances? In every circumstance? In all things? Most of us would want to qualify this exhortation. We want Paul to say “in some circumstances” or “in most things”. That would be more acceptable for our own practical tastes. More suitable, frankly. But in every circumstance? But Paul does not qualify the circumstances. He means “all”.
The two previous imperatives also have this comprehensive, unqualified character:
• Rejoice always
• Pray without ceasing
I would like to suggest that Paul is presupposing at least two basic truths and because of these truths, it is possible and necessary to give thanks in everything! The first truth is that worship of God is the context of all of life – not just when we are here in the church. In Karl Rahner’s words, “Everyday life must become itself our prayer.”
Does “rejoicing always” mean that you always go around with a smile on your face and an upbeat “Tigger” bounce in your steps? Are you failing if you feel sad, depressed, upset, or grieved? It’s not that we deny reality or lie about the hard things in life. Jesus expressed his anger, his doubts and his sorrow.
To give thanks in all circumstances means that we must make a deliberate choice to focus differently, not on our difficult circumstances. Our gratitude shines brighter than the difficulties we face.
Paul Brand is a brilliant medical doctor who did pioneering work in the treatment of leprosy. He has received the Albert Lasker Award, been made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen, served as the only Westerner on the Mahatma Ghandi foundation, and had medical procedures named after him.
Brand grew up in India, where his parents were missionaries. At the age of nine he was sent to boarding school in England. Five years later, while a 14-year-old student there, he received a telegram informing him that his beloved father had died of blackwater fever. Brand cherished fond memories of his father, a man who had a great love for people and a great love for the natural world around him.
A short time after he received news of his father’s death Paul Brand received a letter from his father. It had been posted prior to his father’s death but took some time to reach Brand as it came by ship. Its words impacted deeply upon the young son. Paul’s father described the hills around their home and then finished with these words: “God means us to delight in his world. It isn’t necessary to know botany or zoology or biology in order to enjoy the manifold life of nature. Just observe. And remember. And compare. And be always looking to God with thankfulness and worship for having placed you in such a delightful corner of the universe as the planet Earth.”
Reported in Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor (Hodder & Stoughton, 2001)
The second truth that makes it possible to give thanks in everything is that life’s depths, not just its surface, must get our attention. When we live on shallow waters and judge our lives by visible, surface and superficial determinants, we will be perpetually unhappy. When we move to a perspective of depth in our life and look at ourselves from a comprehensive perspective, we can give thanks always!
Each of us is a story within stories. Our children’s life stories are part of both my story and their dad’s story. The story of our family is likewise part of other stories larger than our own: the story of our town, our state, our nation, Western civilization, humanity, planet Earth, and the story of the Universe itself. Each of us is a story within stories within stories. There is a dynamic relationship between every story, the larger stories it is part of, and the smaller stories that are a part of it.
When we ask the question, “Why?”, we ask about the meaning or context of something. We can understand personal meaning by using the metaphor that we are each a story within stories. The meaning of some thing or event is apparent in its larger context. A tragedy has meaning in terms of the bigger picture, or larger story. An elderly woman who dies while saving a young child’s life can be said to have died a tragic, yet meaningful, death. The question, “Why did she have to die?” may be answered meaningfully by looking at the larger perspective.
When we want to know the meaning of something we are asking, “How does this fit into the bigger picture? How does this make sense in terms of the larger story? The larger the context, generally the deeper the meaning.
There is a story about an old Chinese farmer who lived in ancient times. He was the envy of his rather small village because unlike most of the other farmers, he possessed a horse.
One day, however, his horse ran away and his neighbors who soon heard of his misfortune were quick to offer him words of consolation. “What a shame that you’ve lost your horse; how sad.” The old farmer responded. “Perhaps it’s a bad thing; perhaps not. Who knows?” Then a week after the horse ran away, it returned to the old man’s farm accompanied by another horse. Now the farmer had two horses.
“How fortunate you are,” said his neighbors. “Now you have not one but two horses.” “Perhaps I am fortunate, perhaps not. Who knows?” said the farmer. Three days later, the farmer’s only son was thrown from the horse while trying to steady it and his arm was badly broken.
“What a shame” his neighbors chorused once again.
“Well maybe, but maybe not, said the farmer. Who knows?”
The next day, the emperor’s army passed through the village looking for conscripts to serve and fight in a war that had recently been declared with a neighboring province. The old man’s son was passed over because of his injury while the other young men from the village were forced to join the other soldiers.
And so the story goes. Like the old man, the stories of our lives may look good or bad at any given moment. Sometimes what appears to be a curse is a blessing. And vice-versa. From Psychology Today
It’s impossible on the basis of any given experience to accurately assess the true consequence to our lives. Unless we appreciate the full context of any situation, we can’t know what the result will ultimately be. Knowing this helps us to avoid what can often be the great swings of mood and emotion that we go through when our desires and expectations are met or disappointed. It’s not that we won’t feel happy or sad, but that we won’t be swept away by feelings that are based on an incomplete piece of the picture.
Sometimes we get obsessed and caught up in the intensity of the events of our lives and we lose sight of the bigger picture. To give thanks in everything, we must dig deeper and think broader. Instead of reacting to every situation, we must resist looking at circumstances and take a deeper perspective.
During this season of Thanksgiving, I would urge you to take a posture of gratitude! Use this verse from I Thessalonians: “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” as a motto. Because “thanks” is a priceless word!