A reflection on the readings for Proper 20A: Exodus 16:2-15; Matthew 20:1-16
Every day, all around us, on street corners and the exit ramps of highways we see them. People who are struggling, people who have deep needs for the basics, people who share a portion of their story in a few words: homeless, need money.
What do you do when you see a man or a woman holding a sign at an intersection? Do you pretend to fiddle with the radio or suddenly notice an interesting cloud in the other direction?
On a certain day in Oklahoma City, if you had turned your head, you would have missed Doug Eaton’s birthday celebration.
Eaton turned 65 that day and decided to celebrate by spending 65 minutes handing out $5 bills to people driving by.
He stood at an intersection holding a sign that said: “I have a home . . . and a car . . . and a job. Do you need a few bucks for some coffee?”
People didn’t know what to think. One driver said, ”I think this is the craziest guy I’ve ever seen in my life.” Others said, “It’s fantastic. I’m enjoying the moment out here.”
Eaton also described the experience as fantastic. “Some people who don’t take the money just say, ‘Man, I love what you’re doing. I won’t take it, but would you give it to somebody who needs it?’”
What do you when you encounter a person on the corner? More over, what do you do when you encounter people on every street corner, each one looking more lost and desperate than the last?
Here at Christ Church we have started a food pantry. It began a few years ago when we were still collecting food for Crossroads. The food would sit in the kitchen until someone was available to take it downtown. But in the meantime hungry people were coming to the church looking for money, or food. Some needed food that required no preparation, prepackaged protein food that they could carry with them. Others needed food to feed a family. Jan and I started giving away the food intended for Crossroads, along with our usual $10 Kroger gift card.
Last fall we designated a closet in the kitchen for food. We have tuna and mac and cheese, canned vegetables and fruit, cereal and coffee. We try and stock some high protein food that requires no preparation like prepared tuna salad or protein bars.
Recently we acquired a second refrigerator that we use for staff and parish events. The other refrigerator has been designated for the food pantry and we’ve stocked it with milk and eggs. The first day we added eggs we gave away nine dozen eggs in five hours. We’re thinking of adding cheese and butter.
Some weeks the food pantry empties faster than we can fill it. We have noticed a distinct up turn in need following the flood last month. The food is provided in part by a collaboration we have with Divine Child school, a project developed by Serge, one of our parishioners who works at Divine Child. The rest of the food is provided by all of us. Some of us have used our “Grace It Forward” money to contribute food.
One person recently emailed the Stewardship Commission with this response to her Grace It Forward gift: “I am grateful for the opportunity the committee gave me to give back to the community. I used the cash I was given in church to purchase tuna fish and canned chili for the food pantry. Now I plan to make a habit of contributing to the food pantry.”
As a Community-Centered Church our mission is to care for those who come into the church and those who are in the world around us – a circular flow, in and out, like breathing, like grace, like nurturing an attitude of gratitude. Ghandi once said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” We are a Community Centered Church revealing God’s grace in and through our building, our Mission, our ministries, and our lives. We have much to be grateful for.
There is a difference between feeling grateful and being grateful. Feeling grateful is a response to something that aroused the feeling. Being grateful is a way of life and influences every aspect of our being and our perception of life and the world around us.
Nurturing an Attitude of Gratitude takes practice. Perhaps adopting a daily Gratitude inventory is one way we might nurture our attitude of gratitude? At the end of each day recall the events of your day and see the day through the perspective of “Gift” – how is that the events of your day were a gift?
No doubt, if I wish to do so, I can find something to complain about, in every aspect of my life. I could complain about the constant need to sweep and dust dog and cat fur around the house. I could complain that summer is over, and it really wasn’t much of a summer anyway. I could complain about anything and everything, if that is how I want to view my life. I could be just like the Hebrews in the reading from Exodus or the laborers in Matthew. I could complain because life is not fair and the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
But, if I want to nurture an attitude of gratitude I might say, that my pets are a gift that fill me with delight. I might say that the cool, rainy summer has enabled the grass to be green all summer and restored the water tables of the Great Lakes. And so on and so forth.
Taking an inventory of my day and considering it through a lens that emphasizes gift and gratitude changes my perspective. Doing this regularly impacts how I live my life and feel about life. I live with less anxiety and less worry. I live with more hope and generosity.
Nurturing an attitude of gratitude takes practice. Some things we can to help nurture gratitude in our lives in addition to a daily inventory can include writing things down. Keep a journal and make note of the times and events you feel grateful for. Talk about gratitude, share with others. Especially thank people for whom you are grateful. We don’t do enough of that – thanking people and acknowledging our gratitude for the people in our lives. Seek opportunities – look for things that make you grateful – the blue sky on a sunny day, a delicious meal, the kindness of a stranger, the compassion of a friend or family member.
Robert Emmons, a prominent expert who works for the University of California, has conducted many studies on gratitude. He promotes the idea that gratitude needs to be nurtured and that when we do so we benefit physically, psychologically and socially. Nurturing an attitude of gratitude enables us to be happier, healthier, people.
The message we hear in our readings today reminds us that we have a choice. We can nurture anxiety within and complain about life. Or we can nurture an attitude of gratitude and embrace life with hope, love, and compassion. Nurturing an Attitude of Gratitude becomes infectious, influencing others in the world around us as we “Grace It Forward.”