A Seed of Gratitude: Change Making, System Shaking, and Legacy Shaping
(As preached at Hope United Methodist Church, Bloomington, IL: 11/21/2021)
Today, we are finishing up our sermon series titled Staying Awake: The Gospel for Changemakers! This series is based around the wonderful and prophetic book written by Tyler Sit. He had submitted his manuscript to his publisher just a few days before the unjust murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis Minnesota... which occurred just down the street from the church which Tyler Sit serves... George Floyd's death uplifted a dirty truth of our world: it shined light, once again, upon the chokehold that racism has on America sparking revolution and inspiring protest.
George Floyd's murder was a culmination and continuation of the plague of systemic racism within this country: the sin of systemic racism. The church has been and is still one of the largest proponents of inequality within the US. Doctrine has been used and abused, construed and contorted to support harm and injustice. The capital C- Church, once founded upon Love and Revolution, has since been shifted, brick by brick onto the back of trauma and shame.
This is a hard Truth to recognize. As an insider to the system, it can be scary, it can be daunting, it can be draining to address the harm it has done. And yet, it is necessary. We are each called to address the Truth of trauma and the holiness of honesty and change. We are each called to a gospel of change making. We are each called to a gospel of Love, of healing, of dreaming, and of working towards the equality and equity entrusted in us by the God of Everflowing Integrity.
We are called to be changemakers like Christ. To flip tables of broken systems, to dwell in solidarity with the oppressed, and to create tables where all bodies, not only have access, but have the assurity of breath, protection, and celebration.
Our sermon series over these past few weeks has been discussing how we can reach that place together... How we can build the kin-dom of heaven here on earth… How we can live into our calling to justice while staying true to ourselves, all the while, making room for others to be exactly who they are made to be.
This week is also the last week before we enter into the season of Advent. It is a time of awaiting, a time for dreaming, a time of change making, and a time worth celebrating.
This week, we are talking about Gratitude.
Now, I know what you're thinking, “Isaac, how the heck can you possibly make this transition from racism and broken systems to a conversation about Gratitude…” and to that I respond, “I spent most of my week trying to answer that very question!”
But the truth of the mater, is that we live in a draining world. In a world where so much energy and time, conversations and thoughts, is drained from us. We live in a world where there is so so much pain and fear and anxiety, rightfully so. A pandemic has been our Truth for the past year and a half. Isolation and desolation is prevalent both privately and publicly.
Yesterday was the Trans day of remembrance: a day to celebrate our trans siblings who were lost to mistreatment and silence.
These past few months, questions surrounding the death of Jelani Day, an ISU Student, circulated our news feed.
This weekend, the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse was celebrated by the far right as a condonement of supremacist vigilantism.
How we have the energy to get out of bed each day, amazes me.
And the truth is, somedays, for some of us, that energy to get out of bed, is not even there.
How can we find ways to receive, to be poured into, to symbiotically pour into others.
You see, Gratitude amidst systems of harm and times of the unknown is not only possible… it is necessary, it is life giving, it is good.
The law of thermodynamics says that energy is neither created nor destroyed. So too are our emotions. They come from somewhere in our lives and they go somewhere else. We are each batteries, vessels, which hold onto emotions for just a moment. Our task in life is to recognize where the energy comes from, convert it into a usable source for our daily lives, and rechanel the reserve to charge others, fuel change, and sustain the light and love glowing within us all.
Gratitude, the act of giving and receiving is one example of this metaphorical law of emotional dynamics.
Seeking therapy can be an act of Gratitude for ourselves. It is a way for us to sit down, unpack, address and convert our shame or our trauma into moments of healing and grace.
Generosity in the form of Facetiming a friend, inviting them to thanksgiving, dropping off christmas cookies to remind them they are loved, or simply listening, learning and laughing with them: that too is a way to convert energy. Like the electrons which circulate atoms, gratitude and generosity circulates us. When we bond and coexist with another human, our electronic emotions are transferred and our makeup is changed. Only instead of changing chemically, we change emotionally and spiritually.
Authentic gratitude sustains us and it also changes us.
It is so much more than simply saying “thank you” and “you're welcome”
Gratitude is about showing others that we see them amidst all of the chaos of the world. Gratitude is about saying you are not alone. Gratitude is about converting a given circumstance into a liveable future.
In the Gospel there is a story which, I believe, sheds light on how important acts of gratitude are. This act of gratitude, of seeing others as important and worthy of time and of love, is described in the form of a miracle. Now don’t worry, I’m not saying you have to perform miracles to participate in the exchange of emotions and bonds of gratitude. I am using this story as a metaphorical lens to gaze upon that which we are called to do.
This is the story of the Feeding of the 4000 or the Miracle of the Loaves and Fish.
It goes like this:
32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”
33 His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”
34 “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.
“Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.”
35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37 They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 38 The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children.
In a time when this huge crowd of folks were facing hardship, feeling physical and emotional pain, Christ recognized that there was a need. In the past three days, Christ had formed a bond with these people. He saw them for who they are, listened to their stories, taught them, lived with them, laughed with them, and truly got to know them.
I imagine that when he looked out over the crowd, he felt something within him, a nudge, a pull, a cosmic woowoo moment… i dont know… But his intuition told him that they needed something else before they could leave and journey home. In the story, the crowd needed food. The disciples were not willing to initiate the sharing of bread. But Christ, who was probably also feeling tired and overwhelmed, made a choice to share gratitude with the crowd.
In the story, it was in the form of food. It could have as easily been in the form of music, in the form of therapy, in the form of prayer, or silence, of hugs, of poorly decorated christmas cookies.
What was literally shared is unimportant. What is important, is that Christ took what he had to give, converted it into a shareable energy, and for a moment... for a meal, they were all bonded together in hope and in love.
For a moment, a single act caused healing on the systemic level. One person shared with another, and then another and then another. So on and so forth until each of the thousands were reached, recognized, and relieved.
In a world plagued by racist systems, transphobic laws, and unjust doctrine, sometimes Gratitude is all we have to share. Sometimes it is all we need to get us out of bed. Sometimes it is the only thing connecting us to the world around allowing us to dream of the future.
Sometimes, Gratitude can pave a new way forward, when no way is seen. Gratitude comes in many forms: we can pour into ourself and into others. We can construct new vessels to receive the emotional dynamic energy and we can deconstruct the batteries of old used to fuel inherited inequity.
Gratitude is a powerful thing. A single intentional act of receiving or giving authentically, can plant a seed that can affect countless others. Like a seed that changes the given circumstance of darkness in the soil into beautiful life, so too can we. We can do this together. We can plant seeds of change. We Can. As Lin Manuel Miranda says, “Legacy, what is a legacy, it is planting seeds in a field we never get to see”.
If that is not showing gratitude to the generations to come, I don’t know what is. I want to leave you with a poem by Joe Davis, an artist, activist and founder of the Show Up Project: It is titled Poet Tree
It all starts with poetry,
It overflows in me,
It grows in me,
Like a poet tree
With branches and leaves,
Stanzas and seeds
A seed is planted in me
Planted in faith and growing in grace,
I can feel it dancing in me,
Waving its hands its feet,
Waiting for its chance to be free
Kicking against the mamas belly as its swelling
The shell screams
In painast its fluctuating
Like a burst of inspiration,
The shell cracking
Like an egg hatching
The husk is dispersed
And thus a miraculous birth occurs
The seedling emerges from the earth headfirst
Searching the firmament for purpose and self worth.
With sunlight, water and dirt,
The seedling needs this Trinity to be
Its full force,
One day a full forest,
But for now
A poet tree.