The symptoms were obvious and ominous. High temperature, coughing, a feeling of weakness. After a week of this, on-again, off-again, he decided he needed to go to the emergency room. My wife was working, so I grabbed a mask, hopped in the truck and headed down to pick him up.
He was ready to go when I got to the house. But he could barely stand up and walk. It’s was a good thing that we were going that night. Had we waited a day, things might have been much worse. Somehow, as I was gathering up hearing aids and a list of medications, he made it out and into the passenger side of my truck. Without his hearing aids, our conversation was limited. I called my wife, working in the ER that night, and told her we were on the way.
After I pulled up to the ER entrance, I walked around to the passenger side to help him out. He could barely stand, much less walk the twenty or so yards to the door. A tech by the entrance heard me say, “I’ll see if I can get a wheelchair” and brought one out. With some difficulty, we transferred him to the chair and got him inside. He had a few questions to answer, I got a visitor tag, and the guard handed me an N95 mask to wear, “If you’re going where I think you are going.”
They took him back right away while I parked the truck. I had to wait a bit before my wife came out and said, “Come on back.” We turned left and went down the hall to a part of the ER that was draped in plastic with zippered entrances, an isolation unit for suspected Covid-19 patients. My wife looked at me and said, “If you go back there, we probably won’t be able to go on our trip.” I said, “I know.” But he wouldn’t be able to hear and I couldn’t just let him go back there alone.
So that’s when I went… behind the zipper.
It wasn’t all that exciting. In fact, it was eerily quiet. Because fresh gowns, masks, face shields and gloves were required of the doctors, nurses and techs every time they came in the room, their appearances were few and far between. I sat there in shorts, t-shirt and an N95 mask, wondering when I would get sick. Had we gone one day later, I would not have been allowed back there. Policies and procedures are subject to change, like the wind.
I stayed for about six hours, as we waited for tests, test results and the decision to admit him. He didn’t want to watch TV, and was finally able to snooze a bit, so I spent my time reading on my phone and keeping family up-to-date. I called his out-of-state son so they could talk. Finally they were ready to take him to another room, and it was time for me to head home. No one was allowed back in that part of the hospital.
As I write this, that happened a full eight weeks ago, and thankfully neither my wife nor I had any symptoms of illness. We did spend a couple of weeks staying further apart from family, just in case. It turns out he only had to stay in the hospital a few nights, and was discharged home. His wife had to do the ER thing later in the week, but she wasn’t admitted.
We were blessed. I am still careful. People are still getting sick. So far I’ve stayed healthy. I don’t take that for granted. I just give thanks each day.
A few months ago I swallowed my pride and apologized to someone because I had hurt their feelings. I said “I am sorry,” and they replied, “I accept your apology.” I was relieved to hear that and we were able to move on.
Thinking back to that moment, though, I believe there is a difference between saying, “I accept your apology,” and “I forgive you.” Accepting my apology simply receives my admission of guilt but gives nothing in return. But when someone says, “I forgive you,” they have given me a priceless gift.
Forgiveness is costly. God’s forgiveness costs the life of Jesus on the cross. After our confession, the words of absolution, “I forgive you all your sins,” are His precious gift to us. “Apology accepted” would leave me wondering how God felt about all this. Forgiveness, on the other hand, leaves no doubt. We’re good!
In a similar way, when I say, “Thank you,” I mostly hear the reply, “No problem.” When I get a “You’re welcome,” I do a double take. “No problem” simply receives your gratitude as if it were no big deal. I simple “You’re welcome” raises the value of your appreciation.
Maybe it’s not a big deal. But since that moment, I have consciously and deliberately said, “I forgive you” and “You’re welcome.” In a time when I am more likely to hear impatient, angry and abusive words, I want people to know I value and appreciate them.
After the late worship service last Sunday, one of our members who shook my hand said, “I just want to thank you for what you do.” At that moment I was losing my voice and I said as best I could, “You’re welcome.” He continued, “You’re here week after week and you always lay out the message clearly. I appreciate that.”
That was a powerful moment. Words of thanks that only take a few seconds to speak are potent. I know that, but I also need to be reminded. One can never say, “Thanks,” too often. And one ought never underestimate the difference those words make.
A simple “thank you” acknowledges a person, validates their actions, elevates them and expresses your feelings towards them. Your value and theirs increases with words of appreciation.
Here’s a great question to ask yourself each morning: “Who can I thank today?” A spouse, a barista, a teacher, a child or a contractor? How will your word of thanks make a difference?
Yesterday I had my first cataract surgery. I woke up this seeing clearly from my right eye with out glasses or contact lenses for the first morning in many, many years. I am again giving thanks for the gift of sight.
I got my first pair of glasses when I was ten years old. My observant fourth grade teacher Mrs. Dimico saw me squinting to read the chalkboard and tipped off my parents. They took me to Cleary Optical which I think was in the neighboring town of Prospect Park, PA to get me examined and fitted for glasses. The lenses were ground from glass fifty years ago and I remember having the choice of two frames: black or tortoise shell. I chose black. Two weeks later we went to pick them up and Dr. Cleary spent nearly thirty minutes making sure they fit me correctly, an agent of the gift of sight. At first I only wore them when I needed them. But as time went on and I got progressively more nearsighted, I pretty much wore them all the time.
When I graduated college and had my first job, I got my first pair of soft contact lenses. Forty years ago, you purchased a pair which would last about a year. Not only did they require daily cleaning, but also weekly disinfecting in a little cooker thing made for that purpose. I was really thankful for that gift of sight, because now I could see when I was out running! The doctor also told me that contact lenses would slow the progression of my nearsightedness.
Eventually, I began to have a little trouble focusing on reading material as well as distance. I’m thankful for Dr. King in St. Augustine, who turned me on to monovision contact lenses. My left eye was corrected for distance, my right for reading. Worked like a charm, plus I now opened up a new pair every month.
When Dr. King moved out of his office, I began going to a local eye doctor who took my vision insurance plan. I’m thankful for Dr. Nunez who suggested I try multifocal lenses. Each lens was made with alterating concentric circles for distance and close up correction. After I wore them for a few days, my brain figured out which to use, and both my eyes could see near and far.
I am also thankful to Dr. Nunez who quickly got me into a retina specialist when one day without warning, I noticed a little dark patch of vision in the corner of my right eye. I not only had a tear in my retina, but it had also separated. I thankful that Dr. Nunn was able to laser my retina back into place and preserved the sight in that eye. Why did it happen? He explained that when you are nearsighted, your eye isn’t spherical, but more football-shaped, lending itself to separation. A tear with no separation happened a few years later in my left eye, too, and I am thankful that Dr. Jaroudi was able to laser that in place, too. I am extremely grateful for the technology which restored and preserved my eyesight!
All that lasering accelerated the growth of cataracts in both of my eyes, so I am having both lenses replaced with implants. My right eye has been adjusted for reading and my left eye will be for distance. The whole procedure for replacing my lens yesterday took less than fifteen minutes. The longest part of the morning was putting lots of drops in my eyes. Plus I didn’t feel a thing. I’m very thankful for Dr. Myer’s training, skills and work on my eye.
I know how complex the eye and the sense of sight is. It’s a wonder of God’s creation, as are all the colors, contrasts and textures he created for us to see. Some days I take those things for granted. But not today. Today, I’m once again grateful for the gift of sight!
(Transcription of Sunday, August 27, 2017 sermon.)
So here we are talking about gratitude and it’s not even Thanksgiving!
Maybe you think I’m pushing things a little too fast, but I think this is good. By the time November comes you’re going to be so occupied thinking about travel, celebrations, food, family gatherings and all the things Thanksgiving involves that it’s really hard to focus. Everyone is telling you how much you’ve been blessed and how you should donate to people who don’t have as much. So much gets lost in all of that. But now here at the end of August we’re not worried about any of that. We can take a good close look at the path of grace our Lord leads us down today, that path of gratitude.
Using the word of the week, I want to ask you this question: “What is that eclipses gratitude in your life?” What is it that casts a shadow over your thankfulness? You wouldn’t think we would have to ask this question. We have so much. We have so much wealth, so much food so many clothes, we have nice homes to live in. There are so many things to be thankful for.
But you know how it works. You only need to see one person who has something that you don’t have or one person who you thinks looks better than you do or one person who seems to be having a better time than you are, and you are a little bit jealous. And now you’re not content. You wish you had what they have or you could do what they can do or you look like they did. Suddenly, that blocks the things that we should we should be thankful for. Just like the moon blocks out the sun and all of a sudden you can see very clearly the corona around the edge. Things like jealousy, greed and covetousness get in the way and suddenly we see what we’re really like. We’re not nearly as thankful as we probably should be.
And I know that bothers you. I know that grates against you. It really bugs you when somebody is not thankful. When they don’t seem to be grateful for the things they have or the things you’ve done for them.
I love the story of grandparents who loved to send gift to their grandkids for birthdays and holidays. But they never got an acknowledgement that the gift had been received. No phone call, no text, no thank you, nothing. Finally they decided we’re not sending anything else until they get some kind of feedback. You’ve been there. There are people you know you want to grab by the scruff of the neck and say, “Why you ungrateful little…” (You can finish that sentence as you please.)
So we know this is a problem. It’s very interesting that the path of gratitude our Lord reveals and leads us down doesn’t take us past pantries filled with food or garages filled with cars or homes filled with things. No it takes us in a whole different direction. The path we’re going to follow today is a very interesting story from the Old Testament that has to do with the ark of the covenant.
You can read more about this in 1 Chronicles chapters 14-16. The ark of the covenant was that very special chest that God had commanded Moses to build. It was fairly big, covered with gold, gold angels on top, with poles in it so the priests could carry it everywhere they went. Inside was the tablets of the law, a jar of manna, the staff of Aaron (he was to be the high priest for God’s people.) And so they carried that chest with them. It was a reminder that God had come to be with his people.
He was living in the midst of them. When they arrived where they were going to stay they set up the tabernacle around it, the ark was in the holy of holies, the presence of God filled that place and they knew that God was going to take care of them, provide for them and lead them, a very real powerful reminder.
So we’re going to jump into the story at a time after God’s people have come into the promised land after the time of the judges but before they have a king. During this time, Israel as Israel tended to do was always fighting battles with the Philistines. That’s their classic enemy. All kinds of skirmishes all kinds of battles. They could never quite get the best of them.
One day they had this great idea. We’re going to take the ark of the covenant into battle with us. We’re going to take the presence of God with our armies and then we can’t lose. We’re going to have God right there to win the battle for us. It didn’t quite go as they planned. In fact, they lost that battle and they lost the ark of the covenant. The Philistines actually took it, captured it and took it back home.
What a great trophy to bring back home! So they take the ark home and they put it their temple of their god, Dagon. So now they have this statue of their pagan God and they have the ark of the covenant right next to it.
That didn’t work out they way they thought. Every day their priests went into the temple and the statute of Dagon had toppled over. It happens often enough that pieces start breaking off. The hands break off and the head breaks off and around the place where the ark is everyone is getting sick. Everybody’s got these tumors growing on their body. The Philistines finally said we can’t take this anymore. We’ve got to get rid of this thing. It’s killing us. Nobody wants it because they know it’s bad news. They decide they are just going to send it back to Israel.
They put it on a cart, hitch up a couple cows, crack the whip and it’s on the way down the road. Imagine that you are one of the tribes of Israel, working in the field and here’s a cart with the ark of the covenant just walking it’s way back to Israel. They didn’t know what to do with it. So they put it in someone’s house, in a place called Kiriath-Jearim. It’s there for a while.
In the meantime, God’s people insist on having a king. You’ve got King Saul and then King David. David has consolidated the nation of Israel and they have a capital city of Jerusalem. David says, “We’ve got to bring the ark to Israel. The ark of the covenant has to be in Jerusalem.” They send for the ark of the covenant. They put it on a cart, hitch up some oxen and they are going down the road. Now their roads aren’t as nice as our roads. Lots of potholes, rocks, it’s pretty rough going. The oxen are slipping, the cart is rocking back and forth, and the ark starts to fall off the cart.
A man named Uzzah reaches out to steady the ark, and drops over dead. You don’t touch the things of God. You don’t get near the mountain where God is. You don’t get near the ark, unless you are one of the priests. You just don’t mess around with a holy God. Understandably, David is afraid and angry. He leaves the ark right there, in a guy’s house. His name of Obed-Edom.
While the ark is in his house, he is blessed. His flocks are growing, his fields are abundant, everything is good for him.
David goes off, and he is still waging war agains the Philistines. But David does it differently. Everytime David goes to battle, he first talks to God. He inquires of the Lord. “Should we go into battle?” “How should we fight them?” “Is this the right time?” God would say, “Yes, go into battle, you’ll win the victory.” David does. So he learns over the next few months that he can trust God. That God is going to protect them. That God is with them in a very real way. He has learned that he needs to deal with God on God’s terms, not his own.
So we’re going to get the ark and we’re going to bring it to Jerusalem, but we’re going to do it the right way this time. We’re going to have a better cart, and we’re going to fix the road and there’s going to be priests involved who are supposed to handle these things. And they get it back to Jerusalem. It’s a marvelous celebration. It’s an amazing day. There’s music, there’s a parade. David is dancing for all he’s worth as they bring it into Jerusalem.
And that is when David appoints thanksgiving to be sung in the Old Testament lesson today. He orders the people in charge of the music
Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered (1 Chronicles 16:8-12).
David is commanding that thanksgiving be given to God because of his wonderful presence and power and protection among the people.
In the Psalm today we hear a similar command for thanksgiving.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night,but joy comes with the morning.
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever! (Psalm 30:4-5, 11-12)
Listen to that. The motivation for gratitude has nothing to do with clothes, food, possessions, houses where they lived, anything that they had or didn’t have. Their entire motivation was God who showed up and turned their lives around, so that they enjoyed his gracious favor. He turned their sadness into gladness. And that is what led them down that path of gratitude.
Now for us, it’s not all about the ark. Now it’s about Jesus, who is the ark of God’s presence and power and everything that God is for us. You could say that it was the ark who typified who Jesus would be. In Jesus all the law is fulfilled. In Jesus we have a great high priest who goes on our behalf to God. We have Jesus who is the bread of life. Everything that was in that ark is in Jesus.
And Jesus takes the anger of God on the cross for just a moment, that one short time, so that we might have God’s favor and forgiveness for a lifetime. There was mourning when they wrapped up Jesus and put him in the tomb. But in the morning, there was joy, when they discovered that he was alive. Suddenly we realize that Jesus has come to turn everything around. There’s going to be struggles. There’s going to be sadness. There’s going to be pain. But he’s the one who brings the dancing, the gladness, and the praise and everything for which we give him thanks.
In fact, Jesus himself is the one who leads us down that path of gratitude. When he fed the 5,000 with just a few loaves and bread and fish or when he fed the 4,000 in the gospel today in Gentile territory with just a little bit of food. Or when Jesus sat around the last supper with his disciples with a little bread and wine. He gave thanks. Not because there was a whole bunch of food there. But because the presence of God was there to save his people. And he was it. He was the one who was there to save.
And that’s what motivates us to be grateful and to give God thanks. That’s something that never changes. Everything else in life changes but that never does. Our Lord comes, he comes to us, so that our lives are filled with gratitude. That’s why we stand for the holy gospel. Our Lord is talking to us. We kneel at the altar. This is our Lord coming to us to save us. That’s why we pause at the font and we remember the new life we have in our baptism, and the new clothes he gives us, clothing us with gladness.
That’s what the path of gratitude is all about. Jesus took that path to come to us, so that we too can follow him down that path of gratitude.