The book of 1 Corinthians is one of the most interesting in the Bible. It is a letter written by Paul to the church in the Greek city of Corinth and provides more instructions than almost any other book in the New Testament. To understand the importance of Corinthians to the church I think about my older sister Judy. Judy is eleven and a half months older than me. So we basically grew up together. You might wonder how we managed to be so close in age. It’s because our parents, who were married in 1940 just before Dad hopped a train to begin basic training in the navy in WWII, had not been able to have children for fourteen years. They finally decided to adopt a baby. That’s how Judy joined the family. The day that my parents went to pick up Judy at the Children’s Aid Society, Mom wasn’t feeling too well and started throwing up. She threw up pretty well every day for the next nine months and that’s how I joined the family.
Like I said, we basically grew up together and that was okay until I skipped a grade in school which meant that we were in the same grade. That was not okay. In fact, Judy hated it. By the time we got to high school she was one of the cool kids and I wasn’t. I had just turned thirteen going into grade nine and I must admit that I was not the most mature thirteen year old in the world. Judy might have been cool but I was the nerd and that’s why she hated the fact that we were in the same grade. You would too if you had a nerdy little brother.
But being the younger brother had its advantages. Judy, like most first born children, was my parent’s experiment. They got to try out stuff on her before they got around to me. They got to see what worked and what didn’t. And I got to watch Judy. I might have been a nerd but I was also very attentive. I watched all the things that Judy did. When she did things that got praised I learned to mimic them and get praise too. But when she did things that were wrong that caused her grief I saw that too. And it’s not that I learned not to do those same things. By observing what Judy did, I learned how not to get caught. Nonetheless, it’s true that younger siblings learn from older siblings.
The church in Corinth is like the big sister in the family of God. It did lots of things wrong. That’s why Paul wrote not one but two letters to the Christians who lived and worshipped there. When we read Corinthians we find out that they were often fighting among themselves. Paul tells them to get along. He tells them to stop straying into sexual immorality and to stop eating food sacrificed to idols. He has to correct the way they do the Lord’s Supper and has to remind them of the need to not abuse the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It seems that their worship needed some work because they were making a mess of that too. And that’s just 1 Corinthians. 2 Corinthians has a whole other list of things they were messing up in Corinth.
The church in Corinth is like the big sister from whom we can learn. As Paul corrects their behaviour, we too are taught what it means to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
When reading through the book of 1 Corinthians, you can almost feel Paul’s frustration with those early Christians. So many times he corrects them. So many times he admonished them. Through sixteen chapters he tries to teach them how to be more faithful by correcting their behaviour. But at the very start of the book, in 1 Corinthians 1:4 (NIV) we read these words, “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.” Despite all of the things that the Corinthians did wrong, Paul gave thanks for them. Despite all of their flaws, their bumps, bruises and warts, Paul was grateful for them.
This wasn’t true just for the church in Corinth. Paul was grateful for all of the churches that he planted in Europe and Asia Minor and all of the people in those churches who had come to Christ. At the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Philippians he writes this in Philippians 1:3 (NIV): “I thank my God every time I remember you.” Paul was grateful for all of it.
In Ephesians 5:20 (NIV) he wrote that he was, “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I could give you more Bible verses where Paul focused in his gratitude because there are lots of them. Just suffice it to say that Paul lived with an attitude of gratitude and encouraged us to do the same.
An attitude of gratitude. I have to confess that I did not make up that phrase. It’s been around the church ever since I can remember. And I have heard umpteen sermons based on the notion of an attitude of gratitude. But it’s a catchy phrase and easy to remember. It also brings out the theme of gratitude which is one of the most pervasive themes in the Bible. I know that Brian talked about that last week in my absence. In fact, on Thursday when I gave Pam the information for the bulletin, she saw the sermon title which is “Attitude of Gratitude” and asked if mine was part two of the message Brian shared last Sunday. I, of course, didn’t know that because I had been lying on a beach in Jamaica the week before. I had no clue what Brian had said on Sunday. But Pam told me that the message was called “In Gratitude or Ingratitude”. So, certainly they connect.
By the way, that reminds me of something else for which I am thankful. I am very grateful that Brian stepped in last Sunday. I heard nothing but glowing reports on what he did and how he conducted himself especially given that there was a family health emergency going on at the time. Basically, as he was preaching last Sunday, Brian didn’t know if Sharon’s Aunt Ann was alive or dead. An ambulance had been called earlier that morning to take her to the hospital. As it turns out, Ann didn’t make it and went home to be with the Lord last Sunday morning. So not only do we give thanks for Brian, we also give thanks for the life of Ann Hyland whom many of us knew so well. We can be grateful for so many things.
GRATITUDE IS A CHOICE
But let’s get back to the Corinthians. Paul says that he is grateful for them and then he tells us why. 1 Corinthians 1:5-8 (NIV) says this: “
For in him you have been enriched in every way – with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge – God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Why is Paul so grateful? That’s a pretty long list he gives. He’s grateful that the Corinthians have been enriched by God in every way. He is grateful that they are not lacking in spiritual gifts and that God is keeping them pure and blameless until the coming of Christ. He is so grateful and that gratitude show up in so many ways.
He here’s the thing to remember – and I suspect, although I don’t know – that Brian might have said this last week. Gratitude is a choice. We decide if we are grateful of not. And that depends on our attitude.
I got thinking about our week in Jamaica. We really had a wonderful time. It was a destination wedding. The son of our best friends from Espanola got married to a lovely young woman and we were so glad to be able to share that celebration with them. We also got the chance to spend time with some others from Espanola whom we had not seen in quite a while. And that was really nice.
We should have been so happy just to be there. But do you know something? It’s so easy to find things to pick at. There should have been nothing to complain about. We had a beautiful room in a five-star resort overlooking the ocean. We were surrounded by great people for an amazing wedding. But the nick-picking snuck its way in there. There was no end of food but the buffet was always the same. And the menu selection at the restaurants, while delicious, was somewhat limited. And it got overcast and windy a couple of days but not enough to drive us away from the pool. And everyone wants a tip for everything. In the bigger picture these were all little things that we noticed. But the truth is that none of us had anything to complain about. People were coming around asking us what we wanted to drink while we lounged poolside on our deck chairs.
At one point I thought, “What am I doing? Are things perfect? No. But it’s not snowing and my biggest concern is whether or not I have on enough sun block. Get a grip and be grateful!”
Gratitude is choice and if we want to be faithful followers of Jesus, we are called to choose that attitude.
CHANGING THE CULTURE
This last year, on the Church Board, we decided that there are a couple of things that we needed to do around Cottam United Church. One of them is to cultivate a culture of gratitude here in this place. That came out of a couple of things that happened as we were looking for ways to meet the Goals and Objectives that we set at our last annual meeting. One of them was how to welcome, engage and retain people in our church.
A lot of what happened will be written up in the Annual Report where you can read it but I want to say something about it now as we look toward our next Annual Meeting on February 9.
We had people reading books and doing online seminars and going to events and one thing that the research says is that churches don’t do a very good job of thanking people for the work that they do. I guess, if truth be known, churches are not alone in that. But as followers of Jesus, we should strive to do better. People do all sorts of things for their local churches. So of them are big and some of them are small. Some of them are pretty obvious because they’re very public. But there are also dozens of things that go on behind the scenes that don’t get noticed by very many people. You might know who are presiders and praise leaders are because they get up here with microphones every Sunday morning and do their part. But do you know who changes the lightbulbs? Do you know who adjusts the thermostat so that the sanctuary is comfortable on Sunday morning? Do you know who shovels the snow? I was in the office last night at about 6:30 p.m. and someone was shoveling off the sidewalk outside my office. I could hear them but I don’t know who it was. But whoever it was, thank you. All of these things are important.
We, as people, need to decide to adopt that attitude of gratitude. It needs to become part of the culture of the church. At the Church Board level, we’re actively trying to promote that. One of the things that we do is at every meeting we hand out thank you cards. Every Board member gets one. And every Board member is committed to writing someone in the congregation a thank you note and delivering it any way they choose. I’m sure that some of you folks here this morning have received one. Everyone deserves a thank you card even if it’s just for showing up on Sunday morning. Doing that, all by itself, is important.
We want to make gratitude a part of the culture of Cottam United Church. If you ask the rest of the world, you might find that other people might think that should be easy for Canadians. Did you know that Canadians have an international reputation for saying thank you? That’s right, we’re known internationally for hockey, poutine, Celine Dion and saying eh and thank you.
I didn’t realize how pervasive the thank you thing was until we were in the US in the summer on vacation. When we went to McDonalds for the $1 drinks, I said thank you for to the person serving us at the counter. When we were checking in or out of a campground, I thanked the person in the office for their help. When I paid for my fuel, I thanked the attendant. It’s just second nature for many of us. We don’t even realize we’re doing it. I didn’t until one of the clerks said to me, “You’re Canadian, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” I said, “How do you know?” I didn’t remember saying eh, poutine or Celine Dion. Her response was that she knew I was Canadian because I thanked her and most people don’t do that. So, as Canadians, it’s already part of our culture. Right?
Not so fast. Saying thank you and being grateful are not the same things. Saying thank you is important but it’s just words and, while words are important, it needs to go further. Words come from our mouths. Gratitude comes from our hearts. It’s one thing to say thank you to the cashier as you’re counting the change she just gave you. It’s quite something else to pause, look her in the eye and say thank you like you mean it.
Whether we do that in stores or restaurants, or at home or work or school, genuine gratitude goes a long way in making people feel that they are important and that their contribution is important. That’s the kind of culture that we are trying to promote here at Cottam United Church. It’s a culture we hope that you we take out with you into the world because it’s what Jesus wants us to do.
Talking about the culture of the church, when you get the Annual Report in a couple of weeks, you’ll also see that we are trying work on another culture too. It’s the culture of hospitality.
Hospitality is the way we treat each other and the way that we treat guest when they walk into the doors of our church the first time. In fact, along with gratitude, hospitality is one of the most common themes in the Bible when it comes to how we live together as people of God. We talked about gratitude today and I’d like to say something about hospitality as well in the next few weeks before the Annual Meeting. These are important issues in the church as we seek to become all that God created us and called us to be.
I just want to close with the last verse of today’s passage. 1 Corinthians 1:9 (NIV) says this, “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” There is a place for God in all of this because God is faithful. I’ve said this before a hundred times and you’ll probably hear me say it a hundred more. God never asks us to do something that God has not already equipped us to do.
Generally, when we say that, we’re talking about ministries to be accomplished or tasks to be done. But here, I’m talking about attitudes; the attitude of gratitude and the attitude of hospitality. God calls us to live by those standards but, by his Holy Spirit, he also equips us to do it. When we received Jesus Christ into our hearts, the Holy Spirit came along as well. You really don’t get one without the other. It’s all part of the package. Jesus may have left us with his teachings but it is the Holy Spirit who reminds us and guides us as we seek to live them out.
That doesn’t mean that we do it perfectly. That doesn’t mean that sometimes we aren’t ungrateful or inhospitable. But I guarantee you this, that when we do fall short, the Holy Spirit reminds us that we need to get back on track. God never expected you to be prefect. That’s why he made you human and, as we all know, to be human is often a long way from being perfect. But by the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we daily walk closer and closer to the road of perfection that God would have us travel.
maybe that is what we should be most thankful for as we seek to live with an
attitude of gratitude.