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 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 eight months or so and that’s when I joined the family.
Like I said, Judy and I basically grew up together. We had the same group of friends in the neighbourhood and did most of the same things as children. And that was okay until I skipped a grade in school which meant that we were also 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 which caused some problems for my sister. I was the nerd and that’s why she hated the fact that we were in the same grade.
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 a very attentive nerd. I watched all the things that Judy did. When she did things that got praised I learned to mimic those behaviours 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. That’s how 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 are 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 needs some work because they were making a mess of that too. And that’s just 1 Corinthians. 2 Corinthians has a whole other laundry list of things they were messing up.
Through sixteen chapters Paul tries to teach them how to be more faithful. But at the very start of the book, in 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 (NIV), despite what Paul is going to write as the letter continues, he starts off with gratitude:
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 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. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Focusing on verse 4 where 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 gives God thanks for them. Despite all of their flaws, their bumps, bruises, freckles and warts, Paul is grateful for them and who they are.
This isn’t true just for the church in Corinth. Paul is 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 is grateful for all of it.
In Ephesians 5:20 (NIV) he writes that he is, “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 focuses in his gratitude because there are lots of them. Just suffice it to say that Paul lived with an attitude of gratitude and encourages 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.
GRATITUDE IS A CHOICE
Paul says that he is grateful for the Corinthians 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 shows up in so many ways.
Here’s the thing to remember. Gratitude is a choice. We decide if we are grateful or not. And that depends on our attitude.
I was thinking about the summer vacation Ruth and I went on last summer. We hadn’t been out of the country since Covid-19 began so we decided to head down to Pennsylvania and went as far as Lancaster County which is Amish country. We were so grateful to be away. I was especially grateful because the inside of our little Alto trailer is one of the very few places in the world that where I can totally relax. I don’t take my laptop. I don’t take any work. I just take some good books to read and some gym gear in the event that I might want to go for a run or a swim in the pool. And to make Ruth happy, we went to some quilt stores, many many many Amish quilt stores.
On the way home, we stopped at a campground near Wellsboro, Pennsylvania for a few days just to relax and chill. What we didn’t know was that the state park where we were staying had poor cell service. You could get enough bars to text every now but that was just about it. At first we were a bit put off by this because we wanted to check things like the weather and we had to complete our ArriveCan apps before crossing the border back in to Canada. But then we realized, who cares if we don’t have cell service. The state park was beautiful. It was very relaxing, especially without any cell service to interrupt us. After a day without our phones we actually began to be grateful. We could have got bent all out of shape with this first world problem but we chose not to because gratitude, like so many other responses, is a choice. We chose an attitude of gratitude.
The reality in our world, however, is that so many people are not grateful. In fact, rather than being grateful, so many people complain about everything. Anyone who works in a service job with the public knows exactly what I’m talking about. We have so much and we are so blessed here in Canada. But so many people just don’t appreciate it. They want what they want right now. They don’t think they should have to wait for anything. And if they don’t get what they want, they get rude and abusive with the person trying to help them. They think that somehow they can bully the clerk or the receptionist into giving them what they want. What they fail to realize is that the person they are bullying usually holds all the cards. They are the ones who schedule appointments or order stock. If you want something, it’s always best to be kind and courteous because if you are, then there is far better chance that they will do what they can to help. But if you’re belligerent and nasty, at least they will do the bare minimum that they have to do and at most, they will hang up on you.
We need to grateful for what we have. It reminds me of the old say: I once complained that I had no shoes until I met someone who had no feet. Gratitude is choice and if we want to be faithful followers of Jesus, we are called to choose that attitude of gratitude.
CHANGING THE CULTURE
We, as people, need to decide to adopt that attitude of gratitude. It needs to become part of the culture of our lives and of the church, especially here at Cottam United Church.
If you ask the rest of the world, you might find that other people think that should be easy for Canadians. Did you know that Canadians have an international reputation for being polite? That’s right, we’re known internationally for hockey, poutine, Celine Dion and saying eh and being polite which includes saying thank you.
I didn’t realize how pervasive the thank you thing is until our Pennsylvania vacation last summer. 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, you’re right,” I said, “but 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.
But to do that, you have to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. That means that you have to practice being grateful. Last week, Rebekah was still home for the holidays when I was taking our real Christmas tree outside. It was a great tree but we were done with it. As I was packing it up to take outside, I said, “Thank you.” Rebekah said, “Thanks for what? What did I do?”
“Oh no,” I said, “I wasn’t thanking you for anything. I was thanking the tree for spending the Christmas with us and brightening up the season.” She looked at me a bit weird. So I said, “I do it every year.” And then I took the tree out and dragged it down to the drop off point at Ridgeview Park.
It was a couple of days later. We were sitting in the family room at home and Rebekah, out of the blue, said to me, “I like that you that you thanked the tree for spending Christmas with us.” Obviously, she’d been thinking about our short conversation a couple days previous. And I could tell that she was in the process of seeking to incorporate that into her life, to be grateful for small things and to learn to express that gratitude. I confess that I felt good about that. I don’t get things right. Parenting is not for sissies. But every now and then when you get a win, take it and be thankful.
There are ways of cultivating that attitude of gratitude. 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 valued and that their contribution is important. That’s the kind of culture that we are trying to promote as the people of God here at Cottam United Church.
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 anything 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. God calls us to live by that standards but, by his Holy Spirit, he also equips us to do it. When we receive Jesus Christ into our hearts, the Holy Spirit comes along as part of the package. You really don’t get one without the other. 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 are ungrateful. 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 doesn’t expect 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.
And maybe that is what we should be most thankful for as we seek to live with an attitude of gratitude.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Almighty God, our Creator and our Saviour, we need you in our lives as surely as we need food, water and air. Give us the strength and courage to honestly and candidly examine and evaluate our actions, our decisions, and the motives behind each of them. We choose to give ourselves to you, everyday in every way. Help us to become more like you, not only in what we say and do, but also in what we think and feel. Thank you for your patience and compassion as we grow in faith.
We thank you for teaching us new things as we gather that remind us of your love and acceptance. May we not shy away from new ways of doing ministry but help us to always move forward with prayer and discernment. Teach us how to better be your people in our day and share your Good News in your way.
We remember those who are sick or recovering from various illnesses and conditions, especially John, Carol, Mark, Rachel and Ron. Touch them, O God, with your Healing Spirit that they may feel your love and strength. Be with those who care for them whether professionals, family members, neighbours or friends. Help us to truly appreciate all that others do to help us in times of need.
Heavenly Father, strengthen us and help us to be leaders in our homes, our communities, and our workplaces. May our lives be examples that will gather together all those who seek you. There are many around us who need to know you and grow in their spiritual walk. We offer ourselves as catalysts to bring about change in their lives. We lift all of our prayers to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
January 15, 2023 / Epiphany 2
Psalm 40:1-11; Isaiah 49:1-7; John 1;29-42; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
CALL TO WORSHIP
Wait upon the Lord.
Wait patiently for the appearing of our God.
Look with wonder upon the glory of our God.
Experience the joy of worship
We delight, O God, in you for you are as far as the heavens and the distance stars but as near as a touch and the whisper of the wind. We come to proclaim your greatness to the ends of the earth. Your mercies cannot be numbered. Your grace is unfathomable. We come expectantly to worship. Open our ears to your word, our souls to your touch and our spirits to your Spirit.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Sacrifice and offering you do not require. You ask only that we walk in faith and follow your way. There are times when it is difficult to comply with your simple requests. Many forces pressure us. Many things tempt us. Many voices call our names. We confess that we do not always follow your Spirit. We turn from you and sin as though we had never experienced your Word. Forgive us the waywardness of our lives and draw us again into the riches of your love.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The shackles of sin may bind us but the love of God frees us. There is no sin too great, no wrong to deep that it can not be forgiven by our gracious God. Be assured that when we truly confess our sins, God forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Your work, O God, needs many hands. We offer ours to you asking that you would use them to the greater glory of your Kingdom. Our hands and feet, our times and talents, our creativity and wealth we give for your service.
Go with gladness. Go with joy. Go with the assurance of God’s redeeming grace to share the Good News with those whom you may meet.