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Gee, Thanks

15th Sunday after Trinity BCP

24 September 2006 11:00 | Fr. Reginald Bushau

"The atheist's most embarrassing moment is when he feels profoundly thankful for something, but can't think of anybody to thank for it." This remark is attributed to Mary Ann Vincent, an English actress who ended her days in Boston, a 'grande dame' of the stage in that city.

Be it ever so slightly frivolous, Mary Ann's quip does focus our attention on a point implicit in our readings this morning. Thankfulness - or the lack of it - is very central to our engagement with life and the world around us. From it flows both generosity and discernment. It is the foundation of any sound judgment about our way of life and how we deal with the problem of existence and our relationships, whether those relationships are with people, objects, ambitions, wealth or our most cherished illusions. Thankfulness leads us to a deep trust in God, who is not just the giver of all good gifts but the one who always sustains us in being.

To be thankful is almost certainly a 'given' in our having been created in the image and likeness of God. It is an instinct within us: to give thanks, to rejoice in what is given, to revel in its beauty, to celebrate its wonder. It is part of the inner life of God; the giving and the giving in return, each person of the Blessed Trinity rejoicing in the very being of the others.

For us, the discovery of thanksgiving comes from that sometimes so painful process of growing up and learning that we ourselves are not the very epicentre of all creation but actually very small parts of that creation. We learn that our comfort and existence depend almost entirely on others and that our ultimate being is itself not ours but a gift from God in creation.

Of course, our early training to say 'thank you' and embrace thankfulness does often give way to the temptation to claim possession of our lives. We can all too easily learn to ignore our basic dependency on other human beings, still less on God. And if we do retain a certain formal deference to the deity, it is still easy to understand every-day life in terms of what is mine: my life, my job, my income, my family, my circle, my country and on and on. We all know self-important people for whom life is all about me and my part in it and how life treats me. Such self-centredness leads to a constant anxiety, and so to ensuring and over-ensuring our security, sometimes over against that of others.

Fortunately, there are those times in life, themselves a gift from God, perhaps a birth, a death, some beauty in creation or some human creation, when a profound sense of being gifted breaks through our carefully constructed self understanding, our sombre and brittle defences, and we regain, if only for a time, that sense of being wholly gifted, recipients of all that we are and have, and we can rejoice in the wonder and glory of it all.

This fundamental understanding: that all our lives including our possessions, relationships, work and achievements are gifts mean that any sense of ownership, possession, domination, exploitation or abuse are ruled out.

Thanksgiving demands of us a profound respect for the other, be that other a human person or the created order. What is required of us is a generosity of spirit which rejoices in what is given and seeks to respect its integrity and share it, not selfishly hold on to it.

Thanksgiving and a real sense of God's providence lead us away from a deadly obsession with ourselves to a real appreciation of the needs of others.

The Eucharist we celebrate here is a ritual of thanksgiving and gift-giving which brings us together to acknowledge how much we are dependent on God and one another. It celebrates our thankfulness for all his gifts of creation and redemption. That very thankfulness broadens our vision and renews our life in God by the most extraordinary gift of Holy Communion. That is, itself, given in return for our offertory gift of bread and wine, representing our very selves. And that offertory self-giving is itself prompted from us by the gift of God's love to us!

Such a wondrous transaction reflects the life of the Trinity itself and invites us to be more and more a part of the general dance of gift-giving and receiving and giving again. And let us never ever forget to be grateful that we do know that there is someone to whom we may give our deepest thanks. In our society, that is no small thing! Knowing our generous and loving Father, and living in that knowledge is worth far more than all of Solomon's treasure.
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