"Gratitude Shatters the
Meditation Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - September 7, 2008
Psalm 81:1,10-16; Jeremiah 2:4-13
In our lesson for this morning, the prophet Jeremiah has God say, “What
accusation did your ancestors bring against me? What made them turn away
from me? They worshiped worthless idols and became worthless
themselves.” Jeremiah’s point was that the God consciousness of his
people was fading from their minds, hearts and spirit. God was
incrementally being replaced by cultural and religious influences that
were being experienced by the Hebrews.
We have some images of such religious practices that have come from
movies we have watched. In the epic, The Ten Commandments, for example,
Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the tablets and found many of his
people engaged in an orgy at the foot of a golden calf. People needed
some type of physical representation of Yahweh who led them out of Egypt
and Aaron, the brother of Moses, had created one. (Exodus 32:4)
In the land where the Israelites were for 400 years, Egypt had the sun
god, Ra. We can easily understand how Ra became a primary god for the
Egyptians. Not only had the Egyptians developed a calendar by observing
mistakenly Ra’s rotation around the earth but they quickly learned that
there was a mysterious quality about Ra’s light that made their crops
There is a spiritual principle that calls our attention to an important
aspect of life. Nothing in our experience has value or meaning until we
assign one to it. The ancient practice of worshiping at the feet of a
statue is foreign to us. Yet, we are not as far removed from the ancient
practice as we might believe.
Some of you may know a person who owns a pick-up truck that has been
babied since it was purchased. Spare dollars have been spent on putting
chrome-plated parts under the hood. The truck has a ten foot deep
lacquer finish. It is washed, waxed and vacuumed weekly. It has GPS,
Lojack, has a video monitoring system for backing up, and it has a
state-of-the-art police radar detector mounted on the dash. Of course,
the engine is a Hemi. When the truck is taken to a public parking lot,
it is parked so that it takes up two parking spaces. The truck’s owner
would not think too kindly if his prized possession received a ding
because of the carelessness of another driver who had parked too close.
Several religious practices are in place with the reverence for this
truck. The driver enjoys a worship experience. An offering is taken and
spent. In some respects the truck is one of the mainstays for the
driver’s identity, helps to maintain his confidence level and he has put
the world on notice that he has something of value that makes his life
worth living. The truck is his pearl of great price. The driver is
always engaged in some form of mission, e.g., polishing, fixing,
tinkering and perfecting this extension of his personality.
While this may sound absurd, there are scores of examples where this
occurs in our lives. For some, it is the game of golf. For others, it is
investing in stocks, bonds and hedge funds. What commands and holds our
attention can easily slip into a parallel experience akin to idol
worship. This also can happen in the area of our relationships.
While attending Albright College, I went for a walk with a co-ed who had
fallen in love with a guy attending Penn State. She wrote this guy every
day. She was on the phone with him constantly. Her level of distraction
was consuming her. She had been bitten by the bug called romantic love.
She was a first-timer with this illness and she wanted to hear my
thoughts since she was fearful that she was losing her mind.
Being the skilled counselor that I was at the time, I assured her that
she was. I made comments like: “You are obsessing over this guy. You
have created an image and have expectations of this guy that he could
not possibly live up to. You have made your relationship with him the
major source of your happiness and that is an impossible quality of life
Nothing I said mattered. She would have to learn one of life’s lessons
when a dose of reality provides her with a new pair of glasses to look
more closely at this young man. She was not in love with him; she was in
love with the feelings associated with being in love. Yet, she had
placed him on a pedestal and showered him with affection of mythological
The list of gods that demand and command our attention could be found in
most people long before Jeremiah wrote this passage. How can we enjoy
our life-interests without having them create a barrier preventing us
from remembering that God created us to experience all of them?
In our lesson God says, “My people have exchanged me, the God who has
brought them honor, for gods that can do nothing for them.” We can get
lost in the sea of our experiences as each rises in importance in our
When the Apostle Paul was visiting Athens this is what he said,
It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion very seriously.
When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines
you have to honor various gods. Then I found one inscribed, ‘To the God
Nobody Knows.” I am here to introduce you to this God so you can worship
intelligently. The God who made the world and everything in it, this
Master of sky and land, does not live in custom-made shrines, or need
the human race to run errands for him, as if he could not take care of
himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures do not make him. Starting
from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth
hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek
God, not just grope around in darkness. God is not remote, God is near.
We live and move in him, in fact, we cannot get away from him. (Acts
We have inherited a magnificent world. Everything in it, the sun,
trucks, relationships and so much more, was made possible because God
equipped us with the potential for passion, joy and a desire to surround
ourselves with the symbols that reinforce our well-being and happiness.
Without God being the prism through which we view life, we forget how to
set boundaries and we can easily isolate one aspect of life that defines
us by our selfish impulses. Remembering that God gave us everything,
encourages us to honor God in all that we do, think and feel.
Learn to thank God for all the people who express their love to you.
Thank God for all your material assets that support your creature
comforts. Thank God for the music you enjoy and the musicians that
created it. Thank God for the disciplines that helped you to invest
wisely a portion of your material assets for retirement.
When God remains the acknowledged source of all that we experience,
gratitude will prevent us from losing our way in a world of material
experiences. Gratitude will keep us anchored in the recognition that
God’s love surrounds us in many ways and assumes many forms that are not
generally associated with our religious experiences.
Jesus once taught, “As immature and uninformed as you are, you know how
to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will God in
Heaven give good things to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7:11)
Gratitude to God helps us to remain centered. Gratitude helps us keep
perspective on what we experience. Gratitude helps us to remember our
identity as beings whose spirits can radiate loving, creative energy
patterns in everything we do. Without gratitude toward the source that
created the possibility for every experience, we create worthless idols
that make us worthless, just as God said through Jeremiah.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Thank you, God, for your kind and gentle spirit. You know each of us
thoroughly, and you understand how easily we become fearful. We know
that your love surrounds us, but we tend to trust the elements of life
that have nurtured us in our past. We trust relationships that remain
faithful when we are most needy. We place our confidence in material
assets that isolate us from living in poverty. We experience freedom
when we know that we can travel anywhere we choose. We know we are loved
when friends communicate understanding and compassion even when they
learn that we are far from perfect. Thank you for creating us with
hearts that heal, with spirits that remain resilient, with faces that
can smile and with memories that remind us that your love comes in many
forms that enable us to grow and feel alive. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving God, we are thankful that as we find ourselves reaching toward
you, we always find you reaching back. Maybe your presence comes in a
particular hymn that we sing, a hymn that triggers a memory that takes
us into the presence of a loved one who transitioned from our lives.
Perhaps you come to us in the words of an anthem, a prayer, a sermon, or
thoughts that enter our minds from a place we know not. The forms of
your love often go beyond the horizons of what we can recognize.
Jesus gave us the imagery of the vine and the branches. He told us that
the branches only remained nourished when they remain connected to the
vine. Even though we may find numerous reasons to go about life
seemingly without you, it is our blindness and not your lack of presence
that kindles our feeling that we are alone.
Enable us this week, O God, to consider one task that will lighten
someone’s load. This week, help us to remove the sting from some
judgment we have been carrying. This week, enable us to surrender into
your care some hurt that has been molding and shaping us ever since it
happened. This week, may we express compassion to those who have not
learned how to care, how to communicate well, or how to enjoy what we
have. This week, help us to learn to give greater depth to what it means
to be a friend. And at the end of this week, may we quietly vow to live
this way for one more week. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of
Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .