1-7-18 ““Light…Water…BOOM!”


A communion invitation based on Mark 1:4-11

January 7, 2018

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

* * * * *

                   Epiphany begins with a bang today!  It is the season of light, the season where we open ourselves to the light of God through the life of Jesus the Christ, the season where, literally, the light shines a bit more each and every day.  And the Gospel of Mark gets us up and gets us going.  Honestly, it reads like the story of someone who is double-parked!  Action follows action.  There is little space between.  Jesus often scoots from one scene to another to another in a series of very busy days and equally busy nights. 

                   As an example of this fast-paced gospel narrative, the word “immediately” appears as many times in Mark as it does in the other three gospels put together!  In Mark, immediately, Jesus heals.  Immediately, Jesus teaches.  Immediately, Jesus leaves one place of service to attend another.  Immediately, Jesus sees a need and immediately he meets it.  There is little time for breath and little space for pondering.  Mark’s Jesus is a man of action.  The author of Mark doesn’t even take time for the birth stories we’ve just enjoyed once again…in Mark, there are no angels, no Mary or Joseph, no shepherds, no wise ones…there’s not even a little Baby Jesus.  In this gospel—the first written—Jesus appears on the scene, light of the world, fully grown, announced by his cousin John as powerful, powerful enough for people to stop and take notice.  In Mark, the first sight of Jesus, he is at the water ready to be baptized…  Light of the world…water of baptism…BOOM…get to work, Jesus!  That’s the picture of Jesus we see in Mark.  Boom…no time to waste. 

                   This very first narrative of the life of Jesus shows us that his is a ministry of caring, immediately…of seeing needs, now, and meeting them…and, if we dare to call ourselves by his name, then his ministry becomes ours as well.  And, just as in the double-parked, fast-paced accounts in Mark’s gospel, our ministry in Jesus’ name has a similar urgency, a quality of immediacy that invites us to care now.

                   Fortunately for you, you are called by God to minister in Jesus’ name in a place that is already one of the top caring cities in this nation.  Yes, a recent survey completed just last month, showed that both San Diego and Chula Vista are among the top 100 Most Caring Cities in the United States!  The survey results read like the Gospel of Mark.  Its definition of “caring” was “having intimate and human connection with others; expressed in multiple ways — from helping an elderly person cross the street to fighting a house fire.”  The survey company, WalletHub, compared the 100 largest cities in the country using 36 key indicators, indicators that show a compassionate spirit.  These included three major categories:

  • Caring for the Community (crime rate, alcohol abuse, care for environment, social ties, civic engagement, favors to neighbors, income donated to charity, volunteer hours);
  • Caring for the Vulnerable (children, homeless, disabled, uninsured, pets and animals);
  • Caring Within the Workplace (physicians, nurses, social services, teachers, counselors, mental health counselors, personal aides, firefighters, paramedics)

                   As a whole, in 2016, Americans showed their care more and more in each of these important marks of compassion.  And San Diego was #12th of 100 cities; Chula Vista came in at #29.  Pretty good, I’d say!  Both are tangible examples of the immediacy of caring and compassion that Jesus embodies.  Following in his steps, your cities have a higher percentage of people doing favors for neighbors.  Your cities are among those with a higher percentage of income donated to charities.  Your cities enjoy the gift of more volunteer hours.  Your cities enjoy some of the highest percentage of workers who carpool, and thus put into action their care for the earth.  Your cities have some of the highest percentages of sheltered homeless persons and the lowest child poverty rates, the most caring teachers, and the most residents working in community and social services. 

                   In other words, your cities put into practice what Jesus in Mark’s Gospel is all about.  He is about doing good wherever good needs doing.  No fanfare.  No angel choruses.  No miraculous and inspiring birth stories.  Fully formed Jesus.  Light of the world Jesus.  Baptized in water Jesus.  Getting to work now Jesus.  BOOM!

                   My sisters and brothers, we are no different.  We came into this world much like Jesus arrived in Mark.  Equipped by God to do good.  Baptized in water.  Led by Spirit into some difficult seasons of growth.  Beloved by God as sons and daughters of the Divine.  Like Jesus in Mark, God’s voice says to each of us today, “You are my son…you are my daughter…with YOU I am well pleased!”

                   I invite you to hear those words, as you once again select an Epiphany word from the basket.  For those who are new to this practice, Epiphany words sort of select you.  In a few minutes, when you come forward for communion, let your hand linger over the basket of words, while your spirit quiets.  Then, without looking, select a word card…better yet, let it select you!  And as you begin to imagine how your special chosen word will come to life in your life in this new year, I invite you to hear those words of God, “with YOU I am well pleased…”  Hear God’s words spoken to you, “you are my daughter, you are my son.”  As you tuck that word into your pocket and place it in the center of your soul, as you pray with it in the coming months, as you chuckle at Spirit’s good sense of humor in helping you select just that one word and just for you…hear again and again and again that God is saying to you, “you are my beloved, with YOU I am so well pleased.” 

                   Over the years of practice, I have come to see these Epiphany words as light-filled as the season itself.  For at its core, Epiphany is a time of increasing light, a time when we are most aware of those sudden revelations, those immediate insights; a time of those “aha moments” when God seems closer than breath and pulse and heartbeat.  Your word, which really chooses you and not the other way around, guides you to all this and more.  I’ve seen how these words work in people’s lives, and it can be nothing short of miraculous.  One year I received a word that I tried my best to ignore.  It seemed ill-timed, simplistic, unnecessary, not at all me.  My ignoring it for that year, only made it grow, and I am chagrined and amused to confess that I am still working on its lesson years later!  Another year, I received a happy word that, whenever I thought of it in my prayer and meditation time throughout the year, it brought a smile to my face.  I truly felt like that beloved daughter of God. 

                   Some years, I’ve wanted to throw that gift of a word right back into the basket and draw out a more pleasant one, a better one, an easier one.  But friends, that’s not how Spirit works through these little words.  Spirit works by helping you receive the word that will help you grow closer to God and more compassionate and caring toward others on this planet we all share.  For that, in a nutshell, is the ministry of Jesus, in whose steps we follow.  And this year, you have a head start by living in one of the most caring places in this country.  So use your word to teach you to care more.  Use your word to help you care more creatively.  Let your word become the Word of God, made flesh, living now on earth, through you, beloved son, beloved daughter of God…for with you God is immediately well pleased!  BOOM!


* Amen and Blessed Be *

12-17 “Waiting Actively”

“Waiting Actively”

A meditation based on Isaiah 61:1-4, 8

and Hosea 12:6

December 17, 2017

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

* * * * *

                   So far in this Advent season, we’ve been talking about the more inward parts of waiting: waiting in hope and waiting with times carved out for sacred silence.  These are important aspects of the spiritual life that make the seasons of waiting not only tolerable, but also enjoyable.  What would you say are the typical inwardly-focused practices of spiritual growth?  [Prayer, meditation, silence, reading, walking, mindfulness, coloring mandalas…] Nearly any type of individual activity, done with intention and a prayerful attitude, can be an inward pathway of spiritual growth. 

                   In fact, a man by the name of Brother Lawrence, who lived 400 years ago, wrote about the spiritual life in what is considered a Christian classic; his book is called “The Practice of the Presence of God.”  In that short text, Brother Lawrence detailed how his monastery tasks of washing the dishes and preparing food were spiritual practices that brought him into a close and intimate relationship with God!  Yes, even doing dishes can be a way to deepen your connection with God!

                   Yet, as we know, living a healthy spiritual life isn’t only an inward journey.  Growing in spirit is a two-way street, where our spirituality deepens by traveling both inward and outward pathways.  Today, we turn our attention to this other part of spiritual growth, which is the outward journey.  Put simply, the outward journey is what we do in response to the inward practices.  So, for example, we might pray that a loved one be healed—that is an inward spiritual practice, the practice of praying.  And those prayers of ours might move us to become more involved in the life of that loved one—taking food, or providing transportation, or simply visiting and letting them know they are not alone. 

                   Both pathways—the inward and the outward–are necessary to growth, and each pathway motivates and encourages the other.  If you are overly busy, working those outward spiritual muscles exclusively, you will wear yourself out.  If you are overly focused only on prayer or meditation or the other inward pathways, you risk becoming a navel-gazer.  Both the inward and the outward are necessary and feed one another. 

                   The Bible is full of stories describing the outward journey, and the two passages we read today are great examples!  In the short verse from Hosea we hear God’s injunction to Israel: “return to your God; hold fast to love and justice; wait continually for your God.”  During the time that the prophet Hosea was writing, the Israelites were unfaithful to their God, instead tempted to follow after the gods of their neighbors.  Hosea calls them out and calls them back with powerful metaphors of God’s love for them being like the love between two people who are married, but where one partner is being unfaithful—in this case, Israel.  And Hosea counsels Israel that the way to return to God is by living a life of love and justice.  That’s the outward journey, friends!  Love is a verb and justice must be put into practice to be taken seriously. 

                   The longer passage we read from the prophet Isaiah details what it looks like to put love and justice into practice.  And that passage—quoted a few hundred years later in Jesus’ inaugural sermon in his hometown—that passage is filled to overflowing with verbs.  Bring good news.  Bind up the brokenhearted.  Proclaim freedom to the captives.  Release those who are imprisoned.  Comfort those who mourn.  Provide those who mourn with flowers instead of ashes.  In other words, help them move on beyond their grieving in tangible, palpable ways.  Build up ancient ruins.  Raise up former devastations.  Repair ruined cities.  This passage doesn’t advocate just “thoughts and prayers” when tragedy strikes.  Here, we are urged to put feet and hands to work in making justice and love true realities in this world.  No wonder Jesus read this text, in his very first teaching, as a way for his hometown neighbors to begin to understand what sort of public ministry they could expect from him. 

                   You see, the pathway of Jesus, the pathway we claim as our own, is one that practices both inward and outward, balanced, together, nurturing one another.  And on that pathway, it simply is not enough to just pray or meditate or concern oneself with only one’s personal spiritual connection to God.  That is important, yes.  That is essential.  But it is not the whole of spiritual growth.  That prayer needs to lead you to some sort of visible, tangible, verb-like action. 

                   You all know this!  As a congregation, you practice the inward/outward journey.  You don’t just talk about strengthening the friendship between this church and Congregational Tower residents, for example…you give money each month in the Missions offerings, and you use that money to provide a lovely holiday meal that shows those residents you care.  You don’t just talk about women’s rights…several of you put feet to pavement earlier this year to walk in the women’s march in downtown San Diego.  You don’t just show up for church, say your prayers, sing your songs, and leave…you remain and visit and catch up on how your sisters and brothers are really faring in their lives.  And then you use that information to keep praying.   You see how the inward and outward pathways work together?  One feeds the other, one is fed by the other, both are necessary to deepen your connections to one another and to God. 

                   It is true, that the UCC’s oft-quoted actions of justice and peace have not, historically, been ones chosen by this congregation.  Your outward practice of the faith is much more quiet, less public, yet nonetheless powerful.  Keep it up!  And, as these two passages urge, look for ways to expand those outward practices, to put love and justice into action.  For this, too, friends, makes for powerful waiting—waiting that has the power to do good for others and to change you for the better!

Amen and Blessed Be

12-10 “Waiting in Silence”

“Waiting in Silence”

A meditation based on Isaiah 40:1-11

and Psalm 62:1-2

December 10, 2017

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

* * * * *

                   There is a rumor floating around the Christian world that silence is really only for monks and nuns and other reclusive religious types who like to hole up in monasteries or live their lives far apart from others.  I used to think that, too!  Silence could never be for active busy me, I thought…but no longer!  Twelve years of practicing sacred silence have taught me that silence is a treasure holding incredible gifts—gifts that are accessible to each of us, gifts as unique and personalized as we are as humans.  Now, I’m not talking about the sort of silence where the phone just doesn’t ring for an hour or where you have a few blissful minutes of receiving no text messages or a day without visitors or appointments.  No, this silence of which we speak today is the sort of intentional silence that the psalmist describes.  Hear and see those words again: [on screen…]

For God alone my soul waits in silence,

for my hope is from God. 

God alone is my rock and my salvation,

my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

In these couple of verses, the psalm writer confesses to practicing a type of sacred silence—time carved out from the regular routine, perhaps in a special location, or at the least with a special attitude and approach to the silence.  For the psalmist, intention and focus seem everything.  “For God alone” the psalm begins…not for others, not for profit, not for direction, not for even family…but “for God alone my soul waits in silence.”  The next line is equally as focused: “for my hope is from God”…the psalmist isn’t waiting for, or expecting, hope from any other source; rather, in the silence, the psalmist hooks up directly to the Source of all life and love.  And in that connection—that sacred connection which comes from intentional and sacred silence—the psalmist is able to experience God as that rock, as that saving force, as that protective place wherein there is the affirmation, “I shall not be shaken…”

                   To ask rhetorically, who of us doesn’t want that sort of foundation and calm in this chaotic and busy world??!!  But what does such a practice of sacred silence look like, and how does one begin?  Here are some suggestions…

                   First: arrange ahead of time to be alone, without family, without schedule, without commitments for whatever time you’ve allotted for this sacred silence.  It may be a few minutes in a private room in your home.  It may be an hour before bedtime or in the morning.  It may be a carved-out bit during your lunch hour at work, in a place where no one will interrupt you.  It may be a weekend or whole week or more at a retreat center.  The length of time is not as important at the beginning of your practice, as is your commitment to plan that space and time carefully.

                   Second: turn off your phone…no, not just turn it to vibrate or airplane mode.  Turn. It. OFF!  Swipe right or left or push that button that deactivates that little device.  If you have a landline, turn the ringer to “off” and, for those of you, like John and me, with an old-fashioned answering machine, turn the volume off so you cannot hear incoming messages.  I know this is asking a lot in our world of instant communication, yet this is an important step in claiming your right to silence. 

                   Third: enter your silence with intention.  Here’s a ritual others have found helpful.  You might want to stand or sit in a favorite spot in your home and say these words out loud: “Christ in front of me, Christ behind me, Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me, Christ above me, Christ below me, Christ beside me, Christ within me…Christ, I welcome you to this silence and ask for your guidance.”  And there’s your doorway into silence.  After that last word, no more spoken words until your sacred silence is over.

                   During your silence, you may wish to read a verse of scripture, or take a walk, or gaze at a work of art, or write in a journal, or listen to a piece of music, or simply sit and look out the window.  I’ve found that, in silence, whatever activity I choose offers me gifts, because I bring into it an expectation and a focused attention that clarifies all I see and do in that silence.  I want to warn you, silence is not always pleasant…in fact, often when we give ourselves the gift of sacred silence—be it for a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days—the silence can turn cloudy and lead us into some difficult places of mind and heart and soul—places we normally and judiciously avoid with our busy schedules and packed routines.  In silence, it’s as if a space opens up inside us, and that part of us that wants to grow jumps into it, and so, even those clouds (those difficult thoughts or challenging memories) can be gifts if we follow them, in the silence, with prayerful intention.

                   Finally, when you are ready to leave silence and re-enter the rest of your life, I suggest you take another moment to intentionally pass that doorway again.  Maybe you restate the same thing you said to enter silence: “Christ in front of me and behind me, Christ to the right of me and to the left of me, Christ above me and below me, Christ beside me and within me…Christ, I thank you for being with me in this silence.  Amen!”  And then you resume your normal life’s work and activity.

                   Sometimes, when I’m teaching about sacred silence, I’ve heard the question from people who live alone, “why do I need to practice silence?  My whole life is silent!”  Alone time is not the same as sacred silence.  The difference is in your intention.  In sacred silence, your intention is to connect or reconnect with the Divine…to be open-hearted and open-minded to experience God’s presence with you…to even set an intention to work on a particular question or concern… and sacred silence is about setting time and space for those things to occur.  Here’s an example, timely for this congregation: those of us not on the Search Team, might want to help them out by practicing some sacred silence for a few minutes each week, with the intention of finding the best possible minister to lead this congregation into your bright future.

You can see, I hope, intention is much the same as prayer.  The kind of prayer we see in Jesus so many times.  In particularly busy or complicated situations, Jesus carved out time and space away from others for very specific praying.  This is sacred silence…and it is nothing like simple alone time!
                   A practice of silence—even and especially while we wait—adds such depth and meaning to our lives, it can grow our prayer life and deepen our spiritual connection to God and others and it can increase our compassion, our ability to forgive, our understanding of others—and it actually makes the waiting time we experience calmer, steadier, more hopeful.  Just like the psalmist promised!

                   We are in a season of waiting, not just for a new pastor…but we are in this Advent time while we wait again to honor the birth of Jesus, the gift of light and enlightenment.  The scriptures we read during this season of waiting include the passage we heard this morning from the Prophet Isaiah.  Now neither of the words “waiting” or “silence” appears in this passage, yet there is a driving sense in it that the author is talking about the wait.  For he describes what is yet to be in the distant future where every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill shall be made low and the uneven ground shall become level and the rough places a plain.  You know he’s talking metaphor here…and we could use some of that calming, yes?!   And yet we wait.  Isaiah says that, for now, while we wait, the need is for speaking tenderly.  The need is for careful preparation.  The need is for noticing where God is present and declaring it out loud.  The need is for anticipating and expecting that God will feed you like a shepherd feeds the flock; and protect you like a shepherd gathers the sheep; and love you, deeply, intentionally, personally, just like a shepherd carries the sheep close to heart and leads the mother sheep gently home again. 

                   Silence, my sisters and brothers, is about carving out some time and setting aside a space, so that, while we wait, we also return home regularly to the very heart of God.


* Amen and Blessed Be *


12-3-2017 “Waiting in Hope”

“Waiting in Hope”

A meditation based on Psalm 130:5-6 and John 1:1-14

December 3, 2017

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

* * * * *

                   The psalm writer is so timely in his or her writing today!  Hear the words again: “I wait for God, my soul waits, and in God’s word I hope.  My soul waits for God more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.”  You always know, when you’re reading scripture, that when the verse repeats itself, there is a lot of truth the writer really wants to communicate!  So, he or she will say it a couple of times to make sure we get it!

                   Any of you, who have lived through a long night, know the meaning of the image of waiting and watching for the morning light.  Maybe you’ve been in the ER with a injured family member, or waiting for word from a loved one all through the night, or up for hours with a sick child, or simply awake as your mind races from one anxiety to another.  We’ve all been there, in one way or another.  We’ve waited through many a long night, and we know what the psalmist means with those words: we wait for God like one who watches for the morning.

                   Let’s be clear, waiting is not something most of us enjoy.  Are there any other “wait haters” here today?!  Waiting is difficult…because waiting is usually about not yet knowing.  And not knowing—not knowing the outcome, not knowing the information, not knowing the full picture—not knowing, when we live in this age of vast knowledge and instant information, that “not knowing” is quite a challenge for us. 

                   Lately, I’ve had opportunity to have conversations with a number of people about waiting.  No surprise…very few enjoy the wait itself.  My hope, in creating this 4-part sermon series about waiting, is that we all can begin to appreciate the wait a bit more.  For waiting—seasons of waiting—offer us some pretty amazing gifts, if we can calm our impatience and quiet our thirst for information and simply sit in the wait and notice the presence of God there…we will be blessed by waiting.

                   The psalmist seems to know that, in writing about waiting and hope being intertwined.  Let’s think about that for a bit.  When we are thrust into a season of waiting, we usually have some visible outcome in our mind, yes?  Maybe we have several!  In a sense, that’s hope.  For hope, at its most basic definition, is the image of a future.  Now, that future image may be bleak or encouraging or anywhere in between.  What matters is that it is an image of future.  And therein lies hope. 

                   Years ago, when I was working on my doctoral dissertation, I both lived and learned about this most basic element of hope, that is, the sense of future.  My dissertation was about attempted teen suicide, and I was particularly interested about what pastors and congregations can do to help a family heal after a suicide attempt.  And I learned that the theological heart of the matter for a suicidal person is their loss of hope.  So, too, their healing is dependent on their regaining hope; and that is done, bit by bit, baby step by baby step, through their visualizing and fashioning a future.  The quality of that future vision is not as important as is the fact that the person can see themselves living in the next minute, the next hour, the next month, the next year. 

                   I think the psalmist gives us a clear teaching about this powerful experience of hope, while we wait.  The seasons of waiting are made more tolerable by the visual image of a future; and those seasons of waiting can even be life-giving to us when we have that future image in our minds and hearts. 

                   The author of John certainly practiced this hopeful waiting.  When he wrote the gospel passage we read today, followers of Jesus like himself were being fed for sport to the lions of the Roman Empire.  Christians had to meet underground, and yet the author of John poetically writes of a future image in which Jesus is seen as “the light,” as “the true light, which enlightens everyone,” even the Romans!  The author, while perhaps fearing for his own life, writes of Jesus as “that Word from the beginning made flesh now and living among us…”  That’s powerful hope!  That’s transformative vision of the future.  And that, friends, changes the game of waiting.  More next week…!


11-27 “A Pause for More Thanksgiving”

“A Pause for More Thanksgiving”

A meditation based on Luke 17:11-19

November 26, 2017

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

* * * * *

                   Today is a day not too often experienced in the Christian year…it is a pause, on a Sunday, for even more thanksgiving!  Usually, we go right from Thanksgiving Sunday (last week) directly into Advent.  But not this year.  This year, the calendar gives us a blissful extra Sunday before the waiting of Advent begins next week.  And with this extra Sunday of giving thanks, we’ve read one of Jesus’ best teachings on the topic of gratitude.

                   The story of the ten lepers, healed by Jesus, with emphasis on the one who returns to give thanks, is a story that inspires some questions.  Was Jesus teaching a lesson on good manners?  Always give thanks…go out of your way to show appreciation… practice gratitude and you will be rewarded.  After all, Jesus does say to the one who returns thanks, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”  And yet, the other nine were healed, too, even without Jesus remarking on their faith or them returning to him to say thank you.  So it seems more than manners and more than faith that Jesus is teaching here.

                   Perhaps Jesus was showing us that healing sneaks up, sometimes unobserved, like it did for that one man.  Verse 15: “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.”  That verse packs a lot in!  The man was, like the other nine, following Jesus’ instructions to go to the priests.  Along the way, the man looked and noticed he was healed.  Can you imagine that moment?  The unbelievable shake of the head.  The stop-in-his-tracks sudden jolt of this new reality.  He was healed.  No more leprosy.  The condition, which had isolated him—socially, legally, religiously—isolated him from his community, from his family—that condition disappeared while he was walking away from Jesus and toward those priests.  Healing is like that, isn’t it?  We notice it, sometimes bit by bit, often in a flash of insight.  The pain is gone.  The wrong committed to us or by us is no longer a heavy weight on our shoulders.  The doctor says all tests are go.  In that moment of awareness, our bodies rejoice!  And, if we are awake, spiritually awake, like that one former-leper was awake, then we turn our attention immediately toward God and gratitude.

                   In our day, we are fortunate to live in a time where scientists continue to repeatedly prove the benefits of gratitude.  A few years ago, Harvard Health Medical School published an article that delineated gratitude’s health benefits.  A couple of leading scientific experts in the field of gratitude, asked three groups of people to write a few sentences each week about their lives over the past seven days.  One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week.  A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative).  After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives.  Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.  Harvard Health reported that most studies published on gratitude support that association between gratitude and a person’s general well-being.

                   Forbes.com picked up on this, and in 2014, they published a variety of research that revealed seven benefits of regularly practicing gratitude. 

  1. Gratitude opens the door to more relationships and new opportunities.
  2. Gratitude improves physical health.
  3. Gratitude improves psychological health, by reducing a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret.
  4. Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a positive manner, even when others around them behave less kind; and people who practice gratitude are less likely to retaliate against others, have more empathy and a decreased desire to seek revenge.
  5. Grateful people sleep better.
  6. Gratitude improves self-esteem. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs—which is a major factor in lower self-esteem—grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
  7. Gratitude increases mental strength. For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma.  A study found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Another study found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11.  Recognizing all you have to be thankful for—even during the worst times of your life—gratitude seems to foster resilience.

The Forbes article concluded, “gratitude may be one of the most overlooked tools that we all have access to every day.  Cultivating gratitude doesn’t cost any money and it certainly doesn’t take much time, but the benefits are enormous.”

                   Earlier this year, there was an article published in Greater Good Magazine, a journal dedicated to science-based insights to help us live more meaningful lives.  That article indicated what we’ve seen already this morning, plus more.  While the practice of gratitude is clearly beneficial for those of us who are already relatively healthy, Greater Good showed that gratitude also benefits those of us with mental health concerns.  They invited a group of adults who were seeking counseling services for depression or anxiety to add to their therapy…by writing one letter of gratitude to someone each week for three weeks.  Two other groups were asked to write other things.  The results showed that those who wrote 3 letters of gratitude had significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended.  This suggests that gratitude writing can be beneficial for all of us, whether we struggle with mental health concerns or not.  In fact, it seems, practicing gratitude on top of receiving psychological counseling carries greater benefits than counseling alone, even when that gratitude practice is brief. 

                   And that’s not all. When the researchers dug deeper into their results, they found preliminary indications that gratitude might actually work on our minds to increase our neural sensitivity in the parts of the brain associated with learning and decision-making.  More surprising, these changes in brain activity were evident on MRIs three months after those gratitude notes were written.

                   Sisters and brothers, Jesus was onto something!  When he said to the healed and grateful former leper, “your faith has made you whole,” maybe Jesus wasn’t talking about faith in the traditional religious way.  Maybe, just maybe, Jesus was pointing to the benefits of practicing gratitude…of believing in those benefits…of using gratitude as a way to improve our health—in body, mind and spirit.

                   One more bit of anecdotal research, and it is from my own life.  Years ago, when our family was going through a most difficult year, I was reading a daily devotional book that recommended starting a gratitude journal.  I did so.  Nearly every night, before heading to sleep, I wrote a list of 10 things I was grateful for that day.  Some nights that was a challenge.  Other nights, not so much.  By the end of the year, I had survived, and I’m not sure I would have as well without that gratitude journal.  In addition to the professional therapeutic help our family sought and received, that regular practice of forcing myself to see through the muck to acknowledge the people and places and events and things for which I was grateful, that practice literally saved me. 

                   To this day, I continue a daily gratitude journal, and I encourage you to do the same.  Yours may be a list, a letter, a photo, or simply a mental note of your appreciation for another.  Your gratitude can take the form of a prayer, meditation or simply taking time to count your blessings from the day just past.  A regular practice of gratitude can be anything that serves to put you in a place of gratitude, as happened for that once-leprous, now-healed man in the first-century world of Jesus.  He saw himself healed; he turned around and gratefully acknowledged it before God and anyone else with ears; his faith in the healing benefits of gratitude is what saved him, “made him whole,” Jesus said.  Friends in Christ, the same is true for us…take a pause for even more thanksgiving!


Amen and Blessed Be!