The Universal Law of Gratitude
Well, one of the very first things I did when I became the pastor here eight and a half years ago was establishing a KUDOS section in the weekly church Epistle newsletter and in the Sunday bulletin. The word kudos comes from an ancient Greek word, which means praise. And I have to tell you, it brings me so much joy each week to bestow praise and kudos on all of you who do so much in service of our church and community.
But you know, sometimes I will catch someone in the act of doing something good for our church, and they'll say to me, Pastor Sal, do not give me kudos for this. I don't want my name in the bulletin. And I understand that I know you're not doing it because you want credit for it. But I also want you to know that what I'm doing with kudos is I'm actually giving you a blessing. That's what a Kudos is – I am offering to God, a prayer of thanksgiving for you,
The 13th century Christian mystic who was known as Meister Eckhart, said, “If the only prayer you ever said in your life was Thank you, that would be enough.” It is the greatest prayer, “Thank you.”
Now, Jesus, of course, understood this. If you read the gospels, you see Jesus is consistently practicing gratitude. So for example, you may remember the story of the five loaves and the two fish. Remember, the the Apostle said that was not enough food to feed all of these people. They were kind of cursing the fact that was all they had. They were focusing on the lack.
But what did Jesus do? He took the five loaves and the two fish and He gave thanks for it. He gave thanks for what he had. And what happened because of that? Abundance. Gratitude leads to abundance.
And we see the same thing at the Last Supper. Jesus, before he passed the wine around the table, he gave thanks to God for it. He expressed his gratitude. It blessed the apostles, and it's continued to feed us 2,000 years later.
Now we hear about gratitude once again. In today's Gospel reading for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, ten people were healed. But only one of them came back to say ‘thank you.’ And that person was a Samaritan. If you remember when Reverend Lillian Daniel was here last month, she spoke to us about the Good Samaritan and who Samaritans were. They were considered unclean foreigners. That's the one that came back to say thank you.
And you know, I think it's so true today. 90 percent of people do not count their blessings, they do not focus on gratitude. But that one in 10 person really seems to know and understand this spiritual law, this spiritual principle of gratitude.
Now, I know when I speak about spiritual laws and principles, some people roll their eyes, and they think I'm talking about New Age mumbo jumbo. But spiritual laws and principles are just as real as all of the other laws and principles that govern the workings of the universe. You don't question the law of gravity, do you? So why are you questioning this Law of Gratitude?
This spiritual law is well explained in our words of integration and guidance this morning. When you concentrate on what you have, you get more, and when you concentrate on what you don't have, there will never be enough. This is biblical. Jesus said this in Matthew 13, verse 12, he said, “To a man who has, there will always be more and he will have abundance. But to those who do not have, even that will be taken away”. And what Jesus meant by that was, those who appreciate what they have, will have more. They'll have an abundant life. Those who focus on what they don't have will not.
That's the spiritual practice the spirit of The Law of Gratitude, so it all has to do with what we focus on, it has to do with our thoughts.
Now, the National Science Foundation says that we all have 65,000 thoughts a day. Isn't that amazing? But guess what? They also say that 90 percent of those thoughts are negative ones. And 80 percent of those are repetitive ones. They're ones we repeat to ourselves. So most of our thoughts are negative. And most of those are repeats.
We keep telling ourselves, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could control our thoughts? Well, guess what? We can. You know, that's a big Aha! for most people. Most people don't realize that they can control their thoughts. Most people are servants of their thoughts and their feelings and their emotions. They're not in control of them.
You know, I know because I used to be one of those people. Until I woke up. And one of the things that helped me wake up was my spiritual practices of affirmative prayer, and mindfulness, and meditation. It wasn't easy. It's work. It's a discipline.
I've told you before that the word discipline comes from the same word as the word disciple. If you want to be a disciple, it takes discipline, it takes work. But I guarantee you, I've been freed. And one of the things that freed me was what we heard about in our Words of Integration and Guidance.
I've shared this with you before. 15 years ago, I started a gratitude journal. It's something I practice each and every day to this day, and it has rewired my brain. What you do – it's a very simple practice – you just take a blank journal, you put it on your nightstand. And before you go to bed each night, you put that day's date, and you write thank you. And then you write down five things that happen that day that you're thankful for. It's so simple, but you won't believe the results that will happen in your life.
Because most people when they go to bed, they're focused on negativity, they're thinking, or they're worried about what they have to do tomorrow, or they're holding on to something from the day that they can't let go of. But when you focus on gratitude before your head hits the pillow, then you're focused on the blessings. And as we heard from Jesus, you get more things to be grateful for. In other words, what you appreciate, appreciates. You get more of it. That's how it works.
Now, I know that most of you know this, because you've experienced it in your life. When you were in the working world – some of you are still in the working world. But when your boss affirms you, you feel good, it makes you want to go back to work. But when your boss starts to criticize you for little things, you don't want to be there.
And the same thing is true in relationships. When you first fall in love with someone, you're so grateful for every little thing that they do, you leave little notes for them. But then you start to criticize those little things, the socks on the floor, the toilet seat up, okay?
And churches are not immune from this. When you first find a church that you love, your soul is thankful for it, everything's perfect. But then you start to find faults with little things.
One of our UCC pastors shared with me that she received a criticism that she wore flats – shoes, flats – while she preached, and the criticism was you need to wear heels. That's that's much more professional. Now, you know, women pastors get a lot more criticism than male pastors do. Now, when I heard that, I thought, how crazy that someone would say that to a pastor, instead of focusing on her message, and on all the good work that she does, when you know, we're living in an age of social media, where people feel like it's okay to express every opinion. And then when they start to get likes on it, they feel affirmed, by their opinion.
And that's a very dangerous thing. I love this practice that our Quaker friends have. They say before you say anything to anyone, or I'll say before you post anything online, make sure it passes through three gates. Ask yourself, is it true? Is it necessary? And is it kind? It has to pass through all three gates before you say it or post it. So let's look at that example of that pastor. Is it true? Is it true that heels are more professional than flats? Well, let's say you could even argue that it was. Was it necessary to tell the pastor that? I mean, that they impinge on her job performance in any way? And even if you could argue that, was it kind? I mean, how do you think the pastor felt after having heard that? So that's what I kind of want to make our homework for the week. You know, I'm always giving you homework. But the homework for the week is to focus on gratitude. Either start a gratitude journal, if you've never done one before, or before you say something or post something, ask yourself, Is it true? Is it necessary? And is it kind? Athis is the most important one. Say those things to yourself. To the thoughts that go on in your head. The thoughts that say, “I'm not good enough, I'm not good-looking enough. I'm not smart enough. I'm not successful enough.” Everyone has those thoughts. When you hear them say, Is this true? Is this necessary? Is it kind? Because sometimes we say things to ourselves that we would never say to anybody else. We're so unkind to ourselves. In Romans 12, in Scripture, it says, “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind. When you start changing your thinking, you will change your life. This is something I know for sure. So let us go forth this morning with an attitude of gratitude. For it will help us to see more clearly. To love more dearly, and to follow in the way of Jesus more nearly Namaste.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration and Guidance
It’s not even Halloween yet, but Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations are already on display in stores. This is a favorite time of year for many, in large part because we are surrounded by loved ones and visibly reminded of all that we have to be grateful for.
If you're like me, you wish this feeling could last all year long. Just imagine feeling proud, thankful, and joyful on an ongoing basis, not only during the holiday season.
A major step in that direction is developing an "Attitude of Gratitude." An attitude of gratitude means making it a habit to express thankfulness and appreciation in all parts of your life, on a regular basis, for both the big and small things alike. As spiritual teacher, Lewis Howes, says, “If you concentrate on what you have, you'll always have more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you'll never have enough." Every day won't be perfect, but focusing on what we are grateful for tends to wash away feelings of anger and negativity. And in addition to improving mood, recent studies show that feeling and expressing gratitude leads to better physical health as well. Paul Mills, a Professor at the University of San Diego School of Medicine, conducted studies that looked at the role of gratitude on heart health. Among other things, he found that participants who kept a journal most days of the week, writing about 2-3 things they were grateful for, had reduced levels of inflammation and improved heart rhythm compared to people who did not write in a gratitude journal. And the journal-keepers also showed a decreased risk of heart disease after only 2 months of this new routine! Developing an attitude of gratitude takes a bit of work, but it is one of the most impactful habits for a healthy and fulfilling life.
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