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Powerfully Grateful

Updated: May 9


a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.

May 5, 2024

Psalm 98  NRSV

1 O sing to the Lord a new song, for God has done marvelous things. His right hand and holy arm have gotten God victory.

2 The Lord has made known this victory; and has revealed God’s vindication in the sight of the nations.

3 God has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.

6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before our Sovereign, the Lord.

7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.

8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy

9 at the presence of the Lord, for God comes to judge the earth and will judge the world with justice, and the peoples with equity.

I once had the opportunity as a child to witness an act of generosity.  There was a man on the street in our small town who was clearly in need.  Today we would call him a “street person.”  He asked for a quarter from my mother as we walked by.  She stopped, reached into her purse, and I couldn’t really see the denomination of the bill she gave him, I saw his eyes open wide in surprise and he nodded, looked her in the eye and said to her, “Powerfully grateful, ma’am.” 

Now, what sticks in my mind over these years isn’t the man, or his ask, or my mother’s generosity.  And Lord knows we didn’t have a lot of extra to give away, though as a child I didn’t realize just how little we had.  What sticks in my mind were those words, “Powerfully grateful.”  It was an odd response, I thought, and it has stuck in my mind because of its unusual nature.  He didn’t just say “thanks.”  He didn’t say, “Wow,” or go on and on about how much better that gift was than the quarter he asked for.  Simply, “powerfully grateful, ma’am.”  It was, I think, a very Southern phrase.  Powerfully grateful.  Those words have defined what I think the Christian term “stewardship” starts with.  I don’t think we can begin to really give until we become powerfully grateful for what God has given us.

Let me interrupt myself to give my usual self-disclosure on “stewardship” sermons.  Most pastors hate doing them.  Most people don’t know what the word “stewardship” means, really.  I suspect most people think of it as the “annual shakedown for money” by the church.  So most pastors don’t want to feel like used car salesmen – no offense intended if that is your profession – but we often feel like it sounds like we are begging for a raise.  I’ve gotten over most of that because I have a whole different understanding of my purpose in doing this.  I hope you will hang with me long enough for me to explain before you stop listening.

I think the writer of the Psalm we read this morning was “powerfully grateful.”  In fact, I hear the words of the Psalm as a “praise song” before the current term was coined to describe church songs that aren’t “hymns.”  The song we sang a few moments ago literally echoes the words of this Psalm. “Shout to the Lord, all the earth let us sing!”  The Psalm calls for us to “sing to the Lord a new song, for God has done marvelous things” for “God has remembered God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.”  What God has done for us, the Psalm says, that all the nations should take note, not just Israel!  Sing praise to God, the writer repeats again and again.  All of it is a clear expression of gratitude for all that God has done.  This is the starting point, in my mind, of faith in general, and stewardship in particular.  Powerfully grateful.

Maybe you are wondering, what is this strange word “stewardship?”  It literally means “keeper of the sty,” the “sty warden.”  The keeper of the pigs for the owner of the farm is the “sty warden.”  Nice, huh?  Isn’t that a title you have always longed for?  Way better than say, “Queen of the Universe,” or “Greatest Living Human,” or even “Grand Poobah.”  A steward – not to be confused with that no longer fashionable title for the people who serve us on airplanes – “stewardess,” a steward is one who cares for the property of another.  A hired hand.  I have mixed feelings about this but here’s the point of the title.  It all belongs to God and we are only caretakers for the time we are given on earth.  Everything I have and all the talents and abilities that enabled me to do what I do, and even the parents and lineage that I come from are gifts from God.  I did not earn them or deserve them or get them by “pulling myself up by my bootstraps.”  It is all from God.  That’s my theological - and lived - starting point.

So it is only natural that I find myself “powerfully grateful” anytime I stop to think about all that I have received from God.  And if I were to make a list of reasons why I am powerfully grateful today, I would start here and work backwards.  I am powerfully grateful to pastor a church that is able to truly claim the theme of our worship the next few weeks: “Because of YOU our church changes lives.”  I am powerfully grateful for the fact that this church exists in this setting and so I made a short list that is in your bulletin that just starts with some of the reasons I say that proudly.  Look at that list with me:

An Open and Affirming Welcome to all – no other church can make this claim even though every church claims to be a “friendly church.”  No other church says that no matter who you are, who you love, how you identify, or where you are on your life’s journey you are not only welcome here, we believe God loves you just like you are.

An awareness and compassion for those dealing with Mental Health issues.  We have made a covenant to make ourselves aware and to learn and grow in our understanding of how to show compassion to one another and to those who come among us, and to serve our community in ways that help provide awareness, compassion, and resources for this.  Just a week ago we had another workshop on this by NAMI, here in this sanctuary. I hope you are as powerfully grateful as I am that we do this.

In a short while we will invite you to come and receive the sacrament and we proudly proclaim that we believe this should be an Open communion table.  We don’t prequalify or pre-exclude anyone from taking the sacrament.  As pastor I want to say to everyone, there is no reason you should feel you don’t qualify, or aren’t good enough, or that somehow God doesn’t want you here at the family table.  This table is for all who hunger and thirst, not just those who are “good enough.”  In fact, if that were the measuring stick the truth is none of us would qualify, would we?

I’m powerfully grateful for the way we strive to offer Spiritual Development opportunities that help us live out our understanding of our identity as Christians.  We have studied how to be a safe space for those who are LGBTQ+?.  We have learned what makes our progressive beliefs sound and Biblically faithful with our Living The Questions series.  We are about to embark on reimagining our ministry with children and youth to fit our identity as Open and Affirming, as sensitive to mental health issues, and as appropriate for us and our overall church vision and mission. 

I am powerfully grateful for people who give to a church so that we can provide space to adults with “diversabilities” at MARC.  I know that YOU change lives because what you give makes it possible for us to provide space for a ministry that provides new mothers with needs for everything from diapers and food to car seats and education and support. 

I hear the echo of the Psalm when it says, “let the seas roar [with joy,] and floods clap their hands and the hills sing,” when I think of the ways we seek to be good stewards of our environment and God’s creation, in big and small ways not only here in our facility but out there in these beautiful Keys.  Come celebrate this afternoon the amount of garbage we picked up and see the various partners in our work for creation justice and environmental stewardship at Founders Park.  Truly we can “sing for joy at the presence of the Lord for God comes to judge the world with justice and the peoples with equity.”  This is God’s promise as “Steward Number 1.”  God will take care of the creation, the creatures, and us as we carry out our roles as God’s fellow workers for good.

So this morning I want to invite you to ask yourself, are you “powerfully grateful?”  Have you truly thought about the ways you have made it possible for this church to change lives?  Have you thought about the ways it has changed your life?  If you ask yourself these questions, I trust God will move you to continue to give generously so that we can do the things God has called THIS church to do.  Truly because of you this church has changed lives.  I am powerfully grateful.  AMEN.

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