Being Thankful - Session 1
FIRST, A NOTE ABOUT PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIANITY
Progressive Christianity is a movement that seeks to reclaim the truth beyond the verifiable history and facts in the Bible by affirming the truths within the stories, even if they may not have actually happened.
“Progressive Christianity is characterized by a willingness to question tradition, acceptance of human diversity, a strong emphasis on social justice and care for the poor and the oppressed, and environmental stewardship of the earth. Progressive Christians have a deep belief in the centrality of the instruction to ‘love one another’ (John 15:17) within the teachings of Jesus Christ. This leads to a focus on promoting values such as compassion, justice, mercy and tolerance, often through political activism.” 1
This Bible study has been built around the concepts of Progressive Christianity.
Saying thank you. Praying “grace” before a meal. Sending thank-you cards.
These are some of the concrete ways we express gratitude in everyday life. For some of us, these expressions come few and far between. Many of us live lives that, when examined more closely, are anemic in thankfulness. This is a surprise because one of God’s commands – made through prophets and preachers and leaders throughout the Bible and history – is to “give thanks.” We can find guidance to building a more grateful attitude in our sacred scriptures.
TODAY’S PASSAGE: 1 THESSALONIANS 5:16-18
16 Rejoice always. 17 Pray continually. 18 Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (Common English Bible)
THE PASSAGE IN ITS ORIGINAL TIME
Thessalonica was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the church there, written about 20 years after Jesus' crucifixion, has a friendly tone. He seems to be pleased with how they are living their new lives as followers of “The Way” (as the movement was called then).
Yet these people of strong faith are troubled. They recall Jesus’ declaration of the end time and the claim that “this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen” (Mark 13:30). But the end time has not arrived, Christ has not returned, and members of “this generation” are dying. Paul declares to these worried and grieving faithful that those who have died will not be forgotten (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
He concludes the letter with instruction about how they are to live their lives while they wait. He does not address them as individuals but as a community (for instance, he uses plural verbs).
They are to rejoice. Always.
They are to pray. Always.
They are to give thanks. And not just for good things, but “in every situation.”
Earlier in the letter Paul speaks of the suffering he has endured for Christ – persecution, opposition and repression. He notes that the Jesus-followers in Thessalonica “suffered the same things” (1 Thessalonians 2:14). It was not easy to follow Christ. But Paul’s call is simple and direct: Rejoice, pray, give thanks always and no matter what happens. 2
READING THROUGH THE LENS OF SCIENCE
In research and corresponding report written for the John Templeton Foundation, researchers as the University of California wrote that “gratitude” can mean different things to different people in different contexts.
“However, researchers have developed some frameworks for conceptualizing gratitude so that it can be studied scientifically. For example, Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough define gratitude as a two-step process: 1) ‘recognizing that one has obtained a positive outcome’ and 2) ‘recognizing that there is an external source for this positive outcome.’ ” 3
On the face of it, this definition contradicts Paul’s admonition to “give thanks in every situation” – good or bad. Do bad things have positive outcomes? Perhaps so, and it’s not simply a matter of “looking on the bright side” or “seeing the silver lining.”
Paul reminds us that “in the face of life’s troubles we can look to our God with a thankful expectation and all things will ultimately work for good for those who love him.” 4
READING THROUGH THE LENS OF MUSIC
Earth, Wind and Fire’s song “Gratitude” follows up on the idea that through God, even difficult events will ultimately lead to good. You can read the lyrics here.
READING THROUGH THE LENS OF ART
Thanks-giving Square, a park in Dallas, Texas, was designed by architect Philip Johnson and dedicated in 1976 to promote the concept of giving thanks as a universal, human value. The “Wall of Praise” features a portion of the text from Psalms 100 and a mosaic based on Norman Rockwell's "The Golden Rule." 5
Copyright information here.
READING THROUGH THE LENS OF FILM
“You think this is just another day in your life. It’s not just another day. It is the one day that is given to you today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness.”
READING IN OUR OWN TIME AND CONTEXT
FAMILY AND FRIENDS: Often, our best moments and most devastating experiences occur within our closest relationships. In addition to be grateful for God’s presence in those times, we can be thankful that we have people who care about us and who will help carry the emotional and spiritual load. When it is people we love who have hurt us, we can be thankful that forgiveness is a possibility and, if not, then we can find relief in knowing that God does not expect us to be miserable by staying in contact with hurtful people.
OUR CHURCH: Paul wrote this letter specifically to a gathering of Jesus-followers – what we now would call a church – so his words have extra impact for our life among our faith community. We are called to celebrate and grieve together, as well as to share joy and bolster our downtrodden members.
OUR COMMUNITY: “Rejoice always” is a difficult command while we drive over roads riddled with potholes and fear for our safety in violent cities. In Topeka, Kansas, for instance, homicides and assaults per capita are well above national averages. Even so, we can find joy and be thankful that various segments of the city are coming together to find long-term solutions.
OUR NATION: Depending on your politics and place in society, this is either a very good time to live in the United States or a very bad time to be here. We are a polarized people who find it harder and harder to find common ground. Many forecasters see nothing but trouble ahead. But what if we rejoiced instead? What if we found commonalities in our gratitude? What would change if we named at least one thing about a political “enemy” that we could appreciate and give thanks for?
OUR WORLD: There are plenty of reasons to fear for the future of our planet. That’s a given. But there are plenty for which to rejoice, too. Here’s one: We are 99 percent of the way to eliminating polio worldwide.
What has made you hopeful this week?
For what have you thanked God?
How have you been open to the Holy Spirit in practical ways?
What has God done for you this week?
Good and gracious God, thank you for my joys and my challenges this week. May I find your presence in all that I experience. Amen.
1 “Progressive Christianity,” wikipedia.org, retrieved 2 September 2019.
2 Lind Hogan, Lucy, “Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24,” workingpreacher.org, 2014, retrieved 2 September 2019.
3 Allen, Summer, The Science of Gratitude, Greater Good Science Center at the University of California-Berkeley, May 2018.
4 “1 Thessalonians: Ready for the Coming of the Lord, 5:12-22,” lectionarystudies.com, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources, retrieved 2 September 2019.
5 Art in the Christian Tradition, Jean and Alexander Heard Library, Vanderbilt University, retrieved 2 September 2019.