CLERGY CORNER: Defiant gratitude

Posted on 16 November 2017 by LeslieM

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

Before I begin, I want to encourage all people of faith to set aside their differences and unite in solidarity behind the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Let us pray for the 27 who were killed, the 20 who were injured, the community and our nation as we mourn together at the wake of yet one more national tragedy, this time in a place of worship. It is a difficult request; please pray for the gunman and his family as well. He, too, was a victim of evil.

Forgive me, reader, as I allow myself to write as I think. This is my fourth attempt at writing this column and I have started and stopped three times leading up to this final attempt. Why, you may ask. The answer is simple. I am writing about Thanksgiving in the wake of another national tragedy, this time in a place of worship.

As a pastor, I feel a little vulnerable. I think that this is a natural reaction considering the fact that 27 were killed in a place of worship. As a living and breathing human being who is tired of this phenomenon, I am angry. And I feel that my anger is more than justified.

I think I stopped and started three times leading up to this final attempt because, quite honestly, I wasn’t feeling thankful. And I certainly didn’t want my emotions to get the best of me and, honestly, they were getting the best of me. And then I read this passage from Philippians 4:4-7.

I think anytime I read an epistle of St. Paul I consider two things, the writer and his audience. The reality for Paul, as well as the Philippian Church, was a reality of Christian persecution. While I, as well as most of you, was surprised by the atrocity in Sutherland Springs, Texas, neither Paul nor his audience, the Church of Philippi, would have been surprised at all. That was the reality of the early church.

That being said, Paul writes these words: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Is Paul unaware of his own circumstances or the challenges that face the Church of Philippi? Paul doesn’t seem to have a problem being thankful in a time when most people, me included, would.

And then I looked at the words again: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” He did not write “Rejoice in the Lord sometimes, and when you feel happy, Rejoice.” There is a something about Paul’s words that stubbornly cling to hope when society is on the brink of throwing in the towel. I read words of a faith that is, if you will, defiant, as if to say, I am not going to let the circumstances surrounding me drag me down. I will give thanks always, when I feel like it, when I don’t feel like it, when I am happy, when I am sad, when I am angry because I will not give the victory to those who would take this away. I call this defiant gratitude. It isn’t glib. It doesn’t ignore the painful reality and the challenges we face. It simply says, “You won’t win, Devil. The victory belongs to God.”

These words played a pivotal role in changing my attitude into an “attitude of gratitude.” But not only that, I have an “attitude of defiant gratitude.”

Thanksgiving is a national holiday as well as a religious one. It is a chance to unite all people of faith, whatever faith that may be. The reality of evil is something that we all face and even our places of worship are vulnerable.

Let us unite in Thanksgiving with defiant gratitude. Let us praise God no matter what the risk may be. Let our families carry on with their celebrations and let us never lose sight of the fact that that which unites us is much stronger than that which divides us. Our greatest common denominator is God. And to God alone, let us give our glory.

Pastor Gross is a pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, located at 959 SE 6 Ave., Deerfield Beach, FL 33441. For more information, call 954-421-3146 or visit www.zion-lutheran.org.

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