“Then the people answered [Joshua], ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight.” (Joshua 24:16-17a, NRSV)
We live in a world driven by consumerism, where we are conditioned through advertising and popular culture to want more. The ads rarely mention the cost to acquire these endless wants, nor the fact that "more" rarely satisfies our deepest longings. To counteract the allure and then the consumerist cycle's corresponding emptiness, I find the spiritual discipline of gratitude to be an essential tool. Gratitude requires an awareness of all that is already in our lives (people, experiences, perspectives, and possessions) and creates a sense of fullness and richness as we survey the bounty of our lives. Gratitude neutralizes our longing for more by keeping us in the moment with all that we already have.
In Joshua's farewell speech to the Israelites (Joshua 24), he is awed and overwhelmed with gratitude for what the Lord has done for him and his people. Once a people held as slaves following an utter defeat in battle, the Israelites have finally arrived in the Promised Land, with high hopes of dwelling peacefully. This result would not have happened, except for their God's faithfulness, who has been with them every step of the way. Their hearts rejoice before their mighty God, who is strong to save.
Joshua knows that unless they feed the flames of gratitude with remembrances of God's faithfulness, those flames are likely to reduce to smoldering embers incapable of warming the hearts of the Israelites through the cold days that are to come. So Joshua issues a challenge to the people to remember all that God has done and be grateful. He knows how tempting it will be to turn to other gods, especially when the Israelites face adversity. Unless they keep alive the memory of God's acting on their behalf, they are likely to turn away. Instead, they should remember and be grateful.
This Sunday, November 8th, you have the opportunity to offer an estimate of your giving to God through the First United Methodist Church of Florence in 2021. I know it's been a challenging year for us to maintain a sense of cohesion and mission as a congregation. We are not alone in this challenge, as I hear the same from other pastors and congregations. But where we are now is not where we will be in the coming year.
Just as God has been with us in the exciting days in the past, God has not abandoned us and is still at work in many ways. I am grateful for the words of encouragement that many of you continually send our way. I am grateful for the staff who have adapted to doing ministry in new ways and under new conditions. I am thankful for those who serve in health care in our community and for their selfless and endless faithfulness in meeting others' needs. I am grateful for those who have stepped up with our digital worship and those assisting with onsite worship. I am thankful for each of you who have faithfully given your tithes and offerings during this season of uncertainty and disruption.
As we look at what God has done for us, gratitude forms in our hearts and the future is energizing. I know you will want to give as generously as possible next year because God has great things in store for us. I know this because of God's faithfulness in the past, and I am grateful! I'll be praying for you as you make your decision, and as always, let me know if I can be of assistance to you in any way.