Sunday’s sermon: Fifth Enemy of Gratitude: Disappointment


Texts used – Deuteronomy 34:1-12; 2 Corinthians 4:7-18

  • When I was in 2nd grade, the Disney movie “The Little Mermaid” was all the rage.
    • Watched that movie over and over and over again as a kid
    • Could do the whole movie – dialogue and songs – from start to finish by memory (frankly … I’m fairly certain I still can!)
    • I had lots of Little Mermaid stuff
      • Handheld video game
      • Pajamas
      • Books
      • Coloring books
      • Cheapo little kid jewelry
    • Daycare friends (almost same age) → birthdays that year
      • Jessie’s birthday in October → got a Little Mermaid Barbie
      • Kami and I – birthdays only 4 days apart → celebrated at the same time before Christmas break
        • Kami opened her present first → Little Mermaid Barbie
        • And I was SO EXCITED!!! Jessie got a Barbie. Kami got a Barbie. My daycare lady knew how much we all loved the Little Mermaid, so of course, she’d gotten a Little Mermaid Barbie for me, too! And then I opened my gift. And it wasn’t a Little Mermaid Barbie. It was a Little Mermaid … suitcase. → was about to leave on a road trip with my family to go spend Christmas/my birthday with my grandparents in New York – she thought I could use the suitcase
      • But I was SO DISAPPOINTED. I don’t remember crying then and there. My mom had taught me to be appreciative even when I didn’t like my gift, so I’m sure I smiled and said “thank you” just like I was supposed to. But to this day, I deeply remember how I felt inside: I was just crushed. I didn’t want a suitcase. I wanted a Little Mermaid Barbie, just like my friends.
        • Did I use that Little Mermaid suitcase for a LONG time afterward – long after I’d given up my Barbies? Sure.
        • BUT … did it still bother me every time Kami and Jessie brought their Little Mermaid Barbies to daycare? You bet.
  • Disappointment … our last enemy/obstacle of gratitude.
    • Sermon series so far → been through nostalgia and worry, entitlement and greed
      • Talked about how they get in the way of us experiencing gratitude
      • Talked about how they get in the way of us expressing gratitude
    • And along those lines, disappointment is no different.
      • Disappointment = stifling, smothering sort of emotion → lays on you like a wet, heavy blanket
        • Smothers any excitement
        • Smothers any enthusiasm
        • Smothers any passion
        • Smothers any joy
        • All of those things we need to experience gratitude – all of those pleasant emotions that inspire gratefulness in us – are smothered by disappointment. And when you’re feeling disappointed, even if you know you’re supposed to be grateful … even if there might actually be gratitude buried deep down … it’s very hard to genuinely, convincingly express any gratitude.
  • Israelites in our OT passage for today know all about disappointment = story of the Israelites finally reaching the Promised Land after wandering around in the desert wilderness for 40 years → Now, that sounds like something to celebrate, doesn’t it? Finally reaching the Promised Land sounds like something for which they would be exceedingly grateful! But just getting there isn’t the whole story.
    • Pause for a minute to do a quick refresher of first 5 books of the OT
      • Lev = book of the Law → rules and regulations for the people of Israel – those 613 laws we’ve talked about
      • Gen, Ex, Num, Deut = history
        • Gen = beginning of the story (creation, Abraham, Isaac, etc.)
        • Ex, Num, Deut = accounts of the Israelites in Egypt, the escape from Egypt, and the wandering in the wilderness
          • Not necessarily the same story → These 3 books are sort of like the gospels in that some of the stories line up, but they all flesh out different aspects of the Israelites’ wilderness journey, too.
      • Today’s part of the story comes from Deut BUT necessary background comes from Num
    • Lead up to today’s passage – the Israelites have been complaining to God for the umpteenth time: “If only we had died in the land of Egypt or if only we had died in the desert! … Let’s pick a leader and let’s go back to Egypt.”[1]  → comes after the Israelites actually reach the Promised Land – the land of Canaan – and realize that it’s already occupied and they’re going to have to battle to inhabit the land … And they’re disappointed. More than that, they’re afraid. So the back down before even trying. Instead of saying, “God, thank you for bringing us out of the horrible oppression of Egypt. Thank you for bringing us across the Red Sea on dry land. Thank you for providing for us while we traveled through the desert. Thank you for protecting us,” … instead of saying that, they say, “Nope. Forget this. We’re going back to what’s familiar, no matter how horrible it was.”
    • God’s frustration come out in God’s response – text: None of you who were enlisted and were registered from 20 years old and above, who complained against me, will enter the land in which I promised to settle you … Your bodies will fall in this desert, and your children will be shepherds in the desert for forty years. … This is how you will understand my frustration.”[2]  → So basically all of the Israelites who left Egypt – anyone age 20 or older – will not be allowed to enter the Promised Land because of their constant complaining and unwillingness to trust in God.
      • Gave into their disappointment → allowed it to smother their faith to the point of choosing slavery over trusting God
        • How often do we choose slavery – unhealthy subjegation to things that are detrimental to us (bad habits, poor financial decisions, vices, negative self-talk, complaining, judging, etc.) over trusting God’s goodness/God’s call in our lives?
      • God’s ban on entering the Promised Land even extends to Moses himself (from 1st of Deut, Moses speaking to people after they turned away from the Promised Land): The Lord was even angry with me because of what you did. “You won’t enter the land either,” God said.[3]
    • And so we come to today’s part of the story = the end of that portion of Israel’s history, the death of Moses 40 yrs. later on the very doorstep of the Promised Land – text: Then the Lord said to Moses: “This is the land that I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I promised: ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have shown it to you with your own eyes; however, you will not cross over into it.” Then Moses, the Lord’s servant, died – right there in the land of Moab, according to the Lord’s command.[4]  → I think we could qualify this as one of the ultimate disappointments in the Bible. This is Moses we’re talking about. This is the man who …
      • Survived infant basket ride down the Nile River to end up at the Pharaoh’s palace
      • Was called by the voice of God in a burning bush
      • Confronted Pharaoh – the most powerful man in the world, at that point – over and over again
      • Called down plagues on the people of Egypt
      • Led the people across the Red Sea on dry ground
      • Received the 10 commandments from God’s own hand
      • This is Moses, one of the bedrocks of the faith. When the people doubted, Moses encouraged their belief. When God was angry with the people, Moses argued for mercy on their behalf. When the people complained, Moses acted as the mediator between them and God, securing quail and manna and water from the rock. And yet, despite all those trials, Moses gets to see the Promised Land … but not go in.
        • Disappointment in the extreme
        • Certainly the kind of disappointment that could dampen faith … or even snuff it out entirely → But here’s the thing: Moses knew this was going to happen long before this moment – 40 years before this! It was no secret that this would be his fate. That pronouncement from God that he would not enter the Promised Land came before they even started wandering for those 40 years in the desert. Moses could have given up. He could have washed his hands of the whole situation – the complaining, the threats, the backpedaling, all of it – and said, “Nope. There’s no reward in this for me. I’m out!” But he didn’t. He stuck with the people of Israel even as they wandered … because he chose to stick with God and God’s call in his life. Moses chose to trust even in the midst of his disappointment – to be grateful for God’s presence among his people and to be grateful for their freedom, difficult and challenging though it may have been.
          • Important lesson: disappointment and gratitude are not mutually exclusive → You can still feel the slight sting of disappointment and be grateful at the same time. The problem comes when we let our disappointment become the only thing that we feel and express.
  • And as we all know, disappointment is a part of life. I don’t know anyone in this entire world who hasn’t been disappointed at one time or another … who hasn’t struggled at one time or another … who hasn’t been challenged at one time or another.
    • Promise we read in Paul’s 2nd letter to the Christians in Corinth: We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.[5]  → And y’all, if this alone was the end of the story, it would be pretty easy to find ourselves awash in disappointment. Trouble … confusion … harassment … knocked down … none of these are things that we want to be or experience. Thankfully, Paul doesn’t stop there.
      • (Paul Harvey) The rest of the story: We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies. … I had faith, and so I spoke. We also have faith, and so we also speak. We do this because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus, and he will bring us into his presence along with you. … Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.[6]  → Friends, I think this is one of the most powerful passages in the New Testament because it reminds us that we belong to a God of unending grace and mercy – a God whose power is greater than life, greater than death, greater than all the obstacles we can try to put up between us. All of those things that we think disqualify us from the love and consideration of God mean nothing to the One who has called each and every one of us by name.
        • Scholar: What we can do is look for the faith of Moses, perhaps best displayed not in front of the Pharaoh but sitting alone with his God watching the horizon of his life’s work, feeling not resentment but gratitude. What we all need is … to cling to the central claim of our faith: that a grander story is being told. We can rejoice and give thanks for our place in that story, in spite of disappointments we’ve faced along the way.[7]
  • Even in the face of all of those obstacles that we face – nostalgia, worry, entitlement, greed, disappointment, and everything else – we can always be grateful that we do not face those obstacles alone. God journeys with us – encouraging us, guiding us, strengthening us, teaching us.
    • Pitfalls along the way? Sure.
    • Times when we feel totally lost in the moment and can only see God in the looking-back? Absolutely.
    • Moments when we become overwhelmed by our obstacles? Yes.
    • But God is still there. Even when the road is rough, God is still there. Even when the answer to our most desperate plea is “no,” God is still there. God is still there. Reassured in that knowledge, how can we release our disappointment and express our gratitude for what we are doing here and now? Amen.

[1] Num 14:2, 4.

[2] Num 14:29b-30, 32a, 34b.

[3] Deut 1:37.

[4] Deut 34:4-5.

[5] 2 Cor 4:8-9.

[6] 2 Cor 4:10, 13b-14, 17-18.

[7] Brian Erickson. “Fall Series 2: The Enemies of Gratitude – Proper 21: Nostalgia” in A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 73.

Another worship piece

This summer, we had a special worship service outside. As part of that service, we read a beautiful children’s book called The Word Collector by Sonja Wimmer. It’s the story of a little girl who collects words. One day, she realizes that all the fun, beautiful words in the world have disappeared. So she packs up all the words that she has collected and heads out into the world. She encounters pain and conflict, mean words and ugly words and hard words. So The Word Collector starts scattering all the words she’s collected into the world again … and her words begins to change things. When she suddenly discovers that her words are all gone, at first, she is disappointed. Then she looks out into the world again and realizes that the people have started sharing her words and making up their own fun, beautiful words again. 

It’s truly a beautiful story. After we read it, we talked about all the places we find ugly words in the world and all the ways we can find to spread beautiful words instead. To help with this, we had a visual representation. I made a board covered in 3×5″ notecards. Each notecard had an ugly, divisive, hard word on it. 


The words we used were:

  • Neglect
  • Distress
  • Distrust
  • Conflict
  • Blame
  • Fear
  • Hararss
  • Contention
  • Torture
  • Accuse
  • Agony
  • Rage
  • Saddness
  • Hurt
  • Fighting
  • Lie
  • Despair
  • Abuse
  • Fake
  • Worry
  • Destroy
  • Evil
  • Prejudice
  • Threat
  • Anxiety
  • Malice
  • Slavery
  • Ignore
  • Exclude
  • Assume
  • Hate
  • Racism
  • Grief
  • Attack
  • Suspicion
  • Scorn
  • Abandon
  • Trouble
  • Corrupt
  • Violence
  • Supremacy
  • Anger
  • Shame
  • Pain
  • Isolation
  • Sin
  • Intimidation
  • Steal
  • War
  • Lonely
  • Bully
  • Disrespect
  • Argue
  • Riot
  • Suffering
  • Beating
  • Force
  • Divisive
  • Killing
  • Loss
  • Indifference
  • Estranged
  • Offensive

That’s a lot of ugly words. So during our prayer time, we used new notecards to write our own fun, beautiful words to cover up all the ugly words on the board. 


Our fun, beautiful words were:

  • Happiness
  • Children
  • PB & J
  • Listen
  • Justice
  • Appreciate
  • Hug
  • Happy
  • Magnificent
  • Wait
  • Accept
  • Companionship
  • Soaring
  • Sweet
  • Celebrate
  • Joy
  • Truth
  • Confidence
  • Easter
  • Support
  • Mom’s Banana Bread
  • Babies
  • Chocolate
  • Fantastic
  • Strength
  • Grandchildren
  • Peace
  • Pleasing
  • Gracious
  • Tolerance
  • Respect
  • Accept
  • Croissant
  • Compassion
  • Hope
  • Love All
  • Family
  • Believe
  • Sweetness
  • Asparagus
  • Love
  • Honesty
  • Trust
  • Gratitude
  • Faith
  • Spiffy
  • Puppies
  • Thank You
  • Creativity
  • Blessed
  • Goodness
  • Patience
  • Gracious
  • Christmas
  • Faith
  • Forgive
  • Thanks
  • Respect
  • Jiggy
  • Hope
  • Kindness
  • Hugs
  • Humility
  • Family
  • Day Brightener
  • Freedom
  • Appreciate
  • Favor
  • Prayer

Yes, I know some of those are repeats. But that’s okay. That makes it even more beautiful. Also, if you compared the lists, you’d notice that we ended up with more beautiful words than we did ugly words … which I also find beautiful. Our beautiful words were overflowing the board, covering all the ugly words and more. Hallelujah! Amen.

Sunday’s sermon: Fourth Enemy of Gratitude: Greed


Texts used – Psalm 99; Matthew 22:15-22

  • 2nd to last week of our stewardship series – enemies/obstacles of gratitude
    • Talked about nostalgia and worry
    • Last week: talked about entitlement
    • This week is the obvious week. – talking about how greed gets in the way of both experiencing and expressing our gratitude → And I think in terms of illustrations for this obstacle, we find ourselves in the most appropriate of seasons.
      • Christmas decoration items hit stores on Nov. 1
        • Even earlier at Costco and Hobby Lobby
      • Mailboxes inundated with catalogues, sales fliers, coupons, etc.
      • Christmas commercials abound
      • All aimed at selling us more and more and more stuff
        • Stuff that we “need”
        • Stuff that we want
        • Stuff that we “deserve”
      • And it’s the Christmas commercials that have really been driving the point home for me lately.
        • IN PARTICULAR: 2 commercials for the same company (which I won’t name) → similar settings, similar storylines
          • Montage of families in pajamas opening gifts on Christmas morning
          • Gifts = big and small but all have obvious big impact on those opening the gifts
            • Wide eyes
            • Huge smiles
            • Obvious delight written all over their faces
          • 2 different songs playing the background of these commercials → not some sweet, tender Christmas music … nope!
            • 1st: 90’s classic “Whoomp There It Is” by Tag Team
            • 2nd: 80’s classic “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” by The Gap Band
        • Just the songs alone paired with these commercials sit a little funny with me. They seem to be especially illustrative of greed – of a season that often becomes driven by want want want want want.
    • Now, don’t get me wrong, I love finding “the perfect gift” for people I love, too. I love watching them open something that I know is going to make them happy – something they can use or enjoy or cherish. But as we consider gratitude today – how we experience it and how we express it, especially in terms of our stewardship – and how greed gets in the way of that gratitude, we’re going to come at it from a particular angle: where do those things for which we are grateful – our truest, most enduring and most precious blessings – actually come from?
  • Tackle this angle with the help of our NT reading this morning → This is another one of those Scripture readings I’ve never preached before because frankly, it’s another one of those readings that can make us feel uncomfortable. We don’t like talking about money – especially in church! – but here’s Jesus … talking about money!
    • Reminder: throughout the gospels, Jesus actually talks about money more than anything else except of the Kingdom of God → And today’s Scripture reading is no different.
      • Context:
        • Part of Jesus’ teaching in the temple in the lead-up to Holy Week → comes on the heels of him driving the merchants and money changers out of the temple
        • Comes directly after Scripture we read last week: parable of the wedding party in which those who are invited spurn the invitation, so the king invites all the people on the edges of the city – the unwanted, unwelcomed, “uninvitables” – to his son’s wedding feast → parable about the openness and blessing of the kingdom of heaven
    • Today’s reading begins with the Pharisees conspiring → Now, leading up to this passage, Jesus has really turned the heat on the Pharisees – calling them out on their hypocrisy and putting them on the spot again and again. And so today, the Pharisees attempt to rhetorically strike back – text: Then the Pharisees met together to find a way to trap Jesus in his words. They sent their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it really is. We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you don’t show favoritism. So tell us what you think: Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”[1]
      • Let’s break this down a little bit. – 3 significant things to notice
        • 1: significance of “the supporters of Herod” = shows the desperation of the Pharisees
          • Scholar points out: The Herodians [are] Jews who have benefited rather nicely from the Roman occupation. As you might imagine, the Pharisees and the Herodians did not get along very well. The only platform they share is that Jesus needs to go.[2]  → The Pharisees despised the Herodians because they were basically sell-outs – Jews who did the bidding of the Roman occupiers and took payment for it – tax collectors, for example. But in the face of their desperation to see Jesus gone, the Pharisees have actually chosen to collude with this group they so despise.
        • 2: significance of what’s behind their words → It sounds like the Pharisees are being nice to Jesus, flattering even. “Teacher, we know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it really is. We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you don’t show favoritism. So tell us what you think.” Sounds okay, right? No. Nope.
          • Pharisees are ingratiating
          • Pharisees are contemptuous
          • Pharisees are about as disingenuous as it gets
          • It’s important that we understand how truly insincere the Pharisees are being. Of course, they don’t actually believe any of what they’re saying. They’re just afraid that if they publicly proclaim what they really think of Jesus, the adoring crowd will turn on them … as they will on Jesus himself in just a few short days’ time.
        • 3: significance of their question – text: Tell us what you think: Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not? → This is most definitely a trick question.
          • Scholar explains: If Jesus says it’s unlawful to pay taxes (as the Pharisees think but are too afraid to teach publicly), then the Romans will snatch him up for being an instigator. If he says that it’s fine to pay taxes to the Romans, then the religious zealots in the crowd will stone him for going against God’s Word. It’s a no-win situation for Jesus.[3]
    • So we understand the situation that has been set up for Jesus in this passage. → circumstances make Jesus’ response all the more powerful
      • 1st Jesus flat out calls them out on their “evil motives” (as Scripture calls them) – text: “Why do you test me, you hypocrites?”[4]  → Jesus is only a few days away from his persecution and death, so at the point, he’s pulling no punches.
      • Next, Jesus throws their sarcasm and derision right back at them by asking them an obvious question: “Show me the coin used to pay the tax. Whose image is and inscription is this?”[5]  → This is really a “duh” question. If I asked any one of you to pull out a coin from your pocket, you could tell me who’s on it. Jesus is playing off the Pharisees’ tendency to ask circuitous questions and their self-aggrandized knowledge.
      • Then, Jesus gets to the punchline: Then he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” When they heard this they were astonished, and they departed.[6]  → This is really Jesus’ mic drop moment. “You think you’re going to set me up to fail, but I’m going to turn this right back on you.” Bam. Done.
        • Unpack this a little bit: Gr. “give” = “pay back” – “Pay back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and pay back to God what is God’s.”
          • Scholar: Jesus says, let Caesar have his little coins. But let the people of God decide today whom they serve. Let the followers of God decide today that what they have, what they are, what they do, what they think – it all belongs to the One who knew you before he knit you together in your mother’s womb.[7]
  • When we get so wrapped up in the getting and accumulating and maintaining of stuff stuff stuff, we forget two things.
    • 1: what our blessings truly are
    • 2: where those blessings come from – God
    • And when we forget, we render ourselves unable to either experience or express our gratitude.
      • Makes me think of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” – the live-action movie with Jim Carrey that came out in 2000[8]  → In this version, little Cindy Lou Who is “all discombobulated” because she sees all the people around her obsesses with giving and getting and Christmastime while she feels that something about Christmas – the togetherness, the blessedness, the gratitude – is missing.
      • Forgetting blessings certainly speaks to a lot of situations beyond holiday shopping
        • Current political climate
        • Current state of poverty/wealth disparity in the U.S. and around the world
        • Many of the places of conflict and oppression around the world
  • OT reading this morning is a reminder of the true source of all that for which we are grateful
    • Speaks of the power and majesty of God – text: The LORD rules— the nations shake! He sits enthroned on the winged heavenly creatures— the earth quakes! The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations.[9]
      • Speaks of some of the incredible blessings that God has bestowed in the past: Strong king who loves justice, you are the one who established what is fair. You worked justice and righteousness in Jacob. … Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel too among those who called on his name. They cried out to the LORD, and he himself answered them – he spoke to them from a pillar of cloud. They kept the laws and the rules God gave to them. LORD our God, you answered them. To them you were a God who forgives but also the one who avenged their wrong deeds.[10]
      • Speaks of giving our gratitude to God: Let them thank your great and awesome name. He is holy! … Magnify the LORD, our God! Bow low at his footstool! He is holy! … Magnify the LORD our God! Bow low at his holy mountain because the LORD our God is holy![11]
  • So as the holiday season rapidly approaches, friends, let us remember in the midst of all the buying and wrapping, the cooking and baking, the decorating and the caroling, the hosting and traveling, the giving and getting … in the midst of all of that, let us remember that our truest, most enduring, and most precious blessings come not from Target or Amazon or Toys R Us but from a God who loved us more than enoughmore than enough to become human for us, more than enough to live and work and play and love among us, more than enough to sacrifice God’s very own self on the cross for us, more than enough to extend us a grace that surpasses anything we could ever even imagine on our own. So how can we set aside our greed and express our gratitude for what we are doing here and now? Amen.

[1] Mt 22:15-17.

[2] Brian Erickson. “Fall Series 2: The Enemies of Gratitude – Proper 21: Nostalgia” in A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 70-71.

[3] Erickson, 71.

[4] Mt 22:18.

[5] Mt 22:19-20.

[6] Mt 22:21-22.

[7] Erickson, 71-72.

[8] How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Imagine Entertainment. Released Nov. 17, 2000.

[9] Ps 99:1-2.

[10] Ps 99:4, 6-8.

[11] Ps 99:3, 5, 9.

Sunday’s sermon: Third Enemy of Gratitude – Entitlement


Texts used – Matthew 22:1-10; Philippians 4:1-9

  • Week 3 of our stewardship series – Enemies/Obstacles of Gratitude
    • Gratitude is such a crucial part of stewardship → foundation of stewardship
      • Basis of where our stewardship comes from – give because we are thankful → stewardship = powerful, tangible expression of our gratitude
    • Now, over the last couple of the weeks, the enemies or obstacles that we’ve talked about have been things that have both a positive side and a negative side.
      • Nostalgia can comfort and teach us BUT, as we’ve said, focusing solely on the past impedes our progress into the future
      • Worry indicates a level of care/investment in whatever it is that you’re worrying about BUT worry is an ineffective waste of energy in the face of problems
        • Aunt Karen: Worry is a prayer for the negative
  • However, this week is different. This week, the enemy of gratitude that we’re talking about is entitlement. And when you think about it, there really isn’t a positive side to entitlement. No one walks around saying, “Y’all, I am so proud because I’m entitled!” In fact, there are a lot of celebrities and other people born into incredible circumstances to do everything they can to prove that they’re not
    • E.g. – Dr. Jack Hodges on Bones
    • And yet we know full well that we live in a world in which entitlement runs rampant. We’ll address the specifics of that later, but before we dive into our Scripture readings for today, we need to think about how entitlement relates to gratitude.
      • 2 definitions of entitlement: the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment; AND the fact of having a right to something → Now, in terms of gratitude, both definitions become problematic. If you either already believe that you are inherently deserving of privileges and special treatment or have been told that these things are yours by right – as a solid, irrefutable fact – are you going to be inherently grateful for them? Probably not because there is no question in your mind that they shouldn’t be yours. Without that question – without that possibility that you may not have that precious thing – you lose the potential to be grateful. So entitlement eclipses gratitude. The two cannot exist simultaneously.
  • Interesting blog post I found this week as I was working on my sermon → Googled “opposite of entitlement” just to see what came up – post: “Gratitude is the Opposite of Entitlement. How Entitled Are You?”[1]
    • Speaks of how, when we take for granted the opportunities that we have, we are acting from a place of entitlement.
      • Blogger: Opportunity is priceless, and having a chance is a gift, not an entitlement. … I have access to education, medical care, clean water, electricity, safe housing, well paid jobs, and as much food as I please. I can follow my passions such as playing sports. learning musical instruments, reading, writing, swimming, watching movies. I have the opportunity to create my life how I choose. I am privileged not just for WHAT I have, but for the OPPORTUNITIES I have. By forgetting I have these opportunities, I am behaving with entitlement.
    • This because it gets at the heart of how entitlement can eclipse gratitude AND it gets at the heart of the way that our Scripture readings address gratitude this morning. This is exactly what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel reading this morning, and it’s also the situation addressed by Paul in our reading from Philippians – taking for granted opportunities we have been given by God.
  • Gospel text
    • Now, I have to admit that this is a difficult text to wrestle with. For my own organizational purposes, I keep a running spreadsheet of all the Scriptures that I’ve preached along with the date and title of the sermon/s that go with those Scriptures, and in the 6½ years that I’ve been regularly preaching, I’ve never once preached this text. It’s hard. It’s challenging. It’s uncomfortable.
      • CONTEXT:
        • Part of 2½ chs. full of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of God and judgment
        • Jesus = teaching the disciples but also a crowd that has gathered around him
        • Location: temple courtyards
        • Follows Jesus’ Palm Sunday ride into Jerusalem
        • Follows Jesus’ rage against the money changers and vendors selling their goods in the very same temple courtyards → After Jesus overturns the tables and chases them out with a whip, he sits down and begins with all of these difficult, demanding parables about the Kingdom of God and judgment.
          • Not the only ones who find these uncomfortable – these teachings/parables = the last straw for the Pharisees → they hear these teachings, realize that Jesus is talking about them (today’s text = just before Jesus’ outburst when he calls the Pharisees a “brood of vipers”), and decide to have him arrested
    • Today’s text: parable of the wedding feast
      • Starts out harmlessly enough – text: Jesus responded by speaking again in parables: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding party for his son. He sent his servants to call those invited to the wedding party. But they didn’t want to come. Again he sent other servants and said to them, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Look, the meal is all prepared. I’ve butchered the oxen and the fattened cattle. Now everything’s ready. Come to the wedding party!”[2]  → Sounds good, right? “Everything’s ready. Come to the wedding party!”
        • Especially important when we understand cultural context → The wedding receptions that we attend nowadays, with all their dancing and feasting and cake and laughter, are nothing compared to the wedding parties that were thrown during Jesus’ time, especially wedding parties thrown by kings. Those wedding parties were feasts that lasted for days. The longer the party, the richer the king. They were a way to celebrate, for sure, but also a way for families to show off their wealth and privilege.
      • But then, everything turns.
        • Guests again refuse the wedding invitation → some go so far as to kill the messengers that the king has sent with the 2nd invitation!
          • This is where entitlement has gotten in the way of gratitude. For the invited guests, they took for granted that they would be invited to this lavish feast. It was a privilege bestowed on them simply because of who they were – important, wealthy, influential people of the kingdom. And so they felt no gratitude for the generous invitation or the feast that the king had prepared. And in that lack of gratitude, they turned their backs.
          • Parable breakdown
            • God = king sending the invitation
            • Kingdom of heaven = wedding feast
            • Messengers = OT prophets that were sent by God to declare God’s word to the people
            • Invited guests = those who refuse God’s invitation
        • King’s response: to welcome the un-welcomed to his son’s wedding feast – text: Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding party is prepared, but those who were invited weren’t worthy. Therefore, go to the roads on the edge of town and invite everyone you find to the wedding party.’ Then those servants went to the roads and gathered everyone they found, both evil and good. The wedding party was full of guests.[3]
          • Breakdown: final set of servants = Jesus → inviting all those who have been neglected, pushed to the margins (to “the edge of town”), left out up until this point: lepers, sinners, those who have been deemed “unclean,” even Gentiles – those who are the exact opposite of those guests initially invited: hungry, poor, underprivileged.
            • Scholar: [This parable] teaches us something about all those who are too comfortable in their standing with the king. The good news is meant for the hungry, for those who would drop everything for an invitation to the banquet. When we lose sight of the radical grace of the invitation, we have forgotten who we are.[4]
  • And the radical grace of that invitation is what inspired Paul for our reading from Philippians this morning.
    • Encouraging radical grace and invitation when it comes to those who minister with him, asking the Christians in Philippi to welcome and help Euodia, Synthyche, Clement, “and the rest of my coworkers whose names are in the scroll of life”[5]  → And remember, Paul is asking for this help from the Philippian church because he is once again in prison – detained yet again for speaking the radical good news of God’s love and grace through Jesus Christ.
    • Paul also embodies that radical grace and invitation → Despite his circumstances, Paul is joyous! Paul is practically effervescent! Paul is overflowing with gratitude! – text: Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that this worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace is with you.[6]
      • Paul understands the gift of grace – his very own invitation to God’s kingdom, the heavenly feast laid out by the outstretched arms and nail-scarred hands of Jesus Christ on the cross. He knows he did not earn it. He knows he does not deserve it. He knows he is not entitled to it by anything he is or was or will ever be. And yet assured in that holy invitation, Paul is profoundly grateful.
        • Scholar: Whenever we allow ourselves to believe that we deserve what we have, or that we are somehow more worthy than another, we will find ourselves incapable of gratitude.[7]  → Whenever we allow ourselves to believe … that we are somehow more worthy then another …
          • I am more worthy because I am white
          • I am more worthy because I am male
          • I am more worthy because I am an American
          • I am more worthy because I am straight
          • I am more worthy because I identify with the physical gender with which I was born
          • I am more worthy because I am educated
          • I am more worthy because I have a good job
          • I am more worthy because of my bank account
          • I am more worthy because I am a Christian
          • Entitlement specifically in the church:
            • I am more worthy because I sit on this committee
            • I am more worthy because I’ve been coming here this long
            • I am more worthy because I come here this often
            • I am more worthy because I give this much
          • All of the ways that we shut people out … that we uninvited them to the feast … that we limit their participation and contributions … that we place them beneath us because we see ourselves as “more worthy” … all of the ways that our entitlement gets in the way of our gratitude are exactly the reasons that God says to everyone, “Look, the meal is all prepared. Now everything’s ready. Come to the wedding party!” So friends, how can we release our entitlement and express our gratitude for what we are doing here and now? Amen.

[1] Kate J. Parker,

[2] Mt 22:1-4.

[3] Mt 22:8-10.

[4] Brian Erickson. “Fall Series 2: The Enemies of Gratitude – Proper 21: Nostalgia” in A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 70.

[5] Phil 4:3.

[6] Phil 4:4-9.

[7] Erickson, 70.

Sunday’s sermon: Second Enemy of Gratitude: Worry


Texts used – Psalm 19; Matthew 6:25-34

  • This week = week 2 of our stewardship sermon series “Enemies of Gratitude” → recap
    • Talking about gratitude – the “why” behind stewardship → what inspires us to give of our time, talents, resources, and devotion when it comes to the church
      • Last week: We give of ourselves to this church because we are thankful for its presence – in our lives, in our journeys of faith, in this community. We’re thankful for the people here. We’re thankful for the mission and ministry done both in and through this church. We’re thankful for the ways that we encounter God here.
      • BUT there are things that sometimes get in the way of our ability to both feel that gratitude and to express it à these are the enemies/obstacles of gratitude that we’ll be talking about
        • Last week = nostalgia → talked about how we can certainly be blessed by lessons from the past but also how looking only to the past can impede our progress into the future
        • This week = worry → going to talk about how worry can immobilize us in the face of God’s mission in the world
  • And so, as I often do, I want to introduce you to a book this morning. It’s called Wemberly Worried.[1] Now, Wemberly is a little mouse who worries about everything – big things and little things, scary things and silly things. She worries that everyone will have the same costume that she does, but when she shows up at the Halloween party, she worries that no one has the same costume that she does. She worries that no one will come to her birthday party, and then when all of her friends show up, she worries there won’t be enough cake. Her mother and father and grandmother are always telling her that she worries too much, but poor Wemberly just can’t help it. She worries and she worries and she worries. All. The. Time.
    • Then comes Wemberly’s biggest, most worrisome day of all: first day of school à causes Wemberly even more worries
      • About her teacher
      • About snack time
      • About having someone to play with
      • About finding the bathroom
      • “What if no one else wears stripes? What if no one else brings a doll? What if the room smells bad? What if I have to cry?”
    • Wemberly’s teacher introduces her to someone special: Jewel
      • Jewel is standing all alone … just like Wemberly
      • Jewel is wearing stripes … just like Wemberly
      • Jewel is holding a doll … just like Wemberly
      • Jewel has a very worried look on her face … just like Wemberly
      • And before you know it, Jewel and Wemberly have become fast friends. They do everything together, and in their companionship, they are able to let go of their worries enough to really enjoy all of the things going on around them – story time, snack time, art time, music time, even recess.
    • Friends, as individuals and as the church, too often we find ourselves in a Wemberly state of mind – a place where all of our joy, all of our strength, all of our ability to engage is eaten up by worry.
      • Can even become paralyzing – story of trying to choose a Barbie dress when I was a kid/boys trying to choose car at HyVee this week → It wasn’t a lack of good choices that caused such moments of frozen indecision. It was a worry – a fear – that we would make the “wrong choice,” a choice that we would later regret. As individuals and as the church, how often does that type of worry and fear direct the decisions we do – or don’t! – make in our lives? As individuals and as the church, how often do we let that kind of worry and fear determine our course?
  • Worry = issue addressed by Jesus in Gospel reading
    • Context:
      • Part of the Sermon on the Mount
        • Collection of Jesus’ teachings on morality
        • Most notably begun with the beatitudes – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. … Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”[2]
        • Also includes the Lord’s Prayer
      • Today’s Scripture reading is also part of that teaching. And it’s all about how fruitless it is to worry. – opening of text: “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing?”[3]
        • Goes on to speak of how God …
          • Keeps birds fed
          • Gilding the lilies of the field in beauty
          • But they do not work or toil or strain or worry about these things being done. They don’t concern themselves with what tomorrow may bring for them. God simply takes care of them.
    • Jesus’ point: Aren’t you worth much more than [the birds]? … If God dresses the grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith?[4] → confession: my first reaction to this passage has always been discomfort and maybe a little irritation
      • Part of me wants to say, “Easy for you to say, Jesus … you’re Jesus! You’re God’s very own son. What about us ‘normal people’?”
        • BUT … remember what Jesus has just been through (formidable temptation in the wilderness) and what Jesus will go through (suffering, humiliating death on the cross)
        • Realize that this is my worry talking – my anxiety, my fear, my lack of trust
      • Other source of discomfort: “people of weak faith” = phrase that has always troubled a lot of people → The Sermon on the Mount comes directly after Jesus has fasted for 40 days and nights and been tested by the devil in the wilderness. After this ordeal, Jesus has finally emerged and has chosen to speak not just to the disciples, not just to the Pharisees, but to a whole, giant crowd of people, as many as have ears to hear … including us. And having Jesus tell us that we are a people of weak faith makes us uncomfortable.
        • Gr. “weak faith” = “little trust” → not that we do not believe enough or pray hard enough but that we do not trust enough
          • Scholar: Letting go of our worry is not a matter of ignoring what’s wrong; it’s a confidence in what is right. It’s dropping anchor in the good news of Christ Jesus rather than waiting for the news of the world to calm us down. … Ridding your life of worry is not a matter of reducing stress but of increasing trust.[5]  → As long as I can remember, my aunt has always said, “Worry is a prayer for the negative.”
  • Passage from ps for this morning reinforces power of trusting God over worrying
    • Speaks of God’s greatness
    • Speaks of God’s glory
    • Speaks of the goodness of God’s teaching and commands → But as wonderful and true as they are, the psalmist acknowledges that those very same laws and regulation are sometimes where our trouble and our worry creep in. – text: The Lord’s regulations are right, gladdening the heart. The Lord’s commands are pure, giving light to the eyes. Honoring the Lord is correct, lasting forever. … No doubt about it: your servant is enlightened by them; there is great reward in keeping them. But can anyone know what they’ve accidentally done wrong? Clear me of any unknown sin and save your servant from willful sins. Don’t let them rule me. Then I’ll be completely blameless; I’ll be innocent of great wrongdoing.[6]
      • Sounds a lot like Paul in Phil: 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.[7]  → Like the psalmist – who was obviously facing some struggles of his or her own (praying “Don’t let my sins rule me”) – and like Jesus fresh out of his wilderness temptations, Paul is speaking these words from a difficult place. He’s in prison … again. He’s probably been mistreated – beaten or malnourished – again. He’s been publicly humiliated … again. All for preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. And yet he speaks of releasing worries. He speaks of peace.
  • This message – all of this talk of not worrying and giving thanks and peace – is all beautiful and comforting in theory … But in practice, we often find this so hard to do! We worry about anything and everything. We worry about our families. We worry about our friends. We worry about our jobs. We worry about our nation and our world. We worry about what we said or done. We worry about what we didn’t say or do. We worry about our church.
    • Worry comes from a place of caring – a place of being invested in something/someone
    • But worry also comes from a place of fear – fear that our strength, our intelligence, our determination, our ability isn’t strong enough. And that often paralyzes us, keeping us from making decision and stepping out in faith, even when we know it’s going to be hard … especially when we know it’s going to be hard. But that is no way to be the church. And that is no way to preach the good news of Jesus Christ – love, resurrection, grace, hope. These are the gifts from God for which we are often so grateful, but when we are mired down in worry and in fear, we are separated from our gratitude to God. We cannot feel it. We cannot express it. It is a bold message and a strong message that we carry, and in order to take that message into all the places into which God calls us, we must trust not in our own selves and abilities and strength, but in the God who calls and compels us.
      • Jesus as the end of our gospel passage this morning: Desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, story worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day is trouble enough of its own.[8]
      • Corrie ten Boom: Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.
    • And the best part, friends, is that like Wemberly and Jewel, we are not alone in this. We are a part of a community – here in this congregation and around the world – a community of people willing to love on us and pray for us and remind us that God is God and we are not and help us to trust when we become overwhelmed by worry and fear. And for that, we can be truly and especially grateful.
    • Final question – same question we’re ending every sermon of this series with: How can we release our worry and express our gratitude for what we are doing here and now? Amen.



In his book The Light in the Heart, author Roy T. Bennett writes, “More smiling, less worrying. More compassion, less judgment. More blessed, less stressed. More love, less hate.” Words to live by … words to leave with.

[1] Kevin Henkes. Wemberly Worried. (New York, NY: Greenwillow Books), 2010.

[2] Mt 5:3, 5 (NRSV).

[3] Mt 6:25.

[4] Mt 6:26b, 30.

[5] Brian Erickson. “Fall Series 2: The Enemies of Gratitude – Proper 21: Nostalgia” in A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 68-69.

[6] Ps 19: 8-9a, 11-13.

[7] Phil 4:6-7 (NRSV).

[8] Mt 6:33-34.