Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Gratitude Attitude Adjustment"

Exodus 16: 1-3

Philippians 2: 14-18

      In just a few days, we’ll be celebrating as a nation yet another Thanksgiving.  It affords most of us

a day off work, and some of us a four-day weekend.  We’ll gather at table with family and friends on

Thursday, enjoying our Thanksgiving Day favorites.  After dinner, the men folk will fall asleep in front

of the TV watching the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears.  While the men sleep, the women folk will

develop some Black Friday shopping strategies.  All that is groovy!  But frankly, those are the superficialities of the day. 

The true purpose of Thanksgiving Day – and our response on Thanksgiving Day -- is to do what?  To give thanks!

 Of course!  How precisely do you and your family do that? 

      As we celebrate the true purpose of Thanksgiving, perhaps part of our reflection might be to

examine our attitudes toward all which we have received.  For Christian folks, it’s specifically about

reflecting upon and examining our attitudes toward all the ways the good Lord has blessed us. 

Perhaps on one level, Thanksgiving calls us to contemplate this question:  are we gracious and

appreciative recipients?

      To set the stage for this morning’s lesson, we join the Israelites making their way to the land God

has promised.  It’s early in the journey.  They had escaped the hand of Pharaoh and four hundred

years of forced labor in Egypt.  After having crossed the Red Sea, they came into a wilderness where

there was only brackish water.  After their complaints against Moses, and against God, God sweetened

the water so they could drink.  Shortly after, God led them to an oasis called “Elim” where there were

springs of fresh water and palm trees in abundance.  Now the Israelites have set forth from Elim into

another wilderness area.  We can only imagine how thankful they must have been that Moses,

under the Lord’s guidance, had brought them safely thus far……….right? 

          (Read Exodus 16:1-3)

      This incessant grousing, complaining, and murmuring against God and against her earthly leaders

is a recurrent theme in the history of ancient Israel, especially during her time of exodus.  The

Israelites felt they just weren’t being treated fairly.  The food was too scarce, and the food they had

was too boring.  The sun was too hot.  The desert was too dry.  The journey was too long. 

       As we meet them this morning – just weeks after Moses and Aaron’s sister Miriam had offered

songs of praise and thanksgiving for God’s provision, saving them from pharaoh’s horses and chariots –

the Israelites seem anything but gracious and appreciative.  In this instance, they murmur and complain

that they were better off as slaves in Egypt, and that death in bondage was better than their current life in freedom.

  Then they turn on Moses, accusing him of orchestrating genocide of the nation through starvation in the wilderness.

  I can’t imagine there weren’t times Moses went to the Lord in prayer, himself complaining, “God, how in the

world did I end up with this crummy job?!” And on the story went.  It seemed that the more God did for Israel,

the more Israel found to murmur about.  Perhaps what the people needed more than sweet water and yummy vittles was an

attitude adjustment.

      It is an old story.  And sadly, we haven’t come far.  The story is that much too often, what we

receive from God is never enough.  Have we ever known that person who, although everything they

needed and wanted was handed to them on a silver platter, never seemed satisfied?  Far from being

gracious and appreciative, such a person tends to be demanding; self-absorbed; entitled; shocked

when they don’t get what they want.  If the truth be told, there is some of that thanklessness

dwelling in just about every one of us.  Some of us may need an attitude adjustment; a gratitude

attitude adjustment.

      I remember a continuing education event I attended some years ago where I myself was one of

 those murmuring voices.  Although virtually every aspect of this four day seminar was paid by the

denomination – registration, materials, renowned speakers, room, meals, even snacks – I along with

others found myself grousing:  the casserole for dinner was too salty one day; the next day, all we

got for lunch was a cold sandwich platter; the cake was too dry; not enough choice of salad dressing;

soda’s flat; only basic cable TV in the rooms; too hot in the auditorium. Never mind that every single

day, we had more than we could eat, while those living just blocks off seminary campus in the East

Liberty section of Pittsburgh struggled to get one meal a day on their family’s table.  In hindsight

reflection and in shame, I realized I was in dire need of a gratitude attitude adjustment.

       As we are coming up on this Thanksgiving holiday, how many of us have been murmuring and

grumbling in whatever wilderness or oasis we’ve found ourselves in recent days?  How quick have

we been to take our blessings for granted? How slow have we been to give genuine thanks for God’s

great goodness?  The fact of the matter is, no amount of blessing will make us thankful, because

thanksgiving dwells in the heart – with a gratitude attitude – not in the blessing itself.  Someplace

deep within us all – influenced as we are by experience, environment, history, family of origin – we

decide whether we will be gracious and thankful people, or whether we will be murmuring and com-

plaining people.  Those who choose to murmur will always be able to find reasons for doing so: 

somebody else has something I don’t have, or something better than I do; there’s something I need

or want that God is withholding from me; something unfair has happened to me; I’d be better off

where I was than where I am.  The complaining spirit can always justify its complaining.

      On the other hand, those whose gratitude attitudes have been rightly adjusted will choose to

thank God for what has come before, and to trust God for what lies ahead.  This is the stuff of active

faith.  Such spirits will also find reasons to justify their choice.  The gracious and thankful heart has

discovered that life is overlaid with the fingerprints of God’s helpfulness and provision.  The thankful

heart will find endless evidence of God’s goodness; of God’s grace – then, now, and yet to come. 

      That’s the only way to explain the remarkable attitude of someone like the apostle Paul.  As he

writes to the Philippians, Paul is in prison, again.  He’s not sure if he’ll get out alive this time.  Yet

one would be hard-pressed to find a letter bubbling with more effusive joy and gratitude than this

letter to the church in Philippi.  Paul opens the letter by saying in effect:  If I live through this

(imprisonment), then I go on living for Christ, and that’s good!  If I die, then I go to be with Christ,

and that’s better still.  So whether I live or whether I die, I give thanks to God who has granted me

the great privilege of suffering for Christ Jesus.  Then in the passage Carl read for us earlier,

Paul offers a general statement which could be a called to an attitude adjustment:  “Do all things

without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God

without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.”  This is broadly applicable,

and certainly to our gratitude attitude.  Now I don’t doubt that Paul had his days and seasons of

grousing and grumbling, as all of us do.  But the attitude of his heart and the posture of his spirit

reflects a win/win, glass half-full faith which gives thanks for the past, and has trust in the future.

      Sometimes we murmur, and sometimes we sing.  Sometimes we give thanks, and sometimes we

gripe.  Sometimes we feel we’re being treated unfairly by life, and sometimes we feel we’re being

treated better than we deserve.  But we have the power to decide what kind of people we will be;

what that mix will be; where our spirits will be postured.  We develop our own attitudes, and we

adjust them.  Our hearts can be trained, even retrained.  Our songs of praise can be tuned, even retuned.

  We may never in this mortal life learn to celebrate life with perfect praise and thanksgiving. But still, we can

choose our basic approach to life.  We can be murmuring people for whom life is bitter; nothing ever good enough,

and God not worthy of being counted upon.  Or we can be gracious and gratitude-filled, refusing to let the bad things

in life blind us to the good.  With trust in God, we can be thanks givers who never run out of reasons to be appreciative.

May this Thanksgiving Day afford us opportunity to examine our attitudes toward all which we have received. 

Again, let’s contemplate this question:  Are we gracious and appreciative recipients?  Or might we

need a gratitude attitude adjustment?  Amen.