Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
As a child I remember holidays as such a special thing. Christmas was a time to receive gifts, to have a break from school, to enjoy time with grandparents and extended family. Of course, as child the presents were the best part. Thanksgiving, though, always held in my heart a special space. It’s not because of the food so much. But it was a time when our family would pack up and head to our cabin over in Tellico.
I have memories of fall up there. Trying to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade on an antenna as the adults began cooking for our feast. I remember walking to the Green Cove store to get a treat. I remember all of these things fondly. All of this is probably why thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.
Then, when you meet someone and start dating your traditions are put on hold and you begin to learn what they do as a family. When Hope and I were first married we had the conversation of what we should do around the holidays. My family lived in Chattanooga and her family in Louisville, KY. So there was no way for us to do holidays with both families. We came up with a basic compromise where one year we would do thanksgiving with her family and Christmas with mine. Then the following year we would do Christmas with her family and Thanksgiving with mine.
That first year we made this arrangement, I remember driving to Kentucky and catching up with her family. I was looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner, after all it had always been one of my favorite holidays. Then it was time to eat. She has a huge family, so all were crowded together going through the line. People were laughing at the jokes and complementing the cooks on how great everything look.
As I went through the food line, my anticipation grew. People talked about how good the stuffing was. I have to tell you that dressing is my favorite part of the thanksgiving meal. I came to realize that some people insist on calling dressing-stuffing, but I was willing to overlook this minor annoyance in terminology. Then sat down to eat. Took a bite and was horrified. The stuffing/dressing was made with white bread.
At this point in the message I feel as if we need some ominous music. Because there is only one way to make dressing, and that’s with cornbread. Proper dressing is cornbread dressing, but I got a lesson in regional food differences, and realized that these people ruined my thanksgiving with white bread.
As silly as it may sound, all my life I grew up taking cornbread dressing for granted. Because of this, I didn’t realize its importance in my thanksgiving ritual. Thanksgiving just isn’t thanksgiving, without cornbread dressing. And here, I realized the pity of how I had taken it for granted all these years.
To conclude this story, I have learned my lesson. I learned how to make cornbread dressing, and the next time I made sure it was on the menu.
You know, we all take things for granted. You take it for granted that you can turn on the faucet and get clean drinking water—you take it for granted unless you live in a place like Flint, MI, where the water was been poisoned with led.
Hey, before the election media outlets and pollsters took their political polls for granted. Then everyday since they have been trying to figure out when went wrong.
You can do a search online for things we take for granted, and there are many results with lists of things that people take for granted. Things such as health, school, their partner in life, food, medical care, electricity, the internet, and with the recent election—even voting.
When things are going your way; when you have money in the bank; when your family is healthy; when your community is thriving it’s easy to take things for granted.
It doesn’t matter who you are, when you begin to take things for granted it can have negative consequences. When you take your spouse for granted, you forget to let him or her know how much you love them. You forget to help out around the house, you forget to care and show that care.
When you take your children for granted, it’s easy to allow them to be just a chore. Someone you have to take care of, someone you have to make sure gets what they need.
But when you just do the basics, it’s hard to find joy. When you take people for granted, it is hard to delight in others. When you take education for granted, you don’t work to make sure the best education is available to all people.
For people who call themselves Christian, this is a difficult trap. If you take your faith for granted, church becomes more about a social outing than it does about something that can change lives and change the world. When you take faith for granted you don’t see the need to make the world a better place by being generous, by feeding other, by loving others.
This is as true now as it was it generations ago when Peter wrote cautioning Christians against taking things for granted. Peter was a man who lived and walked with Jesus for three years and then was big leader in the early church. Peter writes a letter to several churches, and this letter made it into the Bible in what we now call 1st Peter. This is what he wrote in chapter 4 verse 7. Your translation might read a little differently; this morning I am reading from translation known as The Message.
Peter wrote, “Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted.”
Peter is writing with a sense of urgency, telling us that there is important stuff happening, so we have no time to take anything for granted.
Another church leader wrote in Hebrews 13:16, “Make sure you don't take things for granted.”
Clearly, both of these early church leaders knew importance of us not taking things for granted. I’m sure they could care less about my cornbread dressing at Thanksgiving, but over all, they knew how dangerous it is to take things for granted.
But what I love most about what both of these people wrote is what comes next. You see, not taking things for granted or not being thankful for things wasn’t the ultimate goal for them. Instead gratefulness was a minimum requirement.
After Peter writes about not taking things for granted, he continues, “Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.”
I think this is good advice following this toxic campaign cycle. Peter is encouraging you to be grateful and to love others as if your life depended on it. That’s extreme love, that’s powerful love, that’s love that gets things done.
He continues again, “Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help.”
Peter is saying, don’t just say you love. Don’t just write you love to someone on social media. But live out this love by feeding people that are hungry, by giving to people who are need, by giving hope to people that feel hopeless. Peter is telling us that if we take things for granted these things won’t get done. If Christians take their faith for granted people will go hungry, people will continue in pain.
You see, Peter is linking being grateful and serving others. So much of life is devoted to acquiring more. More time, more wealth, a larger home, more clothes, more electronic, more tools. But When we are grateful for what we have we can devote our energy to serving others instead of acquiring more.
The church leader who wrote Hebrews also said something similar: “Make sure you don't take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others.”
These early Christians knew that when people take things for granted it is so easy to forget about other people. They knew that when people take their loved ones for granted that it was easy to let things like elections break up friendships. They knew that when people take their spouses for granted, it’s easy to forget to work to show your love in real ways. They knew that when we you take your possessions for granted it’s so easy to keep working for more and more and more without being thankful. And when you are doing this, it is so easy to forget about other people.
It doesn’t matter if you are a Christian or not, anyone can benefit from this message of not taking things for granted.
For example, if you have been taking your marriage for granted you could adopt some new practices to promote gratefulness between you and your spouse. John Gottman who wrote Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, suggests that couples spend two minutes each day in undistracted communication. This means no TV, no food, no kids, or sight seeing—just two minutes. And he suggests that this can be better than a whole week together when you aren’t focused on each other. When you do this type of practice, it’s hard to take your spouse for granted. You are focusing on her and her need or him and his needs, and so it’s not about you, and this builds love and gratefulness. If you do this, perhaps you will be happier and do something nice for another person.
I was reading recently about some other practices that we can incorporate in our lives to stop taking things for granted.
Firstly, I learned that it is important to live in the now. Too often we live looking for something better that’s out in the future. Maybe when I graduate high school, or when I get married, or when I have child, or when I retire, or my vacation. Or too often we live replaying and regretting the past or even fearing the future. But instead, if we learn to live in the now, we can begin appreciating what we have, which is a great step to stop taking things for granted.
Second, I learned that it is important to live in your neighborhood. This means being aware of what’s going on around you. The smells, the sounds, the people. In this day and age, it is easy to immerse ourselves in our smart devices instead immersing ourselves in our surrounding. But if we live in the now and live in our neighborhood, we can begin to really see what going on.
The third thing I found, is the one that Peter highlights in what we read this morning. It is that we should help others. Peter tells us that being grateful is important because it leads us to help others, but it is also true that when we help others we become more grateful and more loving.
These are things and concepts that I believe all people could benefit from. Really anyone who is listening, regardless of whether they are a Christian or not, could benefit.
But if you are listening and you are a Christian there is another motive for you in not taking things for granted. And this is what Peter closes with in his letter that we’ve been reading from this morning.
Peter says that when Christians don’t take things for granted, and when serve and take care of others, “God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything.”
When you are grateful and you live the way the Peter talks about: loving like your life depended on it, helping others, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and on and on – Jesus gets the credit – people get to see Jesus through you. Gratefulness leads to love and service and this leads to people knowing Jesus.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.