Bitter or Better
Rev. Linda Dolby
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
About 15 years ago I attended a Thanksgiving service in which the Episcopal bishop preached. He said the usual things – we should have an attitude of gratitude – we should be thankful in all things – we should live with grateful hearts. And then he something that I remember to this day.
“If you are going to be a grateful person, then stop complaining.” Now who among us does not have a complaint? Something has been done to us, someone has snubbed us, we’ve been put upon and put down one too many times.
“If you are going to be a grateful person, then stop complaining.” I think I remember him saying that when bad things happen – and they will – we have a choice. We can get bitter or we can get better.
Once there was a man who was a constant complainer. Nothing was ever right and he could be quite bellicose about all that was wrong in his world. You might even so he was guilty of vocally abusing all those around him.
One day he went to the creek with his mule. He complained so much that the mule got annoyed and kicked him to death. At the funeral, when the men walked by the wife, she shook her head yes and every time the women walked by she shook her head no.
The pastor, who was present and watching all this, asked “Why are you shaking your head yes for men and no for women?” Her response, “The men would say how sorry they felt for me and I was saying, ‘Yes, I’ll be alright.’ When the women walked by, they were asking me if the mule was for sale…’” We can bitter or better.
That phrase come from a book by Dr. Jim Moore, pastor of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. He says that if we are not thankful then we can become bitter. If we are not thankful, then it becomes too easy to ask, “why me?”. He tells of a young woman who once came to him in a most tragic moment in her life. She had just received word that her 26 year old husband had been killed in a farming accident, leaving her alone with 3 pre-school age children. One moment he was alive and vibrant, the next moment he was gone. “I don’t know how I am going to get along with him,” she sobbed. “But I do know one thing. I can either get bitter or I can get better.”
We all know people who have more than their share of life’s tragedies. Some have become bitter. The world has soured them. Others have become better. There are people that when you hear their story, you can’t believe how they have survived. How can he or she have such a positive, loving outlook when they’ve been what they’ve been through?
Perhaps it is because they have taken to heart these words of scripture:
“4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
They make it through because of their faith. We choose our faith and we choose our response to life’s trials as well. It’s been said that most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. The better, not bitter, people are the ones who have chosen, no matter what – no matter the loss, no matter what misfortune, no matter whatever has happened – they have chose to still trust the innate goodness of life, the innate good of the universe, the innate good of their God.
They are the ones who not only believe but also live by Jesus’ promise – “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly. They are the ones who believe the words of Paul – “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
This Thursday is Thanksgiving, and as we anticipate feasting with our families, we have a choice to make. For some of us, there maybe someone placing their feet under our shared table with whom we have a problem. Some have voted for Trump, others for Clinton. Others have hurt us so much in our childhood it is hard to be around them. Some say tomato, some say tomahto, some say potato, some say potahto. Yes, there are differences. You know how families are. We love one another and yet the ones we love most can get under our skin the best.
How will we face that day? We have a choice. We can be bitter – remembering everything that bothers us – or we can get better and look for the best in everyone.
In the early days of the settlement of the West, travelers encountered considerable difficulty. One party of pioneers on the Oregon trail had suffered greatly from the scarcity of water and grass. Some wagons had broken, causing delays in the stifling heat. Along with these adverse conditions came a general feeling of fretfulness. Optimism and cheer were gone. The next night a meeting was called for the purpose of airing all complaints. When they had finished, one rose and said, “Before we do anything else, I think we should first thank God that we have come this far with no loss of life, with no serious trouble with the Indians and that we have enough strength to finish the journey.” There was silence. No one had any more grievances to voice.
Friends, I know it is hard sometimes. Do we trust in our God who wishes and wills for each and every one of us life, life in its abundance? Do we believe in, can we put our faith in Jesus’s promise that we will have more and better life than we’ve ever dreamed of? With thankfulness in our hearts, we do get better, not bitter.
Once there was a pastor named Martin Rinkert. He had a tough parish 350 years ago in a little town of Eilenburg Germany. In his second year of ministry in that place, the 30 years was began. His town was caught in the middle. Then a massive plague swept across Europe. People died at the rate of 50 a day, and Pastor Rinkert was called upon to bury many of them, including his own wife. And still, he sat down and wrote these words: “Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices; who wondrous things hath done, in whom this world rejoices.”
We are blessed. Grace has been bestowed time and again. Our lives are flooded with divine love and care. We have a home and a hope in heaven. Because of our faith, we are a better people. May it be so. Amen.
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