A Piedmont Home Companion

In the style of an episode of Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion”…

It’s been a quiet week in Mill Bridge, North Carolina, my hometown. It’s been a quiet week, a sad, reflective week, as the fine folk of Mill Bridge, and Mt. Ulla, and Cleveland come to terms with the loss of three beloved members of the community. Thyatira Presbyterian Church was nearly full for the funeral for Ted Deal, who lived at the very epicenter of Millbridge. Over at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Johnny Moore was laid to rest, known to all as Mt. Ulla’s most generous farmer, and Salem Lutheran hosted the funeral for Becky Kepley-Lee because her own house of worship was too small to accommodate the throngs of people who admired her as principal of Cleveland Elementary School. People turned out for these funerals in droves, turned out because these three people embodied the very spirit of the community, and their loss leaves a much bigger hole than the ones the squirrels are making all over Millbridge as summer finally begins to turn to fall.

Ah, Millbridge. Now Millbridge is a funny place with a name about which there is not quite complete agreement. Is it one word or is it two? Beulah Davis, bless her heart, Beulah always argued that it was one word, and only one word, and it was never wise to argue with Beulah Davis, bless her heart, but you do find it written the other way too. In fact, a map drawn back in 1903 takes the opposite approach, breaking up Beulah Davis’ compound word to label a place called Mill Bridge in North Carolina’s Piedmont. And so it kind of makes you wonder whether the word “Piedmont” shouldn’t also be two words? Pied, meaning foot, mont meaning mountain or hills. Feet and hills don’t really go together unless you are using your feet to go up a hill. Hills don’t have feet after all, do they? Do they? But the Good News of the Gospel is that the difference between Millbridge and Mill Bridge is less than an eighth of an inch using Times New Roman font, and whether it’s a compound word or two words, it’s still a community full of lovely people who gather together at funerals and Fall Festivals.

Compound words, they’re everywhere aren’t they? At Mt. Ulla Elementary School just two weeks ago, they were everywhere, marching the halls even. All the second grade classes at Mt. Ulla filed through the halls on their annual compound word parade, showing off their butterflies and quarterbacks and mealworms and firefighters. The teachers also wore their compound words, but not on their clothing. Theirs were backache and headache and bellyache and heartbreak. It’s hard being a teacher these days, hard reading children’s handwriting and hard deciphering their attempts at spelling the words butterfly and quarterback and mealworm and firefighter, and hard to watch children you know haven’t seen a decent meal all weekend and who come to school without coats on cold winter days.

Right through the center of Millbridge, the traffic is increasing on Highway 150, more and more every month. It seems to have attracted the attention of developers who want to take advantage of that fact, so much so that they’re building a neighborhood they call Yorkshire Farms. What kind of name is Yorkshire, anyway? It’s another compound word, that’s what kind it is. There’re everywhere, those compound words. Is Yorkshire some old Latin name for “used to be a farm?” Or will the homeowner’s association allow only Yorkshire terriers as pets, and exclude all manner of other pets. Yorkshire Farms. It’s a strange name for rural Rowan County, and soon it will be filled with strange people from outside Rowan County. And maybe a lot of Yorkshire Terriers, who knows? But what the current occupants of Millbridge do know, is that they don’t want their way of life to become strange.

Yes, the winds of change are in the air in Millbridge. Until recently, very little has changed there since the days of Samuel McCorkle. But now the road is paved, and there is electricity. The Internet’s coming to everyone eventually, even if it’s not here yet, and some students have to do their assignments on computer, hotspotting to their parents’ phones. There’s another one of those compound words. Yes, change is coming and Yorkshire Farms represents it, and people like Mary Margaret Salvatore represent it. Mary Margaret Salvatore from Northern New Jersey will be one of those strangers coming to town. Mary Margaret was born Catholic, up north in New England, but when she met her husband, who wasn’t a Catholic despite his name, when she and Sal moved to Hoboken, they had to find a church they could both agree on, one that had just enough standing and sitting but not too much, and so they picked the local Presbyterian Church and made it their home. Well, that was 35 years ago now, and Sal’s gone, and her daughter Melissa has moved to North Carolina, and Mary Margaret doesn’t want to be too far away from the grandchildren, if she ever gets any, so she’s buying a place at Yorkshire Farms, and she hopes to find a Presbyterian Church nearby. And Jamal and Leteisha Pitts are a fine young couple looking to move up from Charlotte, and they’re looking at Yorkshire Farms because they know the traffic in Mooresville is slower even than life in Millbridge. And they too will be looking for a church in which to raise their kids. Yes, Yorkshire Farms will become the home to many strangers to Millbridge, my hometown.

Pastor Steck at Thyatira Presbyterian Church has been teaching Confirmation Class to the older kids, the middle schoolers and high schoolers. And he’s asked them to do some pretty crazy assignments already, and the Class has just begun. He’s asked them to write haikus and draw pictures out of the stories they read in the Bible, and he’s asked them to take a story from the New Testament, any story they like, and bring it up to date, to populate its landscape and its characters with their own landscapes and their own characters so they can make the Holy Scriptures relevant to them in this day and age. Now, Pastor Steck got to thinking that since he’s never inclined to ask people to do something he’s not willing to do himself, that maybe he’d outta write one those stories himself. So he’s been thinking about that not-so quiet day in Jesus’ hometown in the fourth chapter of Luke, that once upon a time, when Jesús, who’d been confirmed himself at Thyatira and had grown up watching his parents work at Patterson Farms, when Jesús came back from studying out in the wilderness at NC State where he was tempted by the Tarheels of UNC and the Blue Devils of Duke who promised him the moon and the stars if he’d attend those schools. Now Jesús came back to Thyatira one Sunday morning, and the Pastor saw him and asked him to come up to the pulpit to tell the church what he’d learned off at school. So Jesús climbed the steps so many holy men and women had climbed before, and opened up the pulpit Bible to the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke and read what he found there: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to put an end to racism. He has sent me to proclaim an end to national borders, and to make health care a human right, to bring hope to those thinking about suicide, and to make sure no child goes to school without a coat.” And then he closed the Bible, dropped the mic, and sat down on the red velvet sofa that was older than God himself. And all eyes in the 1860 sanctuary were fixed upon him. Then he began to say to them, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

And then Pastor Steck stopped composing midstory because he remembered how the real story ends, how the townsfolk become filled with rage and drive Jesus out and try to run him over the edge of the cliff. He stopped because he didn’t want that to happen to poor Jesús, or to any other children of the next generation who might want to raise their voices to ask for a better world than the one they would inherit. He didn’t want them to be silenced. He wanted their voices to be heard, like he wanted Mary Margaret Salvatore’s voice and Jamal and Leteisha Clark’s voices to be heard in their new hometown, even if they came from Yorkshire Farms, with their Yorkshire terriers, so that it could be a hometown where everyone could be welcomed and celebrated like Ted Deal and Johnny Moore and Becky Kepley-Lee. Yes, Pastor Steck wondered how the new members of Millbridge could become part of the community like the old members of the community, and how the faithful at Thyatira could learn from the mistakes of the people from Jesus’ hometown, and offer a welcome banner instead of a one way ticket to the bottom of a cliff. And so that’s what Pastor Steck was thinking about for his Confirmation Class assignment.

Hometown. It’s a compound word, isn’t it. And compound words are things put together, things that don’t seem like they fit together but in actuality actually do. You see, you can’t have a homes without a town and you can’t have a town without homes, at least not in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Maybe you can out in Montana somewhere, but around Millbridge, the land’s too good to not share with neighbors, no matter where they came from. And the Gospel’s full of compound words, even if they don’t sound like compound words. Mercy is a compound word. And so is love, and so is generosity. They’re all compound words because they put together things that can’t be put together except by the grace of God, they join together human beings and God, things that don’t seem like they fit together but in actuality actually do. Love joins human beings and God. Mercy joins God to human beings. Generosity joins human beings together with one another. And this morning, the faithful at Thyatira are gathered together to consider another compound word, the word stewardship, as they consider how God joins them together with the world, from the very epicenter of Millbridge all the way to a mission outpost in Zambia, but also as close as one human heart to the next, God calling the faithful into relationship with what God has created, by sharing what the faithful have received.

And so as Pastor Steck pondered how the end of his retelling of the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke might turn out, he had a vision, he had a vision of Jesus and Jesús, of Mary Margaret and Sal Salvatore and Jamal and Leteisha Clark, and Ted Deal, and Johnny Moore and Becky Kepley-Lee, and all the Yorkshire terriers, and all the butterflies and quarterbacks and mealworms and firefighters, and the heartbroken teachers, and the children with no coats, and all the faithful of Thyatira, all seated together on the red velvet sofa that was older than God himself, all of them welcome together, and he could almost hear them saying together the words Jesus taught them, Our Father…

And that’s all the news this week from Millbridge, North Carolina, where the crops grow tall, the problems are small, and the pirates are still buried in the cemetery.

Giving From the Inside Out

Jeremiah 31:27-34
© Stacey Steck

If the truth be told, I’d like the law of the Lord, that perfect, soul-reviving, sweet honey-tasting, life-giving law of the Lord, to be written not on my heart, but on the insides of my eyelids, thank you very much! Wouldn’t that be nice? I’d gaze on it ever so lovingly that way, far more frequently that I do even now. It would be with me when I lie down and when I get up, and truly, ever few seconds when I blink, I’d get a juicy morsel of wisdom that I am sure would be both very tasty and very useful. I mean, Jeremiah tells us that God says “I will put my law within them,” and hey, the insides of my eyelids are definitely within me, and a lot more accessible than my heart, in more ways than one. But I suppose God doesn’t always work the way we think God should work.

Instead we get the law written on our hearts, not exactly like a tattoo, although perhaps that wouldn’t be such a bad image for us to use. After all, the original ten commandments were engraved on tablets of stone, a method that at the time was probably as permanent as was possible, and appropriate for the difficult journey ahead of the Israelites. Rugged stone for a rugged journey through the desert and into the promised land, the weight of the stone a reminder of the gravity of the covenant, a covenant that showed them how to live with one another, caring for the land, caring for one another, caring for the widow, the orphan and the stranger. That the Ten Commandments were written on stone seems somehow fitting given that they were the foundation of the future of God’s people. In a sense, they were the cornerstones of the Temple in Jerusalem, for all else rested and depended upon them, even though the Temple itself was built to house them.

But now, in Jeremiah’s time, the Temple is destroyed, a casualty of the siege that the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar laid upon the holy city of Jerusalem. No one knows for sure just when the Ark of the Covenant, the container for the tablets, disappeared, but many historians believe it was carried away or destroyed by the Babylonians, or that forward thinking Jewish leaders, taking heed of Jeremiah’s warnings, hid the ark to protect it, although if they did, they hid it so well that no one but Indiana Jones knows where to find it. In any case, the Ark, the manifestation of God’s physical presence on earth, and the tablets it contained, are barely a part of the conversation in Jeremiah. Indeed, now it is Jeremiah himself who represents God’s physical presence on earth, as he brings God’s message of both destruction and consolation, and in the absence of the ark and its contents, some other vessel will be needed to carry the sacred information they once bore. And guess what, or better yet, who, that vessel will be? Yes, it’s you!

In the story of the Israelites, there is a sort of unspoken, or unwritten link between the presence of the Ark, and the holiness and welfare of the people. When the ark and the tablets are in the picture, things go pretty well. The nation has its ups and downs, but overall God is pleased, life is good, and the enemy is kept at bay. Indeed, the glory years of Kings David and Solomon were dedicated to providing a “house” for the Lord, more specifically a permanent place for the Ark to reside, and during those years, although it plays a kind of backstage role, the Ark is very much part of the story. To give you an idea of how important the Ark was to the welfare of the nation, early Jewish writings report that upon the entrance of the Ark, the golden tree decorations that adorned the Temple walls blossomed with fruit that grew continuously until the Temple's destruction. But conspicuously, as the nation splits and falls into disarray, as generations of kings and priests worship other gods and sacrifice at foreign altars, neither the ark, nor its contents are mentioned in the story. It is as if the Ark of the Covenant had already disappeared long before the Babylonians invaded, and with it, the Israelites’ commitment to the covenant written on them that God had established with their ancestors. It was into this condition of sin and forgetfulness that God called Jeremiah to prophecy.

Chapters thirty to thirty-three of the book of Jeremiah form what scholars often refer to as the Little Book of Consolation, a few sweet morsels of good news in the midst of dozens of chapters of doom and destruction. These chapters bring God’s message of forgiveness and restoration to a people as broken as the stone tablets they had forgotten about. “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord.” The end of the exile is foretold and a new beginning is envisioned, and everything will be different. No more will the sins of the fathers be visited on the children for multiple generations; everyone will be responsible for their own sins. No more will everyone suffer for the wickedness of the few. No more will “The sin of Judah,” that Jeremiah declared in Chapter 17 was “written with an iron pen; with a diamond point it is engraved on the tablet of their hearts,” no more will it be held against them. Instead, says the Lord, “I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.” And the crowning sign of all of this will be that a new covenant will be written on their hearts, a covenant so close, so intimate, so light, so portable, that no one will forget it again, and neither the nation, nor its citizens, will wander from it again. In fact, people will be drawn to it. What Jeremiah foretold back in chapter three, in the only place he mentions the Ark, will come to pass: “It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; nor shall another one be made. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no longer stubbornly follow their own evil will.”

Listen to that again: “The ark of the covenant of the Lord shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; nor shall another one be made.” What an amazing statement given the history of the ark and the covenant it represented. The ark won’t be made again because it won’t be needed. And it won’t be needed because the new covenant can’t be destroyed or forgotten. You see, the new covenant will be written on imperishable material, and placed in an indestructible vault. It will not be the private property of kings and priests, but become the public domain of fishermen and farmers, seamstresses and song-writers. The law of the Lord, that perfect, soul-reviving, sweet honey-tasting, life-giving law of the Lord, will not be sequestered away in a chamber visited only once a year, or need to be kept at a distance of a thousand cubits as it was when it went before the army of Israel. It will go anywhere God’s people go. It will shed light anywhere God’s people turn their eyes. It will bring justice anywhere God’s people raise their voices. It will show compassion anywhere God’s people bind the wounds of the brokenhearted. It will be a sign and seal of God’s grace everywhere, and anywhere, that God’s people remember and share the gift they have been given. Praise be to God.

As wonderful as that may be, a covenant is still a covenant and there is a flipside to the kind of familiarity with God that Jeremiah is revealing. It’s the risk of taking the gift for granted. If it’s written on our hearts, it’s not in front of our eyes, and we run the risk of becoming satisfied with what we’ve got, of going in autopilot. Have you ever had that experience of driving somewhere and getting so lost in thought so that when you get there you can’t remember the trip? Well, that doesn’t happen when you are going somewhere you don’t know. On those trips, you are on alert, you are paying attention, it’s unfamiliar terrain. But when you’ve driven the same route every day for years, it’s easy to miss the flowers by the side of the road or the buzzards circling a carcass, or the house that is slowly falling in on itself. And maybe you’re having a great conversation there in your head, but you’re not really aware of what’s going on.

Believe it or not, that same phenomenon can take place with regards to our faith, to church, to the fruits of the spirit. We get into our routines about divine things and we don’t look very often for novelty or for change. We don’t often stop to smell the roses, as the old saying goes. We know intimately that we are God’s children, and that’s a good and wonderful thing, but that familiarity leads us to carry on without giving it a second thought. It’s written on our hearts, thanks be to God. But maybe it also needs to be written out somewhere for us to see.

It probably won’t surprise you that I’ll turn next toward your gratitude and generosity. Our giving is one of those things that is easy to go unexamined, whether that’s words of praise for someone or how much to put in the offering plate. Just because we know those are the right things to do doesn’t mean we do them readily or in ways which help us grow in faith and make the biggest difference we could in this world. This is precisely why churches do annual stewardship campaigns, to help the faithful pause and reflect on the holy trinity of giving: the blessings we’ve received, the needs around us, and our capacity to give. Last week I talked about that tenth leper who turned back, and about being mindful about gratitude, and the blessings that accrue when we are grateful. Next week, I’ll share a little bit more about the needs around us, but today I want to conclude by saying something about our capacity to give. You’ve probably heard a lot about this over your years here, about giving ten percent, about giving the first fruits rather than the leftover, about how the Lord loves a cheerful giver. All of that is true. For this year, however, I’m going to give you a break and not tell you that you should tithe. Yes, you are off the hook this year, even though I know that’s written on your hearts. For this year, I don’t care if you give ten percent of your income. But I do care that you are thoughtful about the percentage that you do give, that you are mindful of your giving, and that familiarity does not lead you to contempt of God. That’s why I want to make to you the following suggestion.

Instead of worrying about giving ten percent, or feeling guilty about not doing it, I simply want you to do this: give what you gave last year – plus ten percent more than you gave last year. So, if you gave $500 to Christ’s ministry through Thyatira, you’d give $550 a year, which is another $4.16 a month, or 96.1 cents a week. Think about that for a second. At that level, you can increase your giving by ten percent by giving another four dollars a month, by giving less than a dollar more a week. Now, that might not seem like much. But imagine if the person to your left, and the person to your right, and the person in front of you and the person behind you also did the same thing and increased their giving by ten percent over what they gave last year. No, it won’t be the same increase for everyone, but it will be the same percentage for everyone. And you know what you get next year if everyone gives just ten percent more? You get approximately $17,336.21 more than this year, which is just about what we need to do what we are being called to do. The average Presbyterian gives approximately 3% of their income to their church. Now, I’m not very good at math, which is why I ended up a pastor instead of an architect, but I do know enough math to know that if you are giving 3% now, and you give ten percent more, you’ll be giving a mere 3.3%, which may be nowhere near a tithe, but is exactly what we need at Thyatira.

This is the kind of thoughtful gratitude the tenth leper displayed, and that having the law of the Lord written on our hearts should lead us to consider. Will we take for granted the blessings we have received, or will we be mindful of them? Will we give on autopilot, or give thoughtfully to the divine pilot who led Israel, and who leads us, into the future? Thanks be to God for inviting us into covenant relationship. Let us respond in kind. Amen.

One Turned Back

Luke 17:11-19
© Stacey Steck

One turned back. Just one. Ten had a life transforming experience and only one turned back.

One turned back. Just one. Ten had reason to just pause for a moment and give thanks and only one turned back.

Forget for a minute the fact that the one who turned back was a Samaritan, who probably had ten times as many reasons to be grateful as the others. Forget for a moment that the other nine were doing exactly what Jesus told them to do, and what, as good Jews they were supposed to do. Forget even that the skin disease they were suffering from wasn’t really as bad as we have been led to believe, and was probably something that might even have been as non-infectious as rheumatoid psoriasis.

Forget all of that stuff, all those theologically and medically and culturally significant parts of the story, and just wrap your minds around this one fact: only one turned back. Just one. Just one of these ten men who got their lives back turned around and went and thanked Jesus.

There are many great sermons to be preached from this passage, but the one you are going to hear today is about gratitude, a theme in life as important today as it was when Jesus made his comment to the air, “Was none of them found to return and give praise except this foreigner?” The truth of the matter is that we are rarely grateful enough, and we never have been. Remember those Hebrews fleeing from Egypt? “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt, Moses, that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” They’ve just been rescued, just been told that they are honor-bound to celebrate their rescue in perpetuity – that’s how assured it is – and they can’t muster up enough faith and gratitude to head off their fears and complaints. Be afraid! Fine. It makes sense that you’re scared when the Egyptians are bearing down on you with their six hundred customized chariots. But even in the midst of fear, it is, or it should be, possible to be grateful that God’s got you that far in the first place. In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve don’t say, “Gee thanks, God, we never have to worry about our next meal. We really appreciate that.” No, they take it for granted so much that they go for the one foodstuff they were specifically told to avoid.

And what’s the universal refrain from parents in probably every culture ever? “What’s the magic word?” Yes, the magic word is “thanks” but it seems so hard to remember in the face of all the goodies. Our eyes and our imaginations get so overwhelmed by the gift in front of us that the rest of our brain shuts down, including the part responsible for gratitude. Now, I don’t have any brain research to share with you that this is precisely what happens. But I can tell you that it sure seems that our conscious awareness of ourselves and our social obligations just gets obliterated, goes right out the window. And none of those pointed “What the magic word?” questions ever seem to get through, do they?

The same is probably true of stewardship sermons. Year after year, we ministers stand before you and ask a variation of that magic word question. The answer we hope rolls off your tongue, of course, is the word “tithe.” We want you to turn back and give your thanks to God in that Biblical form of ten percent of your income. And then we gather up the commitment cards and we look and we lament like Jesus, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?” We say this, metaphorically of course, not because we know the amount of your annual income and see that you’ve not pledged ten percent of it, but because we know what is the median income of our community and we know how to multiply that by the number of giving units, and we see that in the aggregate, collectively, the commitment is not ten percent of that number. Nine out of ten lepers, I mean, church members, do not, in the words of the story, “return and give praise to God” to the degree Scripture suggests.

But that’s OK. God is merciful. There are as many reasons why giving ten percent is a stretch as there were reasons for those other nine lepers to run off without so much as a “thank you.” Maybe a couple of them were in debt because of their condition and their families were about to be evicted. Maybe a couple more were afraid that if they stopped to question the gift, Jesus would tell them it was really just a joke. Maybe the last few were trying to get home to see a dying relative and thought there wasn’t a second to spare. And Jesus doesn’t condemn them. Jesus doesn’t take away the gift they’ve received. Jesus doesn’t say, “I’m not going to heal you until you say the magic word.” No, Jesus isn’t that petty. The thing is, however, that the other nine didn’t get to hear or experience what the tenth one did: “Get up and go on your way. Your faith has made you well.” Nine got the goodies, one got the blessing. Nine probably checked every morning where their sores had been, inspecting themselves, worried they might come back. One never gave it another thought. Nine had clean skin, one got to look into the heart of God.

Yes, gratitude is magical. At least that’s what researchers tell us. Study after study demonstrates that practicing gratitude changes the brain. Two psychologists, Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael McCullough of the University of Miami, conducted a study in which they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After ten weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation. Another leading researcher in this field, Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When their week’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month. Managers who remember to say "thank you" to people who work for them may find that those employees feel motivated to work harder. Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fund-raisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had. The second group — assigned to work on a different day — received a pep talk from the director of annual giving, who told the fund-raisers she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the university employees who heard her message of gratitude made 50% more fund-raising calls than those who did not. Yes, gratitude really is a magic word. Saying “thank you” unlocks a whole host of benefits, and I have to believe that tenth leper experienced them all.

In two weeks, we’ll be celebrating Consecration Sunday again, that day when we ask you to reflect on the gifts God has given you, and to share with us your response of gratitude. There are of course benefits to the church from your financial giving. It helps us keep the lights on, and gets the grass cut, and provides music that stirs the soul and meals that fill the belly. It would be awfully hard to be the church without your generosity. When you look around, you can see the very tangible benefits from the faithful giving of countless generations of Thyatirans. But here’s what I want you to know. That there are intangible benefits as well that accrue from your response of gratitude. You see, as all those scientific studies have shown, there’s a link between your attitude and your gratitude, and the more you give, the more you grow. And if you don’t believe Harvard Medical School, believe Dr. Suess, who wrote a best-selling book on the effects of gratitude: “And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of *ten* Grinches, plus two!” And for what was that Grinch grateful? The smile of a little girl who gave him one hundred percent of what she had.

You can get away with giving just a little bit. But the grace you receive is proportional to the grace you give. One turned back. Just one. Ten had a life transforming experience and only one turned back. And we can only imagine the life he lived as a result. Your life is a gift. Will you turn back and give thanks? Amen.