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. (Philippians 4:8, NRSV)
Friends, it's nearly Thanksgiving in the U.S. and it's the time of year when we are pressed to name things for which we are thankful. I want to offer a twist on the usual lists and use Paul's letter to the church at Philippi as a model. Name five things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent or worthy of praise. These could be people, organizations, acts, ideas, works of art, pieces of music--whatever comes to mind for you.
1: Whether we like 'em or not, we are created for relationships with God and one another. We may not always be pleasing, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise, but we are called to try to be. And there's grace for our failings (a most excellent thing!).
2: Music sometimes fills in the background, other times shapes how we think and feel. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love Rich Mullins and Chris Rice for how their work shapes mine. But I'm grateful also for They Might Be Giants, Sarah MacLachlan (or however you spell it), Norah Jones, U2, the Eagles, and all the other great music that moves and amuses me. That says nothing about the hymns: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Be Thou My Vision, The Summons, And Can It Be...
3: I don't know how people get by without pets. I know some folks don't need them like I do, but I really need to have them around to warm my toes on cold nights, to keep me company in my melancholy and share my long walks, to be the warm unconditionally loving reminder of Christ and grace in my life...oh, and nose kisses. I must need those too. And I am beginning to think of pet hair as a dietary supplemnt.
4: Food. Someone told me last week that I always preach on food. I don't think that's entirely true, but there can be something spiritual in really good food for me. Perhaps it's that relationship thing: great food cries out to be shared. Maybe it's that food anchors so many of our relationships: holiday meals and coffeeshop chats, for example. Somehow, more than our bodies are nourished in earthly bread, whether or not it speaks to us of the Bread of Life as well.
5: The impulse to do good. Even the most difficult among us has the occasional impulse to do something kind, generous, altruistic. We're doing an advent study on Dickens' A Christmas Carol; I had forgotten how much humor and biting social commentary there was in a story so familiar it had become a cliche...but there it is: it is in us to do good, to love, and to do justice and live with mercy, and it's the painful work of a lifetime to so fence ourselves in that we cannot. So let's not, what do you say?
Praise God for love, praise God for life,
in age or youth, in husband, wife,
Lift up your hearts, let love be fed
through death and life in broken bread.
"When Love Is Found"