.September 29 2019
There was a fellow floating around in a hot air balloon,and he realized he was lost. He saw a man down below, and yelled out, “Can you tell me where I am?”
“You’re in a hot air balloon,” came the reply from the ground.
“Oh, I can tell you’re a pastor,” the balloonist said.
“Why is that?”
“Because you the tell the truth and it’s totally irrelevant to my situation.”
Today we are reading a letter Paul wrote to his most beloved church, a letter that is true and relevant for their situation and for ours. The church at Philippi was the first church Paul planted in Asia minor. As he writes Paul is being detained by the Roman authorities. He is under house arrest, chained by day and by night to a Roman imperial guard. Many scholars think that this letter is the last of Paul’s captivity epistles,written just prior to his death. (Phil 3:12-16). When one faces death, it clears and focuses the mind wonderfully (Samuel Johnson). So this letter is a classic utterance of a martyr, written to prepare his friends for the time of his departure.
Paul begins by saying “I thank God every time I remember you…constantly praying for all of you.” I THANK GOD EVERY TIME I REMEMBER YOU. Even in a time of extremity, Paul’s hearts is bursting with gratitude for blessings, the chief of which are his friends in Christ. And here is one of the characteristics of Paul’s life, and one of the characteristic of lives of those
towering figures in Christian history whose biographies continue to inspire us. They give thanks in thankless situations. Like the nightingale, they sing their sweetest songs when the night is
darkest. I give thanks.
One of my longest and best friends is Dave Bogucki I. I have known Dave since 1977. He taught me how to rock climb and I have lost count of how many mountains in the Pacific NW we have climbed together. He saved my life on Mt. Hood when the steep snow slope I was traversing across gave way and I started plummeting downhill. His belay jerked me to a stop. I stood up, waved a sheepish thank you, and kept on down climbing.
Dave’s wife Karen is now in her early 80’s. She has battled health issues for years, and is wheel chair bound. Dave is her one and only care giver.
I try to phone him every week, not just to see how Karen is doing but to see how he is doing His voice is always heavy, not like the Dave I’ve known all these years who loves to kid me mercilessly.
In our last conversation he told me that he wouldn’t have it any other way, the privilege of taking care of his wife even though it is very hard and tiring And then he signed off with the words, “No matter what We’ve had a fantastic life.”
There are seasons of life when we find it hard to be thankful. Most of us have lived in those seasons. Today we are holding up the Apostle Paul whose life was brimming over with gratitude.
Did he have it easy. Listen to this passage from II Corinthians. “ I have been imprisoned countless times. with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches..
Not an autobiography that any of us would choose.
Charles M Blow is an African American columnist for the NY Times. He grew up in poverty in rural Louisiana. A few years ago two days before Thanksgiving he posted this column.
The news snapped the holiday cheer out of me. I realized that I, like so many, get so caught up in the torrent of dinners and parties and sales and gifts this time of year that I sometimes forget how truly ephemeral and precious life is, that life itself is the gift.
And I forget how truly blessed I have been by whatever gods there may be. It doesn’t mean that there haven’t been troubles and trials. There have. But I have had it in me to overcome. And for the mere fact of having enough and to all the people in my life who have informed my character and given me courage, I need to give a measure of thanks. So, here goes:
I’m thankful for the basic things, like food and shelter and warmth when it is cold and medicine when I am sick. I grew up staring poverty squarely in the face, but I fear that far too many have no familiarity — or even empathy — with what it means to be poor in this country, or in any country.
Poverty is a diabolical predicament that not only makes scarce one’s physical comforts, but drains away one’s spiritual strength. It damages hopes and dreams, and having deficits among those things is when the soul begins to die.
I am thankful for a loving mother who hasn’t always gotten things right, but who taught me how to grow in grace and learn from getting things wrong. She taught me what it means to live selflessly and without pride, and to find joy in giving joy.
I’m thankful for the folks at whose knees I spent my preschool days being imbued with wisdom long before I knew what wisdom was — gnarled hands moving gracefully through the air the way a fish’s fins move through water, gently touching my shoulder or grabbing my hands and steering me clear of danger.
I’m thankful for the teachers who saw me when I felt invisible, who reached through my sorrow and my sadness and, in that darkness, lit a fire in me. These are teachers who to this day encourage me like family more than faculty.
They are teachers like Mrs. Dawson, who calls me after every one of my television appearances, and says, “Hello baby, this is your grandma.” She continues with some version of: “We saw you. We were looking right at you. Everyone in town is proud of you. We love you.”
They are teachers like Mrs. Thomas — now down in health, but still up in spirit — whom I called last month. She remembered my first weeks in her fourth grade class after I’d changed schools: “You hardly let go of my skirt hem.” I didn’t recall that, and I asked her how she could. She responded without skipping a beat, “Charles, you never forget your babies.”
I’m thankful for these teachers who refuse to release me, who continue to inculcate me with love and encouragement, teachers whom I will spend the whole of my life attempting to honor.
I’m thankful for my three beautiful children who amaze me daily with their development into smart, honest, loving people, and who remain my reason for rising when I ache and pushing forward when I would otherwise stop.
I’m thankful for great friends and the love of family, the deepest bonds of earthly connection, who provide the greatest defense when the storms of life rage and the walls of the self are buffeted.
I’m thankful for the spirit and resilience and fortitude of this country’s unbreakable slaves of the not-too-distant past, whose blood courses through my veins, whose dreams I live, whose lives I honor.
I am thankful that my work is my passion, and that what I do for pay I would probably do for free.
And, I am thankful for all of you, the regular readers of my columns — and the new ones as well — who affirm me, and challenge me, and chastise me. In the end, you make my voice clearer and my resolve stronger.
Thank you all.
The Charles M. Blow’s and David Bogucki’s and the Apostle Paul’s have a few things to teach us. Chiefly they teach us that …….. When some thing s are going wrong, we should stop for a moment and thank God for the many things that are going right.