Psalm 111; 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18
His name was Garth.
In 5th or 6th grade, living in large two-story grey clapboard house, slightly dilapidated, some peeling paint, with a porch slanted downward at a precarious angle, across the street from Third Presbyterian Church in Altoona, PA - in a tough part of town, with more police and fire calls than any other precinct, just a few blocks off the mainline of the Penn-Central Railroad.
The church had a neighborhood children’s program called Thursday’s Children, because we met Thursday afternoons after school.
I was always there … and made friends with the children, and the families that lived around the church.
I had an 18-foot white fiberglass Lincoln Canoe - a beauty it was, and did a fair amount of fishing with it - mostly in Raystown Lake backed up behind Raystown Dam - one of those beautiful mountain reservoirs with dozens of sidearms reaching back into the wooded hillsides - great fishing, and if no fish were caught, that was okay, too, just because it was good to be out on the lake, in that quiet fiberglass canoe, whispering through the water.
It was too big for me to take out by myself, so I usually had a friend to go with me … sometimes Donna … and sometimes my brother who lived in Pittsburgh.
Knowing that I had plans for fishing with a friend later in the week, I asked Garth if he’d like to go with us, and he quickly said Yes! I checked with his folks and all was good.
I had a fishing rod for him, all the stuff he needed and a can of worms … Garth had never been fishing before.
When I helped him bait the hook with a wriggling worm, he was wide-eyed as could be … I don’t think it’s possible for eyes to be any wider, and with the hook baited, and plopped into the water, with a red and white bobber, it wasn’t long before he caught a fish … he was one amazed young boy … I think his eyes probably took a few days to return to normal size.
I don’t know what happened to Garth, and I have no idea if he’s living or dead, and if he’s living, I have no idea if he’d remember the day he went fishing with me … but I’ve never forgotten him, and his wide eyes - the sheer amazement of life for him that day on Raystown Lake, in the beautiful green mountains of Central Pennsylvania, baiting a hook, watching a bobber suddenly pulled down by a fish, and me telling Garth, “Now, quick, set the hook,” and watching him pull in his first fish.
His eyes were wide … the kind of eyes I want for myself … wide eyes to see the world … and a heart as wide as my eyes.
When eyes and heart are wide open, good things get inside of us … good things that make us good and kind and thankful.
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! [Matthew 6.22-23].
Whenever my children travelled, I always told them, “Use all of your senses wherever you are.”
“Sample it all if you can … burn the images on your mind, and you can carry those images with you the rest of your life … you can always journey back to a beautiful mountain or walk a sun-washed beach, if you carry those memories in your mind.”
Wide eyes and a wide-open heart.
To see the world around us - its colors and shapes and angles; don’t just look at things, but see them … the dog laying on the grass in the shade of a tree on a hot day … the man walking hurriedly by you, on some errand, intent on who knows what kind of business …
Watch faces and hands … pay attention to the lady pouring your coffee and the people sitting across from you on the bus … study them well, for they are God’s image, right next to you, across the aisle from you … God pouring your coffee … God going home after a hard day’s work.
Listen to the world - bird song and barking dogs and cars honking and people talking at a nearby table - sure, go ahead; eavesdrop a bit - listen to the world - the wind in the trees, the crash of a wave, the boom and crackle of fireworks.
Smell the world - spices and seasonings - food, fried and boiled, broiled and grilled - baked bread … smell the world - wood smoke and garbage; a morning rain and fresh plowed earth …
Touch the world, feel its textures … the rough bark of a pine tree, the feel of sand in our hand … cool water washing our face on a hot day, or a hot shower on cold night … the comfort of our pillow, the warmth of a quilt … the hand of one you love so dearly …
Taste the world - what people eat and what people drink … the crunch of a crisp apple, the smooth taste of a fine wine, a good bourbon on the rocks; ice cream and hot fudge; a steaming-hot baked potato; roasted lamb or fresh fish … sample it all … not all of it will taste good … some of our tastes are acquired tastes … and what’s delicious in one man’s home is not so good for another …
But use all the senses - God-given senses … see the world, listen to the world, smell the world, touch the world, taste the world.
The Psalmist said, Oh taste and see that the LORD is good [Psalm 34.8].
How interesting that the Psalmist refers to taste as a way to see … taste and see that the LORD is good … I can only think of good bread and fine wine … a roast lamb or an ox - or whatever else pleases the palette and quenches our thirst and smells good to the LORD God Almighty … the Passover Meal and the LORD’s Supper … taste and see, that the LORD is good.
The world is good and full of beauty … clouds above us and children at play … our favorite aunt and a splendid meal … right here in church, hymns to gladden the heart and a gospel to call us to life.
Rejoice says Paul the Apostle … rejoice always …
And then we can pray:
Pray without ceasing … the kind of prayer that has little to do with asking and a whole of thanking … though this world is filled with hurt and sorrow, this world still has a surplus of good people doing good things, running the good race of faith, hope and love … faithful servants who never give up, who speak kindly, think deeply and live bravely, and bend the arc of history toward what is good and right …
Pray without ceasing; pray for the big things … like Miss America, who wants world peace … but pray for small things, too - like good schools for our kids and enough jobs in this nation with decent wages so a man can provide for his family, a woman can care for her children.
And then, says Paul:
Give thanks, in all circumstances … because this is God’s will … and if it’s God’s will, then it’s good for us … God asks of us only what’s good and right … to give thanks opens the heart and mind …
Paul is no fool … Paul knows how hard life can be … and we do, too ...
Justice fails, crime goes unpunished … women’s rights are denied, and a 17-year old boy is dead, and somehow or other that’s okay … all over the place, things go wrong, and the wrong wins - sin prevails, evil holds the upper hand; insanity wins the day - My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
But in the end of it all, Jesus says, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit … the work is finished!
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name ...
Giving thanks relieves all kinds of stress … makes like easier … eases the hurt and stress we all feel … the disappointment and the anger … giving thanks lifts burdens and lightens our mood, turns our face, even if just for a moment, to God and to God’s love at work in all things for good.
I keep thinking of what Corrine said to me last week Sunday when I asked how she was doing, “I’ve seen better days,” she said, “but I’m grateful for what I have.”
An honest statement of things … “I’ve seen better days” …
When the days add up for us, and the body isn’t what it used to be … aches and pains keep us company most of the time … our mortality begins to show more often then we like … better days, indeed … behind us now … when the past is whole lot longer than our future … when we find ourselves standing at the head of the line … no one ahead of us any longer … we’re next in line for the end of the line … we’re at the end of the street.
But “I’m thankful for what I have,” Corrine added …
“I’m thankful for what I have.”
Eyes and heart wide open!
And in all things, to God be the glory.
Amen and Amen!