Thanksgiving Making Memories

Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd                                                               Oct. 8, 2017

II Corinthians 9:6-15


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our God.

How many here believe in karma? A few weeks ago, Allan McKay and I were meeting with some Buddhist leaders to plan next year’s Buddhist-Christian Lenten Study. At one point, they began to talk about karma. I was thinking, at the time, that karma is not part of our Christian beliefs. But when I read this passage from II Corinthians, I realized that we do have our own version of karma: “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Proverbs also has a verse about this: “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity.” (Prov 22:8) And so, it seems that our Judaeo-Christian tradition does support the cause and effect notion of karma—at least in this life.

When it seems as if a lot of complaints and negativity are being directed our way, we might want to look at ourselves and see if we are sending out negative energy to others. Conversely, if we make a point of telling others what we appreciate in them, we will probably receive positive energy in return. We reap what we sow.

We usually don’t realize how much lasting effect our words and actions can have on others. There is a United Church camp just outside of Stratford, Ontario. One of the rooms in the main lodge is for the staff. Painted above the doors that lead out of the room are the words, “Remember: you never know when you’re making a memory.” These words were meant to remind staff that, even if they were exhausted, they still had a responsibility to make camp as meaningful and life-giving as they could for the campers and, in return, for themselves. I wonder if these words would make any difference for us if they were painted over the inside of our bedroom doorways? If our words and actions do have a lasting impact, may God grant that they be positive. There, but by the grace of God, truly go we.

How we say or do something matters just as much as what we say or do. Our tone of voice and the manner in which we carry out our actions matter. Emotional memory tends to last longer than factual memory. We may forget dates, names, and even events, but we seldom forget events that carry an emotional impact. I now have to say some things repeatedly to my father, who used to have the memory of an elephant. But if my father has an emotional attachment to something—be it positive or negative—he’s not likely to forget!

II Corinthians reminds that how we give impacts the emotional effect of our gift. If we give begrudgingly of our money or our time, we tarnish the gift. But if we give cheerfully with a genuine heart, love magnifies the gift. We may never know the impact of our gifts, actions and words. They may be fleeting in memory, or they may have a lasting impact. Once they are given, thought, they are out of our control and placed into God’s hands of grace.

Last week someone told me that they ran into a woman who spoke warmly about how Nancy and I had helped her out and what a difference that had made in her life. I’m embarrassed to say that neither Nancy nor I even remember her. Her name doesn’t ring a bell, nor her story. But apparently, whatever little thing we did stuck in her memory. You never know how a passing word or deed, no matter how small, might affect someone.

Robert Bly tells the story of a young man who realized that he had never told his father that he loved him. So he decided to pick up the phone and do so.

“Hi Dad, it’s me.”

“Oh, um, hi son! I’ll go get your mother…”

“No, don’t get Mom. It’s you I want to talk to.”

After a brief pause, “Why? Do you need money?”

“No, Dad. It’s just that I’ve been thinking a lot about you. About all that you’ve done for me, working all those years to put me through university, supporting us. My life’s going pretty well now and it’s because of what you did to get me started. I just thought about it and realised that I’d never really said, “Thanks.”

Silence on the other end of the phone.

“So, thanks, Dad. I love you.”

“Son, you been drinking?”

On this weekend of thanks-giving, I offer you a little challenge. You each have a yellow piece of paper with the words “I’m grateful” at the top. I invite you to think about someone for whom you are grateful and write them a little note on this piece of paper. For those of you who have cell phones—I’m actually giving you permission to pull out your phones in the middle of the sermon and send someone a little message about your gratitude for them. Now—resist the temptation to look at any incoming texts or emails for you. Focus on the person to whom you would like to give thanks. I’ll give us a minute or two to do this right now.

God promises that when we live and give cheerfully and generously, we will receive abundant blessings in return—kind of a Christian karma. Some of what we give may be of little note while other gifts may have a tremendous impact. We will never know the full effect of our legacy on this earth. But let us live and give as if every word and every action will make memory.