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5 Pentecost - Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Perhaps the prophets were so memorable because their voices were so painfully off-key.

Last week, we heard Jeremiah's screech doubts about Hananiah's popular hit, a song of

peace released during good times that Jeremiah knew were not going to last.

This week, we hear from Zechariah, who is equally out of touch and out of tune.

The doom and gloom that Jeremiah had so unpopularly predicted had come true.

God's people spent a generation-plus exiled in a foreign country, then finally returned home ... to a ghost town.

The temple was rubble, the infrastructure was in ruins, the broken streets were full of chaos and confusion and crime, and the economy wobbled like a drunk after midnight.

Immediate prospects for improvement were bleak.

So Zechariah put on his "I Heart 2020" t-shirt and started singing Bobby McFerrin.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Look, your king is pulling up in a 1973 Pinto; triumphant and victorious is he!

Woo-hoo!

Remember the weirdo who called yesterday and said that this year was the best 4th of July ever?

The biblical term for that guy is "prophet."

A woman in my first congregation went through a personal hell for two years.

Her husband died, her son was incarcerated, and her daughter committed suicide.

In the midst of this unthinkable stretch, she went to her pastor, who sounded like a prophet.

He said to her, "Thank God every day."

Twenty years later, she was still doing so, and still thanking her insensitive former pastor too.

His unwelcome, off-key truth had been critical in pulling her through.

You don't need me to tell you that these are bleak and heartbreaking times.

We are choking in a thick smog of grief: from every direction, from every political

perspective, there is some mix of denial and anger and desperate bargaining and sad

resolve because the world is changing too fast, and not changing fast enough, and face

coverings are annoying, and inconvenience feels like an assault on our sacred freedom.

We are losing loved ones and jobs and businesses and opportunities and security and confidence in our country and time with friends and in person worship and far too much of an entire worldview and way of life that many of us have spent countless years and dollars building and believing in ... and there is no relief in sight, and the news only keeps getting worse.

More confirmed cases of the virus.

More restrictions.

More closures.

More questions and less trust in those who give answers.

More division and entrenchment and polarization and gridlock and political venom.

More deaths.

More disillusionment and disgust and despair.

What are we to do?

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Thank God every day.

I do not say this to diminish or dismiss the suffering that is so acute and widespread right now.

I do not say this to minimize or deny very real, legitimate pain or to insult those of us

who are enduring it.

I do not say this to ignore reality or disguise it in naive, Pollyanna positive thinking, and I plead with you not to insult or burden anyone else with artificial cheer.

Life sucks right now for many, many people, and it looks like it will for the foreseeable future.

Lament it, process it, face it, grieve it.

And also rejoice, shout aloud, and thank God every dismal day.

As the woman in my former congregation could tell you, some days it is an enormous struggle.

Some days it is all you can do to try; it is too much to thank God even for breath and mean it when it feels like a curse to be alive.

But the discipline of gratitude is an act of resistance.

It is a defiant refusal to let despair win.

It is also a powerful No to a culture that bludgeons people a thousand times and ways every day with the lie that life is not good enough, that we can't be satisfied until we have more.

Gratitude redirects our eyes to stop focusing on what we don't have and appreciate what we do.

It is sometimes the last and best card we have to play.

After bawling out the world around him, Jesus thanked God.

He didn't start there; first thing he did was complain about the people around him.

There was no satisfying them: they would not cry at a funeral or laugh at a party.

They wouldn't accept God's prophets sad or happy, judgmental or joyful.

He was wasting his breath on a generation that refused to accept anything God was trying to say.

Some clergy can sympathize, and medical experts, and political leaders, and people of color, and others.

Our lectionary cuts out the withering rant Jesus unleashes on the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent; even the church officially plugs its ears when Jesus talks sometimes.

Finally, however, Jesus lifts the head he's been shaking skyward and finds a way to thank God.

I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things

from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yup, Dad, I guess

that's what you wanted to do.

Thank you, God, for the stubborn ignorance all around me, which is so stunning that it has to be your handiwork!

Rejoice greatly, O Son of Man.

Thank God every day.

There is goodness in every time and place, even ours, though sometimes it is impossibly hidden, as Luther said God is and Jesus said the kingdom is and Paul said our life is.

Gratitude can help keep us connected to the goodness we so often cannot see.

This weekend, therefore, we at Shepherd are providing another delivery of worship bags to members of our faith family who live nearby.

Most importantly, they will contain elements for our Thanksgiving feast, the Eucharist, to use the Greek name for it.

At the heart of Holy Communion is giving thanks to God, specifically for that ugly episode at the cross, the gruesome death in which God has hidden our deepest and dearest hope.

The bag will also include a grateful and hopeful prayer for our nation as we mark the anniversary of its founding and an offering envelope, not primarily because the church needs the money (although let's be honest, we do), but because Christian souls need the chance to give gratefully to God a fraction of what God has given us.

Offering is not paying dues or purchasing anything; it is saying thank you.

And there will be one more item in each worship bag: a pad of post-it notes.

Please use each one of them to scribble someone or something for which you are thankful.

Then stick them up in your home.

Surround yourself with little squares of gratitude, reminders in every direction of reasons you

have to thank God for those days when it is too hard to remember.

Maybe, just maybe, we can make a dent in the frustration and fatigue and despair of these days.

Maybe we can tune our hearts to sing off-key enough to dislodge others around us toward

hope and joy.

Things are too terrible right now to do otherwise; this world needs good news more than ever.

People of God, please: Rejoice greatly.

Give thanks today.

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