Sermon
November 18, 2001
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Psalm 98:1-9

O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done
marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
The LORD has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the
sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of
Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song
and sing praises.
Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of
melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King,
the LORD.
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the
presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the
world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
(NRSV)

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Sermon: The Fine Art of Appreciation

It has been said that in the midst of all the bad things that have gone on
in the past few months, one big positive we can point to is the increased
appreciation most people have for their country, for their freedom, and for
the men and women who serve in our fire, police, rescue, social and military
services.

To appreciate something is to be aware of its worth, its value, its
significance.  To show appreciation is to express thankfulness and
gratitude.  Appreciation, I would say, is a fine art that creates an
abundant quality of living, and should be practiced in every season, but
especially now as we approach our national day of Thanksgiving.

I probably would not have thought about appreciation as a fine art except
that I have a daughter who is currently enrolled in University that has two
main schools - the Fine Arts and the Performing Arts.  All students in the
Fine Arts program have to take what they call a Foundation curriculum, which
involves a lot of very basic skills in training the eye to appreciate all
the elements of visual perception - line, texture, shape, tone, density,
balance, hue, saturation, color, contrast, brightness, format, perspective,
design, and all the elements that we take for granted when we enjoy a work
of art, but elements that the professional artist must appreciate,
understand, and master.

At the orientation for new students one of the professors asked the gathered
crowd what the difference was between a professional and a master.  What is
the difference between a professional and a master?  After a few minutes or
rambling about he said that the difference was that the professional
understands the vocabulary of art, but the master creates the vocabulary.
Boy, was I glad I hadn't raised my hand with my answer, because I thought
the difference was about $5.50 per hour.

I think the professor's overall point was to give the students a sense that
they had a lot to learn - and that they had come to the right place to study
fine art.

Sometimes, in learning the fine art of appreciation, there are things we
have to unlearn first, and the biggest unlearning we do regards any attitude
of entitlement

I must admit I have a lot to unlearn in this area, although I think it was
even more of a problem when I was younger than it is now. I won't bore you
with all my sins and slights against my parents, but suffice it to say I was
not very appreciative of all the ways they generously provided for my
well-being.   However, seeing this attitude of entitlement widely spread
among the young, perhaps I was more to be pitied than censured.  It seems
like a common human failing and beyond that, the attitude of entitlement can
even creep into the life of one of our most guileless and humble friends,
the family dog

Take, for example, our dog Maxwell.  We generally give Maxwell a milk-bone
when he comes in from being outside.  But this past week I realized how this
little ritual had progressed from a treat to a pattern to a habit to an
attitude of entitlement.

I was making lunch and had just let Max in from being out front.  I went
back to slicing my steak when I could feel his eyes staring me down.  There
was no noise of words, but I felt I could hear what was going on in his
mind.

I didn't look at him, but in my head I head this small voice say: Where's my
bone?

I was shocked.  I said, Max, you think you deserve a bone every time you
come in the front door?

He said: Yes I do.  It's what we dogs call "our deal" and what you fancy
congregational clergy call a covenant: I come in; I get a bone.  Where is
it?

Don't get snappy, I said, and worse, don't get theological with me. It's not
a deal.  A bone is a privilege, a treat, a generous gift.

At this, he cut me off - Some gift, he said.  You're slicing steak and your
holding back on the bone.  Let's trade places and I'll make you beg and you
can pass me the A1 sauce.

Well, I could see there was no winning this argument, and I gave him the
bone.  As he walked off I heard him mutter "Thanks" but it had a definite
sarcastic edge to it.

Maybe it's the dog part of our brain where our sense of entitlement resides,
because it seems to be a human failing that knows no boundary of time or
culture.

God must have had something of the same problem long ago, or why would there
be a passage like this in the book of Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 8:11-18 Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God, by
failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I
am commanding you today.  When you have eaten your fill and have built fine
houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and
your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied,
then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you
out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,  who led you through
the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes
and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in
the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you
and to test you, and in the end to do you good.
 Do not say to yourself, "My power and the might of my own hand have gotten
me this wealth." But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you
power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to
your ancestors, as he is doing today.

Sounds like there might have been an attitude of entitlement among the
people - that the blessings of their life was due them because of their own
power and the might of their own hand.  That they had some kind of deal
struck with God.

Also in the passage we are given clues to the curriculum of learning the
fine art of appreciation: Do not exalt yourself, do not forget the Lord your
God, remember your own history and the ways in which others have laid the
foundation for the good things you enjoy in life.

When we see the world through the lens of entitlement, the best we can hope
for is a begrudging sense of having gotten what was coming to us.  Life is
painted in dull gray shades of debit and credit.  Perhaps when we die we'll
break even.

But when we paint our view of life from the palate of the fine art of
appreciation, life glows in the rich vibrant colors of grace.  We take
nothing for granted.  Each day is a gift, another opportunity to taste and
see the sweetness of being alive and sensing the love of God which surrounds
and sustains us.  There may be pain, there may be sadness, but we are alive,
and life is good.  Perhaps when we die we can inherit eternal life.

When we appreciate life, on our lips, and in our hearts, we can join in the
song Chuck Meier sang so beautifully for us this morning:

All good things around us are sent from heaven above,
so thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for all his love.
Amen
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