“For though they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude. instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
A couple of days ago, I started listening again to a modern Broadway classic. I guess I was just missing the stage a bit. Not the being on it, just the watching. One of the things Lisa and I so enjoyed doing together before COVID shut everything down was going to the theater–that is, stage shows, not the cinema. This particular show is widely held to be one of the best of this generation. It was certainly different from anything that had premiered before. Technically an opera, it glorified one of America’s less well-known Founding Fathers and did so almost entirely with the musical genre of hip-hop. And by now you know exactly what show I’m talking about. I spent this week listening to the excellent music of Hamilton.
Now, if we’re going to talk about Hamilton, there is much to discuss. It has been analyzed endlessly and for good reason. Again: it’s really good. And I’m secure enough to admit that I was late to the party. It had been out for several years before I finally listened to it. I’m not usually one to jump onto bandwagons and Hamilton definitely seemed like a bandwagon. Also, I don’t usually just listen to Broadway music in my spare time (even though I really do enjoy much of it…the old stuff anyway). I think I was also silently rebelling against the fact that I would never get to see it since tickets even for its national tour were harder to get than Wonka’s golden variety and cost about the same as a mortgage payment. I don’t have ticket connections and I like living indoors.
And then, once we secured season tickets to our local Broadway theater which were going to include tickets to see it this year, COVID came along and it got cancelled. Go figure.
Thankfully, Disney+ made it into a movie and I can now say I am a proud, card-carrying member of the Hamilton fan club.
In any event, what has me talking about it this morning is just how profound is one line from what is probably my favorite song in the show. The song is called “The Schuyler Sisters” and it introduces Alexander’s wife to the audience. The song has the three young ladies walking around New York, checking out the eligible young gentlemen, and marveling at the city and times in which they’re living.
The line I have in mind comes on the lips of Elizabeth Schuyler whose sense of humble wonder at the world is contagious as she appears again and again throughout the show. Even in her pain, her character carries with it a constant sense of gentle grace. As she walks around the city with her sisters taking in the sights and the times she proclaims, “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”
The context for this invitation to wonder is their rapidly advancing society and the revolutionary fervor buzzing in the air. There was a palpable sense of history to everything that was going on at the times. The sentiment is one of deep gratitude for the privilege of living when and where they did.
There is a lesson here for us if we are willing to pay attention and learn it. This is a lesson the Christian worldview calls us to learn as followers of Jesus, but the wisdom here is something God built into the fabric of creation itself. It is a bit of wisdom we ignore at our peril as Paul tells us here at the beginning of his letter to the believers of ancient Rome. Paul’s context here is not at all the same as that of the Schuyler sisters walking around New York, but the wisdom is the same.
Paul here was offering an indictment of humanity trying to find a righteousness apart from God. And usually, when this passage gets preached or taught, the focus is on the fact that people did not acknowledge God as God in spite of abundant evidence to the contrary. This broke our minds and we couldn’t engage with the world any longer as it actually is. Indeed, when you cease to accept reality as such, you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of frustration.
But Paul slips something else in here as a further explanation for the brokenness. Not only would we not acknowledge God as such, we didn’t show gratitude. This sometimes gets treated as a throwaway line, but it’s not. This is a whole lot more important than we might realize. Gratitude is essential to a life that is rich and full. When we cease to look at the world around us from a perspective of gratitude, we begin to take it for granted. We begin to assume it is just there for us to use and abuse. We begin to take advantage of it. And, when we’re willing to take advantage of the world itself, taking advantage of the people in it enters the realm of possibility.
When we see the world through a lens of gratitude, though, our foundational assumption begins to change. Now it is not ours – after all, who is grateful for something that is and was always yours? – but rather something that was given to us. It is a gift. More than that, it is something on loan. It was never ours to start with. This means we must handle it with care. Concern and compassion must be our guardrails. And, if we have care and compassion and concern for the world itself, we will begin to show the same things to the people who are in it. The outcome here is completely different.
We can switch contexts with Paul and come to the same wisdom. In Philippians 4:5-6, Paul tells us how to experience the peace of God when our circumstances are not to our liking. We submit our requests to Him. But we don’t just submit our requests to Him. Click through or otherwise look up the verses and see for yourself. We submit our requests to Him with thanksgiving. There it is. Gratitude.
Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.
But are we really lucky to be alive right now? Our world is in chaos. COVID didn’t just cancel my chance to finally get to see Hamilton on stage. It has cancelled everything everywhere. We’ve crossed the 100 million infected mark. In just this country, we are on pace to see a half a million people die from it. That’s almost like losing the entire population of the state of Wyoming! Where’s the luck? For what can we be grateful?
How about the fact that we live at a time when medical technology and understanding is such that we have developed not one, not two, but several different vaccines and in a truly record amount of time? Had this same virus broken out in a previous generation the death toll might have been several orders of magnitude higher than it is. And no vaccine would have been developed.
How about being grateful for the best of humanity that the hard season we have been through has brought out? The anecdotes run far and wide of spectacular acts of kindness and generosity from person to person. I’ve talked before about John Krasinski’s excellent YouTube show, Some Good News, highlighting a sampling of these.
How about being grateful for the incredible opportunity followers of Jesus have to advance the Gospel in practical, meaningful ways, to a people hungrier for the hope it promises than they have been for quite some time?
Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.
When gratitude is your outlook, abundance and joy will be your companions. Try it on for size and experience the sweet fruits that will come your way.