Be a Blessing: Give Thanks

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Most of you know this, but I used to a professional fundraiser. And there’s this thing that we use in fundraising—there’s this tool that we use in fundraising—called the gift cycle.

The gift cycle is not complicated. There are details, of course. There are nuances. But it is designed to be simple, efficient, and effective. It goes like this: engage, ask, thank, report, repeat.

Engage. Stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the donor, look out at the horizon, and envision a better world together.

Ask. Turn to the donor, look them in the eyes, and tell them what their generous gift can do to make that better world a reality. Be direct and say the words, “I would like you to think about making a gift of…”

Thank. Let the donor know that they did something important and that you are grateful. Send a letter. Write a card. Make a phone call. Say the words, “Thank you for making a better world.”

Report. Stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the donor, look at the better world that they created, and tell them about it. Point out the details. Show they what they did.

And then do it all again… and again… and again.

It’s a good tool. It’s a powerful tool. It is simple, it is efficient, and it is effective.

So when I was a fundraiser, one of the most important things that I did—one of the most important parts of my job—was thanking people.

I wrote the official gift acknowledgement letters… the boring form letters… and I made sure that they went out within two business days of our receiving a gift. A week later, I sent a handwritten thank you card. If someone was a first time donor, I picked up the phone and called them to say thank you.

And when I was doing those things, I did not ask for another gift. Our gratitude for their gift stood on its own. And the next time that I did ask for a gift, I started by thanking them for their previous one.

I was grateful, and my donors were thanked. We all knew that they had made a better world. No matter who they were, or where they were on life’s journey, or how much they had given.

One time, I tried to get my Board of Directors in on it. I tried to get them to understand how important thanking people was. So I asked them to spend some time at every board meeting calling donors and saying thank you.

And that proved too much. It’s scary to pick up the phone and call a stranger, even if it’s just to say thank you. So I asked them to spend some time at every board meeting writing notes to donors and saying thank you. And I even offered to provide some text for them. They could use it or not. But they wouldn’t have to stare at a blank note and think about how to say thank you.

And that proved too much. There was important work to do at board meetings. And those important things took time. And there wasn’t time to write notes during the meetings. So we settled on this:

Every month, I gave every Board member a short list of donors. And some text, so that they wouldn’t have to stare at a blank note. And every month, every board member would write a grand total of three thank you notes to donors who had given a lot, or who gave often, or who had given for the first time, or who I had just randomly selected.

And I’ll admit it: I wanted them to do this because I wanted those donors to get an extra layer of thanks… because an extra layer of thanks is positively correlated to donors giving more money and giving more often.

But I also wanted them to do this because I had been thanking people for a long time. I had been sending letters and writing cards and making phone calls. And I knew something important. And I wanted to share it with them.

Thanking people feels good. Being grateful feels good. Giving thanks gives life. And I wanted these people—these people who were in charge of an organization that helped people in need—to know that. I wanted them to experience that.

And I think that they did. I think that those donors got an extra layer of thanks. And I think that those Board members got to sit down, and feel a spirit of gratitude, and give thanks. And I think that all of them got a blessing. And I think that all of them gave a blessing.

Today, we are continuing our summer sermon series about being a blessing: about leading with love, praying often, practicing peace, giving thanks, being joyful, being kind, doing good, having courage, working for justice, being the light, and encouraging others.

We’ve talked about leading with love. We’ve talked about praying often. We’ve talked about practicing peace. And now we’re here: be a blessing, give thanks.

And our reading today is a psalm. It’s a hymn. It’s a song. It’s the kind of thing that someone might sing in the Temple, or the synagogue, or at home. It’s the kind of thing that someone might rock out to in the car, or hum while doing dishes, or sing in the shower. Maybe.

And we don’t know the melody. And we don’t know the chords. But we know the words. And the thing about these words is that they’re not complicated. They’re not fancy. They’re not polysyllabic monstrosities.

These are the simple words of someone giving thanks. Not making a show of giving thanks. Just giving thanks.

God… I give you thanks with my whole heart. I sing your praises in front of everyone. I bow down and thank you for your steadfast love and your constant faithfulness.

God… I was walking through the middle of trouble—I was walking right through the wrath of my enemies—and I called out for you. And you answered me. You reached out your hand and you rescued me.

Thank you. What else can I say? Thank you.

It is the song of someone who has seen all of the blessings that God has given them—who has seen God’s salvation… who has seen God’s liberation—and who can do nothing else but say thank you.

And we are all right there with that songwriter. Because we know that God loves the world this way. God creates and sustains a world; and God gives it to us as a gift. And when we break it, God comes into the world as one of us, among a dispossessed people in an occupied land, and shares our common lot. God shows us how to live and love and be human. And when we hang God on a cross and lay God in a tomb, God gets up again and tells us, “I’m not done with you yet.”

God reaches out to us in all of our brokenness. God pulls us up from the ash heap. God takes on the burden of putting us back together again. God fills the cracks with gold. God makes our scars into artwork. God restores us to life.

We have seen God’s salvation. We have seen God’s liberation. What else can we do but say thank you? Not make a show of saying thank you. Not heap up empty phrases. Just say, in words that are simple and sincere, thank you.

Well… now that I think about it a little bit…

The thing about giving thanks is that it makes us see things in a new light.

When we are grateful—when we give thanks—we have to look at what is in front of us and admit that we didn’t make it all by ourselves. We have to acknowledge that someone else gave it to us. We have to see it as a gift; we have to see it as a blessing.

And once we do that… once we do that just a little bit… we start to notice that there are a lot of blessings around us. There’s the sun and the clouds, the trees and the grass, the birds and the squirrels. There’s this whole world. There’s this steadfast love and constant faithfulness.

And there might just be enough and more than enough.

And when we realize that, God might just stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us and ask us to envision a better world with them. And then God might ask us to use all of the blessings that they have given to us to make that world.

And then we might take all of these blessings that God has given to us and share them around. Not out of a sense of guilt… or shame… or even vague obligation. But out of a sense of deep and profound gratitude that God has given us not only enough, but enough to share.

And in our gratitude, we might discover more and more blessedness. And we might become more and more of a blessing. And the world might move closer and closer to being the kingdom of God.

Hallelujah. Amen.

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