Sermon Text: Note Well!
I am a dinosaur. And not the cool kind, like T-Rex. I am a dinosaur with respect to tech. I have no cable or satellite TV at my house.
I do have a cell phone, but it’s not a smart phone. It’s a very dumb phone, and I’m a dumb user. I can get texts, and I can write texts, but just barely. It takes me longer to do a text than to hand-write a letter.
I can google stuff on the internet, but I don’t understand half of it. I don’t do Facebook or Skype or Twitter.
I am a dinosaur with respect to tech. I can write and read emails, of course. But you know what? I like snail mail better.
I like to write notes or cards and send them in the actual mail. And I love to receive notes or cards in the actual mail.
Which brings me to the second reading we heard today. We heard the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It was a real letter.
It interests me that the New Testament contains four gospels, which tell the story of Jesus, and the Book of Acts, the story of the early church, and the Book of Revelation, a story about the end of the world. But the New Testament also has letters. They are real letters to real people. It’s like we get to read someone else’s mail.
Paul was a big letter writer. He stayed in touch with churches around the Roman empire by writing letters. And Philippians is my favorite.
Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi in Greece is for the most part a thank-you note full of love.
He’s writing to thank them for the money they sent him. And it’s obvious that those Philippians have a big place in his heart. He writes, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” And they love him back. He writes, “It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart.”
The letter to the Philippians is full of love and encouragement and gratitude. Some of Paul’s letters are pretty grumpy. But writing to the Philippians, he’s hardly grumpy at all — there’s just one very short grumpy part. Overall, this is a charming thank-you letter full of love, encourage-ment, and gratitude.
I think it felt good to get a letter like this. The Philippian church liked it enough to save it and share it, and now we have it, too. I think it felt good to get a letter like this because I feel good when I get a letter like this.
Sometimes people are kind enough to write me a note or send a card. It might be to thank me for something, or to tell me they liked something I did or said. And you know what? I save these cards, notes and letters. I have a file full of them. And if I’m feeling kind of low, I can pull them out and read them again. It makes me feel good.
So I want to encourage you to follow in the footsteps of the apostle Paul in this way: write notes of encouragement and gratitude. It makes a big difference for the people who receive your card or letter or note. It doesn’t have to be a huge, long epistle. Just tell the truth about your good feelings about this person you’re addressing. It’s amazing how much it means to people. I know it means a lot to me.
We’ve heard a lot in the news about the death of one of the Presidents. The late George H.W. Bush was our president from 1988 until 1992. He was a lifelong member of the Episcopal Church, you know. He was also a lifelong writer of kind thank you notes. This is well-known, and often mentioned. Apparently, he was a good listener, believed in the importance of kindness, and had the habit of writing thank you notes. That makes him a good example as a President, and as a human being. And I like that he was an Episcopalian.
So let’s follow his example, which is also the example of St. Paul. Let’s write cards and notes and letters of gratitude and kindness to people. Okay, it’s even all right to send nice emails — if I get one of those, I print it out and save it.
There is a bonus for doing this. Sending a nice note to someone will make them feel better. But it will also make YOU feel better! There is scientific research that backs this up. Studies show that expressing gratitude makes us happier, more energetic, and more hopeful.
One study asked people to spend fifteen minutes once a week over eight weeks writing letters of gratitude to people they were thankful for. The individuals who did this became much happier during the study and the happiness remained after the study. So writing letters or cards or notes of encouragement and gratitude not only makes the recipients happier. It also makes the writer happier! How cool is that?
It seems to have worked this way for Paul as he wrote his letter to the Philippians. He used words like “joy” and “rejoice” over and over again in the letter. He seems to have found contentment no matter what circumstances he was facing. He wrote about rejoicing, and thanksgiving, and how these practices lead to the peace of God, which passes all under-standing.
So you don’t have to take my word for it. You can believe Paul, who wrote to the Philippians, “I thank my God every time I remember you.”
And you can take the word of the scientific researchers studying the relationship between gratitude and happiness.
I may be a dinosaur when it comes to technology like computers, tablets, and phones. But I’m big on the technology of thank you notes, whether in the form of letters and cards, or even texts and emails.
And like the apostle Paul, I believe that the technology of thank you notes will make both me and the people to whom I write happier.
So if you want to make people happier, and if you want to make yourself happier, start writing your own epistles! Get busy on those thank-you notes!