August 09, 2021
The Proper 15B Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for John 6:51-58 from the Lectionary Gospel; I Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14 from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 34:9-14 from the Lectionary Psalms; and Ephesians 5:15-20 from the Lectionary Epistle.
Related Reformed confession: Lectionary Gospel: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 79 (Lord’s Day 29)
Author: Chelsey Harmon
If you’re using the questions/objections to belief structure that I laid out last week, this week’s question from John 6 is: “How can he give us his flesh to eat?” The challenge: God offends us.
When the people asked that question to each other, they were offended at the thought of even being associated with it. Jesus seems to have uttered “fighting words” by telling them that they would “chomp on” his offered flesh—to think! Cannibalism! And Jesus makes the statement so nonchalantly—as though he’s been talking about it this whole time.
Do you notice that the people who have been in our stories for the last four weeks have not actually been talking with Jesus since verse 34? When they speak in verses 41-42, like here in verse 52, they react to Jesus’ words by talking to each other and not to him. They’re listening to Jesus, taking in his words, but they’re venting their frustration and confusion and questions with each other. It’s as though they’ve already taken a step back from him because what he is saying doesn’t make sense, and even worse, is offensive.
God is pretty good at offending us.
Notice the path that Jesus himself makes in parallel to their distancing activity. They came looking for him because he gave them a real meal. Then when they find him, he tells them that what he actually offers is an eternal spiritual banquet, thereby shutting down their “full bellies” idea and elevating the conversation from the physical to the spiritual (offering hearts full of wonder). As he does so, Jesus proclaims himself as more than Moses, says he is the bread of heaven itself, the miraculous gift of God. Furthermore, when they ask how this impossible thing can be so, Jesus raises the ante by saying that though he is physical, he is not of this world as they are (or Moses was); he is the gift of the Father for the life of the world; he is something unique, a way of being spiritual and physical that literally no one else is. Taken together, it does sound quite bizarre.
And now, what started as a spiritual truth is being proclaimed as a physical one: Jesus will offer up his flesh and they will eat it if they want eternal life. Jesus brings the topic back down to the very physical in a highly offensive way. He even calls his flesh “true food” and his blood “true drink.” True could also be translated as “real”… real bread and real drink. WHAT? But, like Jesus is, this is not just physical bread and cup, this is also spiritual nourishment.
About this, Dale Bruner writes in his John commentary: “the incarnate earthly Jesus rarely leaves his saving ways in the merely spiritual or subjective realms. He almost always makes the spiritual physical and the subjective objective.” (The Gospel of John: A Commentary, p. 432) Bruner goes on to talk about why God does this: to make it easier for us humans, more accessible. Oddly, what they came looking for in the first place is back on the proverbial table, just not in any way they would have imagined.
It’s quite the juxtaposition: that the thing that offends is also the thing that makes it easier to accept.
How? I think that the key to the “how” comes in what Jesus says next in verse 56: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Over and over these last few weeks Jesus has told us to eat. To integrate him into our very being and daily existence. To accept what he offers, be nourished, and live. He first had to clear us of the notion that this is only physical before he could return it to being physical.
All of the verb tenses for having eternal life, for the living God, and that God and ourselves abide with one another, are in the present tense. (Promises for eternal life show up in the future tense.) We abide just as we sustain life: by eating.
In this, Jesus is not saying something new. We saw in verses 24-35 that Jesus was offering himself as our continuous nourishment. And in verses 1-21, we saw how physically feeding people brought them together—not only with each other, but in leading them to seek out Jesus for more. It culminates here as Jesus presents himself as the both/and.
Of course, we have the benefit of fuller knowledge of the gospel story. We know that Jesus offers his flesh for the life of the world as the bread on the cross. We also know how Christ made this pericope’s offensive message even more physical and concrete: the Lord’s Supper. Whenever we gather at the table, we “take, eat, remember and believe that the body of our Lord was given… and the blood of Christ was shed… for us…”
To us who believe this account of reality, the whole thing has become less offensive and easier to accept because we’ve got more of the “chapters.” But remember that the early church was accused of cannibalism—the very thing the people gathered around Jesus are offended to hear themselves be told to do! And if you consider all of the various views and debates that are still circulating on what is actually happening in the Lord’s Supper—does the bread turn into Jesus’ flesh? is it the “real” presence of Christ?—perhaps we’re still a bit offended by the idea of eating Jesus’ actual flesh and drinking his actual blood.
So we return to the notion of abiding. In one sense, abiding is participating with someone in something. The apostle Paul tells us when we drink the communion cup and eat from the shared loaf we are “participating” in the body and blood of Christ. (1 Corinthians 10.16) We are acknowledging that spiritually, we are becoming one with God through Christ because of how he gave himself physically, and somehow, we’re becoming part of that physical sacrifice. The meal is meant to be this reminder that Jesus Christ isn’t just a spiritual reality, he was and is a physical one. Lest we forget and let it all be a “spiritual thing,” we remember the gospel story in its entirety with the physical experience, eating the bread and drinking the cup of the communion meal.
Or perhaps we’re offended by the whole idea that a real, true, sacrifice was necessary. Difficulties with substitutionary atonement are not new; it is an idea that still offends. (And it is an incomplete picture of the whole of Christ’s mediation for humanity, so some hesitancy may be warranted.) The people gathered around Jesus are offended at the idea of what they must do for the offering of life that Jesus describes. But the reason it must be done can also be offensive: needing someone besides yourself… that in some way, we don’t (and can’t ever) measure up on our own. Unfortunately, so much of our sin talk today has become associated with the idea of “being bad” people, which is an offensive idea. Normal, law-abiding citizens aren’t bad people! How many of us have walked by a street evangelist and been turned off by being told to repent or face the wrath of God?
The Heidelberg Catechism’s Q & A 79 connects the sacrifice and abiding for us by framing it with the covenantal language God chose to use while instituting the Supper with his disciples [connections to our text added]:
…he wants to assure us, by this visible sign and pledge, [i.e., physical]
that we, through the Holy Spirit’s work,
share in his true body and blood [both physically and spiritually]
as surely as our mouths receive these holy signs in his remembrance,
and that all of his suffering and obedience [it was real, true]
are as definitely ours [in a real, true way]
as if we personally
had suffered and paid for our sins.”
There’s no hiding from the real, true nature of the work of Christ. To abide is to become immersed and intwined in it. I’m not sure that this is less offensive, but it reorients it as a relational reality rather than us “being bad” people, which is good.
A clear emphasis for Jesus throughout John 6 is on us having life and living. If abiding is participating with someone, then when we abide with Jesus, (according to him!) we are abiding with the living Father (God). When we integrate Jesus into our very existence by feeding on him spiritually, we come to live his way physically. Or in the language of the Lord’s Supper table, having been reconciled with God, we become God’s agents of reconciliation in the world. More and more we become the “true” body and manifestation of Christ on earth that Paul says the church is…
To overcome being offended, to have eternal life, and to be nourished even now in this life so that we might not die but abide with Jesus in the present, all we have to do is eat and believe. It seems to me that we cannot rationalize our way to it and we can’t avoid directly encountering God by talking amongst ourselves. At some point, we have to take Søren Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith,” go through C.S. Lewis’ wardrobe, and sit at the table of God, encounter the Holy Spirit, and eat Jesus’ flesh. Just go for it; life’s on offer.
Obviously, this would be a great Sunday to have the communion meal together. It would also be a good opportunity to create more space for reflecting on what is happening in the meal, according to your tradition, and to underscore that the meal is about something that happened in the past (Jesus came down from heaven just the once), is happening in the present (we are continuously nourished when we eat, integrate, and put into practice all that the Holy Spirit offers to us), and will happen in the future (when Christ raises us up into life eternal). These have been the main points of our time in John 6, after all.
The Lord’s Supper and God’s Offensive Welcome
If you want to further expand upon the offensiveness that is the reconciling work of Christ, Scott Hoezee’s sermon commentary from this text last time around is a stellar one.
Going for it!
When it comes to “just going for it,” I’m reminded of that scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, when Harry is at the train station to head to Hogwarts for the first time. Confused and more than a little unsure of what to do, he asks a train employee for help, but the employee is a “muggle” so he has no idea about magical things. Opportunely, the Weasley family arrives and they help him learn the way to Platform 9 ¾. Harry has to go by himself, but he sees the others do it with joy and fun, which makes it easier for him. Plus, waiting for him on the other side is this whole life and way of being that will allow Harry to finally, truly, be himself.
Isn’t that exactly the picture of living we imagine abiding with Jesus to be: truly being and becoming the self we are meant to be by God? I particularly love Mrs. Weasley’s line to Harry as he prepares to go through the wall: “Best to take it at a bit of a run!” YES! Let’s go!
To watch the scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTykayOv_XA
I Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14
Author: Scott Hoezee
My wife tells me I think too much about The Godfather, and if you have been paying weekly attention to these sermon commentaries of late, then you know this is indeed the second time in as many weeks that I have mentioned Francis Ford Coppola’s landmark 1974 film. But really, even more than last week’s Old Testament lection from 2 Samuel 18, parts of the first chapters in 1 Kings very much remind me of this movie.
Oh, not the parts the Common Lectionary would have you read but the really interesting texts that surround these two snippets from 1 Kings 2 and 3. Because if you know anything about the plot of the original Godfather film, then you know that at one point late in the movie and after Don Corleone’s son, Sonny, had been murdered, the Don (Marlon Brando, of course) decides to let bygones be bygones and makes a peace deal with the heads of the other five mafia families in New Jersey and New York.
Corleone wants his family to be safe for the rest of his days on this earth and so vows that if the rest of them don’t undertake any acts of vengeance for a recent series of mob warfare incidents, then neither would he. “I swear on the lives of my grandchildren that I will not be the one to break the peace we have made here this day” (which is exactly what he is saying in the photo accompanying this post).
And he didn’t. But that didn’t mean his son, Michael, couldn’t settle all family business as soon as the old Don was dead, and that is, of course, exactly what Michael does. Days after his father’s funeral, Michael choreographs and executes the murder of the heads of all five mafia crime families and even arranges the murder of his own brother-in-law who, years earlier, had been the one to help set up Michael’s brother, Sonny, to be murdered.
1 Kings 2 and 3 is all about Solomon settling all family business on behalf of his father David once David had breathed his last. As death approaches for King David, he calls in Solomon and gives him a list of old scores to settle—literally, of people Solomon is instructed to kill—seeing as one way or another David had gotten himself into situations in which during his lifetime he could not take action himself.
I hate to say it, but this is the Old Testament at its most brutal. Yes, we can carve out the verses the Lectionary has chosen and focus on David’s peaceful death and Solomon’s prudent selection of wisdom as the gift he most wants to receive from God but all of that is nestled in the midst of some real-world violence and sin and mayhem that is about as tough to swallow as it is finally to ignore.
As preachers we can elect just not to mention all that, of course, and hope that during our sermons folks’ eyes won’t wander over to other parts of the biblical text. But maybe there is something to the idea of acknowledging all this political intrigue and even the violence as a reminder that on the human level—even among God’s chosen people and anointed leaders—even the best and the wisest (and Solomon may well have been the wisest) are so deeply flawed that ultimate salvation will never emerge from them.
Indeed, in the same chapter in which we read about Solomon’s laudable selection of wisdom as the gift he most wanted from God, we are told a few verses earlier that although he mostly walked by the laws and statutes of God, nevertheless he “offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places” (1 Kings 3:3). Yes, “high places” here is code for Baal worship and all the leftover Canaanite superstitions the people of Israel were supposed to have eradicated from the land in the first place.
Apparently it’s possible to be simultaneously wise and yet fairly dumb on some matters, too.
David and Solomon represent the apex of Israelite history. It would be all downhill after these two as the kingdom splits, good and godly kings become about as rare as a $3 bill, and the whole project of Israel as God’s Chosen Nation runs pretty well off the rails thanks to the faithlessness of the one generation after the next.
But God was faithful and so brought to this earth not a king like Solomon who now and then managed to display some pretty profound wisdom but rather Wisdom incarnate, a living and talking and walking and breathing instantiation of all that is right about life in this world as God set it up in the beginning (indeed, as that Wisdom of God who is also the Word of God set it up in the beginning). It may be a little tough to spy the Gospel in a text as saturated with bad news and violence as the early chapters of 1 Kings are, but it’s surely not too tough to spy the need for a Gospel of Good News and Grace in these chapters and, given the prominence of wisdom in these same chapters, it’s also not too tough to spot that just probably Wisdom incarnate is going to be exactly what this tired and violent old world will need in the end.
From Frederick Buechner’s Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who (Harper & Row, 1979, pp. 160-61):
“Solomon was famous for his great wisdom. There wasn’t a riddle he couldn’t crack with one hand tied behind him, and he tossed off so many bon mots in the course of a day that it reached the point where people figured that if anything clever was said anywhere, it must have been Solomon who originally said it, and the whole Book of Proverbs was ascribed to his hand. His judgments in court were also praised to the skies, the most famous of them involving a couple of chippies each of whom claimed to be the mother of the same child, to which Solomon proposed the simple solution of slicing the child down the middle and giving each one half. When the first girl said that was fine by her and the second girl said she’d rather lose the case, Solomon awarded the child to the second girl, and it got all over Jerusalem within the hour. But wisdom is more than riddles and wisecracks and court-room technique, and in most things that mattered King Solomon was among the wisest fools who ever wore a crown. He didn’t even have the wit to say “Apres moi, le deluge” in Hebrew and was hardly cold in his grave when revolution split the country in two. From there on out the history of Israel was an almost unbroken series of disasters.”
Author: Scott Hoezee
It is not at all clear to me precisely the thinking behind dedicating three August Sundays to a single psalm. Preachers are challenged enough this month on the Gospel side of things with five weeks’ worth of sermons from John 6, all pretty much on the same theme. But now we are getting a triplet of the 34th psalm. Last week was the first 8 verses, this week we get the middle 6 verses, and next week we will get the last 8 verses. It feels a little like chopping up “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” across three nights with your kids: it’s hard to do because it is finally just one story! And Psalm 34 is finally just a single poem.
However, if the first and last 8 verses work a similar (if not the same) theme of how God always delivers those who call out to him, these middle verses do cover some different ground. Having just established the seemingly overly optimistic idea that God will always rescue his people when they ask him to do so, the middle portion of Psalm 34 turns to something of a challenging tone.
Yes, God can be counted on for help. However, that does not mean that as the people of God we can just coast. We have to make concerted efforts to turn from evil. We have to guard our tongues so they don’t speak lies or other evil things. The fact that the people are urged to turn from evil would seem to imply that at least some of Israel had turned toward evil at some point. And based on what we know of Israel’s history after the days of David and Solomon—just read the Minor Prophets—this was certainly the case. Idolatry, mistreatment of the poor, a flagrant disregard for God’s Law: this summed up Israel and even its leadership as often as not in its history.
But at the heart of the few verses assigned by the Lectionary this week there is a solution that is definitely a one-size-fits-all kind of spiritual prospect: nurturing a proper “fear of the Lord.” The Wisdom Literature in the Old Testament assures us that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. And in the New Testament although Jesus is mostly identified as the Word of God made flesh, it is also clear that Jesus is the Wisdom of God made flesh. Jesus himself, then, may also have been the fear of the Lord made flesh.
Years ago when reading one of Frederick Buechner’s novelizations of biblical stories, I was struck by the fact that he often had characters like Isaac and Jacob refer to their God as “The Fear.” Initially I thought this was just Buechner being clever until I checked into it more and discovered that in the Hebrew text, God actually is referred to as “The Fear” in some parts of Genesis. Maybe Isaac coined this after his father’s God very nearly had Abraham sacrifice Isaac on an altar one morning on Mount Moriah!
In any event, it is a curious designation for God and yet not surprising since the fear of the Lord is central to being a faithful follower of God. Of course, “fear” is a multifaceted word and although there is a sense in which we might fear the power of God in the sense of being a bit afraid of God, mostly in the Bible fear of the Lord was meant in the sense of having reverence for God.
Such reverence is often associated with worship. We bow down in humility before the majesty and holiness of God. We praise God for his glory. That is all right and proper. But mostly the fear of the Lord is supposed to be something we carry with us every day whether we are in an overt posture of worship or not. The primary manifestation of this kind of everyday fear is the moral shape of our lives. Do we indeed turn away from evil? Do we discipline our speech so that we speak the truth and avoid lies and slurs and slanders and gossip? Do we live gladly inside the boundaries marked off by God’s moral fences or are we always trying to move those fences to be more convenient for how we want to live?
If we properly fear the majesty and holiness of God when worshiping this same God, then that has to carry over into our behavior and actions. Throughout the Bible we know that God is nauseated by sacrifices made on the Sabbath by people who then turn right around and go back to lives of corruption and abuse. Lives that are shot through with injustice cannot be papered over in God’s sight by a few pious actions here and there when it comes time for worship.
This is the call of the middle portion of Psalm 34. If you want life abundant, fear the Lord and then act accordingly every day. If you expect God to come through for you in times of distress—as this same psalm talks about in its opening and its closing—then display your gratitude for all that in your daily walking and talking and acting.
But don’t fail to notice the last part of verse 14 when the people are called upon to pursue peace. Because this is not peace in the sense of an absence of conflict but rather shalom, that condition of living in which every person and every creature not only senses how connected he or she is to every other living person and creature but actively tries to enhance those relationships into mutually edifying relationships in which we are all striving to build one another up. In a world shot through with shalom the only competition would be to see who can out-enhance whom!
If we pursue those kinds of relationships, then the fear of the Lord will shine from every area of life. And then it will also be true that our worship is not restricted to Sundays in church but becomes a daily reality. Near as I can tell from the Bible, God may enjoy that kind of Wednesday afternoon worship when we do our jobs well and help take care of others almost as much as—maybe even more than—the Sunday stuff!
Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Romans 12:1-2 nicely captures some of what the middle part of Psalm 34 is also trying to say:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Author: Doug Bratt
Near the middle of this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson the apostle summons his readers to “understand what the Lord’s will is” (17b). In a letter that he soaks with grace, this may be among the biggest challenges he sets before God’s Ephesian adopted sons and daughters.
Paul spends much of the first part of his letter to Ephesus’ Christians talking about God’s almost countless blessings through Jesus Christ. Chapter 2 is a particularly stirring song of praise for God’s grace that not only saves God’s people but also prepares us for works of loving service to God and our neighbors.
Yet in chapter 4, the apostle begins to make a kind of “turn.” He spends much of the rest of the letter discussing the nature of the good works God prepared in advance for God’s dearly beloved people to do. Paul speaks of God’s will for Christians’ behavior as our being united in love, active in our use of the gifts the Spirit gives us and holy in our living.
While that description of God’s will basically begins in Ephesians 4:1, the apostle introduces it with 3:20-21’s doxology: “To him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work in us, to him be the glory in the church and in Jesus Christ throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” This suggests that both understanding and living out God’s will helps give God the glory that God deserves for God’s redeeming work in Jesus Christ.
Yet few things are more difficult that understanding some aspects of God’s will. The Spirit helps Christians understand part of that will in its broadest sense. We understand that, for example, God summons us to a faithful reception of God’s grace. What’s more, God invites God’s adopted children to love God above all and our neighbors as much as ourselves. God also calls us to wait in hopeful expectation of Jesus Christ’s return at the end of measured time.
But understanding God’s will for our daily lives can be more difficult. Whom should I befriend? How can I use the gifts God gives me? Should I marry? If so, whom? How should I use my time, money and other resources? Ephesians 5’s proclaimers might spend time exploring some of those hard questions regarding understanding God’s will.
It’s interesting that while Paul calls us to understand what the Lord’s will is, he doesn’t offer much advice about such specific questions. Instead he fairly tightly focuses his understanding of God’s will on three areas of the Christian life.
Those who preach and teach Ephesians 5:15-20 might choose to deal with all three of the contrasting ways of living Paul offers. This Sunday’s Epistolary Lessons’ proclaimers might also, however, choose to focus on just one of its verses.
Wise teachers and preachers will want to deliberately anchor their proclamation in the theme of wise living that’s grounded in the redeeming work of God in Jesus Christ. Otherwise our proclamation may easily devolve into little more than yet another moral lesson that’s little different than that which any number of self-help gurus offer hearers.
Among the verses that especially intrigue me (as well as those to whom I preach each Sunday) is verse 20-21’s call to “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus.”
Since this is part of what Paul calls God’s “will” for God’s beloved people, it suggests that thanksgiving for everything is part of both what glorifies God and that for which God creates us. God’s image-bearers display God’s likeness when we give thanks for everything.
The apostle at least seems to be suggesting that to refuse to give thanks for everything is to do not what’s best for us. That helps make verse 20 potentially fertile soil for Ephesians 5:15-20’s preachers and teachers to “till.”
Yet since it doesn’t follow verses 15-18’s “not this … but …” pattern, wise preachers and teachers may want to set up their own contrast. They may want to note that Paul at least implies that his readers should not be ungrateful to God or take God’s good gifts for granted. Those who proclaim this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson will want to come up with examples of what’s the opposite of always giving thanks to God for everything. Preachers and teachers may also want to spend time exploring what saps our thanksgiving to God.
We also want to note how, as my colleague Stan Mast points out, it’s not surprising to hear the apostle tell us that a Spirit-filled life overflows with gratitude. What is surprising, as Mast goes on to write, is the level and extent of the gratitude to which Paul summons those whom the Spirit has filled.
We can, after all, easily understand why the apostle would invite us to thank God for good things. Even if we don’t always practice it, God’s adopted sons and daughters at least know that we should thank God for every good gift. We know we ought to thank God for God’s blessings that range in size from God’s redemption of the whole world to the breakfasts those who hear us enjoyed. Ephesians 5:15-20’s preachers and teachers will want to spend the right amount of time talking about those good gifts.
Yet Paul doesn’t just summon Jesus’ followers to always thank God for every “good gift.” He, instead, invites us to “always give thanks to God the Father for “everything.” It won’t take preachers and teachers long to come up with a list of things for which it seems downright unchristian to give thanks to God.
In his July 1, 1997, article in the Christian Century Ronald Goetz wrote, “There are many specific things in life for which we simply cannot give thanks, concrete events before which all of the humanity within us recoils and for which we could never forgive ourselves if we did give thanks.” These bold words seem to defy Paul’s admonition to always give thanks to God for everything. Yet those who preach and teach this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson will recognize that its sentiments lie deep in the hearts of not just those who hear us, but also in our own hearts whom the Spirit has graciously softened to the misery around and sometimes in us.
Those who are looking for a neat way to package and tie a bow around their proclamation may want to tiptoe around verse 20. On the other hand, those who are willing to both wrestle with the Scriptures and help our hearers wrestle with them can walk carefully and biblically in and through verse 20.
Mast writes, “We can only [always give thanks to God for everything] when we are wise enough to understand what the Lord’s will is (verse 17), when we believe that the Lord is our Father and intends good, even in the bad, when we believe all that because of ‘our Lord Jesus Christ’.”
Even the wisest and godliest preachers and teachers struggle to give thanks to God for horrors like the abuse of a child, COVID-19, dementia and climate change. Yet we can only even just begin to do so as we let the Spirit not only fill us, but also help us to honestly and compassionately wrestle with how to give thanks even for such misery. We’ll also only be able to at least begin to give thanks to God for everything, even if just in fits and starts, when we remember that our Savior Jesus is also the world’s Christ and its Lord. We can only begin to understand God’s will for our thanks to God for everything when we remember that, as Reformed Christians profess in the Heidelberg Catechism, God will “turn to [our] good whatever adversity he sends upon [us] in this sad world.”
In her June 13, 2017 Greater Good Magazine article entitled, “Can Gratitude Make Our Society More Trusting,” Elizabeth Hopper writes, ‘Research suggests that Americans have become less trusting over the past few decades. That’s a problem . . . So how can we reverse this trend?
‘A new study suggests one potential way: by increasing feelings of gratitude. In the study, published . . . in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, researchers found that people who had consciously counted their blessings for just a week were more likely to trust others.
‘The researchers asked half of the participants to complete a gratitude journal: Every three days, they listed up to five things for which they felt grateful; the other half of the participants simply wrote about what they had done over the past several days . . .
‘Several days after completing their journals, the study participants played a short online “trust game” in the research lab. They were told that they would be exchanging money with another participant (although, in actuality, the game was played with a computer and there was no other participant). Participants were given a small amount of money and could choose to give some of this money to that other (fictional) participant. They were told that any money they gave away would be tripled (e.g., if a participant gave away $1, the other participant would receive $3), and the second player could choose whether to send any of this windfall back.
‘Participants who were more trusting of others would presumably give more money to the second person: They would expect that they would get their money back and that both participants would profit. However, less trusting participants would presumably avoid any risk by keeping the original money for themselves.
‘The researchers found that, compared with the participants who had simply written about their days, participants who had completed the gratitude journaling were more trusting. The former group sent about half of their money (on average) to their partner in the game, while the gratitude group sent almost 70 percent of their money. Participants in the gratitude group also reported feeling more grateful to their partner for sending money back to them.’