Gratitude Season Intro
13 October 2013
Elizabeth M. Deibert
If we could only begin to appreciate all the healing work the Spirit of Christ is doing all the time, we would fall on our knees every hour in thanksgiving. Did you get better from the cold or flu? Give thanks. Are you beginning to process your grief over a death or divorce? Give thanks. Your anxiety, your compulsions or your depression under control? Give thanks. Can you walk again after foot, knee, or hip surgery? Give thanks. I am always amazed at how fast eyes heal after cateract surgery, or how fast skin heals after skin cancer removal.
Jesus Christ is the great Healer. The story we will read today is one of twenty-one different stories about Jesus’ healing power in the Gospels. Some people find these stories hard to fathom because first of all, we cannot imagine having God in human flesh with us, walking through life with us. But secondly we want to say that miracles like these do not happen anymore. Oh, we understand a lot more about the human body now. We know why people get better. We can explain medical science. And so we stopped thanking God for the miracles. It is not that God stopped performing great miracles. It is that we stopped giving thanks.
Jesus healed ten lepers and only one came back to give thanks. Ten cured of leprosy, but nine found to be sick with amnesia or dementia or attention deficit, because Jesus sent them to see the priest, and though their lives were absolutely transformed along the way, they forgot to go back and thank Jesus. There are a lot of us forgetting to be thankful as well. How can you possibly wake up in sunny Florida and not be thankful for the sun, for the moon, for the sunsets, for the green grass, and the flowers year ‘round? You have seen or read about Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai who almost won the Nobel Peace Prize at 16 years of age for her courage in standing up for the education of girls in the face of Taliban opposition. Malala said in a recent interview, “It is human nature that we don’t learn the importance of anything until it is snatched from our hand.”
Why are we not dancing with gratitude every single day? We take our healing and run, just like the lepers. We take the beauty of every day, the health of most days, the joy of relationships, and we run through our daily activities without noticing. We take our comforts and freedoms and run to spend more on ourselves. And Jesus stands there, waiting for thanks, waiting for days, months, and years.
Here the word of the Lord from Luke’s Gospel:
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" 14 When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."
The healing took place while the ten were in transit, as it often takes place in our lives, when we least expect. All ten were healed of leprosy, the disease that was so scary, so disfiguring, so dreaded by all. But one comes back to thank Jesus. And Jesus tells him, after he gives Jesus the gift of gratitude, that his faith has made him well. His faith has saved him. Faith seems related to giving thanks. What about the rest – the other nine? Their leprosy is healed, but are they well? We’re not sure.
If wellness is about giving thanks, then perhaps not. Faith is not about quantity of belief, but about quality of trust expressed in thanksgiving. A life of gratitude makes us well, the word for “well” can also be translated “save” To be filled with gratitude saves us, whether we are physically well or not.
They nine were physically healed and rushing to get on with life. Going to the priest was required before they could circulate in soceity again. They had to be certified as clean, as not contagious, as not a danger to the public. They had been in total isolation, some of them for years, and now they were going to get their discharge papers from the rehab office, but they forgot to thank Jesus first. They were going back to work after a long time off, but they forgot to thank Jesus. They were promised a new freedom from disease, a release from pain, isolation, and the horrible judgment of others, and they forgot to thank the One who gave them release from misery. They were assured a new life with new relationships, the opportunity to work again, to start over again, and they forgot to thank their Healer, who gave them a new lease on life.
Do we all become so consumed with taking the gift that we forget to thank the giver? So often I forget to thank God, but Friday afternoon, after visiting Bob Seiter, my heart was filled with gratitude. Kim Adams, our recent seminary graduate (who is here today)and I went to the hospital together. Bob was not in his room , but in the dining room. Thank you, God. Seated in the dining room in a wheel chair, waiting for dinner, Bob was preparing to eat real food, not pureed. Thank you, God. He was talkative and coherant. His uniquely Bob Seiter sense of humor was very much intact. Thank you, God. We prayed together – he saying the Lord’s Prayer with us. I thought Bob Seiter might be dying several weeks ago. He is alive. Thank you, God. Sue has expressed from day one her gratitude to God for all of the support and prayers of this congregation and many friends.
Why does it take a friend’s miserable experience to make us grateful for the little things? What is it about suffering that has the potential to bring out our best? Instead of rolling along with assumptions and expectations, we begin to give God credit where credit is due. On a smaller scale than Bob’s disease, many of us have had a horrible respiratory virus this fall. Why does our gratitude for feeling better wear off so quickly? Why do we talk so much about medicines and fail to appreciate the miracle of God healing our bodies? Ingratitude is our first step away from God. What makes us so ungrateful – so unwilling to give credit where credit is due? There are three things for sure. Unrealistic expectations. Entitlement attitudes. Distracted forgetfulness.
Does God owe us anything? When we begin to assume that our simplest blessings are owed to us, then we are on a slippery slope toward ingratitude. God promises never to forsake us, but God never promised us a cushy life. Do we deserve a life free from pain and suffering when God in human flesh had a life full of pain and suffering? Suffering is part of life. We are not promised to outlive our children, even though most people do. We are not assured a happy childhood or a loving marriage. If you happen to have one, even for a day, give thanks to God. And for your hardships, give thanks that you have the opportunity to grow in perseverance and patience. There is nothing more inspiring than a person with great hardship who perseveres with a grateful heart. That’s why mission trips are such a great blessing to the ones who go – because they witness that perseverance and gratitude.
There is no better gift we can give God or the world than a heart of gratitude, which overflows in generosity. This is the gift that keeps on giving, because it not only pleases God but it is a gift to our families, our friends, our neighbors, our congregation. Try this week to express gratitude to God and to the people around you about everything. Instead of moaning, griping, or living with a silent but cold spirit of dissatisfaction, try to name things for which you are grateful. Jesus says this will save you, heal you. There are relationships here in this room that need healing from months or years of ingratitude. Like leprosy or cancer, a spirit of discontentment has grown to the point of threatening your life, making you unhealthy. I will also wager than it is a leprous spirit of discontentment, entitlement, mistrust, and stinginess, that fuels the debate in Washington that threatens not just our economy but also the global economy.
“To practice gratitude intentionally changes an individual life, to be sure. It also changes the character of a congregation. When Christians practice gratitude, they come to worship not just to “get something out of it,” but to give thanks and praise to God. Stewardship is transformed from fundraising to the glad gratitude of joyful givers. The mission of the church changes from ethical duty to the work of grateful hands and hearts. Prayer includes not only our requests for help, but also our thanksgivings at the table. There are those who believe that worship—this practice of gratitude—is almost primal, an essential part of being human. (human in the sense of our best selves, not our worst selves) To stifle gratitude may be as unnatural as holding one’s own breath. Worship is certainly at the heart of the Christian life, and the story of the leper who returns to give thanks points us to that truth.” (Kimberly Bracken Long, Feasting on the Word)
“Go on your way; your faith has made you well” is no longer a problematic saying, even when physical healing does not come. Instead, it is a description of a life of blessing for the church: as we go on our way, we rejoice and give thanks; for in giving thanks in all things, we find that God, indeed, is in all things.” (Kimberly Bracken Long, Feasting on the Word) So in all things and at all times, we offer prayers of thanksgiving, we make offerings of gratitude, we give promises of faith, committing ourselves to the service of God.
These acts of faith, these efforts at trust become our participation in the work God is doing to heal us, to make us well, to save us from all that would tear us away from our identity as God’s beloved children. Karl Barth was fond of saying that the basic human response to God is gratitude.
Giving credit where credit is due for the boundless love of Jesus Christ, which saves us.