On Gratitude

Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | October 9, 2022

Luke 17:11-19

It has been said, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” When I first moved to Clarion, one of the benefits to my position as a pastor in one of the town’s churches was a membership in the local country club. Very nice. I thanked the club for their thoughtful generosity. Even though I’m not a golfer; nothing against it, I just never got into the habit of it. But I would occasionally go to the club and have a meal with friends.

One of my friends was on the board of the country club. He told me that they were discontinuing free memberships for church pastors. That news didn’t bother me so much and I had to laugh when he told me the reason why.

It seems that when a new pastor in town received his free membership, instead of writing a thank you note, he wrote the club a letter saying that since he did not play golf, he would not be using the membership and could they just give him the cash value instead.

We all know what it means to give and receive gratitude. But have you ever found it difficult to say the words “thank you?” Not because you did not feel a sense of gratitude; but because the words you could speak could not contain the gratitude you felt.

          The time someone who was lost was found;

          When the crisis is averted;

When the time of testing is over, and you’ve made it through to the other side;

Even in the depths of grief when the pain of loss speaks to the priceless value of what you had.

To say “thank you” is a simple grace. In so saying we acknowledge that we have received something. The essence of grace is found in both giving and receiving. Should we thank God? Or, what possible need does the Spirit of Life who is in all and through all have for our gratitude? Does God ever wonder of us, “Your thank you note must have gotten lost in the mail?”

We may wonder, “Who am I to thank God when others are suffering?”

Gratitude in the spiritual sense is not so much about what we have, but about who we are. Gratitude is a one of the connections between us and God. When we direct our gratitude to God, it’s as if we strike a tuning chord in our hearts that resonates with God. Our heart sings along with the song of the universe. In that sense of sharing we discover a vital connection.

The story is told of Jesus meeting up with ten men who had leprosy. He healed them all, but only one said thanks. He uses it as a lesson on gratitude, but like many stories about Jesus, there’s more to it.

Jesus and his band of followers were on their way to Jerusalem. The scene is framed by the cross. Their path took them along the border between Samaria and Galilee. It was the most direct route, but not the safest way to go in many respects. When there is conflict between tribes, societies, or nations, it’s the border towns that bear the brunt of that fight.

They went into a village and were met by ten men who had leprosy. It was the type of village in which outcasts had a home; so it was itself an outcast place. Anyone going through there was probably greeted by this merry band of lepers who made their living off the tolls they extracted from travelers. “Pay up or we touch you.”

From Jesus they asked for pity. If you pity us, then give us something. He told them, “Go back to your villages and let the priests there examine you.” They thought disease was a moral issue. Disease was a curse and once it had you, only the religious authorities could pronounce you free of it. So off they went and as they went, they were healed of their leprosy.

One of them, who happened to be a Samaritan, came back and said thanks. Jesus said, “I wonder what happened to the other nine.” And he told the one man, “Your faith has made you well.”

What happened to the other nine? They probably went on their way saying things like, “I know I should be grateful. I will be. It’s just that right now there are too many commitments I need to get back to. You should see the work piled up on my desk. Once things settle down a bit, I’ll go back and find Jesus and say a proper thanks. God knows how busy I am.”

One of them might have said, “I wish I could thank God. But you know, once I get through all the bills that need to be paid, and once I put food on the table and clothes on the children’s backs and shoes on their feet, there’s not much left to say thanks with. I can’t afford to thank Jesus right now.”

One of them probably said, “Why I should I thank God when there is so much suffering in the world? Thank God for what? Starving children, war and suffering? Maybe if God would do something about all the suffering then I’d have more reason to be grateful.”

And at least one of them probably said, “Thank God? Nobody ever thanked me for nothing.”

There’s an implied lesson about the difference between the one fellow who said thanks and the nine others who went on their way. The difference is between being not being a leper anymore and being made well; it’s the difference between cured and being healed. It may seem like splitting hairs, but it’s a difference worth noting. Nine men cured and one man was healed. Nine men went back to the way things were and one man entered into the possibility of abundant life.

That reveals a challenge for us. When something befalls us, are we cured so that we can carry on as before or are we healed so as to experience a new understanding of life? The problem is, and most likely the nine guys who neglected to say thanks found this out, that when you go back to your life after an illness or from coming through hard times, you discover that life as moved on. It’s never the same as when you left it. Gratitude is what helps us discover the appreciation of our lives in the here and now. Not as it was, but as it is.

There are times in our lives when it’s hard to imagine why we should be grateful. What does gratitude have to do with illness or suffering or death? There are lessons I’d rather not learn if means going through some awful experience in order to learn them. Thanks, but no thanks.

But the choice is not ours to make. Bad things happen in life. They happen to us. Some people say, “Everything happens for a reason.” I’m of the belief that God is not devising some purpose for our suffering. There may be cause and effect to suffering, but I don’t think it is written as a lesson plan for us.

When we suffer, we understand what it means to be vulnerable, afraid and even broken. If somehow we muster the courage to say, “Thank you Lord, for all the blessings of life, even in the midst of this,” then we manage to touch upon a different kind of experience. We know what it means to be broken, but we also know what it means to have all those pieces gathered up in the grace of God and put back together again, in God’s hands.

Living with a sense of gratitude is a way of acting which presumes upon the grace of God. It is a way of living that never lets go of living in dependence on God’s grace. We’ve all known people who live through experiences should call for lament rather than thanksgiving. Yet somehow they managed to call upon the grace of God, in spite of feeling miserable.

Gratitude and justice go hand in hand. Gratitude and justice may seem like an odd combination, but the way it works is that people who live with a sense of gratitude are the ones who are willing to share. Injustice happens as a result of people who are unwilling to share. Not sharing and taking what doesn’t belong to you are two sides of the same coin. On a global scale it’s fairly apparent to see what the results are.

Acting in gratitude is the same thing as working for justice. Justice is figuring out what belongs to whom and seeing that they get it; justice is trying to create personal life that reflects a sense of peace and wholeness and working for that sense of wellness both locally and globally.

Thank you, God for unlocking the fullness of life. Whatever I have, it is enough and more than enough. Thank you for being there with me on the journey from denial to acceptance, in the battle from chaos to order, in the struggle from confusion to clarity. Thank you for turning my meals into feasts and my house into a home. Thank you God for turning strangers into friends.

Now I see the past with more clarity

Now I live the present with peace

Now I see tomorrow with hope.

Thank you.” Amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s