November 25, 2018 Sermon
An Attitude of Gratitude
Ephesians 1:15-23, Phil. 4:4-7 and Luke 1- 7:11-19
Remember unloveable Lucy in the Charlie Brown comic strips? Most of us don’t like her much, probably because we resemble Lucy’s less admirable traits.
In one comic strip, Lucy whines, "My life is a drag. I'm completely fed up. I've never felt so low in my life."
Her brother Linus tries to console her, "Lucy, when you're in a mood like this, you should try to think of things you have to be thankful for; in other words, count your blessings."
Lucy retorts, "Ha! That's a good one! I could count my blessings on one finger! What do I have to be thankful for?"
Linus replies, "Well, for one thing, you have a little brother who loves you."
Does anyone here tend to whine or complain a bit? Not one of us can claim to be grumble-free. Yet… gratitude dispels fear and anxiety. If we think about and celebrate good things we have, then there is less room for negative thoughts. Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life and turns what we have into enough, and more.
If we truly trust in God’s love, we can fully appreciate our blessings. We can trust in the greatest blessing of all: God’s presence with us in Jesus Christ. God is with us through both good times and bad.
How do YOU respond when good comes your way?
My parents are not wealthy. When I was young, they carefully saved money for birthday and Christmas and family vacations. I enjoyed these gifts, but I confess that I rarely expressed gratitude for my parents’ generosity. Indulging in the gift absorbed my attention.
My mom insisted that I write thank you notes for presents from my grandparents and great aunts. But I mostly took my parents’ generosity for granted. Christians tend to take God’s grace for granted, too. We appreciate God’s love. Yet how often do we consciously recognize our gratitude to God? Do we consistently include sincere thanksgiving in prayer? Or, do we recite prayers mindlessly? —like “Thank you God for food so good. Help us do the things we should. Amen.” Duty done. Let’s EAT!
Do we regularly give God thanks for our blessings? The habit of expressing gratitude for God’s presence with us can build our connection to God’s power. A habit of gratitude will help us grow stronger, even in tough times. Mature Christian faith replenishes deep-seated appreciation and trust in God. Even in adversity, Christians can live in a spirit of gratitude.
Do we have a continuous attitude of gratitude to God and thankfulness for those around us? Do we appreciate privileges and the people who make those benefits possible? Do we appreciate mail carriers, construction workers and trash removers working in the cold, heat and rain; store clerks standing on concrete for hours; and mostly subsistence farmers who grow cocoa, vanilla and coffee?
Today’s scripture lesson about the ten lepers is a unique story among Jesus’ healings. Jesus healed ten lepers. Yet this mind-boggling miracle is not the focus of the Gospel story. Jesus focused on the healed lepers’ responses. In other Gospel stories, Jesus heals one person and says, “Your faith has made you well,” or warns against spreading news of his power( because Jesus knows that those in power would want to snuff out his potential to challenge their power). Jesus uses healing the lepers to teach about gratitude. Jesus even points out that the only one who stopped to offer thanks was a non-Jew—A Samaritan. Honoring a Samaritan was humiliating for his Jewish listeners, especially given how many Psalms and much of their Jewish tradition emphasizes thanks to God! In that time, healing from leprosy was viewed as nothing less than a gift from God--greater than winning the lottery.
Most of the healed lepers ran off as fast as they could to reunite with loved ones, to resume a normal life and to enjoy freedom from the pain and suffering caused by their degenerative disease. No wonder the men who were cured acted like children receiving most coveted toys. Jesus used the nine men’s self-absorbed reactions as a teachable moment: The experience of appreciation part of the value and joy of receiving gifts. Appreciation, itself is a profound gift.
Jesus told the leper who expressed gratitude, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.“ (PERIOD). The leper’s healing was more than physical. He experienced a profound soul healing that was much more than skin deep. His whole life was transformed!
The thankful leper’s appreciation of God’s grace enabled him to receive God’s physical power and a new spiritual aliveness. Jesus ridded all ten lepers of skin disease. Yet the ungrateful lepers’ healing was only skin deep. What happened to the nine ungrateful healed lepers? Was the grateful leper’s new life different from the other healed lepers? Did they soon take their healing for granted?
Luke tells no more of the story.
Jesus inspires us to ponder about our own lives. What substantial difference does trust and gratitude to Jesus make in our life? The word “thank” is derived from the old English word for “think.” “Thankful” is “thinkful.” The thankful leper recognized that he had something to be grateful for. He appreciated the gift. A book called The Five Love Languages identifies appreciation as one of five primary expressions of love.
When I was younger, I was ego-centric enough to be uncomfortable with the fundamental Presbyterian creed: “What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.” I did not see the connection of both parts of the answer: The chief end of man is to glorify God AND ENJOY God forever. Enjoying God is another way of saying: Have gratitude for God’s love.
We might not even notice a blessing when we receive it… Are we too self-absorbed or busy to notice? Or have we lulled ourselves into exhaustion or apathy? Or, we might take good for granted like a spoiled child. Do we focus on personal burdens or national and international turmoil, and make ourselves anxious or abdicate responsibility with an attitude of “Ain’t it awful”.
Do we choose neg-itude or an attitude of gratitude?
Do we have a GRRRRR-attitude….OR do we live in gratitude?
A father said a prayer of thanks for the family breakfast. Then… as usual, he grrrr-umbled about expenses, and problems at work and home.
His young daughter interrupted:
Dad, do you think God hears your prayers?
Of course! he replied.
But the child’s curiosity was not satisfied:
Does God hear all your complaints?
…Of course, replied her dad.
[girl] Then which does God believe?
The Apostle Paul often spoke of giving thanks, as today’s scripture lessons remind us. Most OT Psalms express abundant joy and thanks. When we give thanks or praise to God, I can imagine God with eyes twinkling and a crooked smile, answering, “That’s what I’m here for.” God intends for us to enjoy the blessings with which we are surrounded.
Many OT Psalms complain to God about experiences of injustice or impending disaster. These vehement prayers trust God enough to express negativity, doubt, and fear. Some Psalms furl furious complaints at God and other Psalms cry out fervent or bitter laments. Yet ALL these Psalms end with thanks and praise to God. This trust in God’s love and power cannot be shaken, even by what seems like doom.
Certainly, healthy gratitude does not mean pasting on a superficial smiley face. Gratitude does not mean denial or making light of loss. The famous theologian, Dennis the Menace summarized ONE approach of gratitude in his bedtime prayer. Dennis the Menace prayed: “Thank you, Lord, for inventing the earth…and almost everything on it.” Amen.
Dennis is grateful for what he thinks is good stuff.
Madeleine L'Engle summarizes: “There is hope that, we, too, may so enjoy all the delights that God has given us, that we may truly BE delightful.” May our lives express a deep-seated attitude of gratitude.