Grace and peace to you from God our creator, and from Jesus, who heals. Amen.
In 2008 a young Australian woman, Hailey Bartholomew, found that she just wasn’t enjoying life. She described herself as feeling lost and stuck on a treadmill. She couldn’t really explain why. She was married to a man she loved and had beautiful children who held her heart. So why was she feeling so down about her life?
Hailey sought the counsel of a nun, who advised her to spend time each day reflecting on something for which she was thankful. Hailey began a project called “365grateful”. Every day she took a photograph of something for which she was grateful.
It changed her life. It allowed her to see things she had never noticed. Hailey had always thought of her husband as unromantic. One day she took a picture of him serving up dinner, the thing for which she was grateful that day. She noticed for the first time that the largest portion of pie was placed on her plate. Then she suddenly realized: the largest portion was always placed on her plate and that this was one small but profound way her husband showed his care for her.
Hailey had found the tasks of mothering to be kind of “boring;” but as she took photos of her children holding out their hands to her, playing and exploring, she discovered how much joy and wonder there was in her world. Through the art of gratitude Hailey found herself lifted out of her rut and celebrating life.
You see, gratitude is frequently a matter of perspective.
I don’t what your life is like, but sometimes I’m running around, busy enough that I miss the forest for the trees…and I don’t remember to say, “thank you.” I have friends who are really grateful people. These are people who say “thank you” all the time. I receive thank you notes from them regularly…they say things that express appreciation…It’s like they ooze gratitude out of their pores.
I have two thoughts about these people: First, I love being around them. I find them to be warm, kind, friendly people. It is a joy to be in their presence because they just make me feel so good.
Second, they motivate me. They make me want to show my gratitude. They help to change me to be more like I believe God wants me to be.
Our Gospel text today is an interesting story that delves into these issues of gratitude and saying, “thank you.”
Jesus is traveling with his disciples, to Jerusalem.
On the way, they run into ten men. As the men approached, it becomes apparent: The men were lepers. They were considered unclean. And by Levitical law, because of their illness, they were required to live out in the wilderness…away from town…away from people…by themselves, to protect the rest of the population from getting infected. If declared a leper, you could not return home until you could prove to the priests, that you were healthy.
But these ten who had been condemned to wandering the desert wilderness must have heard somehow of Jesus…must have been looking for him…because they chose to break the strict Jewish law and approach him. Scripture says that they didn’t ask him for healing, they didn’t ask for health…they asked for mercy. I think this is interesting. It’s an interesting choice of words, because it implies that they equated health and wellness with forgiveness. “Jesus, master, have mercy on us!” they cried.
Jesus simply said “go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they turned and walked away, they suddenly were healed. Now, we don’t know how far away from Jesus they were when they were given this gift…this miracle…but we do know that only one of them turned and came back to Jesus, throwing himself on the ground at Jesus’ feet and thanking him.
Jesus asks “well, where are the other nine?” Now to be clear, Jesus doesn’t criticize or condemn them here. He’s just asking a question. And I’ve got to be honest, at this point in the story, I feel some empathy for the nine. Maybe it’s just because I’m not always the best at remembering to express gratitude myself. But I try to put myself in their shoes:
- Maybe it was because Jesus had told them to “go” and they were just being obedient.
- Or, maybe they were so excited at being suddenly healed that they just took off running to see their families, and tell them…to touch them…to hug them…because they haven’t been able to do that for who knows how long. I don’t know. I’m not sure why they didn’t return to Jesus.
But I do know this: the one who returned not only felt thankful, but decided to actually give voice to that emotion, to return to express his gratitude to Jesus and to God.
Dr. David Lose, who was one of my seminary professors, wrote that “gratitude is a response to the blessings of life, and it is also a choice to see those blessings, name them, and express our gratitude in word and deed.”
And giving voice to gratitude, saying “thank you,” has consequences, because when we express our gratitude, we affect those around us, we shape the world in which we live.
I lost a good friend to cancer late in November of the year 2000. His name was Tom, and he was a pastor in St. Louis Park. I spent time with him shortly before he died. He was at home, in hospice care. He was in a hospital bed in his family room, lying there with his Packers jersey on…driving me crazy until the end. But when I sat down next to him, I asked him how he was. In a soft voice, he said “I’m grateful.”
“I’m Grateful.” He wasn’t angry or bitter about the disease that was robbing him of life…though he clearly had a right to be. No, Tom was in a place in life where he could look back at his family and friends, his experiences, his life’s work and declare himself “grateful.”
My friends, I don’t want to wait. I don’t want to wait until I am at the end of my life to look back and see all of the ways I have been blessed. I want to see those blessings now, and I want to name them…and I want to live a grateful life.
I want to say “thank you,” to my family…to my friends…to all of you:
- Thank you for all that you do
- Thank you for the ways you serve
- Thank you for your friendship and support
- Thank you for making this an amazing church
- Thank you or your generosity
- Thank you for your prayers
- Thank you, thank you, thank you…for being who God created you to be!
And I want gratitude to change my life. When that lone leper returned to Jesus to give thanks after being healed, Jesus said something kind of curious. He said, “your faith has made you well.” I find that curious because clearly it was Jesus who made the leper well. What did Jesus mean by this?
I mean, we don’t know if the other 9 who were healed had faith in Jesus or not. Some might have…some might not. And we all know lots of people of strong faith who were not healed of illness. My friend, Tom, had one of the strongest faiths I know…and he was not physically healed.
But I think what Jesus was saying was that healing…wholeness… identity… wellness…it all comes from God, and that this leper was able to see that, and by coming back to Jesus, to name it. This newly healed leper understood that his healing…his very life…it all came from Jesus. And it was for that, that he was grateful. The same is true for us. Gratitude drives…motivates a lot of what we do. Even all of the stewardship stuff you’re hearing about at church this time of year…we don’t give because of a sense of obligation or duty…we give because we are grateful…grateful for all that we have been given.
We live in a cynical world. There is not a lot of gratitude out there. Stories of gratitude are rare, and you never see “thank you” in the headlines.
But gratitude can be learned. Gratitude is like a muscle that can be strengthened over time. And as you practice giving thanks and more frequently share your gratitude, you not only grow in gratitude but create an example for others. Gratitude is contagious. And the more we do it, the easier…the more practiced…the more of a habit it becomes. Here…let’s try it. I’ll say “how are you?” and you say “I’m grateful.” Ready? Here we go:
- “How are you?”
- “I’m grateful.”
See? That wasn’t so bad.
Now I do have to recognize that for some of you, this actually is a challenge. You may be experiencing some kind of grief, or loss…or maybe some other life circumstance that makes it hard to say that you’re grateful today. I understand that. There have been times that I’ve felt that myself. And it’s ok.
Gratitude is not a command, it’s an invitation, one God never tires of making. So, if you can’t feel or experience gratitude today, God understands. It will come. And in the meantime, the rest of us will give thanks in your place. Here, we’ll try it again:
- How are you?
- I’m grateful.
I’m going to give you a challenge this week. When someone asks how you are, don’t give the typical, passive, Minnesota-Lutheran answer of “Fine.” Say “I’m grateful.” And watch how that slightly different answer affects the person who hears it; and pay attention to how that answer affects you.
We actually a lot in common with that leper. In the waters of our baptism, we all experienced the gift of healing…the gift of new life. And we are here today, giving thanks and praise to Jesus, our Savior, who is the reason we have received this amazing grace. Jesus crossed the religious, social and geographic boundaries, to bring healing to an outsider; a leper. Jesus crosses the boundary of death to do the same for you…even with all of your flaws.
And now, just like to the leper, Jesus says to us “go.” Go and love. Go and serve. Go and care. Go and be grateful! Jesus says: “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
“How are you?”
Thanks be to God.