Making Time to Say Thanks
Luke 17:11-19 November 24, 2019
Rev. David J. Clark
Our scripture passage is about Jesus’ bewilderment that after he healed 10 lepers from their disease, only one of them turned around to say thank you. “Were not ten healed, where are the other nine?” He asks.
Now it is true that the other nine were just strictly following Jesus’ orders. He told them to go show themselves to the priests so they went. But one of them was so filled with a sense of gratitude that he disobeyed the strict interpretation of the law to go back to the source of the one who had changed the direction of his life to say, “Thank you.”
Jesus wonders why the other nine didn’t do the same thing. Leprosy is horrible, nerves don’t work, your body grows numb. Not able to feel, you are more prone to injury, you don’t notice the cuts the pain that alerts you to take care of something. Back then they assumed it was contagious and separated people suffering from leprosy. And their diagnosis wasn’t scientifically based and you were treated as a leper for any sort of chronic skin condition, not just Hansen’s Disease which is what we know as leprosy. With leprosy, infections occur, flesh decays and smell bad. If you had leprosy, you were cut off from family, community, a job, church.
To be healed of leprosy means to have your life transformed in an instant–you get your life back. You would think that all ten would have turned back. But only one in ten turned back. Jesus wonders about the nine. I’m wondering about the one. This story gets the stats about right, that only about ten percent are grateful. The other 90% can achieve gratitude, but only about 10% of their time. The rest is spent in angst or anger or isolating concerns that disconnect us from others.
What was in the one healed man that made him turn around? I blame his mother. She is the one who probably built it in. “Now say thank you?” “Have you written your bar mitzvah thank you notes yet?” I think gratitude comes from regular disciplines where we are forced out of ourselves to think of the bigger picture. We build in habits and practices. Because for 90% of us it doesn’t come naturally.
What practices can you build in? Going to church makes you a one in ten person. We come not just for what we get out of it, but to express our gratitude and praise. We turn around from the rest of the weekly activities. Going to worship is the one leper turning around. It’s you. A couple of weeks ago we talked about giving thanks at meals (and snacks) as a spiritual practice of baking gratitude into your daily life. I’ve talked several times about the benefits of doing a gratitude journal for 30 days. About how it makes you pay attention and focus on something positive in this world with so much negative. The yearly tradition of Thanksgiving helps us do it, too.
Gratitude makes you realize that there is good in the world, good that surrounds you all the time. It requires you to realize that you are not the source of that goodness that surrounds you. It gives you something to trust.
Interestingly expressing gratitude is one of the surest ways to transform a life. Diana Butler Bass wrote Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. She reminds that giving thanks is something we choose.
Choose gratitude. Choose gratitude over angst. It is the antidote to worry, sleepless nights. Choose gratitude over angst. You can trust that there is goodness, God’s love to surround you. This week Dick Landes had major heart surgery. Linda said it felt like there was this soft cloud around them. God’s love, family, church, friends. All their love and energy. She just beamed at this moment where it could have been fretting and thinking about all the negative possibilities.
Choose gratitude over anger when it flares. We all get angry, little things flare, trigger us.
Choose gratitude when you least feel like it. Science shows benefits to helping us cope. There are physical benefits of less stress, lower blood pressure, higher immune response, decreased inflammation. There are social benefits. People who express gratitude are more socially connected, they find something genuine to appreciate about others. Gratitude helps us be more resilient, more patient, able to endure hardship, less impulsive, better decision-makers, more able to cope with change and uncertainty, more generous, more productive. Better able to put the past behind and forgive. If there is one single sure-fire way to improve your life it is to get more intentional about gratitude.
You can have a life that only about one in ten gets to. But you have to bake it into your practices. To let yourself really feel it. So that’s what I want to do for the remainder of the sermon, help you feel it. Here is an adapted meditation from Adam Thomas.
So I invite you to close your eyes, get as comfortable as you can without falling asleep, and take a few deep breaths.
For the next few moments, I invite you to think of something that you can’t remember doing without: it can be as basic as breath or your dog’s earnest affection. It can be the simple fact that you’ve always had clean clothes in your drawers or a hot meal on the table. Think of something you’ve never given thanks for because it has silently endured throughout your life, never calling attention to itself and never failing to make your life better. Allow yourself to feel gratitude for it. In your heart of hearts, give thanks to God for something-that-has-always-been.
Now we’ll take a look at the opposite – thanking God for things that have never been. It involves stepping into other people’s shoes in order to appreciate your gifts and blessings. Give thanks for something you’ve never had. Perhaps diseases that have affected people all over the world for hundreds of years won’t affect you because you were inoculated as a baby. Perhaps you’ll give thanks because you’ve never known a time when your stomach was so empty for so long that you forgot how to be hungry. Perhaps you’ll give thanks because every time you slept outside in your life, you did so because you chose to.
Recognize that the thing-that-has-never-been always is happening somewhere in the world – maybe next door, or a few blocks away, or across an ocean. Feel how fortunate you are in a way that realizes it could have been you but it wasn’t. Let that feeling ignite your empathy and extinguish your sense of entitlement, let it tamp down your anger over inconveniences and minor disruptions.
Feel gratitude for your family and your friends; for their love and support however it is given.
Feel gratitude for the community that surrounds and supports you. Everyone from the grocer to your hairstylist, your dentist and doctor, your neighbors, co-workers, teachers and the person who serves you your favorite treat. Let your heart smile when you think of them.
Feel gratitude for mentors, advisors, your dead who live on in you. For the values they embodied, the life lessons they have passed on to you. Remember how you felt when they were near and give thanks.
Move your head gently from side to side to release any tension if that feels right today.
Feel gratitude for your creative mind. For your dreams, desires and passions that inspire you to feel deeply.
Feel your heart expand as you feel gratitude for the beauty of nature all around you. For the ocean, trees, plants, and flowers, for the creatures that share our beautiful world.
Soften your forehead. Allow the forehead to be free and clear.
Feel gratitude for your intuition; that little voice inside that guides you on the right path, your spiritual self. Feel gratitude for all the times you have listened and tuned into this wisdom from within.
Take a deep breath. Through your breath feel connected to all those around you and to something larger than yourself.
Feel gratitude for the connection that makes you whole, complete.
Feel a deep sense of peace and contentment surrounding you. Take a few gentle breaths in and out.
We view our lives as though flipping through the pages of a magazine, one to the next. God sees our lives as collages, in which all the pages are pasted together.
So for the next few moments, I invite you to give thanks for something in your past that didn’t seem like a cause for gratitude at the time. Reflect on how this event fits into the overarching narrative of your life. What did you learn from it? How did God support you as you went through it? What do you know now that God knew then?
So for our final few moments, I invite you to give thanks for the vast expanse of the possibility the future holds. This sort of thanksgiving is the birthplace of hope – which is the willing expectation that the boundaries of possibility are far wider than we perceive. So give thanks to God for possibility, for newness, for adventure. And then take a step with God into the untamed wilderness that is tomorrow, knowing all the while that God has already explored this jungle and will lead you through. Amen.