“On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and sho yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. he prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan,an outsider. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.'” (Luke 17: 11-19)
One of the questions that is frequently asked when people read this passage is “Why did only one healed leper return to thank Jesus?” Here are some suggested answers:
One waited to see if the cure was real. One waited to see if it would last. One said he would see Jesus later so he would wait to thank him then. One decided that he had never had leprosy. One said he would have gotten well anyway. One thanked the priests instead. One said, “O, well, Jesus didn’t really do anything.” One said, “I could have healed myself if I wanted to.”
Do any of those excuses of ingratitude sound familiar to you? They do to me. I can think of experiences when I was waiting and hoping that something good would happen, and then it did, and a little while afterwards I forget how much I had been hoping for it and stop being thankful. I start to take the good things for granted. I become one of that group of nine who were healed and went on their way like nothing had happened. Negativity creeps in and pulls me into a rut, a pattern I get stuck in without even realizing it. Do you think you are more often like the nine who walked away or the one who emembered to turn back and give thanks? If you’re anything like me, I find myself taking things that are actually blessings for granted. More often than not we think that our blessings have come to us through our own efforts.
There’s another story that I would like to share with you. One afternoon a friend went shopping at Old Orchard. She got tired and decided to take a coffee break. She also decided she wanted a treat and bought herself a bag of cookies and put them in her shopping bag. She got coffee, and it was crowded so she had a hard time finding an empty chair, but she finally found a spot to sit down. She took out a magazine and she began to sip her coffee and read. Across the table from her, a man sat reading a newspaper. After a minute or two she reached out and took a cookie. As she did, the man seated across the table reached out and took one too. This put her off, but she did not say anything. A few moments later she took another cookie. Once again the man did so too. Now she was getting a bit upset, but still she did not say anything. After having a couple of sips of coffee she once again took another cookie. So did the man. She was really upset by this – especially since there was only one cookie left. Apparently the man also realized that only one cookie was left. Before she could say anything he took it, broke it in half, offered half to her, and proceeded to eat the other half himself. Then he smiled at her and, putting the paper under his arm, rose and walked off. She was so annoyed. How dare he assume she would share her cookies with a perfect stranger. Her coffee break ruined, already thinking ahead of how she would tell this offense to her friends, she folded her magazine, opened her shopping bag to put it away, and there discovered her own unopened bag of cookies.
I can identify with that experience. I would be angry that someone was taking my cookies without asking. I would be thinking, how dare he not even thank me for sharing and then the shock of realizing my anger was all for nothing, that I had actually been shared with without asking and without offering a word of thanks. Have you ever had an experience like that? Have you been in a situation where you didn’t realize another person’s generosity? I think this happens to us more than we know. Many times we don’t ever realize that what we are enjoying is a gift to us. And life is a little less sweet when we don’t see the gifts that are coming our way, the things we have to be thankful for from others and especially from God.
We have so many blessings in our lives that we think we’ve earned, when if we just looked we would see that they are truly gifts to us. Our very lives are gifts that over time with the challenges and struggles that come our way we forget to be grateful for.
Gratitude and faith are deeply connected. There are countless passages in the Bible, for example all the psalms of praise, that express people’s gratitude to God for all that God has done in their lives. ultivating a practice of gratitude helps us to deepen our faith. Negativity and ingratitude can harden our hearts and make us bitter and cold. When we practice being grateful and giving thanks for the blessings in our lives, we become softer, more able to embody God’s love in the world.
Being grateful may be easier said than done, though. You may be in the midst of an experience that makes you bitter or depressed. You may be mourning a loss or struggling with a challenge that you can’t seem to overcome. You may just feel like life is giving you the short end of the stick. I understand. I’ve been there. Sometimes you just want to say this stinks and it does. So acknowledge the dark places in yourself. When you’ve had your fill of frustration and sadness, invite yourself to bring to mind something you are grateful for even in the midst of all that seems like it is going wrong. Sometimes being thankful means turning around. In the gospel story the healed person who gives thanks turns back. If we are stuck in one direction we may need to change our perspective to see what there is to be grateful for. Giving thanks can be part of what heals us and sustains us. I believe we can always find something to be grateful for if we are willing to try.
The minister Alexander Whyte was known for his uplifting prayers. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy, kind of like ours has been for the past few days, and one church member thought to himself, “Certainly the preacher won’t think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this.” Much to his surprise, however, Whyte began by praying, “We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this.” And it’s true. It is not always like this, thank God.
Some people are good at being grateful and finding the good. Some of us need more practice. There are times when gratitude is hard because we don’t think we’re worthy of the gifts bestowed on us. Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, explains this problem in his book Happier: “When we do not feel that we are worthy of happiness, we cannot possibly feel worthy of the good things in our lives, the things that bring us happiness.” When we do not feel worthy of the good things in our lives then we cannot be grateful for them. One of the hardest acts of gratitude is to graciously accept a gift, to believe in the goodness of the person who gave it to us, and to believe in ourselves enough to receive it.
Most published books include a page or two of acknowledgments, where the author thanks all the people who helped shepherd her book to production. The truth is that most people do forget a very important figure: themselves. In a book I read about gratitude they suggested you write a page of acknowledgements to yourself. This is the example that they gave:
“And I thank you, Self, for doing all that you do to try and keep me healthy: for storing the kids’ Halloween bags up where you can’t reach it, where you need a stool to get it down, which is entirely too much effort for a Kit Kat; for exercising three times a week; for going to therapy; for trying every day to erect boundaries between your work and home life; for trying your best at good sleep habits; and for laughing at stupid stuff whenever possible, because I say that it’s better than crying.”
What would your acknowledgement page to yourself say? Remember to be grateful to yourself too.
This year as I practice being grateful, I am thankful for Thanksgiving. I am thankful that we have a holiday centered around gratitude. Beyond the burden of figuring out travel plans, dealing with holiday traffic, making enough food, it is really a wonderful thing that we have a holiday all about being thankful.
In 1863 Abraham Lincoln created the Thanksgiving Proclamation and in it he wrote “The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are so extraordinary that they cannot fail to soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent God who dwells in the Heavens.” And so it began.
146 years later, can this be a Thanksgiving where we find new reasons to be thankful? Can you see beyond the routine and traditions of the holiday to find a new spark in your heart of gratitude and joy for the blessings of life? I hope so. I hope that this Thanksgiving we will be the ones turning back to say thank you to God for God’s healing love and presence in our lives. I pray we would share our cookies and recognize the gifts that are ours through the generosity of others and still give ourselves credit where credit is due. Maybe our Thanksgiving will turn into thanksliving when we will greet each day with gratitude for all the blessings it holds. Amen.
We are thankful for:
A beautiul song
A warm house on a cold day
A good book to read
A good husband
A soft pillo and comfy bed
A loving wife
Beaches in the morning
Crackling fire in the fireplace
The changing colors of
A safe place to live
Kenilworth Union Church
Having more than enough