Sermon: What Do You Say? How Do You Live?”
November 22, 2015
Woodland Heights Presbyterian Church
Rev. Mary Kay Glunt
Scottish minister Alexander Whyte was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that 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.” Daily Bread, August 26, 1989.
Two men were walking through a field one day when they spotted an enraged bull. Instantly they darted toward the nearest fence. The storming bull followed in hot pursuit, and it was soon apparent they wouldn’t make it.
Terrified, the one shouted to the other, “Put up a prayer, John. We’re in for it!”
John answered, “I can’t. I’ve never made a public prayer in my life.”
“But you must!” implored his companion. “The bull is catching up to us.”
“All right,” panted John, “I’ll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the table: ‘O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.'”
Thanksgiving. For many it is the name of a holiday, a time to gather with family and/or friends, and a time to get ready for an insane shopping experience. Like many other holidays in our society,–Christmas, Memorial Day, Labor Day, the Fourth of July, etc., the background and meaning of the observation has been greatly lost on us.
We’ll gather together, eat our favorite foods, maybe watch football and laugh, or even argue, but in many cases, prayer and thoughts of God will be forgotten.
The first recorded thanksgiving meals on this continent were in the newly established colonies. We are all familiar with the meal the pilgrims shared with the Native Americans in 1621, when the latter helped them plant indigenous crops and so saved their lives. But even earlier, in Jamestown, the winter of 1610 had decimated their group of 409 settlers to 60. They prayed for help, and when it arrived on a ship filled with food and supplies, they had a prayer meeting to give thanks to God.
Over the years Thanksgiving has taken many forms. Each home has different traditions and different menus. But will we, this week, be like those who took time out to thank God for their blessings, or will we be like modern society, enjoying our blessings with no thought of how we received them?
In our gospel reading today, Jesus was traveling toward Jerusalem. He came upon ten men in a camp outside of the village. They were there because each of them had leprosy. These men would have had bandages and wounds because of the lack of sensation caused by the disease. They may have lost appendages, noses, ears, because of the disease. Whatever it was, they were ostracized from common society to prevent spreading it to the healthy. Today we would call them “marginalized.”
Each of us, at one time in our lives, has found ourselves in a place where we are on the outside, feeling left out, abandoned, outcast, whether by friends or family, or even by God, we felt as if we had nothing, no strength, no help, no hope. Until we heard about Jesus. Until we realized that God just might help us, and we called upon Him. Likewise, these men had heard of Jesus, and they called out to him, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (v. 13). They approach Him because it was forbidden for them to approach the healthy, but Jesus heard their call and He told them: “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” Now I can imagine these men struggled for a moment with that command, because they weren’t to go to the priest or to be in the village at all. What to do? Trust in Jesus and be healed, but take the chance that by approaching the priest they would break social conventions? In faith, they started off in obedience, and as they went, they were cleansed, healed, delivered.
How many times have you prayed for God’s help in your life? How many times has God blessed you beyond what you were able to achieve? When have you recognized God’s hand in resolving a situation you couldn’t rectify? As they walked they realized they had been healed. I can see it now. They were dragging their feet, stumbling, perhaps using crutches, hunched over and weary. They were wondering what they were doing. Then one foot was easier to pick up. An arm no longer drooped to the side. One man stood a little straighter. Another was able to drop the crutch. Soon they were all walking without impediment or pain, and they probably jumped around, rejoicing and celebrating, as they did what Jesus told them to do.
On realizing he was healed, one man disobeyed and took a detour, first coming back to thank Jesus for the miracle. This man was a Samaritan, and he was so grateful that he set aside his own gladness, his own restoration to a normal life, in order to give thanks to Jesus.
There is an old saying that there are no atheists in foxholes. But sometimes, there are no disciples in victory. Let me explain. When times are tough, we pray. When we can’t see a way out, we call on God, sometimes shouting to be sure He hears us! When we have needs, we take them to the Lord. We make commitments: Lord if you do this, I will . . . “ But sometimes, when the answer comes, we get so involved in the blessings that we forget about the One who blessed us. We forget how bad it was and how needy we were, thinking ourselves to be strong on our own once again and in no need of anyone else.
What does it mean to be thankful? Dictionary.com says it is feeling or expressing gratitude, which is defined as warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received. We are thankful, perhaps, and we shoot off a quick prayer of thanks to God and continue on our way, unchanged by the blessing, still going our own way. We forget to give God the glory He is due. I believe being thankful is more than just saying “thank you,” as if God had just opened the door for us, but being truly thankful is being changed, letting God’s mercy and grace change who we are as we go forward doing what Jesus has asked us to do.
Why did only one cleansed leper return to thank Jesus? The following are nine suggested reasons why the nine did not return:
One waited to see if the cure was real.
One waited to see if it would last.
One said he would see Jesus later.
One decided that he had never had leprosy.
One said he would have gotten well anyway.
One gave the glory to the priests.
One said, “O, well, Jesus didn’t really do anything.”
One said, “Any rabbi could have done it.”
One said, “I was already much improved.”
Charles L. Brown, Content The Newsletter, June, 1990, p. 3.
All of the men were healed. They were doing what they had been told, but one returned because the gift was so great, so amazing, that he had to give thanks to Jesus. The man who returned was not only healed physically, but upon returning he received a second blessing from Jesus, that of salvation. “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
First Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
In three of the four chapters of the book of Colossians, the Apostle Paul links being thankful with our relationship with God, how we live the Christian life.
Colossians 2:6-7–6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Colossians 3:15–Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
Colossians 4:2–Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
So being thankful is so much more than a quick prayer, but it is a lifestyle that expresses gratitude to God for not just the answer to prayer, but for the mercy and grace shown to us.
And there’s more. You see, being thankful to God should flow out in our interactions with others. The Apostle Paul also modeled this when he said to the Ephesians: 15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
Some call it, “an attitude of gratitude,” a way of living that looks for the good instead of the bad, an attitude that seeks honor instead of punishment, one that lifts up instead of tearing down.
G. K. Chesterton once said, I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
According to Dictionary.com, “gratitude” comes from the word “grace,” and so living with an attitude of gratitude is living a grace-filled life, a life so full of grace that it cannot help but pour out on those around you. It isn’t indebtedness to the other. It isn’t just appreciation either. Gratitude includes a feeling of awe, of wonder, as to why God or that person did that for me. Gratitude takes our eyes off of what is wrong with our lives and fixes them on what we have received. Psychology Today says that gratitude opens us up to connect with something that is fundamentally good and reassuring and inhibits painful emotions such as anxiety, heartbreak, loneliness, regret, and envy. It changes our perspective. It changes us.
This Thanksgiving week, I challenge you to consider which of the ten lepers you are. You may be following the directions, but are you thankful? You may be healed and moving on in life, but are you being changed by the grace God has bestowed upon you? Be ye thankful, not only to God, but to one another. Let God’s grace change you. Look for the good in those around you and affirm it, as God has affirmed you.
Link: Josh Groban, “Thankful” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5nNckK5Tmc