The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 23, Year C - October 9, 2016

Preacher: 
The Rev. Amelie Wilmer Minor
Sermon Text: 

The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 23, Year C

October 9, 2016

The Reverend Amelie Wilmer Minor

 

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 show 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. 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)

 

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A lot has been written in recent years about the power of gratitude.  Not only by Oprah Winfrey, who has gratitude journals for sale, if you want one, but by scientists at our best research institutions - Cal Berkeley, UC Davis, Harvard - who have noted its psychological and physical benefits.  Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure; Higher levels of positive emotions; More joy, optimism, and happiness; Acting with more generosity and compassion; Feeling less lonely and isolated.[1]

Of course today’s gospel passage has had me thinking about the difference that a simple “thank you,” just the simplest expression of gratitude, can make.  And I came across an article last week that I want to share with you. 

The writer tells of a colleague who, every time he asks her, “How are you,” replies “I’m grateful.”  Every time.[2]

At first, he said, it took him by surprise.  And not only the first time, or the second, but almost every time. Eventually, he wasn’t so surprised.  But he was struck by the simplicity and power of the statement. “It wasn’t the answer I expected,” he writes, “Indeed, we usually expect little more than “fine” or “pretty good” or maybe once and a while “great” when we ask this conversational placeholder.

"How are you?”  “I’m grateful.”  His colleague chose her words with care. “She wanted to make a point.” He concludes, “That gratitude is not only a response to good fortune but also a choice we make.”

Certainly that’s true of the leper in today’s Gospel reading. Ten were healed. Ten, no doubt, were surprised at this discovery. Perhaps some were overjoyed. Perhaps some celebrated, ran to tell their family and friends. Perhaps a few even took it for granted. Who knows? What we do know is that one not only felt thankful but decided to actually give voice to those emotions, to express his gratitude to Jesus and to God.

In Jesus’ day, Hebrew law required anyone with leprosy to remain outside of the community, away from family, work, and friends as well as worship. No physical contact. If they somehow recovered were cured of the disease, they were required to go to the priest to be certified as clean, and had to make a sacrifice before being allowed back into the community.

So, when Jesus healed the 10 lepers, it was only natural that their first response would be to run immediately to the priests so they could get on to the business of being received back into their communities – which is in fact, what Jesus tells them to do.  But the tenth leper, for some reason, felt the need to stick around a bit longer. Luke points out that he was a Samaritan, a people who were despised by the Jews.  To be a leper was to be marginalized, but to be a Samaritan leper was to be doubly marginalized.  Did this double loser lying at the feet of Jesus know something that perhaps the other nine did not…about what it meant to be included and loved?

Whatever it was that compelled him, what we do know is that he made a choice to express his gratitude for that blessing, with abandon.  And because of that, he was doubly blessed by Jesus - not only was he physically healed, but healed in mind and spirit.  Jesus tells him “your faith has made you well” - which in the Greek literally means “saved” or made whole. 

Gratitude, is of course, a natural response to the blessings of our life.  But it is more than that.  It is also a choice – to see those blessings, name them, and then express our gratitude.

And giving voice to gratitude is a choice with consequences…because, as we express our gratitude, we not only feel better, we affect those around us, even shape the reality in which we live.

Think about it. Gratitude isn’t the only emotion we might choose to express in response to the events of any given day. There are reasons for gratitude, yes, and yet there are also reasons for fear, for anger, for frustration, grief, for regret, for apprehension. Each and all of these responses color our experience, make their appearance on the stage of our lives, and perhaps each has a place and role to play from time to time. The thing is, and we might not always want to admit this, we choose how much stage time to grant each of these emotions by giving them expression, and as we do so we give them power in our lives.

And that is what’s key: we are making choices. We may feel a range of emotions in response to all kinds of circumstances, but we choose which ones to give expression. I can certainly see this in my own life.  For instance, when I’m confronted by someone who is angry, I can just feel my natural instinct to respond defensively, even with my own anger, as a form of self-protection.  But I also know what it is like to choose empathy instead, to try to understand the emotions of the other person, and even more, try to be grateful that this person is willing to be honest with me.  Of course, this isn’t easy and I’m guilty of choosing the former over the latter far more often than I’d like to admit.

I imagine that we all experience instances when we hit a wall or a setback - in our work, or our studies, something we are trying to accomplish, or a relationship.  How do we respond?  Do we express our frustration… or a resolve to keep at it, or even gratitude for what we’ve learned through this setback? These are choices.

Last weekend, our congregation took on the task of selling and preparing 360 quarts of Brunswick Stew.  This was a new fundraising project for us, and believe me, I was worried, right along with many of you, that this was going to be simply too much for us to accomplish.  How are we going to sell all that stew?  How can we ask our tiny congregation to do yet one more thing?  Look at the month of October, an event every week.  Blessing of the Animals, Sack Hunger, Shrine Mont, a Halloween Party at Peter Paul Development.  “We’ve done it again,” I thought….”over-extended ourselves.” 

What does that sound like?  Worry? Regret. Fear?  Negative thinking…

But something happened.  Yes, we had taken on a lot.  But there were the voices that said, “We can do this.”  “We’ll make it work.” Hear the difference? 

The quarts began to sell.  People signed up, and showed up.  And what actually happened became something quite special for all of us.  In the midst of the chopping and stirring and selling, there was this great sense of teamwork and fellowship, and yes, gratitude.  Over and over again, I heard from you how grateful you were – for the time to be together, for Randy, our stew master, for the friendship and care you’ve received and given in this congregation over the years.  You named it.

And here’s what I’m beginning to learn from all this.  Gratitude, like all of our other options, becomes easier to choose as we practice it. Like faith and hope and love and commitment, Gratitude isn’t some inborn trait that some have and others don’t, but rather is more like a muscle that can be strengthened over time. And as you practice giving thanks and share your gratitude, you not only grow in gratitude but create an example for others.

More than that, I believe you can create a whole climate in which it is easier to be grateful and encourage those around you to see the blessings all around us. 

“I’m grateful.” Just scan the headlines and you’ll see how scarce – and how desperately needed – more expressions of gratitude are. Accusation, excuses, venting anger – these seem to have hold of our culture. We live in the age of complaint, whether shared in person or increasingly through social media. What a powerful response gratitude could be in these situations, with just as much potential to shape those around us, push back the tide of resentment and complaint that plagues us, and make room for a fresh appreciation of life itself, and for healing and wholeness.

So here’s what I’ve got in mind for us this week.  What if, we all try to do a little work on strengthening our own gratitude “muscle?” What if we try responding for the rest of this week to the question “How are you?” with the simple but powerful reply, “I am grateful.”  We could also start making gratitude lists and even buying Oprah’s little book, but maybe for now, just saying “I’m grateful” is enough.  It may surprise you - and those around you – how meaningful this simple practice can be.

We might even get started right now….let’s give it a try,   “How are you?”  [I’m grateful] (Repeat two times)

So,“Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Amen

 

 

 

[1] http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/expandinggratitude

[2] David Lose, “Gratitude and Grace” from this week’s “In the Meantime” commentary.  I am indebted to David for his ideas, some of which have been adapted and paraphrased below.   http://www.davidlose.net/2016/10/pentecost-21-c-gratitude-and-grace/? 

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