Defined By Our Gratitude
Ten men who had been suffering from a dreaded skin disease came to Jesus, then went to show themselves to the priest, according to the Jewish law, as Jesus asked them to, and on their way were cured. To only one did Jesus say, “Your faith has made you well.” He said it to the one who, seeing that he was healed, turned back praising God with a loud voice, throwing himself at Jesus’ feet and thanking him.
Having hearts that are full of gratitude which overflows into thanksgiving is a defining characteristic of the people of God, perhaps even the defining characteristic of God’s people.
God’s people are grateful people. Participation in church doesn’t automatically make us grateful. And church people are not the only ones who are grateful people. But whether we are in church, or not, a heart which sees life’s blessings and is grateful for those blessings is a heart which has experienced healing and is experiencing salvation in the present tense way the NT uses the word salvation. We are being saved, right here and now, and being grateful is an essential part of that salvation.
We receive grace upon grace at every turn. Sometimes we’re like the 9 lepers who don’t think to thank. But those times when we, like the one identified in the story as “the foreigner,” take a moment to thank God or bow our heads in prayer, or find our place in the church sanctuary for worship, then the healing is being made complete. There may have been a cure, a way out of a dilemma, an understanding reached, a gift received….but the healing which life’s blessings will bring us is not yet complete until there is gratitude and the giving of thanks. What that leper did was recognize that he had experienced healing from someone else, which is the first step in gratitude–to recognize that there is a benefactor acting on our behalf. The other nine surely recognized that, too. They knew Jesus had healed them. But they did not take the second step of gratitude, which is to acknowledge it, to thank someone for what they have done for us. They did not come back to thank Jesus, but went on their way. They did not receive the full benefit of their encounter with Jesus.
If our hearts are not grateful in the midst of blessing, our healing is not complete. Gratitude with thanksgiving completes the healing cycle on a daily basis. (Yes, we are continually being healed, being restored, redeemed, saved.)
Whatever comes first, whether it’s the sense of gratitude or the healing, the two–healing and gratitude, gratitude and healing–are inseparable in terms of our well-being and our salvation in the present tense sense. Without them, living becomes difficult. With both present in our lives, joy is possible.
But what about a heart that seems incapable of gratitude? Perhaps only hearts that have experienced at least a basic degree of healing, CAN be grateful.
If someone finds that gratitude is impossible to come by, they may need to seek help in the healing of their soul, because, whether we are religious or not, gratitude is a normal human response to life’s gifts. We might need to seek and uncover a block to our experience of gratitude.
But it can also be the case that we are simply out of practice. Everything takes practice! And the more we practice something, the better we are at it, and the more joy it brings us! Recognize the gift. Acknowledge the gift–speak it. And somewhere in that we will FEEL the gratitude, which may actually spring from our experience of the connection that it creates between us and the giver, whether it is God or another. The feeling is the source of joy, which often breaks forth into praise in the faithful / grateful heart.
It’s no wonder that gratitude and thanksgiving are associated with religion! A behaviorist studying gratitude became enamored with its effect on the human experience; in particular, the experience of happiness, which was what he had initially set out to study. What he learned about gratitude led him to write a book called THANKS! in which he outlines ways to practice gratitude. As I looked at the part of the book that Amazon would let me read for free, I thought, “He’s describing church!” Yeah! His book and his and other websites advise people to meditate and to celebrate gratitude. Sounds familiar. Here’s my advice. Here’s what we say on our website: Come to church! You know that place where people are practicing these things which were discovered centuries ago–meditation, celebration, giving thanks!
A grateful heart is a heart that has placed faith in someone other than self. We don’t thank ourselves. We aren’t grateful to ourselves. We’re grateful to God and to others. Gratitude is the exercising of faith and trust in someone other than ourselves, and so it is to complete ourselves in the sense that we were meant to be connected to God and to others. No one can live entirely to themselves. Even if they could exist by themselves, they would not experience the communion and the community, the fellowship, the coexistence that God intends for us and that being grateful to someone else brings. Gratitude requires humility. Right? Think about it. Receiving from the hand of another and acknowledging it requires acknowledging what–that we need others! Gratitude requires a connection with another and an acknowledgement of our dependence on them, both God and others.
The story of the grateful, one, healed leper teaches that a grateful heart is one that has not only been cured of disease, or of any other brokenness, but has been truly healed because he or she did not simply stop at that point when their circumstances have improved. “Oh good, I’m no longer sick!” (Man on a roof laying shingles suddenly loses his footing and begins to slide. He shouts, “God, save me!” As he continues to slide closer to the edge, his belt catches a nail, preventing his falling off. He says, “That’s okay, God. I didn’t need you afterall.”
The full circle in the healing process doesn’t stop at our circumstances being better. The healing process is complete in our acknowledging God’s hand, and the hand of others, in the goodness life offers.
We are here today, and especially today, because we are thankful for finding in our lives other thankful people with whom we can sing praise to God.
We understand, like that one in 10 lepers, and perhaps we understand it intuitively, that thanking the one from whose hand we have recieved such blessing is part of the healing…part of the blessing! As Jesus told the one leper who returned to thank him, it is the faith that made us well, made us whole, that saved us. Thanksgiving is an expression of our faith. Only one in Luke’s story completed the circuit of healing.
We think it’s the thing we wanted so desperately, that we asked for and got–a change in our circumstances–that will be our salvation. This and many voices in the new and old testament help us to understand that it is the link between the goodness of life and a loving Creator God and the community God forms among us that is our healing. Gratitude expressed in the giving of thanks IS the tie that binds and brings wholeness, joy, peace, well-being, and true healing.
This passage just happens to to fall on our homecoming Sunday, but it is a perfect story for celebrating what church is about– knowing our dependence on one another and on God. Gratitude and giving thanks acknowledge that we depend on one another and we depend on God. Gratitude reminds us that our lives are linked to others. The building of homes and making one’s home a lair, a , sometimes a fortress against the “other”. Until we understand the lesson of gratitude to God and to all of humankind and our place in it, we don’t understand what true homecoming means. Gratitude expressed in and through community is the greatest blessing of all.