Praying with Humility and Gratitude

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 23, 2022

Scriptures: Joel 2:23-32; Ps 65; 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18; Lk 18:9-14

I have preached here before on the fact that our God answers our prayers. He tends to answer in one of the following ways:

1. Yes, that’s something I am happy to do for you right away.

2. No, I am omniscient and know that would not be good for you.

3. Not yet.

a. I am working out all the intervening variables;

b. Or, I am waiting on you to develop further.

He also likes for us to have an humble attitude toward Him when we pray. In our Gospel Lesson today, Luke 18:9-14, Jesus contrasts the opposite attitudes of the Pharisee and the publican/tax collector.

The Pharisee was a man at the top of the religious ladder of the day. Was he praying out loud or silently? If out loud, how arrogant of him! He appears to be talking to himself, about himself, rather than dialoguing with God. His prayer is a soliloquy, a speech made by himself to himself. Lord, I’m thankful that I am not like other men (v.11)…YIKES! There’s his first mistake. He should have said, “Thank You that You called me to be a Pharisee; I am so happy to serve You and Your people, Lord!” He might have added, “Thank You for keeping me from becoming a robber, an evildoer, an adulterer, or anyone who mistreats others. I know that there, but for the grace of God, go I.” And he would have been very Christ-like to have requested of God, “Lord, I ask you to bless this tax collector and bring him to repentance for any theft or fraud he has committed.” Instead, being very self-focused and lacking humility, he considers himself a cut above other sinners.

The Publican or tax collector, was considered a low-life in that culture (definitely a sinner!). Unlike the Pharisee, however, he seems to have been very well aware of his deficiencies/his sins. He knows that he has denied his nation (as a Roman collaborator); he knows he has alienated himself from his countrymen. The Romans let tax collectors set their own salary, which they did by demanding a certain percentage above what he was required to collect for them. So typically, tax collectors charged extra, taking care of themselves at the expense of their own fellow citizens. Additionally, they didn’t think they needed God or were too ashamed to approach the Lord (We’ve all known people who have said, “If I entered the church, the roof would fall in.)

But notice his prayer, and contrast it with that of the Pharisee: The tax collector admits he’s a sinner! He is humble and humiliated by his past, his present, his bad choices, his wrong actions. He is so aware of his deficiencies before God, he cannot even raise his eyes toward heaven. His prayer is one sentence (v.13): God have mercy on me, a sinner, or God be merciful to me a sinner. This is where we derive The Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is a famous old prayer uttered from foxholes, places of danger, and traumatic situations.

I once was visiting some friends when someone they knew asked me to minister to their adult daughter. She had been car-jacked at night, kidnapped, and pistol whipped by two men. She feared for her life, sure she would be raped and murdered. She was a believer and knew to pray “The Jesus Prayer” throughout her entire ordeal. The felons took her to a deserted area, blind-folded her, and told her to remove her clothing. She was sure this was the end for her. Suddenly, however, she heard the sounds of the two men running away. She suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress afterward but also knew that God had saved her in answer to her prayer. We believe the men must have seen a large angel behind her who frightened them away.

So what is the right heart attitude? From what attitude should our prayers arise? Not that of the Pharisee—arrogant, going on about how great we are, how much we’ve done for God, how much better we are than others. Rather, Jesus says the right heart attitude, especially when we pray, should be one of humility–and of gratitude. He says in verse 14–For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted. We want to approach God humbly, acknowledging and confessing our sinfulness. And, we want to approach God with gratitude for His mercy and love:

Our other lessons today explain why we should pray to God with gratitude:

A. 800 years before Jesus, the prophet Joel warns the Southern Kingdom (Joel 2:23-32) that the Great Tribulation of God’s Judgment is coming. Actually—even now—we haven’t yet seen the End Times. The prophet assures the people that if they repent and turn back to the Lord, He will respond, take pity on them, and call off the conquering Babylonians.

He foretells that they will rejoice in the Lord because…

1.). He will bring life-giving rain (v.23);

2.) He will repay them (v.25) for the years the locusts [enemies; evil-doers] have eaten.

3.) He will provide them with plenty to eat (v. 26);

4.) He will “pour out His Spirit on all people (v.28), empowering them and us to accomplish miraculous things we could never produce in our own.

5.) Best of all (v.28), Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. This prophesy predates the saving work of Jesus Christ, but it does infer that redemption is coming.

B. In a similar vein, Psalm 65 is called a “Restoration Psalm” and also prophesies what will occur at Christ’s 2nd Coming: King David wrote it in celebration of God’s goodness to him/us. He knew, historically and personally, that God saves His people from our enemies. He also experienced God’s forgiveness for his (and our) sins. Furthermore, God also draws us near to Him—He wants to be with us!

David recognized that God answers our prayers with what he called (v.5) —awesome deeds of righteousness, and addressed the Lord as, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas…. As a former Sociology major, I believe our younger American generations now—who do not know God—are suffering from what the French Father of Sociology, Emile Durkheim, called, anomie. This is a sense of purposelessness, of alienation. It occurs when people’s lives lack meaning, when they fail to see they have a reason for living. If unrelenting, it leads people to suicide and to other acts of desperation, like running people over in a parade, or shooting strangers in a grocery store. But for those of us who know and believe in God, we always have meaning and purpose in life (See Psalm 139), and, we are never alone!

Finally, David praises God for His loving provision for us.

C. 2 Timothy 4 constitutes Paul’s farewell address: He wants Timothy, his spiritual son, to know he has—(v.7)…fought the good fight, like a loyal soldier; I have finished the race, like an Olympic runner; and I have kept the faith—remember in our Gospel lesson of last week (Luke 18:8), Jesus wondered, When the Son of Man comes [when Jesus returns], will He find faith on the earth? Paul has kept the faith. He was, in fact, martyred for his faith. Paul is encouraging Timothy and us to keep our faith in Jesus, no matter what comes.

Why? Because death for us is not the final word/final chapter! It is a release:

1.) From the battles of life—or, “the rat race;” and

2.) From the frailty and failings of our mortal bodies. It is like a ship being untied from a wharf, freed to sail out to sea.

3.) And it is a release that frees us to accept our final reward, what Paul calls a crown of righteousness (v.8). It’s not a wreath of olive leaves, like the original Olympic winners got, or even a medal, like present day athletic stars. It is something Jesus, the Son of Righteousness, gives to each one of us who loves Him. Truthfully, I don’t know what it is, but I do know that I want it when my time comes. Death is not the end for those of us who love Jesus.

So why should we pray with gratitude in our hearts?

1.) Because our God is our creator, our provider, and our protector.

2.) Because He loves, forgives, and redeems us.

3.) Because He gives our lives meaning and purpose.

4.) Because He is present to us.

5.) Because He hears our prayers and responds to us

6.) And because He rewards us with a new and a better life—and some special reward–on the other side of death.

The next time you are feeling downhearted, discouraged, or alone, grab onto any one of those reasons to feel grateful to God. Remember, our God is for us, not against us. Thanks be to God!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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Gratitude Like The One In Nine

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 9, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 29:1-7; Ps 66:1-12; 2 Tim 2:8-15; Lk 17:11-19

A Jesuit priest has said, “It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.” That bears repeating: “It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.” Modern psychological research has shown that finding things to be grateful for is a key to good mental health. People who can think of 3 things for which they are thankful, daily, are less likely to be depressed and more likely to be happy.

A cartoon in a magazine shows a couple, at the church door, saying goodbye to the pastor following the service. The man says, “Wonderful sermon! Thanks for not mentioning my name.” We can be grateful for not having our sins shared from the pulpit. (I promise you, I will never name you and your personal sins from this pulpit.)

I can think of two other examples of grateful people:

(1) The leader of our denomination, John Wesley, “…was about 21 years of age when he went to Oxford University. He came from a Christian home, and he was gifted with a keen mind and good looks. Yet in those days he was a bit snobbish and sarcastic. One night, however, something happened that set in motion a change in Wesley’s heart.

“While speaking with a porter, he discovered that the poor fellow had only one coat and lived in such impoverished conditions that he didn’t even have a bed. Yet he was an unusually happy person, filled with gratitude to God.

“Wesley, being immature, thoughtlessly joked about the man’s misfortunes. “And what else do you thank God for?” he said with a touch of sarcasm.

“The porter smiled, and in the spirit of meekness replied with joy, ‘I thank Him that He has given me my life and being, a heart to love Him, and above all a constant desire to serve Him!

“Deeply moved, Wesley recognized that this man knew the meaning of true thankfulness.

“Many years later, in 1791, John Wesley lay on his deathbed at the age of 88. Those who gathered around him realized how well he had learned the lesson of praising God in every circumstance. Despite Wesley’s extreme weakness, he began singing the hymn, ‘I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath.’”

(From a sermon entitled “True Thankfulness” by Donnie Martin, July 26, 2010)

(2) Albert, the fellow who manned a drive up window at a Café DuMonde in New Orleans, where I stopped most mornings to get a CafeAuLait. He lacked most of his teeth but the ones he had were gold. He probably worked for minimum wage, but when I asked him each day how he was, he always replied, “I’m blessed!” The Lord used Albert in my life just as he used the porter in John Wesley’s. Two “simple” but wise—though economically disadvantaged persons–knew the value of daily expressing their gratitude to God.

Let’s see what our Scripture lessons today have to say about daily expressing gratitude to God:

A. Our Psalm (66:1-12) instructs us to praise God because of His deliverance, His preservation, and His provision for us.

B. In our Epistle (2 Timothy 2:8-15), Paul instructs us thank God for our redemption through Jesus Christ.

C. In our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 29:1-7), the prophet has written a letter to the Jewish captives in Babylon. They had been carted away, in defeat, to a pagan foreign nation. Surprisingly, instead of commiserating with them, Jeremiah essentially tells them that they are to “bloom where they have been planted.” This sentiment was often pictured on posters in the 1960’s and I remember thinking as a young person, “I don’t want to bloom where I am planted. I want to, instead, change my environment.” I didn’t realize then that God often calls us to do our best where we are, as He intends us to be transformed there, as well as to influence others to be transformed. So, Jeremiah encourages the deportees to build homes for themselves and their families. They are to settle in where they have wound up. Further, he encourages them to plant gardens, so they can feed themselves. Obviously, the Lord intends that they will be there for a while.

They are to marry and have sons and daughters. Again, this implies they will be there for some time. This side of the Cross, we know they were there for 70 years, or for most of 2 generations. Rather than being frustrated or resentful (hateful), they were also to contribute to the peace/prosperity of the city of Babylon. In fact, the Lord says, through the prophet, (v.7) —Pray to the LORD for it [Babylon], because if it [Babylon] prospers, you too will prosper.

They were not to be grateful for their captivity, their deportation to a foreign land. God used that experience to punish them because He is holy (and cannot abide sin). They were guilty of idolatry, greed, lust and sexual perversion, and multiple abuses of power. They had been grossly out of line for a long time. We know from Hebrews 12:5-11 that God disciplines those He loves. We also realize that if He didn’t, we could not really trust Him. He means what He says in Scripture, and He says what He means. The Lord has punished them, hoping they will change their sinful attitudes and improve their behavior in the future. The point is that—even though they are captive in a foreign land—which seems terrible to them, it comes as no surprise to God—He engineered it. They can and should be grateful to Him because they are alive and He has not abandoned them.

We want to be grateful to God for what He teaches us through our trials. When we go through trials—emotional pain—we are molded and shaped by God. Years ago, I was counseling college students at Florida State University as part of a pre-doctoral psychology internship. While there, I encountered a “trust fund baby,” a young man who had been handed everything. He told me that he drove a brand new BMW; all his expenses were paid by his parents; he had a job waiting for him, in his father’s firm, when he finished school; and he had never had to mourn the loss of someone he loved. In other words, he had never suffered, he had never had to struggle. He asked me to help him develop some motivation for life. I suggested he volunteer at a soup-kitchen for the homeless, or spend time with disadvantaged kids in daycare. I have never known anyone to have compassion for others who has not observed or experienced suffering. When we go through trials, we learn compassion for others. We learn to have patience. We learn to trust in God despite our circumstances.

D. In our Gospel lesson (Luke 17:11-19, Jesus heals 10 lepers.

Our Lord is headed to Jerusalem to die. At the fringe of some unnamed village, 10 lepers appeal to Him for healing. He gives them what they want, freely, graciously. Notice: they had faith in Him and in His ability to heal them. He says to them, (v.14) —Go, show yourselves to the priests.

Leviticus 14:1-10 describes all the things a leper who had been healed had to do: (1) Show him/herself to the priest. (2.) The priest would then perform a detailed ritual to ensure the person was cleansed spiritually as well as physically; (3.) Then the healed person was to wash his/her clothes; shave off all his/her hair, even eyebrows; and bathe with water.

So, the ten obey Jesus and scurry off to begin the cleansing process. It is on their way that they are healed. They had stepped out in faith. They had trusted in Jesus. And unlike Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5), they were immediately compliant. But only one guy notices his healing and returns first to thank Jesus. Maybe the other nine were just too overjoyed to focus on gratitude. Or maybe they believed they deserved it (they felt entitled). Most likely their attention was on remembering and performing the religious requirements, or on the anticipated happy reunions with their families. We don’t really know why they didn’t think to thank the LORD.

The one guy who does was a hated Samaritan! We would say today that he wasn’t raised right; that he was not well bred; that he was “sorry from way back.” But the fellow who wasn’t raised right knew enough to express his gratitude. Maybe he was shocked that Jesus would heal even him. Maybe he was aware that he didn’t deserve this kind of grace from a Jewish rabbi. Jesus’ response to the Samaritan’s gratitude was fantastic—v. 17–Rise and go; your faith has made you well. This implies that the fellow was kneeling at Jesus’ feet; or maybe he had prostrated himself, in adoration. Jesus is so pleased that he commends him for his faith and for his manners. This guy has received the same physical healing as the other 9; but he has also received a complete healing. In addition to the physical, he received a spiritual healing as well–forgiveness for his sins. Both healings merited eternal gratitude.

Today’s lessons go beyond issues of disease or misfortune and healing: They challenge us to be mindful of all that God has done for us and to be grateful to Him. Too many of us are like a demanding guy in the Post Office. A guy with a broken right arm goes into the Post Office. The lady at the counter asks how she might help him. He proceeds to ask for a post card and a stamp. Then he asks her to write out his message on the card, and finally to address it to his friend. She asks again if there is anything else he needs. He looks at the card and says, “Yes please add an apology to my friend for the bad handwriting.”

(Borrowed from John Fairless and Delmer Chilton, The Lectionary Lab Commentary, Year C, 2015, p.310.)

Are we like that—or like the 9 who were healed, but didn’t express their gratitude? It’s all too easy, isn’t it, to take God’s grace for us for granted and to forget to express to Him our grateful thanks. This week, let’s remember to express to our Lord our thanks and praise. Even better, try to think of three things daily for which you are grateful to God. Do this for a month and watch and see what happens. You should find yourself being more joy-filled.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams