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

Advertisement

The Difficulty with Rejoicing

Pastor Sherry’s message for 5/15/2022

Scriptures: Acts 11:1-18; Ps 148; Rev. 21:1-8; Jn 13:31-35

In my Wednesday afternoon Bible Study this week, we focused on Jesus’ call to us to rejoice. In the Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10), the woman featured in the story is filled with joy when she locates her lost coin (1 in a set of 10). She is so excited when she finds it that she calls in her friends to celebrate the find with her. Jesus makes the point that heaven celebrates/rejoices just so when even one sinner repents.

From there, we discussed a difficulty with rejoicing with another, which is that we tend to be jealous of the cause of their joy. Isn’t it true that if friends are celebrating their 40th or 50th wedding anniversary, we are happy for them but also sad that we haven’t made it that far? Isn’t it also true that we rejoice for the woman who finds herself pregnant but are envious and grieved if we are experiencing infertility, or have had our last child–due to the financial burden–even though wishing for more? How about a lottery winner? Or someone who gets their dream job, or our dream job instead of us? Or a full ride scholarship to college? My great-niece just got such a scholarship even though her parents could well afford to pay her way. We might be happy for them at first, but often then move on to entertaining wishes that those good things happened to us instead of them. Unlike the lady in the parable, we may even hesitate to call in our friends to rejoice with us because we fear their jealousy. This may be human nature, but I believe Jesus calls us to put aside our envy—to overcome our natural tendencies–and truly celebrate with those who experience blessings.

Several of our readings today address this issue:

A. Our Acts 11:1-18 passage shows us what can happen when we don’t rejoice with the good fortune of others. Remember that we recently read how Peter baptized Cornelius and his household, all Gentiles? Prior to this, God had dramatically demonstrated to him—3 times—that nothing God creates, neither food, animals, nor non-Jews is unclean. He gets that God doesn’t play favorites, even though the Jews, as His Chosen People, believed otherwise. Peter is rightly convinced that God called him to baptize Gentiles into “the Way,” the enfant Christian Church. Now he is back in Jerusalem, however, and has to explain himself, and his actions, to the Jewish-Christian leaders back in the city. A group of new Christians, called the Judaizers, believed one must become a Jew before converting to Christianity. Remember, the movement was new. They were kind of making up the rules as time went on and occasions arose. This group wanted new believers to be circumcised, eat kosher, and go to Hebrew School prior to accepting Christ. Isn’t that just like human nature? You can almost hear people say, “Well, we had to do it that way. Why shouldn’t they?” Since we had to do that so should they. Rather than rejoice that God was calling more folks into the enfant church, they wanted to legislate a process. But God, the Holy Spirit, had a better idea.

Peter makes the very powerful and convincing point to them that the Holy Spirit (1) had told Cornelius where Peter was and to send for him; (2) then led Peter to Cornelius’ home; (3) and fell upon Cornelius and his friends, such that they were praying and speaking in tongues when Peter arrived. (4) So, since they were already baptized in the Holy Spirit, Peter did not believe he could deny them baptism with water.

Walter B. Knight, a Christian collector of illustrations for sermons and speeches, has written, Joy is the flag that flies over the castle of our hearts, announcing that the king is in residence today. (As submitted by Chuck Swindoll in his book, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.322). The proper response to anyone coming to Christ is for us to rejoice for that person. The Church in Jerusalem should have been rejoicing over the sovereign move of the Holy Spirit, instead of questioning whether Gentiles should first be Jews. Our joy for others shows that we are attuned to God rather than to our fleshly, envious natures.

B. Revelation 21:1-8 describes what eternity will look like after Christ establishes His reign on earth. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. God and His Son, Jesus, will dwell in a new Jerusalem. Those who believed in Jesus will be there, but those who distained Christ—nonbelievers and notorious sinners—will not. Scholars believe this new and Godly environment will be characterized by no sin, temptation or further testing; no sun—just God and Jesus for sources of light; no oceans; no gravity; and we will remain in the presence of God and Jesus. This will be a “Brave New World,” but one in which we will rejoice to live!

C. Our Psalm (148) is ablaze with joy, praise to God, and rejoicing!

It fairly vibrates with joy and praises to God! It begins with a call to all created things to praise God. It ends with our motivation to joyGod’s having provided “a horn.” This term is an Old Testament euphemism for the Messiah, God’s anointed. Our motivation to rejoice in God should be our gratitude for His gift of Jesus. Do we really appreciate this great gift? Does thinking of Jesus and His loving sacrifice on the cross for our sakes fill us with gratitude and joy?

D. Finally, our Gospel (John 13:31-35) contains Jesus’ “new command” (v.34): Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. It’s actually an old command, dating back to the 3rd book of the Bible (and included in the Jewish Torah or Law), Leviticus 19:18 Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. The Father tacks on I am the Lord so we realize Moses wrote it down, but God originated and stated the command. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New. His expectations of us are the same throughout Scripture: We’re to love Him and to love others. God is love and He expects us to Love. Notice Jesus is not calling us to serve in this verse. Neither is He calling us to witness—though both are commendable.

His highest priority is for us to demonstrate love.

Think for a moment about the connection between love and joy. When we learn we are loved, we experience great joy. I remember when I fell in love and learned he loved me in return, I wafted about in a natural high for days. Everything was beautiful and all people were wonderful. I really looked at life through rose-colored glasses. In a word, I was filled with joy! Similarly, Bruce Larson (a prolific Christian author) has said, Grimness is not a Christian virtue. There are no sad saints. If God really is the center of one’s life and being, joy is inevitable. If we have no joy, we have missed the heart of the Good News and our bodies as much as our souls will suffer the consequences. (From his book, There’s a Lot More to Health Than Not Being Sick, and submitted by Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.322).

This week, let’s celebrate God’s blessings in our lives, daily. Make it a habit to think of 3 good things that have happened to you in a given day. We may have to initially ask God to give us eyes to see. Our brains are naturally wired to help us see danger and what is wrong in a situation. We therefore have to retrain our brains to intentionally look for things for which to be thankful. Experience teaches that we can find them if we look carefully.

Then let’s rejoice! Let’s celebrate the goodness of our God.

Finally, let’s discipline ourselves to rein in our envy and jealousy. We need to recognize it for what it is. Next we need to renounce it. The behavior is human but not godly. Then, knowing that God loves you and desires to bless you too, choose to replace envy with rejoicing. Consider Paul’s advice in Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams