I usually edit out parts that pertain to our worship activity and congregational life before posting sermons. but this week I thought I would leave it in rather than deconstruct what was an important part of our life together.
It’s a common enough greeting How are you? To which most of us respond, “Fine,” or, “I’m good.” It’s a response we give automatically – almost by rote.
I read a blog this week reflecting on the gospel text we just heard and where the author began by sharing the interesting response a friend of his makes to the simple, common question, “How are you?” And it got me thinking.
I wonder if you have ever had trouble answering that question? “How are you?”
I know I have, because truth be told, there are times when, however sincere the question and kind the person, they don’t really want to know the truth.
It’s not that they don’t care, but sometimes you know, you just know, that if you really told them how you are doing, things would just get AWKWARD!
Whether the response you might want to give is, “Great! I just won the lottery!” or a more common, “Lousy. I haven’t been able to sleep, my bunions are aching, and my roof is leaking,” or something somewhere in between, you sense this isn’t the time for complete honesty.
So, more times than not, you probably do what I do - reach for the easy answer –
“I’m Fine.” Or even, “I’m good,” even on those days when that is a bold-faced lie.
So, what was the thought-provoking response to the question, “How are you?” It was a simple, “I’m grateful.”
Wow! What a modest yet powerful statement. “I’m grateful.”
We look at the story in our gospel today, and we realize that gratitude is not only a response; gratitude is a choice we make.
In this healing story from Luke, ten lepers approach Jesus. Leprosy in the 1st century was greatly feared. Although today there are multidrug therapies that can bring cures, as you can imagine there were no such treatments in those days. And, since leprosy was highly feared, there were strict rules and regulations about contact with its victims.
So, as they approach Jesus, while still a distance away, these lepers beg for mercy.
We don’t really know if it is physical healing that they are seeking – did they, in their wildest dreams think that healing was even possible? Had they heard stories about Jesus’ healing miracles? Or were they simply asking for a cool drink of water or a crust of bread? But God, in infinite wisdom, knows their need, as God knows ours.
A healing does indeed occur. Jesus doesn’t touch the lepers, he doesn’t instantly cure them.
Rather, he instructs them to go present themselves to the priests – something a diseased person who had been considered “unclean” would need to do in order to be restored to community.
What did the lepers think about this strange response? Jesus didn’t heal them outright, but sends them on their way. After they left him they suddenly realized that they were indeed, healed!
I imagine they were all happy, and grateful. But nine of them simply continued on, and went their way. Only one returned. Only one recognized the source of healing and felt compelled to respond. Only one made the choice to return, to offer God thanks, and to submit himself before Jesus, the agent of his healing.
“How are you doing?”
This one leper, a Samaritan, prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet. Prostration is a radical act, a physical posture given to express complete submission and vulnerability before another. With this act, the Samaritan expressed not only his gratitude but his complete surrender, his whole life, returned to Jesus.
This simple but powerful motion expressed what words could not – it expressed how complete his gratitude and therefore his allegiance to Jesus was, as a response to what had been done for him.
How are you doing? “I’m grateful!”
Even in the midst of our darkest days, there is something to be grateful for.
I don’t deny that some days it is difficult if not impossible to name something for which we are grateful, but that is where the community of faith comes in. Because when I am unable to access my font of gratitude, there is someone else here to raise up thanks and praise to God in my stead. And I am here for you. And God is here, in this thing with all of us, together.
It has been both anecdotally and scientifically proven that lives lived in gratitude – that is, where gratitude is a conscious-choice-turned-natural-response, people are healthier, happier, more content, and report greater satisfaction with life.
To say, “I’m grateful” is not intended to say that we should stuff down, deny or pretend that those other feelings don’t exist. Not at all.
David Lose points out that there is a range of emotions we might experience in the course of our day. Each is useful in its own regard; each has a place. But we get to choose how much stage time to give to each emotion, and as we do, we give them power over our lives.
Gratitude shapes the reality in which we live.
The disease that afflicted these humans who came to Jesus, leprosy, was an isolating, confining, disfiguring, disease. Lepers lived in colonies with other lepers. They were not permitted among the healthy residents of the town. In many ways, leprosy was a death sentence.
And that’s where Jesus comes in.
In healing these lepers, Jesus restores them to life – he brings them a kind of resurrection from death. The healing of the lepers can be seen as a preview of the resurrection of the dead that comes to us through Jesus. Just as all the dead, not only the holy and just and good are raised by Jesus, so all the lepers, not just the perceptive and thankful are cleansed.
Robert Capon writes, “…for the lepers to enjoy, to accept, to celebrate the power of their resurrection from disease…well, that cannot happen until they see themselves not simply as returned to normal life by some inexplicable circumstance but precisely as lepers, cleansed by Jesus -that is, as living out of their death by the gift of someone else
Isn’t that what the life of faith is all about? We are sinners. Each and every one of us is dead in sin, unable to raise ourselves, unable to save ourselves. We are broken, we are diseased, we are dead and we are dying. We cannot, by our own strength, will, or goodness, heal ourselves from the brokenness of sin and the deadly results of our infinite attraction to deadly things, or the reality of our frail human lives.
Only God can do that, and God willingly saves us, heals us, guides us back from the edge of despair and death and back into life. Only God, through Jesus, can bring us eternal salvation and resurrection from death.
These are things we recognize and acknowledge – through words of the Confession and Forgiveness we recite, when we remember our Baptism, when we gather around the table at the Lord’s Supper each week. In each of those acts, we make a choice. We express our praise and gratitude for all that God achieves for us through each Means of Grace in our lives.
Studies have shown that consistently choosing certain behaviors, attitudes and thought patterns can actually change certain pathways in our brains, thus affecting future thoughts and behaviors. It turns out that choosing gratitude really can shape our lives and the lives of those around us.
Gratitude isn’t just warranted as a response for the grandiose blessings and common benefits we receive in this life, things like healing, home, family, and health – but is even more appropriate in the multitude of small things that come together and enrich our lives.
As Christians, a daily dose of gratitude for God’s eternal blessing, for the presence of Jesus in our lives and for the gift of grace that surpasses human knowing, is certainly called for.
So let me ask you, how are YOU doing?
Last week, I asked you to write down on a card something that you had done in faith recently. And as I read through your answers, I was truly touched. Your responses were authentic reflections on ways in which your faith and the love of God that lives in you shapes your relationship with God. Many of you named prayer as that thing you have done in faith.
Some of you named some kind of service you had performed on behalf of another: a meal taken to a neighbor, a ride offered a stranger, a huge leap of faith you took when making an important decision.
Some of you named everyday activities that you undertook in faith. Others named ways in which faith gave you courage to reach outside of your comfort zone.
Today I’d like to ask another question. Once again, you were handed a card when you came in and this time what I would like you to write down something for which you are grateful.
I invite you, when you come forward for communion, to place your card in this basket, as your offering of praise and thanksgiving this day.
Gratitude is indeed a response to God’s activity in the world. I would like to challenge you to a daily exercise in gratitude. Begin a journal, and for the next thirty days, as you examine your life, write down something for which you are grateful to God.
Let this activity help to shape your life and your faith, and give you greater understanding and appreciation, that in the daily give and take of your life, even in dark and uncertain times, there is still something for which you may be grateful – even if it is that this community surrounds you in Christ’s name, and lifts you up.
It is a choice to see those blessings and name them; it is a choice to express our gratitude in word and deed.
That choice has consequences for ourselves and those around us. Our attitude and expressions of gratitude, both spoken and acted out in our lives, is transformative. Let it be that like the Samaritan leper, we may offer our lives in total submission to Jesus, in complete gratitude that is a choice we are compelled to live out, for all that God has done for us in Christ. Amen.