Sermon: Proper 23 RCL C – “Gratitude”

Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash

Weary of constantly picking clothes up from the floor of little Johnny’s room, his mother Rachel finally laid down the law: each item of clothing she had to pick up would cost Johnny 25 cents.

By the end of the week, Johnny owed his mother $1.50, and she placed the “bill” on his bed. Surprisingly, mom quickly received $2 along with a note: “Thanks, Mom. Keep up the good work, and keep the change!”

With all the technology available, you would think we would no longer need a pen and paper. We’ve got electronic calendars that will ding us and tell us when we’re supposed to be somewhere, apps and other electronics that provide notifications, and even my dentist now has an electronic service that will call me no less than four times to remind us of an appointment (a bit annoying actually, but I’m told that there are still plenty of folks that forget their appointment.) All that, yet even though I make use of them, I still sit down at night and write out the next day’s events and tasks. With the planner I have, The Monk Manual, in addition to a calendar and task list, some questions allow you to review the day: “Ways to improve tomorrow,” “When was I at my best,” and “When did I feel unrest.” There’s also a place for journaling and things I’m looking forward to. Finally, there’s a box where I list three things that I am grateful for, but why would a daily journal ask me to include things I’m grateful for? There’s actually science behind it.

An author for Psychology Today writes, “Gratitude, or an intentional focus on appreciating the `positive aspects of life, is strongly and causally related to both physical and psychological well-being. There’s also growing evidence that simple gratitude meditations done on a daily basis can improve our mental health, and that cultivating gratitude can even strengthen our immune functioning. As we shift our focus towards what is positive in our lives, or reframe painful experiences in ways that allow us to grow, gain wisdom and compassion, and deepen our empathy with others, we also dial down our stress response, lessening the flow of stress-related hormones through our bodies.” (Source

The science says it is good for us to be grateful, and my daily planner allows three small spaces to list what I’m grateful for. There are a few days when the only thing I can come up with is “coffee,” but most days, I’m able to fill the box. However, I suppose the real question for me would be: why can’t I fill an entire journal with everything I should be grateful for in a single day? To answer that, I need a better definition of gratitude.

A secular answer comes from a Harvard Medical School journal (please note: I do not sit around reading psychology and medical journals. I Google and then search for good sources. Anyhow…)—the journal states, “The word gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, which means grace, graciousness, or gratefulness (depending on the context). In some ways, gratitude encompasses all of these meanings. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. People usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves.” (Source)

“The source of that goodness lies at least partially outside of themselves.” That source can be found in relationships, good fortune, opportunities given, and so on, but ultimately, the source is The Source—it is God. Today in our Gospel reading, I suspect all ten lepers recognized the source of their good fortune, but that is not all there is to gratitude. The journal stated, “With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives.” Recognizing and acknowledging are two separate things. For these feelings of joy and happiness to be genuine gratitude, they must first be recognized and acknowledged.

Finally, there may be an innate sense of gratitude in us all, but for the most part, it is something that must be practiced and cultivated. If you walk around all day moping and complaining, then if you win the lottery, you might exhibit gratitude, but for the remainder of the time… you’ll just be moping and complaining. Gratitude must be practiced and cultivated—it must be intentional.

At this point, you may be saying, “Well, Father John, this is a nice talk for a psychology class, but what does it have to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?” The answer: everything.

1 Chronicles 16:34 — Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 — Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Colossians 3:15 — And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

I do not know this for a fact, the scriptures do not say it, but it would not surprise me if the one leper who came back and gave thanks to Jesus was one who, whether intentionally or unintentionally, practiced gratitude. Even though it may not have appeared, there were reasons for him to be grateful. He was an outcast, but he had a community. He was sick, but he was still alive. He was required by the law to wear rags, but he still had something to cover his body with. He was required to cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” anytime someone approached, but he still held in his heart the hope of one day being clean. He could have spent all his time moping and complaining about his misfortune, circumstances, the unfairness of it all, the people he was with, everything, but he could have also seen all the goodness in those difficulties.

Time and time again, the scriptures call upon us to be thankful. Why? The reasons are innumerable—even in the worst of circumstances—but if for no other reason, we are called to be grateful because we were once the lepers. We were the ones living outside the community of God. We were the ones who had to cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” We were the ones who stared at death and decay all day long, but through Jesus, we have been redeemed and given new life. Like with the one leper that returned, Jesus has said to us, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” That’s a simple enough phrase, but it is powerful because the words “get up” are also translated be resurrected. Even in the most difficult of situations, we are grateful because Jesus has said to us, “Get up, you are resurrected—given new and eternal life—so go on your way and be thankful; your faith has made you well.”

Practice your gratitude and cultivate it. Keep a small journal and daily write down those good things you recognize and acknowledge them. Take time in your prayers to not just lay out the laundry list for God but also allow time to give him thanks, even in the most difficult of times, for the goodness he has shown you. Go to the person who showed you the goodness of God and acknowledge them as a conduit from God to you, telling them how much you appreciate them in your life. Finally, spend a little time meditating on that most extraordinary gift of all: the salvation and eternal life you have received through Jesus, and realize how truly blessed you are. As the Psalmist declared:

Hallelujah!
     I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
     in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

And a few verses further:

He sent redemption to his people;
     he commanded his covenant for ever; *
     holy and awesome is his Name.

He sent redemption: let that be the beginning, then let your heart overflow in thanksgiving and gratitude for the goodness of our God.

As a concluding prayer, please turn to page 837 in your Book of Common Prayer.

Let us give thanks to God our Father for all his gifts so freely bestowed upon us.

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea.

We thank you, Lord.

For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ,

We thank you, Lord.

For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends,

We thank you, Lord.

For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,

We thank you, Lord.

For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,

We thank you, Lord.

For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity,

We thank you, Lord.

For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,

We thank you, Lord.

For the communion of saints, in all times and places,

We thank you, Lord.

Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;

To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

%d bloggers like this: