Made for Gratitude
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This morning we are starting a new series of sermons on Gratitude and Grace. For the next couple weeks we will be talking about what it means to be a people of gratitude because it is the is is the season of gratitude after all. But let’s be honest, is there anything worse than forced gratitude? When you’re in a bad mood, how often does it help when someone says, look on the bright side?
I realize that I am more naturally a pessimist, but I also know that there is always something to be thankful for. And this doesn’t happen often, but every now and then I get a migraine. When that happens, I try to tell myself, “I am thankful that I can feel this migraine because the alternative is worse”, but that doesn’t make the pain go away.
The tricky thing about gratitude is that it’s a choice, but it’s also a feeling. Gratitude is something that we are made for, and yet, it’s a practice we have to cultivate.
There have been a number of studies that have proven that gratitude is what leads to lasting happiness. What studies have shown, again and again, is that people who are grateful are people who are happy.
The Benedictine Monk, David Steindl-Rast gave a TED Talk a few years ago on gratitude. It has been seen over 7 million times and has been translated into 45 languages. In his talk, he says, “It’s gratefulness that makes us happy. If you think it is happiness that makes you grateful, think again. It’s gratefulness that makes you happy.”
He goes on to say that too often we don’t experience gratitude and we don’t find happiness because we don’t slow down enough to appreciate our lives. Instead, we rush, we complain, and we compare.
Awhile back I was at the store and there were two people ahead of me in line and while I don’t think we should judge a person by how they look, I don’t think we can make assumptions about one another, but still, this woman had an, “I’d like to speak with the manager” haircut.
A few moments after I made that assumption about her, that’s what she said.
She had coupons, and she had codes on her phone, she was making every deal she could – it was impressive, she was making a sport of shopping. With one of her deals, the store gave her a $10 gift card for her next visit. The clerk was very nice with her, she collected every coupon with a smile, and she thanked the woman for being a dedicated shopper as she gave her this gift card for her next trip to the store.
The woman with the “I’d like to speak with the manager haircut” said that she wanted to use that gift card now and that another store in another city let her do that, so she should be able to use it here and now too.
The clerk was polite, she said, we appreciate your business and we hope you come back and use this gift card on your next visit, but it can’t be used on this purchase. And then, like clockwork, the manager was called over, and the blinking light of the checkout line was turned on.
I spent about 15 minutes in that checkout before another manager talked the woman into complaining at the customer service desk. On my way out of the store, the woman that had complained about not being able to use the gift card she had just been given for her next visit was returning all her purchases and was waiting to talk with another manager.
I have to imagine that there is a lot to this woman’s story that I don’t know, but have you ever been so ungrateful for free money that you talked to two managers and returned everything you bought just to prove how petty and ungrateful you are?
It is easy to overlook Thanksgiving and rush towards Christmas, but we need the season of thanks. We have to be reminded to be thankful because too often we don’t take the time to be thankful.
Don’t get me wrong, there is more than enough to be worried about. When there is so much that can get under our skin when there are so many things going on in the world that can tear us apart, why would be focus on gratitude? Shouldn’t we lament? Shouldn’t we protest? Or could we just numb ourselves and try to stop caring? There are countless things that we can be angry with. We all watch the same news, we all see the same headlines. There is tragedy and loss and pain all around us and within us, but there is joy too, and we have to cherish it every chance that we get.
In our reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee. In the first century, Samaritans were considered by many in Israel to be a half-breed. I know this is hard to believe, but back then the color of your skin and the location of your birth determined what people thought about the content of their character.
It was in the year 722 what was the northern half of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians and people of Israel were forcibly moved throughout the Assyrian empire. A number of Assyrians were moved to Samaria and over the years they started to get married and have children and families with the Israelites that were left there. These Samaritans mixed aspects of the Jewish and Assyrian traditions and faith. They had their own temple in Samaria while every other Jewish person worshiped only in Jerusalem. A lot of the beliefs and practices were the same, but they just different enough that eventually, a group of people from southern Israel traveled north and destroyed the temple in Samaria.
Jesus is traveling in this border region and comes across 10 lepers.
Luke writes, “On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him. Keeping their distance from him, they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!” When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they left, they were cleansed.”
Leprosy was any number of skin conditions that were thought to be contagious. People were so fearful of these diseases that in Leviticus it’s written, “Anyone with an infection of skin disease must wear torn clothes, dishevel their hair, cover their upper lip, and shout out, “Unclean! Unclean!”
If you have a cold-sore this winter, you know what’s expected of you.
As a Samaritan, and then as a leper, you weren’t just a second class citizen you were an outsider among outsiders. And these are the people that Jesus sees. These are the people that Jesus shows mercy to. Those that have been cast aside, those that haven’t been welcomed, those that were told they aren’t good enough, those are the one’s Jesus reaches out to right away.
Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the high priest. In the first century, it was up to the priest to say if someone was clean enough to live in the city. Think about it, if you had a rash, all of a sudden people would think you were a leper and you were forced to live on the outskirts of town, away from everyone else. But if your rash went away, you couldn’t just return to your normal life, a priest had to inspect you and decide if you were healthy or not.
Since we’re talking about gratitude, I would like to say that I’m grateful for physicians and medication.
Jesus tells these lepers to go to the priest and as they do, they are healed.
Luke writes, “One of them when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus replied, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.”
One of the ten returns to Jesus and says thank you. Clearly only one of them listened to their mom growing up. But those nine that didn’t come back to Jesus right away, can you really blame them? If you’ve been shunned if you’ve been cast aside, wouldn’t you try to run home as fast as possible? They were probably thinking about all the things they could do again, they were thinking about the future.
They didn’t stop and give thanks, they just rushed on with the rest of their lives.
On a scale from 1 to 10, how grateful are you? Are you grateful enough to stop what you’re doing and truly express your thanks?
For me, it’s not that I’m ungrateful, it’s that I’m busy, I’m preoccupied, I’m almost always thinking about the next thing on my to-do list. I know it’s easy to stop and say thank you, and yet, 90% of the time, I don’t.
Jesus says to the one that returned and gave thanks, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.”
At this point in the text we know that at this point that leprosy has already been taken care of, so what exactly is Jesus saying here?
The word for healed here is sodzo. In Greek it’s the same root word for salvation or saved. One way to translate it is to be made whole. We’re all looking for wholeness, for deliverance, and Jesus says to this person that is giving thanks to God, that is offering their gratitude, this is what has made you whole.
We are made for gratitude. Our hearts, our lives, need to give and receive thanks. Without receiving thanks, we can wonder why we even bother. Without giving thanks, we might be healthy, but we aren’t whole.
I think about it like this – before I moved to Des Moines this summer I had to clean my house in Waterloo. I really needed to clean the oven, because in the 6 years I lived there, I had only cleaned the oven once before. I cleaned it the laziest way I could – pressing the self-cleaning button and going on with my life.
As the oven was cleaning itself, something smelled a little off. I didn’t think anything about it until the self-cleaning cycle was done. That’s when I opened up the oven and found a pan that I had left in there.
Did you know that a non-stick pan isn’t non-stick any more after an oven cleaning cycle?
Technically the oven was clean, but it wasn’t whole, it wasn’t complete.
It’s the same with us and gratitude. Our hearts, our lives, are made for gratitude, and without it, we might be clean, but we aren’t complete.
It’s one thing to receive a gift, it’s another to be able to name it, to cherish it, and to give thanks for it. Has anyone else ever had the experience with family or friends where you’re eating together, and someone cuts into the conversation to say, “It’s so great to be here with you all.” Everyone knew it was great to be there, everyone had the same feelings of community and grace and peace, but when it was named lifted up, that’s when the feelings of connection aren’t just appreciated, they’re amplified and the love that you were already sharing becomes even more transcendent.
Gratitude draws us out of ourselves and into something bigger, grander than we could imagine. With gratitude, we can be freed from fear, released from our anxieties, and empowered to do what we think is impossible. Just like when a Samaritan, that had been called a half-breed all their life, that was an outcast among outcasts, realized that he’s not a leper, he’s not even a healed leper, he’s a child of God, whole and accepted and loved.
That’s what the nine that walked away missed.
They didn’t do anything wrong, but they didn’t see their hope become real. They were healed, but they weren’t whole.
A while back a friend that I hadn’t seen in quite some time asked if we could meet up for dinner. We went out to eat and as our meal was wrapping up, I asked the waitress for the bill so we could split it and she said it’s already been paid for.
If I would have known that I would have ordered something else.
I tried to protest because it wasn’t a cheap meal. We were not eating off the dollar menu, but they kept saying, no, I wanted to do this and I planned for this. Eventually, I said, just let me give you some money and they said, you don’t get to take my joy away.
Generosity, gratitude and joy are intimately linked.
Last year there was a pastor that made the news for trying to raise over 50 million dollars for a personal, private jet because he couldn’t pray on a regular flight. The thing was, this pastor already had a personal, private jet that he bought for 40 million dollars, but it just wasn’t good enough anymore.
I don’t know if you followed that story in the news, but heading into the fall I was thinking about that a lot. Not because I want a jet, but that doesn’t mean I would turn one down either. That story stayed in my mind because for this person’s budget, a personal, private, $40 million jet for a was necessary, even though we all know how absurd that is.
But then I started to think about our budget, and I’m willing to bet there are some things that I think are necessary that you might find absurd.
If this is your first Sunday, or if you are new to the church, you can zone out for a few moments and as you do, consider this, why do dogs know more people words than people know dog words?
For everyone else, for everyone that is a member, for everyone that is committed to being a part of this Grace family, I want you to look at the narrative budget in your bulletin. This will tell you approximately how much money it takes for Grace to be Grace. Our budget is not insignificant, and yet, we keep a tight budget. More than that, this year we are projected to have a deficit budget. If all goes well we should break even at the end of the year, but things are tight and our income was less than our expenses last month.
If you didn’t know, it’s been a few years since Grace has been able to give any staff a raise, and with Gary retiring at the end of this year we are exploring having an associate pastor at our church, but we’re really not sure if we can afford it.
When we use what we are given, we are using God’s money and we’re not going to waste. We try to use our finances as best as we can.
If our community, and our faith, and our impact on the world is important to you, you need to know what it takes for Grace to be Grace. That’s why we put together this narrative budget. It’s not an exact budget and we won’t set our budget for next year until we receive your pledges this fall. If you ever want to see a line item budget for our church, if you want to see our expenses, let me know because none of it is a secret.
In your bulletin there is a pledge card, if you want you can fill it out this morning and place it in the offering plate, you can turn it in to the church office any time this month as well. We also have a place on our website for you to fill out your pledge. If you want to take some time to prayerfully consider your budget and our church, know that there is no rush on turning in your pledge card this year, but we would like to have them all turned in by the end of November.
Here’s my point, and if you’re a visitor with us today, again, thank you for coming, but feel free to keeping tuning out for a few more moments. But if you’re a part of this church family, remember what we last week when we welcomed new members to the church. We shared a covenant, we made a promise to one another, to share our prayers, presence, gifts, and service to one another and to our church.
We expect a lot of one another and of our church. And we should. Last week when we welcomed new members to the church, we made this covenant with one another, to share our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness to one another and to our church so we may be true disciples that walk in the way that leads to Christ. This is expecting a lot of one another.
This is asking for more than politely sitting next to one another for an hour once a week. We expect, I expect, everyone that calls Grace their church home to share their prayers, presence, gifts, and service with one another and with our community. We expect, I expect, every one of us to have dreams, and hope, and ideals that together we can make real as our church becomes more and more of a faithful presence in the community, helping to make things on earth a bit more like they are in heaven.
We have high expectations here. I know we have high expectations because it’s my job to hear about and manage them. If we want to have low expectations, let me know and I’ll adjust my schedule accordingly. Like the other nine in our reading this morning, we can act like nothing’s different, we can rush to the next thing, or, we can participate in our healing and wholeness by sharing gratitude and grace with one another, with our church, and in our community.
There are a couple of things I want to ask you to do this week:
First, take time, every day, to say thank you, preferably more than once.
Say thank you to God for at least one thing every day before you go to bed. And make sure you say thank you to one another too.
Second, if you consider this Grace your church home, take a pledge card with you. Pray and ask God to use what you give to our church as an expression of your love and thanks.
And third, when I say thank you, please know how much I mean it. I don’t know if other pastors have this recurring nightmare or this level of crippling self-doubt, but every Sunday I wonder if anyone is actually going to show up.
Times aren’t like they used to be, and as long as time keeps moving forward, things won’t just go back to how they might have felt in the good ol’ days when church didn’t have to compete with sports schedules, brunch, and any number of other things that people could do with their time.
I think I am moderately entertaining. I know I have to put on a sitcom length monologue every week so I hope I make it worth your while, but have you ever slept in on a Sunday? I don’t know if I can compete with that.
There are Sundays where I can barely wake up early enough to be here, and I live next door.
And yet, as much as we can, we gather, and even if we can’t gather in person we’ve got folks that gather with us online through our live-stream every Sunday morning too.
Thank you, because Grace wouldn’t be Grace if it was just me. This takes all of us. So thank you for your service, thank you for your gifts, thank you for being a part of this church, and thank you for striving to live with gratitude and grace.
We need to be grateful people, filled with generosity and joy because we are people that see a reason to say thank you every day. This world is filled with challenges, but it is overwhelmed with blessings. In a culture too often filled with blame, suspicion, and accusation, we can be like that last leper, made whole, made complete, with the gratitude that comes from seeing how blessed we are. Amen.
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November 11-16, 2019
Read – John 17:11, 13-21
Notice – Jesus uses the word our a lot in the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus says our father, our daily bread, our trespasses, and so on. While we often pray for personal reasons, Jesus begins the prayer that he taught the disciples with, “Our Father…” reminding us that we are all part of the same family. Just hours before he went to the cross, Jesus prayed forcefully for his followers to be one. “Holy Father, watch over them in your name… that they will be one just as we are one…. I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” In a world that tends to focus on our differences, how can you better open your heart to let the Holy Spirit create the type of oneness for which Jesus prayed?
Pray – Jesus, guide your people all over the earth. Guide me. Help me to live so that words like “peace,” “unity,” “humility” and “love” will be the main qualities others see in me. Amen.
Read – Psalm 139:7-12, Acts 17:24-28
Notice – The phrase “who is in heaven” in the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples is, in Greek, ouranos. Often we think of heaven as an unspecified location far away, but ouranos can be translated into air or atmosphere too. The idea of heaven may always seem far away, but God is also as close as the air we breathe. Paul went on to tell the Athenians, “We have no need to imagine that the divine being is like a gold, silver, or stone image made by human skill and thought” (Acts 17:29). Few in today’s first-world cultures specifically worship gold, silver or stone images. But more broadly, many of us are tugged to give a life priority to lots of gold, silver, or stone objects (as well as many other materials). What helps you maintain a focus on the God who “isn’t far away from any of us”?
Pray – God, I believe in and trust you as a personal being who loves me and my world. Help me live and act in ways that show that your love has touched my life. Amen.
Read – Matthew 6:12, 14-15, Luke 11:4
Notice – In addition to hamartia (which meant “missing the mark”), Greek used other words for “sin.” Luke 11:4 used hamartia about our sins, but it used a form of opheleima, which meant “a debt owed to someone,” about what we forgive in others. Matthew 6:12 also used opheleima, while Matthew 6:14-15 used a form of paraptoma, which meant a lapse or slipup. Scholar William Barclay wrote: “Of all petitions of the Lord’s Prayer this is the most frightening. ‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors’…. It is… quite clear that… if we say, ‘I will never forgive so-and-so for what he or she has done to me’… and then take this petition on our lips, we are quite deliberately asking God not to forgive us…. To be forgiven we must forgive, and that is a condition of forgiveness which only the power of Christ can enable us to fulfill.” Who do you need to forgive?
Pray – God, I have sins, debts and lapses aplenty toward you and others. Forgive me—and strengthen me to forgive others. Amen.
Read – Psalm 23:1-3, Romans 8:12-14
Notice – King David had worked as a shepherd (cf. 1 Samuel 16:11, 17:34-36), and likely wrote Psalm 23. He knew a shepherd’s job description from his own experience, and pictured God as his shepherd. Centuries later, the apostle Paul said the defining characteristic of a child of God is allowing God’s Spirit to lead you. As a shepherd leads his flock of sheep in the ways that best protect and nurture them, so God leads those who put their trust in him. The apostle Paul addressed readers as “brothers and sisters” in Romans 8:12. The use of these family terms reminded his readers that, as in the Lord’s Prayer, God is our parent who leads us lovingly and well. What direction is God leading you in today?
Pray – – Lord, thank you for being my shepherd. Lead me into a truly good life, based not on my own wishes and instincts, but on your eternal principles. Amen.
Read – Acts 1:6-8, Ephesians 3:18-21
Notice -The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples ends by talking about the ‘kingdom, the glory and the power forever’. Jesus promises the power to cary on his mission to the ends of the earth. Jesus said to people pretty much like us, “You will be my witnesses.” What factors made it more powerful for God to use people (us!) as witnesses? Whose witness has shaped your life? In what ways have you been able to live out Jesus’ commission for you to be one of his witnesses? Find a quiet time to spend with God this week. Ask God to spark a vision in you of what God’s power might do in and through you that goes far beyond all that you could ask or imagine.
Pray – Jesus, you promise me your power—not the power to boss people around, but the winning, persuasive power of self-giving love. Make me powerful as Jesus was. Amen.
Read – Philippians 2:1-4
Notice – – When we pray that things on earth may be as they are in heaven, we should become people that are “the best at showing honor to each other…. If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.” What inner fears make it hard to honor and live at peace with people who are different from you? How can the truth that the eternal God loves and values you give you a footing on which you can set aside the need to climb above others?
Pray – Jesus, I want my life to count for good, to make this world a better place. May not just talk about them but live them humbly and gratefully every day. Amen.