This message was preached at the FSU Wesley Foundation on Sunday, November 24th, 2013.
This week is Thanksgiving – a time we think about travel, time with family, turkey, football, and Black Friday sales. But, way before that, Thanksgiving was about giving thanks. A day was set aside to reflect on the previous year, and to give thanks for all that had been provided.
And, so today, I wonder, what are you thankful for? For what are you grateful?
I’m thankful for…
my parents, and the opportunities they provided me…
my job, and the opportunity to do the things I do…
for money in the bank…
for close, intimate friends…
and for my motorcycle, because I really enjoy it!
This week, I had some minor surgery on my left arm. In spite of not really enjoying surgery, I am thankful. I’m thankful for a procedure that will make my hands stop falling asleep! I’m thankful for health insurance to pay for it. I’m thankful for the doctors and curses who took care of me. I’m thankful for the anesthesia that put me to sleep through it, and the pain medicine I took after it. I’m thankful for my wife who took care of me afterward. And, I’m thankful for having my right hand operated on in a month.
So, again, what are you thankful for? And, maybe more importantly, to whom are you thankful?
According to Robert Emmons, of the University of California-Davis, the word thanks and its cognates appear in the Bible more than 150 times.
Martin Luther referred to gratitude as “The basic Christian attitude.”
Jonathan Edwards believed that gratitude is one of the most accurate ways of finding the presence of God in a person’s life.
I discovered a video on Youtube this week…
The video talks about the joy experienced by the one expressing thanks. I wonder, if it had been measured, if the people receiving thanks would also experience increased joy? I suspect that they do.
Luke 17:11-19 tells the story of Jesus and ten lepers. Jesus and the disciples were traveling between Galilee and Samaria, when they encountered a group of lepers. Leprosy is a disease of the nervous system, and that usually leads to severe skin damage and disfigurement. Because it is highly contagious, leprosy also meant ostracism from society, family, business, and religion. The lepers called out to Jesus for help. Jesus told them to go to their priest to show that they had been healed, which was required in the book of Leviticus. Nine of the lepers went to their priest and received healing. One – a Samaritan – returned to Jesus to say “thank you.” Strangely, Jesus asks, “Where are the other nine?” After all, Jesus hadn’t asked them to return. They did what they had been told. Possibly, the Samaritan knew the Jewish priest would not receive him, as Samaritans were hated by Jews. Maybe Jesus was the only place he could go. Also strange, Jesus told the Samaritan that his faith had made him well. All ten were healed, and yet Jesus credits the Samaritan with faith.
Like the ten lepers in this story, we are all so very blessed. One of my favorite traditions of the African-American church is the phrase often heard in prayer, “Thank you for getting me up this morning. You didn’t have to, but you did.” In the African-American church, gratitude begins with our existence, our life. Every other blessing comes after this basic fact – life is a gift. Our existence is a blessing. Beyond that, we have received the gifts of health, education, money, friends, Christian community, family, etc.
Psalm 107:8-9reads, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” All things come from God. Everything we have are gifts from God.
And, yet, as Christians, we also know to be thankful, not just for the blessings we desire and enjoy, but for everything.
Thessalonians 5:18 reads, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Ephesians 5:20reads, “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Give thanks in ALL circumstances. Give thanks to God for EVERYTHING. ALL and EVERYTHING includes good and bad, highs and lows, victories and defeats, celebrations and hardships, joy and sorrow. How is that possible? Who can feel grateful when their world is falling apart, when they are lonely, when they are in pain? We are not told to FEEL grateful. We are told to BE grateful, based on the foundational Christian belief that God works in all things for our good. Though we may struggle to be thankful for our immediate conditions, we have faith that God is using everything in our lives for good. God doesn’t cause our suffering. Neither does God ever let it go to waste.
C.S. Lewis writes, “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”
Thomas A Kempis writes, “Be thankful for the smallest blessing, and you will deserve to receive greater. Value the least gifts no less than the greatest, and simple graces as especial favours. If you remember the dignity of the Giver, no gift will seem small or mean, for nothing can be valueless that is given by the most high God. “
Thus gratitude is more than a feeling. Gratitude is a choice. We choose to be thankful, regardless of how we feel about our current circumstance. We can choose to feel entitled to better than we have, and thus not feel grateful for what we do have. We can choose to resent what we don’t have or the situation we are in, or what others may have.
Henri J. M. Nouwen writes, “Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. I can choose to grateful when I am criticized, even when my heart still responds in bitterness. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly.”
As I studied this passage and watched this video, the lesson I learned this week is that gratitude is ultimately relational. Gratitude ultimately leads you back to the giver. Gratitude creates a relational connection, and relational bond. The only difference between the one Samaritan leper and the nine is that the Samaritan leper returned to Jesus to thank him face to face – to acknowledge Jesus as the giver of the gift of healing. Ultimately his expression of gratitude was his salvation.
Meister Eckhart writes, “The most important prayer in the world is just two words long: ‘Thank you.’”
John Chrysostom writes, “Let us give thanks to God continually. For, it is outrageous that when we enjoy His benefaction to us in deed every single day, we do not acknowledge the favor with so much as a word; and this, when the acknowledgment confers great benefit on us. He does not need anything of ours, but we stand in need of all things from Him.
In point of fact, thanksgiving adds nothing to Him, but it brings us closer to Him.“
Gratitude expressed ultimately leads us to the one who is the giver of every good gift, the one who created us and gives us life, the one who sent his son to die for us, the one who offers us eternal life. Ultimately, isn’t that the goal for every believer – to draw closer to God? Gratitude leads us right to him.
And so I ask you again, what are you thankful for? Who are you thankful too?