Renewed in Gratitude
Pastor Leta Arndt Behrens
Sermon Scripture: LUKE 17: 11-19
11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
This scripture , it sparks such connection and joy for me when I read it. It seems like one that lends itself a little more easily to what I like to call our modern day scriptures or parables. Those stories that teach us and tell us some deeper truth that we understand on a grander level. While I was on a visit this week, I heard one such story from a homebound couple of our congregation. It is a story the woman loves to tell, taking her back to her memories, her personal experiences that have become the stories and scriptures that connect her to herself and to God. She was a teacher, she wanted to be an engineer but even though she applied across the country at that time was never accepted because women were not allowed in engineering school. She always says though, I found a love and a place in teaching that I would never trade. She was a teacher for students with special needs and in particular a gifted math teacher- I know this because of the light that goes on her eyes when she tells this story and because of the pride in her husband’s posture and stance when he listens. The textbook was no good, it didn’t teach children, it only showed information. She is a teacher of children, of people, and she found ways to connect to the parts of their world that they cared about in order to learn math–like how not to get cheated when making big purchases is a really good reason to know your fractions and percents! She did away with the textbook and taught the people. The students were in the middle years of schooling and when they left her school for the next she mostly did not know how they landed. Except for one. One student whose mother after a year of his being in high school, came back to her. She came back and told her how well he was doing and how much he had improved. She back and thanked her, poured out her gratitude for the gift that was given to him by this teacher of people. And this gratitude. This thankfulness. This one time has made all the difference in that teacher’s story of herself, her life, and her gifts being used in the light of God. And it is renewing for her whole self.
I told her this week as she wrapped up that this was also a story of Jesus. A story of how he threw away the policies of healing only at certain times and healing only certain kinds of people and instead, he simply healed people. He saw people. He heard people. He loved people and brought grace and mercy to heal people. And many we never know what they did or how their life changed, but this one leper, the foreigner in fact, the one who did not automatically fit in with the others around him, we do know. We know his gratitude. We know his joy. We know his faith and his heart were changed and impacted in big and mighty ways. We also know he was welcomed, he was praised, and he was renewed-an outsider brought in and blessed by the grace of Jesus.
And because he came back in gratitude, because he couldn’t keep this story to himself, we hear and tell this story again and again so we can also remember and renew our story, our life, our gifts in the light of God.
I was talking with a colleague and she said sometimes it feels like the spiritual practice of gratitude has been so invaded by culture that it has become a platitude, a buzz word. She may be right. However, gratitude–it’s of and from God. We as people who attempt to walk in faith, we get to take it back not because it’s popular with Oprah or the hallmark industry, but because it’s ours–it’s of our faith, it’s from our scriptures, it’s a part of who and what we are–refilled with grace to know that every time we re-return to God, Jesus is already there, ready for our gratitude, ready for our gifts, ready for our light in the world.
Eckert Tolle, a spiritual teacher and writer, says “if the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” Think about it for a moment. The prayer of gratitude, the prayer of thanks. It is a way we connect our spirits to our minds and also to our community. When is a time you have been genuinely given gratitude? How did it feel? How did it connect you to your gifts… to the other person.. To your spirit? How about those gratitude you have to give? Some may be simple–a word of kindness, a meal, a walk with a loved one. Some may be profound and deep–a gift, a tough experience, someone who has stuck with you through ups and downs. These prayers of thanks are in your heart and they invite you to be transformed in your mind, in your hopes, in your movement in the world.
We are going to pause for just a moment and practice–because like all spiritual endeavors, gratitude takes practice. Turn to your neighbor or grab the pencil and paper in your pew and just lift up one gratitude you have and give God thanks. (Pause, 30 sec)
As we come back from our gratitude break I have a little greek lesson for you today–the word Eucharist, it comes from the greek for Thanksgiving. This is why you will sometimes hear communion, the holy meal, called the Great Thanksgiving. The Eucharist as it has come to be in our practice is a spiritual way of that re-turning to give thanks and returning to be renewed. When we come together each week and we gather at this altar, at this table and rail to be brought back together in thanksgiving for the grace and love that God has promised to us. Those words of institution, those are the words of the story that Jesus has a remember- to remember his promise and words yes, but also to Re-Member- to be back together as a community who re joins itself together in renewal, in thanksgiving, in gratitude, in spiritual practice of knowing the renewal of our story, our life, our light is in God. Thanks be God. Amen