Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
In the name of God: from whom all blessings flow. Amen.
If you’ve been following St. David’s on our various social media channels, you will have noticed that we’ve been posting some things related to our Annual Giving Campaign – various ideas and conversation starters that point us toward the theme of “Grace in Action”. Earlier this week, there was a particularly interesting one. In thinking about the role that gratitude plays in our experiences of grace in action, the statistic was shared that people who keep a gratitude journal – a record of occasions for thanksgiving that they’ve encountered – those people report 25% happier lives than those who do not. Recognizing reasons for gratitude leads to a greater likelihood of happiness.
This is something I’ve recognized in my own life for a while. Though I don’t keep a “journal”, per se, I do try, as a spiritual discipline, to set aside time for gratitude in my life each week. Monday, in my world, is gratitude day. I think through my life in the previous week and look for someone to thank. Typically, I don’t have to look very hard. And when I’ve found at least a couple of reasons to say “thank you” to someone, I say it. Sometimes it’s a note I’ll send out in the mail, or an email, or even a quick text. Sometimes it to a member of the church, or someone from the diocesan office who’s been helpful, or even just a friend or family member. The broader point, for me, isn’t about how many “thank you” notes I get out, or to whom they go, or how they’re delivered. The bigger point is remembering to say thanks.
While that has become a significant spiritual discipline for me, don’t hear this as bragging. It really started out more as a defense mechanism. During a time in my life when I was struggling with a particularly difficult season of depression, I turned to conscious gratitude as a way of defending myself against the troubling thoughts that were threatening to consume me. It just helped me to hold my head above water.
Links between spirituality and gratitude run deep. C.S. Lewis once observed this in his Reflections on the Psalms. He said, “I noticed how the humblest and at the same time most balanced minds praised most: while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least. Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.”
More recently, Anne Lamott explored the spiritual dimension of gratitude. She is often quoted as saying that her favorite morning prayer is, “Help me, help me, help me.” And her favorite evening prayer is, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
A healthy spiritual life needs gratitude. It needs praise. “Help me” soon seems hollow if it isn’t often paired with “Thank you.”
In the story from Jesus’ life that we read today, Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem. He is forging through his ministry toward the painful calling that compelled him. Along the way, he is met by ten Samaritan lepers who cry out for healing.
It feels almost cliché to remark on how very much these people were outsiders. We talk about Jesus caring for outsiders so often that it almost seems not worth mentioning. But it is worth mentioning. It’s worth it to remember how committed Jesus was to ministering to those who were considered beyond the grace of God.
This time, the level of “outsider status” these people had is almost laughable. It’s not even enough to see that they were outsiders – they were outsiders that even other outsiders would have cast aside. Not only were they foreigners, Samaritans, who practiced what was considered to be a sort of bastardized version of Judaism, they were Samaritans who were seen as disgusting – unclean. They were seen as being so physically revolting that even God wanted nothing to do with them.
But Jesus didn’t agree. He looked past the ways that they were divided from the “good” people of Israel and saw how they could be reconciled. So, reaching through all of the walls that people erect to exclude one another, Jesus gave these wandering outsiders healing.
On noticing it, one of them turned back. One of them returned to Jesus to thank him and to praise God for the goodness that had been shown to him. One of them, despite all the ways that the broader culture taught that he should have been too far removed from God’s grace to matter, showed spiritual maturity that most of us can still only aspire to. He didn’t just take the gift that was given and run into the rest of his life. He stopped to say thank you.
Of course, nine of them didn’t. Nine of them kept going, lost in the joy of what they had received. But one in ten isn’t all that bad.
The reason gratitude has become a spiritual discipline for me, is because it does take work. I have seen the ways that it benefits me, but that doesn’t mean it’s become natural or automatic. I still have to remind myself to be thankful. I have to set aside time to make sure I don’t forget.
How would your life look different if you set aside more time to be grateful? It’s easy to become like the nine who stayed on their way, and just be lost in what we have without ever giving it another thought. It’s easy to focus on all that we lack to the point that gratitude eludes us. But how would our perspectives change if we tried to focus on reasons to be grateful – reasons to say thank you?
There’s nothing wrong with asking for God’s help. Anne Lamott starts every day that way. But don’t forget the other side. Don’t forget to say thanks. Not because our every wish was granted, but because we always have so much to be thankful for.
In our Giving Campaign, we’re focusing on Grace in Action. The church certainly has financial concerns. They’re greater every year. Prices keep going up, even if giving doesn’t. Our heating oil bill alone can make it hard to hold on to hope. But as a faith community, we know that we’ll be stronger if we focus on grace. We know we’ll be stronger if we focus on gratitude. We certainly ask for God’s help, and for all of your help. But, more importantly, we remain grateful for all that we have. We’re grateful for all of the ways that God keeps using us and our ministry to make our little corner of the world a better place. And we’re grateful that we can do it together, as a family. A family of outsiders who have a home because Christ gives it to us – because Christ has made us the home. Let us give thanks. Amen.