“The Power of Gratitude” Colchester Federated Church, October 9, 2022, (Luke 17:11-19) Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Today we witness Jesus traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee.  Jesus enters a village and encounters ten men with skin diseases.  Some Bible translations relate that Jesus encountered ten lepers—people likely afflicted with leprosy (Hansen’s disease).  At any rate, these men keep their distance from Jesus, as society dictated they must do at that time.  However, they shout so that he can hear them, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!”[1]  Jesus hears their cries and sees them in the distance, responding with, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”[2] 

In order to be welcomed back into their villages, to be welcomed back into society really, Jews who had skin diseases like leprosy had to be declared free of the disease by a priest.[3]  Jesus is focused on healing these folks and restoring them to their communities.  This is what Jesus often did when it came to healing those who were suffering in body, mind, or spirit.  We might go so far as to say that Jesus understood healing in a holistic way—that people need to be treated as a whole person.  Because it’s not always helpful (even in modern medicine) to only focus on the physical, on the disease or the ailment in the body, and not on the mental, emotional, and spiritual health of the person in pain. 

Back to our Gospel story—as those men leave Jesus’ presence, they are cleansed and healed of their diseases.  Jesus tells them to show themselves to the priests in order to be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healed if you will.  Though here’s what’s striking about this Gospel story—of those ten people who were healed, only one returns to praise God.  All of them listen to Jesus and believe that what he says will come to pass.  Because they do “go” as he instructed.  Though only one returns to Jesus.  This person falls on his face at Jesus’ feet to thank him—an action that showed respect.  Luke tells us that this thankful person happened to be a Samaritan. 

We remember that Jews and Samaritans were enemies.  Enemies to such an extent that Jews often would travel far out of their way to avoid going into Samaria when traveling around the region.  Jesus responds to this grateful Samaritan, “Weren’t ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  No one returned to praise God except this foreigner? . . . Get up and go.  Your faith has healed you.”[4]

Gratitude can be disarming and powerful.  It is so easy to criticize and judge.  It is sometimes far more difficult to be sincerely grateful.  We could argue that there is a movement toward gratitude.  Sometimes we will see on social media that there’s a call for a gratitude thread where people are invited to respond to a post or a tweet or a photo with what makes them grateful.  There are gratitude journals specifically designed to help people take stock every day or week about what we are grateful for.  If we stop to consider it, folks usually use journals to free associate, vent about life’s annoyances, do creative writing or praying, or even plan for the future and think about goals to live your best life.  Though gratitude journaling is about focusing on the blessings we already have in our lives, the blessings that we sometimes ignore because perhaps we take some stuff for granted.

There’s this Ignatian spiritual practice called The Daily Examen.  It’s a way to prayerfully reflect on the events that have occurred on a particular day in one’s life.  The steps are simple, but rather profound.  They are Presence, Gratitude, Review, Sorrow, and Grace.  You begin this spiritual practice by remembering that you are in the Presence of God and ask God for help as you pray.  Then you move onto Gratitude—think about two or three things that happened today that you are especially grateful for and thank God for those gifts in your life.  The next step is Review—you review your day from start to finish, from beginning to end, and simply notice where you experienced God’s presence.  One is invited to notice everything, from large to small things.  Maybe you had an uplifting chat with a friend.  Maybe you went for a walk and felt the warm sunshine on your face or marveled at the beauty of the autumn leaves falling gently in the wind.  When did you give love?  When did you receive love?  From there, one moves onto Sorrow.  Perhaps you did something on that day that you regret.  In the Daily Examen you are invited to express that Sorrow to God and ask for forgiveness.  Maybe what you said or did provides an invitation to apologize to the person you hurt the next day.  Finally, this spiritual practice ends with Grace.  Think about how this review of your day has made you feel and ask for God’s grace to be with you and guide you the following day.

What’s interesting about the Daily Examen is that gratitude is one of the first steps.  It’s helpful to feel grateful and acknowledge some of the gifts that we receive each and every day of our lives before we face where we might have fallen short and where we might have genuinely hurt someone.  It’s like gratitude helps lift us up in order to face everything else down the line.  The grateful Samaritan who returned to thank Jesus seems to have internalized this kind of message.

I’ve shared this in a previous sermon, but it remains powerful to think about gratitude as a true measure of a healthy spirituality because gratitude shows that we are paying attention.  It was President of Princeton Theological Seminary M. Craig Barnes who wrote this great book called The Pastor as Minor Poet and reflected on gratitude from a spiritual perspective.  It’s a book written by an ordained minister for ordained ministers in some ways, but there’s lessons in there for anyone who’s part of a faith community.  Having once served as a local church pastor Barnes shared, “Frequently I will end a service of worship in our congregation by saying something like this, ‘Every day this week you have to decide if you want to achieve your life or receive it.  If you make achieving your goal, your constant companion will be complaint, because you will never achieve enough.  If you make receiving the goal, your constant companion will be gratitude for all that God is achieving in your life.’  I’m not certain that there are such measures of our spirituality, but if there are, then gratitude is probably the best one.  It indicates that we are paying attention.”[5]

Gratitude is powerful.  Gratitude shows that we are paying attention.  Let us take to heart the example of that one healed person who decided to go back and find Jesus in order to thank him.  May it be so with us.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Luke 17:13, CEB.
[2] Luke 17:14.
[3] Footnote on Luke 17:14 in The CEB Study Bible with Apocrypha, pg. 146 NT.
[4] Luke 17:17-19.
[5] M. Craig Barnes, The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life, 96.

Photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash