“Gratitude matters”Rev. David J. Hughes Luke 17:11-19 Year C: Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
I once led a youth mission trip to New Orleans, LA. We set up to minister each day in a grassy median between two busy streets in the St. Roch community. As soon as our tailgate tents went up, the neighborhood children came out eager to engage and play. The intermittent thunderstorms and muggy weather didn’t dampen spirits as we enjoyed a successful week of ministry in the community.
One day as we were preparing to leave, I noticed an elderly woman sitting on the porch that I had not yet met. I approached her and introduced myself and began to learn her story. Lucille was a former freedom walker for MLK Jr. and told me amazing stories of her activity during the civil rights era. She was no less committed to her community in her older age and appreciated our involvement with the neighborhood children. She also told me of the deep abiding faith of her mother who was instrumental in her upbringing.
In her recollection she called to mind a prayer that she heard her mother pray over and over again in her childhood which said, “Lord, thank you for a day that I’ve never seen before, and will never see again.” I paused. I had never heard a prayer like that before. The deep sense of gratitude reflected within challenged me deeply, and I began to incorporate it into my prayer life.
As I did, it focused my heart on the powerful gift that was before me. Each day is something that we have never seen before, and we should give thanks for it. Whether we deem it to be a “good” day or “bad” day, the fact remains that it is time that we are allowed to experience by which we learn, grow, and God willing, make our world a better place.
The prayer also reflects the urgency of each day. After 24 hours it is gone never to be lived again. It can easily be wasted if we do not appreciate its fleeting properties. Our recognition of such a precious gift commands us to go and do something as a response to that which we have received. It holds the delicate tension of present thanksgiving as well as our understanding of passing time.
Here today is truly gone tomorrow but gratitude enables us to appreciate what we received as well as be inspired to discover more in the time we are given. Given that our existence is but a collection of days, the comprehension and exercise of gratitude is paramount if we are to live our lives to the fullest. Gratitude truly matters.
Jesus prized the practice of gratitude and deemed it a vital part of holistic faith. Yet in a particular instance in Luke 17:11-19, Jesus is seemingly surprised by how few people actually incorporate it into their lives. Survey results often have the same effect on us. My family and I enjoy watching the game show “Family Feud” whose premise is built upon contestants guessing what the survey of 100 people says. It’s accessible for most all age levels and everyone can join in the fun of making an educated guess along with “your man” Steve Harvey.
The rub of the contest is that the educated guesses of the contestants are often grossly divorced from the reality of how 100 surveyed people responded. How much so? Just search for some of the hilarious answers on YouTube to find out! I believe this occurs because participants guess through rose colored lenses and fail to factor in human cynicism.
Given that, I imagine the following survey question from the scripture might also receive inaccurate responses. It reads, “Ten lepers were healed by Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. How many of them do you think returned and said ‘thank you’ to him?” I’m sure contestants would give answers of eight, nine, and perhaps even a perfect ten of ten, but the story as told by Luke shows that the real survey revealed that only one told Jesus thank you.
Luke explains the sequence of events. The group of ten lepers stood a far piece off from Jesus as he walked by, for their disease was contagious and feared by all. They were akin to a nomadic tribe now having no village or family of their own. Their illness galvanized them together, Jew and Samaritan alike. This was an impossible occurrence given the historic hatred between Jews and Samaritans, but in the face of social exile and looming death old enemies can become new friends.
Such was the case here at least as this group clamored for Jesus’s attention from a distance shouting aloud, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.” They desired relief from their illness and dared to believe that Jesus had an answer. Jesus responded instructing them to, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” His instructions align with Leviticus 14:2 in which priests are instructed on how to inspect those who believed themselves to be healed from a defiling skin disease and then reintegrate them into communal life after a series of ritual cleansing.
They are leprous when they leave Jesus, so obviously they left his presence in faith believing that the cure was on the way. Sure enough on the way to see the priests the ten lepers realized that the miracle they had hoped for had come true. Their leprosy was gone! It would make sense if the story concluded here, but Luke wants us to understand that the lesson on gratitude which follows is more important than the miracle itself.
With their lives radically altered only one of the ten lepers returned to see Jesus and say ‘thank you.’ In fact, the leper who returns is a Samaritan and he returns to Jesus praising God aloud and throws himself at Jesus’s feet. Jesus is incredulous that only one of ten expresses any gratitude to God – “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Jesus’s true disdain is over the ingratitude of the nine. As soon as they got what they wanted they quickly forgot about the mercy they had begged for and received. It was a true case of “what have you done for me lately, God?” Even when the answer was, “My son just healed you!” they seemingly dismissed it as yesterday’s news. Such is their disregard that the text leads us to wonder if they were blinded to the miracle ever having occurred in the first place.
Perhaps they shouted, “Well it’s about time!” as they focused on the many years of their suffering instead of their new lease on life. Maybe their thoughts quickly transitioned to a new series of problems that still lie ahead. They still had no community save one another. Now that the commonality of illness that bound them together is gone, would they really want to abide in each other’s presence any longer? Lastly, and perhaps most precarious of all, they quickly forgot about the source of their cure and moved on with life without giving further reflection.
Whatever the case, this much is clear. Ingratitude is more deadly than any illness. Compared even to the effects of leprosy, it causes far more egregious wounds and disabilities which put a halt to our fellowship with God. We know this to be true by what Jesus expresses to the Samaritan – “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
The word “well” is different than how he described the other nine who were healed. Having returned to express gratitude to Jesus, the Samaritan’s faith is now complete and his heart is made whole. It’s the Samaritan who can now “Rise and go,” ready to experience life as it is truly meant to be lived – not one that is free of problems but one that is encapsulated by God’s grace as represented by His son, Jesus Christ.
Like the nine healed lepers, we all have hang ups that keep us from expressing our gratitude to God. The term “hang ups” is not meant to be diminutive to our problems, conflicts, and anxieties. These are harsh and in many times painful realities. However, this much is true – if any person were to await the moment for all to be well in order to express gratitude to God, he or she never would.
In fact, that is what makes gratitude so powerful. While we recognize the difficulties that abound, we choose to focus on the truth that endures. Jesus Christ conquered death through his resurrection and offers hope amidst any storm. That is something that placed a healing touch on all of our lives when we, like the ten lepers, cried out for mercy.
He heard us and offered healing to all on the cross. Like the Samaritan, only the person that returns to Christ and gives praise to God for his gift will truly be made well by seeing him as the resurrected savior.
Our long term wellness then is a faith that can endure, for we like the Samaritan will still suffer difficult things. Friend and familial relationships remain strained. The details of our future remain uncertain, but we know that no matter what, God sees us in the same likeness as Christ and will call us forth from any tomb that will try to hold us.
This is, as the Psalmist writes in 111:10, “The fear of the Lord” which is “the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.”
Such knowledge is powerful to behold and revolutionary in its practice when we express gratitude. It shows that we understand the depth and breadth of what God has done for us and can now reflect it in our daily living. It, like Lucille’s prayer, acknowledges the gift and inspires us to follow the example of the ultimate giver in Jesus Christ.
In that light, may we say this prayer together?
“God, thank you for a day that I’ve never seen before and I will never see again”.
Will you return to Jesus each day of your walk and say like words anew to him in your prayer?
It is not a cure all, for it is not “hocus pocus.”
It is a choice that you alone can make to acknowledge that God has blessed you uniquely today if only by giving you another day.
Is your family struggling? Thank God you have a family.
Are professional tensions causing you to fear the word “fired” or consider the word “quit?”
Thank God that you live in a day in age in which a career change is even possible.
Are you grieving the loss of a loved one? Thank God for the time that you shared with them on earth.
Above all thank God for Jesus Christ whose express mission is to let you know that you are valued, loved, and that there is a plan for your life.
Yes, gratitude matters, so thank God and make your faith whole.
Today is a day you have never seen before and will never see again.
Live it for all its worth and thank God for it!
About the writer: Rev. David J. Hughes is a 2005 graduate of Furman University (BA) and a 2018 graduate of Erskine heological Seminary (M Div). Formerly, he served as Minister to Students at Easley First Baptist Church (2011 – 2018). He currently lives in Augusta, Georgia with his wife Rebecca and daughter Maggie and serves as the Minister to Students at First Baptist Church of Augusta.
Scripture and Music:
Lamentations 1:1-6; 3:19-26
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
2 Timothy 1:1-14
As He Gathered at His Table
Here, at Your Table, Lord
Let Us Break Bread Together
O God of Vision (Jane Parker Huber)
Your Supper, Lord, Before Us Spread
I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord
I Know Whom I Have Believed
My Faith Looks Up to Thee
Standing on the Promises
In Remembrance (Buryl Red)
For Communion (Gilbert Martin)
Gifts of Finest Wheat (John Ferguson)
Come Share the Lord (Bryan Jeffrey Leach)
Draw Us in the Spirit s Tether (Harold Friedell)
Only Faith (Joseph Martin)
On the Willows (from Godspell)
Lord, Here Am I (John Ness Beck)
He Who Began A Good Work in You (Mohr)