Grace and gratitude

Philippians 4:4-9
Luke 17:11-19

There’s a ‘peanuts’ cartoon where Lucy is doing her maths homework, and she’s stuck so she asks Charlie Brown for some help. “I’ll be eternally grateful,” she promises.

Charlie Brown says “Fair enough. I’ve never had anyone be eternally grateful before. Just subtract four from ten to get how many apples the farmer had left.”

Lucy says, “that’s it? That’s all there is to it? I have to be eternally grateful for that!? I can’t be eternally grateful for this; it was too easy.” With his usual blank look, Charlie Brown says, “Well, do whatever you think is fair.”

Lucy thinks a minute, then says, “Thanks Bro!”

Charlie Brown goes out into the yard where he meets Linus, who says, “What you been doing, Charlie Brown?”

Charlie replies, “I’ve been helping Lucy with her homework.”

Linus wonders, “Did she appreciate it?”

Charlie thinks for a moment, and replies, “at greatly reduced prices.”

Charlie Brown was gracious, but Lucy was not grateful.

In our Gospel reading, we heard another story of grace and gratitude. After receiving the benefit of an outstanding moment of grace, nine out of ten fail to be grateful. As Jesus says, all ten were helped graciously, all ten were healed freely. There were so strings attached, no payment asked, no act of obedience required. They asked for mercy and Jesus granted it.

And they all believed Jesus; it was not a matter of a lack of faith. They all set out immediately, before their healing “kicked in,” to show themselves to the priest. And when they were healed, when the promise was fulfilled, nine continued on their way. Only one turned back to thank Jesus and praise God.

An interesting surprise is that the one who returned was a Samaritan, one who was permanently outside the community of faith, rather than one seeking to be readmitted. Perhaps the Samaritan was doubly grateful for his healing because he didn’t expect it; while the others somehow believed that they deserved it: could it be that their lack of gratitude grew out of a sense of entitlement?

There have been lots of theories about the nine who didn’t come back to say thank you. Some suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that:
One waited to see if the cure was real.
One waited to see if it would last.
One said he would see Jesus later.
One decided that he’d never had leprosy.
One said he would have got well anyway.
One gave the glory to the priests.
One said, “Jesus didn’t really do anything.”
One said, “any rabbi could have done it.”
One said, “I was already feeling a lot better.”

Sometimes you still occasionally hear or read of someone being referred to as being “well-bred.” This, of course, has nothing to do with genetics and everything to do with the way you were brought up. Being “well bred”, “brung up proper”, as they said in some parts, included learning to express profuse “thank yous” at every appropriate moment.

It’s interesting to note that the one person in the story who we are certain was not “well-bred,” had not been “brung up proper,” was the one who came back to say thank you to Jesus.

As we ponder this story, it’s important that we move beyond questions of disease and healing, to think about God’s many acts of grace to us, and appropriate ways for us to express our gratitude to God for all this goodness that fills our lives.

Too often, too many of us, myself included, are like the man with a broken arm I heard a comedian talk about. He was at the Post Office and saw a man with his arm in a sling. The comic listened as the man asked for help from a Post Office employee. The postman obliged, writing the man’s note of the card, filling in the address, putting on a stamp. Finally, he handed it back and asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” The man with the broken arm looked the card over a minute and then said, “Well, you could write a line apologizing for the bad handwriting.”

Are we like that, like the demanding man at the Post office? Like the nine who took their healing and ran without a second look or a second thought? I know that all too often in my life I take God’s grace to me for granted, and fail to whisper a prayer of thanksgiving; let alone go out my way to help others in response to Christ going out of his way to help me.

Scottish minister Alexander Whyte was known for always finding something for which to be grateful in his prayers. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, “certainly the preacher won’t think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this.” Much to his surprise, however, Whyte began by praying, “We thank Thee, O God, that the weather is not always like this.”

God’s call to us today is to take a good look at our lives and find a way to express our gratitude to God in words and acts of prayer and thanksgiving, words and acts shared not only with God but everyone in our lives.

Let’s pause for a moment. Close your eyes if you want to, and think of things that you love to smell, taste, touch, see, and hear…

Say to yourself, “thank you, God, for these things”.

Next, bring to mind those people in your life to whom you are close: your friends, family, partner…

Say to yourself, “thank you, God, for these things”.

Next, turn your attention onto yourself: you are a unique individual, blessed with imagination, the ability to communicate, to learn from the past and plan for the future, to overcome any pain you may be experiencing…

Say to yourself, “thank you, God, for these things”.

Life is a precious gift, if we can learn to appreciate that. We’ve been born into a period of immense prosperity, we have the gifts of health, culture, and access to spiritual teachings.

Say to yourself, “thank you, God, for these things”.

Now, we end with a time of silence, in which we can offer our thanks to God for these things, and reflect upon how we can show this in actions, as well as think it in our hearts.

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