News and Events at
Trinity Anglican Church
News and Events at
Trinity Anglican Church
Sermon for the 14th Sunday in Trinity
Gratitude and the Importance of returning
“15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks.” Lk 17:15–16
As you know, I have been talking about worship for the last few weeks, and specifically, how worship – and I mean that in the broadest sense – is a therapy for the human condition. Worship is the single defining act that sets right the human person and reorders the soul.
Our gospel reading tells the story of ten lepers who cry out to Jesus, asking for mercy, begging Jesus that they be healed.
According to Old Testament law, whenever a person had a skin infection or rash they were to show themselves to the priest. He would inspect it, and according to certain criteria, could tell the person to separate himself for 7 days and then return. The priest would then reinspect the infection and decide if it was leprous or not. If it was leprosy the man would have to leave his family, his home, his job, his life, and live on the outskirts, away from society. To have leprosy was to be the sort of outcast that lost everything. The pain one felt was not the pain of the disease, but of ostracization.
For Jesus to tell them to “go, show yourselves to the priest” implied the sort of trust in His word that, when they got there, all would be well. The only reason to show yourself to a priest was so that he could see that the leprosy had gone so that he could readmit you to society. What was at stake was not merely the persons health, but their life, family, love. When these men begged Jesus for his intervention it was from a place of deep loss. You could imagine the doubt they might have ahd as they walked along the road, looking at each other and wondering when the “miracle” would happen.
We are told that as they went, they were cleansed. But only one returns to give thanks to Jesus. Only one. Perhaps the others are so full of joy at having their lives back that they forgot to return to give thanks. Maybe they were taken up in celebrations with family and friends. Maybe they were excited to be back at their trade again, amidst the din of the Bazaar as they sold their good as they did in the old days. But only one returns. Small wonder that he was a Samaritan.
The Samaritan returns praising God at the top of his lungs, falling at Jesus’ feet giving thanks. It is not merely that this man is healed, but he is made whole, saved, by returning. For the one thing that he had that the other nine did not, the one thing that could save his soul, leading to “shalom” – peace, well being, integration - was GRATITUDE.
Gratitude is the affirmation of the goodness or benefits that we have received. It is the feeling we have when we come to see that what we have been given is far greater than anything we have lost or anything we lack. It acknowledges that we have benefited from some outside good, from something beyond and above us, and that that good is more than what we are due. Gratitude makes a leper return to the Lord. It makes a prostitute wipe the feet of Jesus with her hair in the face of judgmental hypocrites. It makes a murderer fall off his horse, fall to his knees, and endure stoning, shipwrecks and beatings just so that he can repay the debt of mercy showed to him – because he knows he has been forgiven his murders.
Gratitude is at the heart of authentic worship. It has nothing to do with music, though good music helps. It has nothing to do with prayers, written or spontaneous. It has to do with a way of seeing reality, not as something that owes us anything, but as something that has gifted us with everything.
The Sociologist George Simmer calls gratitude the “moral memory of mankind”. Without it we have no grounds upon which to be moral. Without gratitude, nothing is a gift and everything is simply something to be consumed, used - and that is the sin of the garden of Eden – that the fruit was good for making one wise. And it brought death.
Gratitude, according to the psychologists who study it, is a relationship strengthening emotion because it affirms our connections to others and something bigger than ourselves. And it turns out that is healthy for human beings.
Gratitude elicits a deep desire to repay the undeserved or disproportional goodness given to us. It makes us want to “pay it forward”. In that way it strengthens the moral foundations of society. Without gratitude we use one another to serve our own ends and society becomes cruel.
Positive emotions wear away quickly. Gratitude, because it is participatory, because it drives us to return and give thanks, helps preserve positive feelings. It promotes wellbeing.
Gratitude blocks negative emotions. Resentment, envy, wrath, none of these can co-exist with gratitude. It cancels them out. Try it. You simply cannot hold bitterness and wrath in your heart while you have gratitude. And bitterness and wrath will most certainly cancel out gratitude, to our own miserable harm.
Gratitude makes us more resilient to stress. It strengthens social ties. It strengthens self-worth. Gratitude is a medicine for the soul.
There is something very counter-cultural about the sort of worship that begins with deep gratitude. It seems like a forgotten virtue. It is not self-fulfilling but, perhaps, self-emptying. It is not self-satisfying, but self-effacing.
Worship that begins with gratitude means that we do not return to “get” but to “give”. It means that we do not go to a church service to be a consumer, but, like a leper who has gotten his life back, we return to give thanks. Any time we treat worship like a consumer we short circuit gratitude and diminish our relationship to God. Indeed, we diminish and reduce God himself to our servant. When we come to God s consumers we trivialize God and elevate ourselves. Instead of self-effacing, it becomes self-elevating and God-diminishing.
I love music, and I am a drummer who has played in modern worship bands. I am not entirely opposed to it. But I have noted that there is a problem with modern music centered worship – it often treats the worship experience in a consumeristic way. What I mean by that is that it is designed to appeal to our culture and our preferences. It produces good feelings, but they are short lived. And because the focus is on a positive emotional encounter with God it eventually becomes self-centered and undercuts real gratitude. Instead of feeling fulfilled, in time we feel empty.
All worship demands that I return and be fully present to God with gratitude – every single time. And liturgical worship demands that more than modern forms, but in doing so it also fuels gratitude. it is not a quick emotional fix but a slow and deepening experience of the mystery of God that goes beyond our emotions and rational mind. In our spiritual immaturity we enter into the presence of God through the veil of the emotions, As we mature we commune with God through the veil of the intellectual powers (not intellectualism), and finally mystically.
Gratitude, awe and meaning are all interconnected and feed one another. Gratitude opens us up to awe and wonder - apprehending the mystery of God. It opens us up to the bigness of God and thereby shrinks our troubles and trials. You cannot think your trials are too great to bear when you have gratitude. Without gratitude, our trails are magnified and God becomes nothing more than a mouse living in the wall. Present, but powerless. Gratitude stands humbled at the bigness of creation and stands in awe at so great a God, one who is so lavish in goodness, as to shrink even the greatest trial and find us a way through it.
The miracle of the 10th leper is that he was healed and got his life back. But the greatest miracle is realizing that even your suffering is gift. It is to see the mercy of Christ passing by your sad way and thanking him while your skin is still white and your life is still far off, while your heart is still raw, and your eyes are still wet with tears. The real miracle of gratitude is to return and give thanks through our tears, knowing that God is greater than our suffering and will, in the end make all things right……..perhaps we just need to walk a little ways in our leprous condition with gratitude and our sorrows will be lifted.