Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 17:11-19

In the series “Grateful”

It’s been said that there are two kinds of people in the world:  glass half-empty people and glass half-full people.  I want to suggest there is a third group that looks at the glass and says, “Excuse me, but there’s a smudge on the glass.”  These are the people who look at the glass and miss the liquid in the glass, because of that smudge on the outside.  These are the people who look and identify what’s broken, what needs repaired or healed, the problem that needs to be solved.  Often, I fall into that third category, the smudge-on-the-glass group.

How important it is instead to say, “Thank you.”  Anyone you know said thank you to you in the past week?  Anybody here received a thank you card?  It makes a difference, doesn’t it? We shouldn’t do thing for others to get a thank you, but it does help.  Anyone here said thank you in a meaningful way this week?

The letter to the Colossians contains some encouraging words to the early Church, as believers experienced the challenge and difficulty of living as a small minority in a larger culture.  The writer instructs them to put on virtues like they put on clothes in the morning – things like compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and above all, love.  And then the writer includes this short word of advice: “And be thankful.”  The passage concludes with another note: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  Being grateful is a theme here.

There are certainly lots of smudges we could notice in our world. The early Church knew that, too, as they were often viewed as enemies of the government. But they also were aware that giving thanks makes a difference.

Brother David Stendl-Rast, in his 2013 TED Talk, said this: “We’re not grateful because we’re happy. We are happy because we are grateful.”[i]   

Writer Melody Beattie said, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” 

Research backs up the effect gratitude has on us. A Duke University researcher examined the effect of gratefulness on physical health and concluded, “If gratitude were a drug, it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system.”

Jeffrey Froh and Giacomo Bono studied middle school students in grades 6-8 and wrote about their findings in the book Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character.  They found that grateful young adolescents are happier, more optimistic, have better social support from friends and family, are more satisfied with their school, family, community, friends and themselves, give more emotional support to others, and are physically healthier. If gratitude could have such an impact on our kids, we would do well to teach them more often and consistently to be grateful.

One very large church surveyed 5,083 of its members. They asked married people about the issues of conflict in their relationships.  The top three issues were the same for men and women.  They were:  1) communication/spouse fails to listen; 2) finances; and, 3) unappreciated. The person we most often take for granted is the one we live with.  Intentionally thinking about and noticing what our spouse is doing and thanking them can strengthen marriages. 

How grateful are you?  On the sermon notes sheet is a rating scale 1 to 5, with 1 being not at all to 5 to being overflowing with gratitude.  Take a moment and mark where you are on the scale. You’re not going to show this to anyone. (Pause) Our goal is to help you grow by at least one value on the scale through this series, and if you’re already at a 5, that you’ll become a 5+.  The reality is that we can all grow in our expression of gratitude.

In our story from the gospel of Luke, Jesus is going from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south. He knows he will be crucified there, though his followers don’t understand that yet.  In between is the area of Samaria.  There’s a lot of history behind the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans, much centering on religious and cultural differences.

As they traveled, ten people with leprosy approached. The Law required them to wear torn clothes, mess up their hair, live apart from the community and to shout, “Unclean! Unclean!” as they traveled.  These ten stayed at a distance and cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 

Jesus said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  It was up to the priests to determine if a person could be readmitted to the community.  As they went, they were made clean.

One, however, came back and fell at Jesus’ feet, praising God.  Jesus told him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” 

What about the other nine?  They were probably celebrating, going back to see their families and friends, but apparently not thinking about how they got healed.  The one came back to praise God and thank Jesus.

If you had been among those 10 people, would you be with the 9 or with the 1?   

There’s an important difference to note.  All 10 were made clean; they were healed of their disease, but Jesus pronounced only the one who came back was “made well.”  The Greek word indicates that he was saved, delivered, or made whole.  All 10 experienced physical healing, but the gratitude of the one who came back resulted in complete restoration – physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Jesus says giving thanks to God and those who have helped us makes us whole.

You were made for gratitude, to give thanks to God.  The universe and all that is in it is pure gift.  The capacity to create, to birth children, the planet on which we live, the very breath we breathe, all we can do are gifts from God.  If all we have is a gift from God, then our response is to live into the rhythm of gratitude. 

The psalmist reminds us in Psalm 136:1, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”  The psalm recounts the history of the Jewish people and finds reason in all of it to give thanks to God. 

One of the suggested actions for this week is to commit a passage of scripture to memory.  It’s listed on your sermon notes handout so you can review it every morning and night and pray for God to make you this kind of person.  It is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  We often wonder about God’s will for our lives.  I may not be able to tell you all the details, but scripture tells us this – that it is God’s will for us to rejoice, to pray and to give thanks.

In Brother Stendl-Rast’s TED Talk I quoted earlier, he identified that grateful people are happy people. He also notes that grateful people are generous people.  A study by the University of Zurich showed that gratitude makes people generous, and generosity makes people happier.  In fact, generosity was found to be as effective at lowering blood pressure as drugs and exercise, as well as to be positively associated with longer life, probably because helping others reduces stress. 

How are you doing with gratitude and with generosity?  These things can change your lives.  That’s why we’re issuing a 30-day Gratitude Challenge today.  You’re invited to write down in a journal, notebook, Google doc, somewhere, 3-5 things for which you are grateful each day as a simple prayer that begins, “Dear God, I am so grateful for …”

As part of our observance of All Saints Sunday, we are inviting you to give thanks to God for a saint, living or dead, who has had an impact on your life by writing their name on the leaf in your Messenger and posting it on the bulletin board near the Kitchen.  Each week, we’ll add more leaves for other things for which we give thanks as a way to grow as grateful people.  (close with prayer)


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