A Sermon on Thankfulness

This week has been an interesting and eventful week for me. The story about our ducks being taken is going into the newspaper. I wrote few blog posts that got some attention and conversation going.

One of the blog posts I wrote was a little rant about the national anthem and how standing for the national anthem has a lot of unintended meaning to it which is why I do not stand for it. This blew up into an entertaining conversation and yet a very revealing conversation. The post got hijacked a bit by some conservative folks that I’m not sure where they came from, but overall I think the conversation was quite fruitful. The debate made me start thinking a lot about the idea of thankfulness. The mindset of a few commenters was that I was not thankful for the lives of the soldiers that died for our freedom. Leaving aside the large complications of an accusation like that, it left me with a number of questions.

What is thankfulness? Is it a feeling? An action? These are the kind of questions I want you to be thinking of while I’m telling these next stories.

What is it that I said or did that would give someone enough information about me to say that I’m not thankful? In this situation it was the fact that I wouldn’t stand up for the national anthem. For many, the national anthem is ritual of thankfulness; one of the few ways that we show our thankfulness to those that ended up fighting and dying in wars that we were part of. If we are to be thankful for anything, for many this is a good place to start. So in this kind of example, in the kind of thankfulness that we have for those that have given their lives, what exactly is it?

Luke tells this story…

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him””and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

There is a bunch of interesting pieces to this story that are worth commenting on. There is some things that we talk about already in these texts. Whenever a Samaritan is mentioned we are to remember the kind of relationship that Jews would have had with Samaritans. Samaritans were the outcasts, the wrong religion, the despised religion and people of this time. We are told after the healing takes place, almost like an afterthought – oh ya, did I mentioned he was a Samaritan? Jesus is good at this. He goes out of his way to make sure he finds the ‘least of these’ – the least likely person to be used as an exemplar of what is right.

I think Jesus’ questions though here are telling. Umm…where are the others whose lives just got radically turned upside down?

There is a similar story in the Hebrew Scriptures. Israel has been freed from slavery and Moses takes them out into the wilderness. Moses goes up onto the mountain to meet God and by the time he comes back down Israel has taken all their gold, made a statue and worshipped it and thanked it for freeing them from slavery. How quick we are to forget.

Louis CK has this story that he tells of being up in a plane and he is talking about how often people complain while they are up in the air, floating in the sky, going across the world in hours and living one of the most remarkable lives possible. He gives one example of someone who was trying to use the onboard wifi and how he was so frustrated and angry and complaining that it wasn’t working. Then he has this line along the lines of “how quickly the world owes you something that you knew existed only ten minutes ago.” His point is that we are not thankful. We are no longer in awe. We feel entitled.

Jesus tells this other story

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.

There is a pattern to these stories. And this is just a couple of them. The Bible is full of them. Our lives are full of them. The reality is that we have a tendency to forget. We take things for granted. We feel entitled. Martin Luther once said that “The greater God’s gifts and works, the less they are regarded.” A hungry man is more thankful for a small amount than a rich man for his daily feasts. A lonely woman in a nursing home will appreciate a visit more than a celebrity with a party thrown in their honor.

Q: Are we thankful? Are we able to be thankful? Is it harder to be thankful the better things are?

Paul here invokes familiar language to us. It’s like we really want someone to be thankful. How can you force thankfulness?

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:

“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

I feel like Paul is really at a tough spot here, because he is slightly threatening, basically saying that everyone is going to miss out if they aren’t generous. But if they are generous then thanksgiving will flow! He’s explains if you sow a little you’ll gain a little. But you really should give what you wanted to give in your heart. Do it cheerfully! How many know how annoying it is for someone to tell you to do something cheerfully, or to ‘really mean it.’ It just isn’t the way that motives work. You can’t force a motive on someone.

Verses like this are used all the time by pastors to try create an argument for tithing and giving to the church. But this I think creates an awkward reality for everyone, because have you ever tried doing something cheerfully after someone demands you do something cheerfully?

Q: Have you ever had someone try to force thankfulness? Or force something that can’t be forced (like love, an apology etc.)

What is it like after?? Are you able to be thankful later on or has that ship sailed?

Thankfulness is an intricate part of the Christian faith. Actually, the Greek word for thankfulness is eukharistia. Does that look familiar? For the word Eucharist. So for us at theStory, every week we participate in liturgy that acknowledges God and that life is a gift and his salvation is a gift. Our lives as Christians are to be marked by thankfulness. Which I think we can agree that this isn’t that easy. We are very quick to blame, or to take credit for the joys and sorrows that happen to us. Funny thing though, is that when we are well off, when things are going well we forget who we are and where this comes from and we buy into the myth that we are self-made and products of our own doing and responsibility. It’s not hard for us to fall into the line of thinking that we worked hard and that is why we are here. Rather than view all of life, including our circumstances as a gift. It is not our own capacities and capabilities that caused our privilege and yet it is so hard to think otherwise.

But the reality is that we are not self-made, not any of us or any of the things we are part of. We are contingent on so many other things, like where we were born, who we were raised with, the kinds of opportunities we had growing up for work and school and what our parents taught us and what they protected us from. Remembering that these things are not of our own doing is the first step to thankfulness, remembering that we are in need of a constant flowing of grace is where real salvation comes from. David Lose talks about the story of the ten lepers and this is what he says.

By the end of the story, all ten are made well. But one has something more. He has seen Jesus, recognized his blessing and rejoiced in it, and changed his course of action and behavior. And because he sees what has happened, the leper is not just healed, but is made whole, restored, drawn back into relationship with God and humanity.
David Lose

For Martin Luther the act of true worship was found in the stopping, and seeing and then returning to give thanks.

So this morning way we remember and recognize that we are not self-made, but we are inter-connected and dependant on Him and each other. May we be thankful for everything he has done and everything that we are dependant on to live the lives that we live. Every Sunday we practice thankfulness through communion. Every Sunday we say these prayers that remind us that we are dependant on way more than what we can provide. We are dependant on the people that sew our clothes, built our homes, work the land. We are dependant on the policies and structures that have been setup to maintain this country. We are dependant on the land that we live on that has a rich history that we so often forget.

So like the Israelites and the golden calf, may we not create for ourselves our own statues and reasons to worship and thank for our lifestyle. May we not thank our country, or democracy, or laws, or capitalism, or money. May we remember the true reason of our freedom and be thankful for it and never forget it. This morning I want to end with God’s words to Israel after they had been freed from slavery and were at risk of forgetting who their God was and where their hope lied.

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land””a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

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