Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Sermon: The Grateful One

Luke 17:11-19

If you have gotten the book and are reading along with it, you probably aren’t this far, but Day 19 in the book A Life of Gratitude shares the story of LaKisha Wheeler. She says:

“It was a cold early morning and I was on my way to work. I was definitely not prepared for the day ahead. When I finally arrived to work and got situated, I received a phone call from my supervisor informing me to pack up my things and leave. I was being laid off and didn't see it coming at all. I believe the worse kind of experience anyone can have is when something happens and you are totally not prepared.”

“Here I was, a single mother of two, driving out of my security into the unknown. As I was driving home and feeling numb, I said a small prayer and I knew that I would find a job in no time. But God had other plans! Days, weeks, and then months went by and nothing. I applied for thousands of jobs and only had two interviews, in which I was not chosen for either job.”

“During my season of unemployment, I had to move in with my parents. I battled with frustration, depression, suicidal thoughts, anger, and fear! Then one day, God began to speak to me and I started reading his words along with other inspirational books. There was one scripture that stood out to me the most: 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)

“I slowly began to realize that through my season of unemployment, God continued to supply ALL my needs and I should be grateful for all that he had done! I began to be grateful for having a place to stay, food to eat, a car to drive, friends who loved and encouraged me, family support, two wonderful children, etc. I had all these things but yet complained about what I didn't have.”[1]

In our scripture for the day we face 10 lepers who are healed.

But the most interesting of the 10 who are healed is the one who comes back and says thank you to Jesus. This one we are told is a Samaritan. Samaritans are an ethnic religious group. They were descendants of the northern tribes of Israel, and because of that they were looked down upon by the Jewish people, who tended to come from the southern tribes of Israel. The Jews called them impure, and all kinds of other insults. In other words, the Samaritans were the unpopular group of the day, the ethnic group that everyone else bullied.

So this Samaritan Leper could have focused on the negative. As a Samaritan, he could have heard about Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, and said, he won’t accept me – he won’t help me. The leper could have assumed the worst and not even tried. But it sounds like a group of lepers were going together, a sort of group trip to see Jesus, and despite his fears he goes anyway.

But then Jesus tells them all to go the temple to be declared clean. It sounds like he is giving them a sacred task – do this and you will be healed. Like go and bathe in a holy spring, or visit a sacred site and be prayed over, and you will be healed. If they do what Jesus says, and go to the temple and see the priest, they will be healed. But going to a priest is a problem for the Samaritan: he would not have been allowed in the temple – he wasn’t good enough. He might have some of the same ancestry as the Jews, but as a Samaritan he wasn’t welcome in the temple. There isn’t really anything he can do about it. So as he is leaving he could have cursed his luck, no healing for him.

After they left, the whole group notices something. They have been healed. Their skin is clear, their bodies are well. That is amazing! Jesus must have cured them while they were talking with him. That is why he told them to go to the priest, not to be healed – they healing had taken place, they were to go to the priest to be declared clean.

You see, skin diseases were so contagious that while you had them you were cut off from religious activities. In order to be let back into religious society, one had to be inspected by a priest and be declared clean again – then you could go back to living life as normal. So the other nine head to the priest to be declared clean, so they can go back to being religiously acceptable again.

But this man, he can’t go to the priest and be declared clean. No matter what he does, the priests will always consider him unclean, he will never be religiously acceptable to them. So what should he do? Well, he could just go home, and celebrate with his family and friends.

But instead he returns to Jesus and gives thanks. And Jesus looks at him and asks, “Where are the other nine? No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” Obviously not. Then Jesus says to him an interesting thing, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.” Your faith has healed you. Interesting isn’t it. Jesus calls him a man a faith, to Jesus he is religiously acceptable. Something he has never been. He is clean. Wow. What a declaration Jesus makes to him!

It is a fascinating story of healing and then acceptance. Equally fascinating is the fact that the others don’t give thanks despite also having been healed. They simply never return.

We all face difficulties in life.

LaKisha Wheeler says, “Gratitude shifts your focus from what your life lacks to the abundance that is already present. Everyone has something in their life to feel grateful for. If you can just take time out to think on these things, and to offer thanks to God for the good he has done, then you heal your mind of any negativity which may be affecting you.”  That is what happened for the leper.

Speaking for myself: I know that when I focus on the frustrations I have, it doesn’t help me. I don’t get better, I don’t do better, I don’t enjoy life more. But when I realize the good that is in my life – when I see what I have, then my attitude changes. I can smile, I can laugh. “Gratitude shifts your focus.” Study after study has shown this to be true. Happiness and gratitude are linked.

One of the things that LaKisha does to help her change her attitude, is she keeps a gratitude journal. This is a popular practice right now that has been shown to give considerable benefits to people who do it – benefits like better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and more happiness.[2] All you have to do is once or twice a week sit down and record five things you have experienced for which you are thankful. You see, a lot of us keep informal complaint journals in our mind. So this helps us to be very conscious in thinking about the good things and not just dwell on the bad.

The entries in your journal are supposed to be brief, just a single sentence. They can be small mundane things – like waking up this morning, to more philosophical things – the generosity of my friends, or things that just made you smile this week – a song by the Rolling Stones.

Robert Emmons, a professor at the University of California Davis, and probably the world’s leading expert on the science of gratitude suggest 6 tips for making your gratitude journal have the best possible results.

1.      Don’t just go through the motions. You have to put some thought into it. Don’t just write down “waking up this morning” every time! As you write, think about the reasons you relish and savor this gift.

2.      Go for depth or breadth. Giving five reasons you are thankful for one specific thing carries more benefits than a list of superficial unconnected things.

3.      Get personal. Focus on the people to whom you are grateful, more than the things for which you are grateful. So I am thankful for those generous friends who gave me a new crockpot, rather than I am thankful for a new crockpot.

4.      Try subtraction, not addition. If you are having a hard time coming up with something, think about how your life would be without certain blessings, and list those.

5.      Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising. You want to remember these!

6.      Don’t overdo it. Amazingly writing every day actually lessens the effectiveness of the journal. Only write in it once or twice a week![3]

The whole point of the journal is to makes us pay attention to the good things that God is doing in our lives. This literally changes our attitudes about our lives.

So let’s practice quick – turn to a person near you and tell them one thing you are thankful for right now. Follow the rules up there, and lift up one thing in a short sentence. [give time for that]

Did you hear the positivity in the air as we gave thanks? As LaKisha said, “If you can just take time out to think on these things, and to offer thanks to God for the good he has done, then you heal your mind of any negativity which may be affecting you.”

[1] Hitz, Shelley. A Life of Gratitude:  21 Days to Overcoming  Self-Pity and Negativity. Body and Soul Publishing. Kindle Edition.
[2] http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/tips_for_keeping_a_gratitude_journal
[3] http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/tips_for_keeping_a_gratitude_journal

No comments:

Post a Comment