Friday, October 11, 2013

The crazy power of gratitude


My friend Kristen is good at reminding me about gratitude. In the last year she and her husband have changed vocations, had a new baby, cared for their active two-year-old boy, self-published a book called “Hyper and happy – 225 toddler activities that work”, and just six months ago relocated from Jamestown to their hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. 

Earlier this week, she found a rare moment of quiet in her home and posted a photo that caught my attention. In the picture, I saw a few tree branches that had been collected from her yard that had been artfully placed in a vase, and had small paper leaves had been tied onto the makeshift tree.

When I looked a bit closer, I noticed that the leaves were covered with writing. Each leaf was a statement of gratitude and thankfulness.

The simplicity and beauty of her picture took me off guard. In the midst of the transition, challenge and hyper but happy atmosphere that Kristen was experiencing; she remembered to make a premeditated, intentional and sincere statement of thanks to God. Her picture and voice remind me that “a grateful person reveals humility of spirit and a sensitivity to love expressed by others. (NIBC/Luke, pg.327)

In order to live in a state of gratitude, we need eyes to see, recognize and respond to God’s love.

The lesson from Luke 17:11-19, is titled “The Healing of The Ten Lepers”, but in light of seeing Kristen’s thanksgiving tree, I wonder if it might better be called, “The Healing of The Ten Lepers, the nine who got what they wanted and “the thankful one who received more that he had dreamed of asking for.” (NIBC/Luke, pg. 327)

In this account, there are ten men who had leprosy and were looking for healing. Jesus hears their request, sees their needs, and sends them to the priests to be declared clean. On their way, the Samaritan man notices his healing, returns and bows before Jesus thanking God for his restoration. Jesus takes note that only one man returns to give thanks to God and that he was a Samaritan – or what we might call and outsider. Jesus calls the man to rise and go with the blessing, “Your faith has made you well.”

This is not the only place where Jesus shares these same words of blessing in the gospel of Luke. Pause with me for a moment, as I look to find if there is anything these people have in common.

1.    In verse 7:50, a woman interrupts a meal to wash Jesus feet with her tears and anoints his feet with perfume then dries them with her hair and leaves forgiven of her sin.

2.     In verse 8:48, a woman who had ill with a hemorrhage for 12 years, does not ask Jesus for healing, but reaches out boldly as they walk in a crowd. Jesus sees her, knows her illness is healed and blesses her publicly.

3.    In Luke 18:42, a blind man who was begging on the street, shouts for Jesus to heal him as he is on the road to Jericho Jesus stops and speaks a blessing of healing and the man can see.

In all of these accounts of healing, restoration and forgiveness; Jesus interacts with people who are outsiders. Some had become outsiders due to their illness, others by their race, while others were isolated because of their behavior. In each case, Jesus takes the time to see each person as being “someone worth knowing”, (thanks for this Margot) he then listens to their need and responds with forgiveness and healing.

Each person has a different reason for approaching Jesus, but they are bold in their approach of him. Maybe they had already heard of Jesus abundant mercy and reputation for helping people who were outsiders – in their community or with God – and ability to bring them back to a place of belonging – in their community and with God.

When I hear the accounts of Jesus interacting with and healing people, I wonder what happens after the exciting parts (the healing) have happened. In the other examples we know: 1. a man regains his sight, 2. a woman’s honor was restored, and 3. a woman was healed and able to be embraced by her community once again.

In the case of the man healed from leprosy, we get to see more of the story of what happens after the healing. We get the chance to see what kind of crazy power “gratitude” can have in life.

Before the Samaritan man received healing from Jesus, he was given the gift of being “seen” by Jesus. This man, who lived as an outsider twice over, due to his race and his illness, was not overlooked by Christ. Although his healing was the same as the other 9 men, he is compelled to return to Jesus to express gratitude not only for that healing but also for being seen, loved and restored. The other nine men received physical healing, but they missed the fullness of Jesus blessing. The tenth man experienced being seen and cared for by Jesus, in a way that helped him to see his life through the eyes of gratitude. The act of expressing gratitude was evidence of more than a physical healing. In, through and by being seen, heard and healed by Jesus, this man whole perspective on life had been saved. When Jesus saw, heard and healed him, he was able to see life with new gratitude-filled eyes.

Kristen’s thankfulness tree was a personal reminder to pause and take time to see, hear and remember God’s goodness. By calling my attention to thankfulness, she was like the man who returned to say thank you to Jesus and helped me to see that God I need to thank more than I often do.

This week, I was interviewed by some high school video students and given the chance to be seen and heard in a new way.

 They asked me this question: “What crazy thing have you done for love?”

Immediately, I was nervous about what kind of dramatic answer they were searching for. As I pondered what to say, I kept thinking about the example of Jesus and all the crazy things he did in the name of love like:
 Including those that were outcast, unloved and ill. 
Giving himself up to be crucified and die on a cross – 
all in the name of his and his Father’s abundant love for humanity.

When I responded to my interviewers, I told them about how I had been anxious about coming to work at First Lutheran five years ago. At the time it seemed crazy that I would have the chance work at a church of over 400 members after working with one with 50 attending. But because of God’s love I was willing to give it a try. I told them about how I’m going to seminary and hope to become a pastor. Because of God’s love, I’m willing to give it a try. I told them that even when the process or study is difficult that this vocation is: the crazy thing I’m doing for love.

However, it is important to say that even though these efforts come from a place of gratitude for what God has done in my life, they can never compare to the crazy love of Jesus. Jesus actions proclaim God’s abundant mercy and self-sacrificing love in a way that I can never repay – and for that crazy love I’m thankful.

Just like Jesus saw, listened and healed the man with leprosy, he sees us where we are and loves us.

We are seen, heard and restored by Jesus and his amazing crazy love-filled actions. The only true response to that kind of love is - gratitude.
It is only with God’s help that we can begin to see the world though new eyes of gratitude, and give other the space to be seen, heard and restored as well.

There is an old song about gratitude that goes like this:
Count your blessings name them one by one.
Count your blessings see what God has done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one, and count your many
Blessings - see what God has done!

The voice of the Samaritan man and the picture of my friend Kristen’s thankfulness tree are great reminders about an important lesson:

Be quick to count the blessings of God AND be willing to sharing the message of His blessings with others.

Prayer

Heavenly Father,
Help us to have the eyes to see the blessings and count all you have given us. Thank you for seeing, hearing and restoring us through Jesus work and the power of your Holy Spirit. Now that we know what it is like to be seen, heard and restored – help us in gratitude to see others with new eyes, be ever ready to count our blessings and share the message of your crazy love with the whole world.


AMEN