Rev. Carol A. Prochaska (ret.)
October 13, 2013
Title: The Transforming Power of Gratitude
Scripture: Jeremiah 19:1, 4-7; Luke 17: 11-19
This weekend many around the dinner table will be asked to name something for which they are thankful. Hunger and the sights and smells of the food will help stimulate an idea or two. Still, among younger family members there'll be some moaning and groaning and making of faces. But it will happen and when it's done everyone will feel better. Saying thanks is a part of every culture's etiquette.
We say thanks because: it is good manners, it's Thanksgiving and because we feel the need to express appreciation. And sometimes we say thanks out of guilt because we have so much and things are going so well.
But the reverse is also true. For some, this Thanksgiving is not filled with happiness and abundance. Like the exiles in this morning's scripture, we may be in our own kind of exile. Like them our struggles may go on for awhile. They needed—and we need—understanding and love. The words they received from God were supportive and encouraging. And! God's words had the power to change their focus from what they lacked and could not do to an awareness of what they had and what in exile they could still do. With this changed focus they could find their way out of their helplessness and loss into some kind of normal living. Above all they knew God has not abandoned them.
The lepers were living in their own kind of exile. Jesus sees their exile—with that deep and special kind of seeing. This is the seeing with the heart. This is Jesus fully comprehending their misery. His words and their obedience to his words take them out of their exile. But one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him.
Hear this same sentence from a different translation: "One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus' feet, so grateful." This seems to be more than just proper etiquette! It's certainly not connected to a Thanksgiving Dinner. I don't sense any guilt in this person's response.
So! Here's the really cool thing: The Samaritan also sees in the way Jesus was seeing. The Samaritan sees with his heart. In this deep kind of seeing comes a fuller comprehension of what had just happened. He realizes that he has to shout and praise God. He has to turn around and go back. He has to fall on his knees. He simply must thank Jesus. Out of his seeing and his response to what he sees he receives a blessing beyond his cleansing. The Greek uses a word meaning "delivered". He is delivered even further into freedom and new life.
When we stop to look—when we take time to see as in more than just a casual glance, we open a way for gratitude to flow from deep within us, filling us. Those are the moments when we say "WOW!" Tears may come: tears of well-being, tears of joy, tears of humility. All of this may last only a minute or two—but it is powerful. It is powerful because we realize we are not alone. We realize God is with us. We realize we are loved. We realize we have been delivered or we are being delivered or that we will be delivered.
Last week our daughter Dena from Kootenay Bay was visiting. She was telling me about a high school classmate she had recently seen in an interview on TV. Her classmate was experiencing some success in the field of entertainment. Dena was surprised and pleased to see this classmate she hadn't seen since graduation. Dena learned from the interview that her classmate had had a very difficult childhood. If it hadn't been for a teacher, the classmate said, she wouldn't be where she was today. In hearing this Dena was taken aback because she had no idea what her classmate had being going through back then in High School.
"It's amazing isn't it," I said. "How one person can make such a difference in tough times."
"Like Mrs. Tamalla," Dena replied with quiet awe.
"Yeh, like Mrs. Tamalla" I said.
Mrs. Tamalla was Dena's Phys. Ed teacher in Jr. High. It was during those years her dad and I separated, got back together, then separated again and then finally divorced. It was Mrs. Tamalla who recognized Dena's gymnastic abilities. It was Mrs. Tamalla who arranged for Dena to get extra coaching outside of school. It was Mrs. Tamalla who made sure Dena entered competitions and gained confidence. It was Mrs. Tamalla who suggested Dena volunteer as a gymnastics' coach for the city of Calgary which then led to a part-time paid position, giving her money towards Art College expenses.
After completing her studies Dena went from her part time job with the city into a full-time position. And now here in Nelson, she is coaching gymnastics and loving every minute of it. Praise be to you, God, for Mrs. Tamalla!
In the telling of our own gratitude stories, we will likely find ourselves, once again, filling up with gratitude. In the remembering of our own exile, we will have empathy for those still in exile. So we tell our gratitude stories for our own sake. And we tell our stories for the sake of others. A wise person has said this: "In telling our story of wonder and awe, we are Écalling people to a life of faith in this God who has [delivered] us." (Denise Dombkowski Hopkins, Imaging the Word.)
As in the letter to the exiles we have words of encouragement and hope to share. Like the Samaritan, may our eyes and our hearts see: May we see and comprehend God's presence. May we see and comprehend God's love and God's goodness in our lives: past and present.