Sermon – St. John’s Corbin
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Responding to God with Gratitude
“Then 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.” Luke 17:15-16
In 1918, when my grandmother was 9 years old, her mother died. I’m not clear if it was the flu epidemic or childbirth or a combination of both. A large funeral was held for my 39-year old great-grandmother. A custom of taking photos at the time shows a large funeral procession. My great-grandfather was left as a single father of six children. As the story was told to me, it was a short time after that my great-grandfather boarded a train for New York City. He knew a woman there, who lived in Brooklyn. They were from the island of Lipari, one of the Italian islands. This woman had recently been widowed and had no children.
My great-grandfather married her and only on the train ride back to Syracuse, did he tell her she was now the mother of six children! You can imagine there were some tough times in that household. All of the girls were required to crochet and tat each afternoon. Mary said she always kicked her thread under the sofa, she hated it so much. Frances was married just a few years later at the age of 15. My grandmother said, “our heads were small and we didn’t understand.”
My grandmother and her brothers and sisters took care of their stepmother. I knew her as my great-grandmother and in fact have her China and a locket with her first husband’s photo in it. It was many years before I even knew she was a step-mother.
My grandmother and her siblings are like so many of us. It is only in looking back that we sometimes can be grateful about a situation or how something occurred. We’re not always as grateful or thankful in the midst of our lives, are we? Like my grandmother said, “our heads are small.” We don’t get it.
Yet, living in gratitude has measureable benefits. In a series of experiments detailed in a 2003 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, daily listing off all the things you are grateful for is linked with a brighter outlook on life and a greater sense of positivity. The study also showed that people who are thankful are more helpful to others. People who spend 15 minutes writing down what they are thankful for each evening before going to bed fall asleep faster and sleep longer. Being grateful changes your heart rate affecting your blood pressure. Gratitude strengthens your immune system, keeping you healthier. And regularly attending religious services or engaging in religious activities increases your sense of gratitude in all areas of life.
Gratitude and thankfulness are at the heart of our weekly services here at St. John’s. Holy Communion is also known as the Eucharist. Eucharist is a Greek word for gratefulness and thanksgiving. According to our catechism, page 859 in the Book of Common Prayer, in our Eucharist, we offer praise and thanksgiving to God for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the way Christ is made present to us and unites us to his offering of himself.
Being a good steward means responding to life with gratitude.
When Jesus healed the lepers, he gave them a tremendous gift. You see, because of their illness, they were banished from the city. They were on their own in the wilderness, so to speak. It was a dangerous existence. Jesus tells them to go show themselves to the priests. This was standard. Once your leprosy healed, in order to be allowed back in to the community, the priests had to give their approval – the priests verified the leprosy was gone. So these men with leprosy, obeyed Jesus and went off to show themselves to the priests, even though at that moment, they were not healed. On their way, they were cured, yet kept going to the priests. Only one returned, praising and thanking God for being cured of this disease that ostracized him from the community.
Just like my grandmother and her siblings, our heads are small. We don’t immediately acknowledge or respond with the depth of gratitude appropriate for the situation. We take the gifts in our life for granted, in some cases slipping into an attitude of entitlement. Of course Jesus should heal us and there is no need to acknowledge this freely given gift.
This week and in the coming weeks, you will be asked to intentionally focus on and pray about your gratitude to God as it manifests itself in St. John’s Church, Corbin; the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington; and the Episcopal Church. You will be asked to express your gratitude not only for the community right here where you live, but also for its larger ministry and mission in this region of Kentucky, the United States, Central America, Jerusalem, and Europe. You will be asked to transform your gratitude into a financial commitment – to put it in writing – a minimum commitment to God and to the church so we can be responsible, thoughtful and intentional as we work to be God’s hands, hearts, feet, and minds right here and right now.
What will be your response? Will you be the one running back to Jesus, falling flat on the ground, praising him and thanking him or will you be one of those Jesus wonders about?