Gratitude is More than Skin Deep: Thanksgiving Sermon

Thanksgiving Sermon
Texts: Luke 17:11-19, 1 Thessalonians 5:18

“Your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:19

In this compelling story from Luke, ten people afflicted with leprosy – a contagious disease that affects the skin – approach Jesus and call to him from afar. They know the strict rules about avoiding contact with the unclean, so they keep their distance.  They beg for mercy, to be relieved of this disease that isolates them from friends and family.  Without even a wave of a magic wand, Jesus says the word, and they are miraculously cured of the disease. They walk . . . skip  . . . run! to show themselves to the priest and be declared clean and acceptable once again.
Image by Irina Patrusca. Some rights reserved, flickr.com
Image by Irina Patrusca. Some rights reserved, flickr.com

But one man turns.

It’s not the kind of metanoia that indicates a 180-degree turn away from sin.  This is just a pivoting pause.  But it makes all the difference for what Jesus sees about the state of this man’s soul.  This man’s pivoting pause turns on a fulcrum of gratitude.  He turns back around and drops to his knees in thankfulness.  Jesus then declares that his faith has made him well.

There are three different words used in this passage to indicate wellness.

In verse 14 when the ones with leprosy realize their affliction is gone, the word is katharizo.  You can see the basis for the word catharsis, meaning purged or purified.  In verse 15, the Samaritan realizes he has been cured, and the word is iaomai, which means healed.  But in verse 19, Jesus says that the man’s faith has made him whole.  The word is sozo, from where we get the word soteriology, meaning salvation.  In other words, this man’s faith – which is based on his thankfulness (v. 16) has indicated a certain quality within his inner being.  And this quality indicates a sense of gratitude that is more than skin deep.

What is it about gratitude that is so healing?

Evidence is growing about the positive ways in which gratitude affects your state of mind.  Cultivating thankfulness increases your level of happiness and satisfaction in life, your ability to reach your goals, and the quality of your relationships.  But studies are also showing that high levels of gratitude also correlate to increased health on both the physical and psychological level.

Apparently something different happened with this man. He was a Samaritan, who was not only afflicted by leprosy but also looked down upon because of his status as a foreigner.  And yet – it was his faith on the inside, pivoting on that fulcrum of gratitude, that mirrored the healing that Jesus had caused to happen on the outside.

But was it this one miraculous act of healing that caused his sudden orientation toward gratitude?  Was it this sudden cure that caused his faith?  That’s certainly possible, but not likely, given that the other nine had the same experience and had no pivoting pause.

It’s more likely that this man had cultivated his gratitude for many years.

So even in the midst of his affliction he found reason to be thankful.  Thus when this miracle of physical healing occurred, his spirit was already oriented in such a way that gratitude naturally followed.

As Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances.”

Notice he didn’t say give thanks for all circumstances.  Because certainly there are things that happen to us that we are not happy about, and for good reason.  Nor should we should feel forced to a fake an air of humble thankfulness for our affliction.  Rather, giving thanks in all circumstances means that no matter what happens, we give thanks that God is still with us.  We give thanks that God is still working in and through us and others to bring about healing and wholeness.  Giving thanks is about trusting that God is still present, still cares, and is still active, even if we can’t immediately see how that action is manifesting itself.  That kind of trust is what we call faith.
Fulcrum of Gratitude. Image created by Leah D. Schade. All rights reserved.
Fulcrum of Gratitude. Image created by Leah D. Schade. All rights reserved.

Who is the most grateful person you know?

Who for you exemplifies the kind of faith that pivots on a fulcrum of gratitude?  The one who is so steeped in thankfulness, that no matter what happens, they are able to trust the goodness of God?  The person whose gratitude is more than skin deep?

Who models for you what it looks like to act in a way that aligns with this goodness and trust? Which person in your life comes to mind as someone who inspires you to pivot on a fulcrum of gratitude?  Have you shared with them how much they inspire you?  How much you are grateful for them?  Have you taken steps to follow what they have modeled for you?

I was once in a pastor’s Bible study about this text. One of my colleagues shared with me a question – one that another friend posed to him:

What would you have this morning if all you had was what you gave thanks for yesterday?

May this question give you a pivoting pause and help you to find your own fulcrum of gratitude.

leah schade, profile (2)

Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary (Kentucky) and author of the book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit(Chalice Press, 2015).

Twitter: @LeahSchade

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LeahDSchade/

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