Saturday, October 8, 2016

Year C, Proper 23, Luke 17.11-19 “Attitude of Gratitude”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
If I could live my life over,
I would hope less,
And be more grateful.

There are two things that have dominated my thought patterns throughout the years. 
I tend to mull over the past, ruminating on all that has gone on.
And I tend to focus my thoughts on the future, and worry about what might be, or in my better moments, hope beyond hope for good things to happen.  No matter how good things are, I always find myself hoping that it will get better. 
The dark side of hoping that things will get better is that there is a sense that the way things are, is simply not good enough.
And to live in hope about what tomorrow might bring is to miss out on the opportunity to be thankful for what we have already received, today.

Today we heard again that story of the ten lepers.
All were cured.
Only the foreigner returned to give thanks.
But the other nine, where were they?

This text always used to be the assigned text for Thanksgiving. 
We had Thanksgiving Eve services.
And the thing was that, in contrast to Christmas Eve services, where the Church was packed, hardly anyone ever came out for Thanksgiving Services.  It was almost always the lowest attendance of the year.
And then, looking out at a near empty sanctuary I’d have to preach on this text.  Where are they? Are there not hundreds of people in this congregation, I would find myself asking.  Why is it that only ten or so people attend a Thanksgiving Service?
Are we so busy preparing for the Thanksgiving meal, that we cannot attend Thanksgiving Services???

I’ve already been asked whether or not we would have a Thanksgiving service here.
My response is “Would anybody come?”

One sermon I recall preaching speculated on all the reasons that the nine other lepers did not return to give thanks. 
·         Some of them actually did go and “show themselves to the priests”, and for that reason had not returned to Jesus.
·         Others had been so overjoyed at being cured they went immediately to find their families.
And on and on the list went.
There were many reasons the nine didn’t give thanks.
As there are many reasons that we do not give thanks as often as we should. 
The good news, though, I would always say, is that all ten were cured, even though only one would return to thank Jesus.  That’s grace.

Today, I realize that one of my struggles with being grateful, is that I am often too hopeful.

Hope is a good thing.
In Corinthians, Paul writes:
“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
Of all the gifts of the Spirit,
Hope is right up there with faith and love.

So why would I say that if I could live my life over,
I would hope less,
And be more grateful?
For me it all boils down to having spent too much time worrying about the future, hoping for the best, fearing the worst, that I lost out on the opportunity to simply enjoy today.
When I went through chemical dependency treatment one of the assignments that we had to do was to create a ‘gratitude list’.  Each week, for eight weeks, we were to write down five things for which we were grateful.
I didn’t follow the instructions.
I sat down and in about five minutes came up with forty different things for which I was thankful.  It was easy.
The main reason they had us write the list is that there is a saying in AA that a grateful heart can’t drink.  Drinking, AA recognizes, is very often the result of resentments and guilt about the past, or worries about the future.  If you’re truly grateful about all you have today, you won’t drink.

And yet, in the months and years that followed, I still tended to live more in hope, than with gratitude.  I still focused more on the future, than on the present.  I continued to worry more about what I did not have, rather than be grateful for what I did have. 
And because of that, life was a struggle.
But it needn’t have been.  Life was in fact, good.
For example, one of my biggest worries over the last four years since going through treatment was concerning our financial well being. 
The problem was that for the sake of my health, specifically to give myself some time to heal, I decided to resign my position, go on disability, and simply make getting well my top priority.  Well, that’s all fine and good, but even as I hoped for a better tomorrow, the reality was that we had lost a significant amount of income in the process.
I worried. 
A lot.
We’d just bought our home.  We had major mortgage payments to make.  And now, I had lost a lot of income.  How could we do it?  What would the fallout be?  Could we survive financially?
For all my worries about how bad it could be, I realized this last year that we were actually better off financially than we had ever been in our life. 
Gratitude has driven the fear away.  At least today.

As I begin working as your pastor, I must confess that there is part of me that is too quick to get all wrapped up in my hopes for the future, once again. 
This is how my mind works.
I have already counted the chairs in this room.
We have about eighty set up.
That means that we have the potential, according to Church growth specialists, to build up our congregation to the point where we average 52.8 people in worship on a Sunday morning.  Then, to continue growing, we will need to go to two services. 
Once we go to two services, then we will have the capacity to grow to an average worship attendance of 105.6 people. 
And that will be sufficient to sustain a full time pastor and full slate of congregational ministries.
Hope springs eternal.
And yet there is a danger of having too much hope.
We can spend all our time focused on the empty chairs, and hoping that one day they will be filled, and fail to be grateful for the ones that are filled today.

Beginning this week we will be having cottage meetings.
There is a twofold purpose of these meetings.
First it gives me a chance to get to know you.
Second, it’s an opportunity to share our hopes and dreams for Peace Lutheran Church.
One of the things that I realize now,
And I really believe this is true,
Is that none of the hopes and dreams that we might envision and articulate will be attainable, at all, if they are not rooted in a gratitude for all that we have already received.  

We will be centering our conversation on the passage in John’s Gospel where Jesus calls his disciples.  In that passage there is the simple statement “Come and see.”
“We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
It was Philips excitement and gratitude at having found the Messiah that resulted in his saying “Come and See!”

One of the things I’d like for you to think about is this:
What are you so grateful for, here at Peace Lutheran Church, that you would be willing to say “Come and See” to your family, friends, and neighbors?
It’s hard to sell a future hope, if it’s not rooted in today’s blessings.
Or to put it differently:
We will never see the day, when we have an average worship attendance of 105.6 people per week, if we’re not grateful for the 25 that are coming today.
Gratitude, is what gives rise to true hope.
Hope without gratitude, is just wishful thinking.
The only reason we can hope for God to work wonders in our midst, is if we are already grateful for the wonders he has already done. 

We state that God's purpose for Peace is to welcome, love, and serve all in our local and global community.
To a certain extent, such a statement is a hope.  We hope that we will welcome, love and serve all.
But that hope is only possible if it begins with a gratitude for the manner in which we have been welcomed, loved, and served in this community.

A personal note:
I was afraid that I would never again be able to be a congregation's pastor.  Over the last four years, as I was gaining a foothold in my new life of sobriety, I was also diagnosed as being bipolar.  I worried about whether a congregation would ever trust me to be their pastor.  I disclosed to our council my health concerns,.  And rather than reject me, they welcomed me and asked me to serve as your pastor.

It is my deep gratitude for the manner in which you have welcomed me, that aloows me to be very hopeful for and confident in this congregation's ability to welcome others.

Gratitude gives rise to hope.
You don't believe me?
Come and see.


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