September 9, 2018
None of our lectionary readings are about being thankful. But as I read the gospel stories, I couldn't help but imagine there were words and tears of thankfulness. They are not typical healing stories, but then I guess none of the healings of Jesus were typical. I want to look at each story in more detail and then try to include a discussion of thankfulness.
The first is the story of a Gentile woman who's daughter was sick, well, Mark says she had an unclean spirit. Jesus was in a friend's house, trying to get some alone time. But that seems to have been impossible for him. He was found out and this woman came and bowed at his feet and requested healing for her daughter. There follows one of the strangest conversations in all the bible. “Jesus said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.'” Wow, did he really call this woman a dog?
The second healing story occurs later, when Jesus had moved on. It tells of a deaf man with a speech impediment. As Jesus heads in the direction of the sea of Galilee, some people bring to Jesus this man. It doesn't tell us who brings the man, it doesn't say the deaf man asked for healing. It says, “They brought to him a deaf man; and they begged him to lay his hand on him.”
Well, no matter who asked, Jesus complies and takes the man off a ways and, doesn't lay his hands on him but puts his fingers in his ears and uses spit to loose his tongue. Kinda weird, but again, the healing takes place despite the unusual circumstances.
This time we do get a response, not a word about thanks but they were “astounded” and proclaimed the healing despite Jesus asking them not to.
Mark does not report any giving of thanks in these two stories. In fact, I looked to see how often Mark reports people thanking Jesus. I discovered that Mark reported 11 healings and not one of those has a report of thanks-givng. I was surprised to discover this.
Be thankful. Number 9 in our series on Jacob's 11. Despite what Mark recorded -or didn't record- about thankfulness, being thankful in very biblical. A key verse for us is 1 Thessalonians 5: 18: “Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” One little boy started to grasp this idea of thanks in every situation when he prayed before a meal. This meal included several items he didn’t like. "Lord, I don’t like the looks of it, but I thank you for it, and I’ll eat it anyway ... Amen." Some of us could use this type of prayer for many of life’s circumstances.
I had a visitor in my office recently who had received some very specific answers to prayer. And he was very thankful. But there was another issue he was praying to avoid even though we both agreed it would probably be for the best. We talked about the answer to prayer sometimes being no. And yet in every situation, we are to give thanks! Even when we have to wait, we can learn immediate thankfulness, we don't have to wait for the answer! And we are to give thanks even when the answer is no.
Another thankfulness verse is Eph. 5: 20, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Sometimes that is hard to do. Have you ever been in one of those moods where it seems there is nothing for which to be thankful. Scottish minister Alexander Whyte was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, “Certainly the preacher won’t think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this.” Much to his surprise, however, Whyte began by praying, “We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this” (Our Daily Bread, August 26, 1989).
We are thankful for this beautiful day being enjoyed in shade and sunshine. But could we be equally thankful if it were raining? Growing up, we had a neighbor who was always a week or two or ten behind the rest of the farmers. When everybody had their hay put up and were hoping for rain to bring the next crop of hay and the corn and beans along, Fred was hoping for sunshine so he could get his hay crop up. Mom often commented that it was a good thing Fred didn't control the weather or we'd never get the rain we needed. Have you ever had a picnic or a boat outing planned and prayed for a clear day without ever thinking about the long range needs of others? We all have. But the weather we get is the weather we get, and we can learn to give thanks always for all things. Psalm 30, verses 4 and 5 say this, “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
We live in a time of history where we are blessed with so many conveniences, so many health options, so much abundance, and yet we seem to lack in thankfulness. We take our blessings for granted sometimes. Just think about this world in which we live today; we struggle to decide which restaurant we will eat at, while there are millions who wonder where their next meal is coming from. We try to choose which dress, or suit, or clothes to wear, while millions only have the clothes on their back. We complain about getting up to go to work, while many don't have a job to get up to. We gripe about our old jalopy of a car, while many have to walk everywhere they go. I believe we are each guilty of at least one of these attributes. Material blessings are ours in many ways; let's not take them for granted.
It just may be that you are trapped in, let's call it the “Not enough zone”. You probably know someone like this, always complaining about not have enough. The root of this trap is the fact that they continually complain about not having enough! Proverbs 18:20 (NKJV) says, “ A man’s stomach shall be satisfied from the fruit of his mouth; From the produce of his lips he shall be filled.” We could interpret this by saying that what we believe and declare ultimately finds fulfillment in our lives. It may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we declare that we don't have enough then no matter what we have, it will never satisfy us. And we will not give thanks in all things.
But it works the other way too. Julie's bulletin cover today says it well, “It is not happy people who are thankful, it is thankful people who are happy.” If we declare our thanks consistently, then we can be satisfied with what we have. It will be enough. We can be happy. It is not the amount of our possessions that satisfies, it is our attitude of thankfulness. It is not good health and youthful bodies that allow us to be happy, it is facing each day with optimism and thankfulness.
With that, I want to return to our gospel stories. First, the woman who was called a dog by Jesus. She faced even this putdown with a positive attitude, accepting even what she called the scraps for the dogs. Can we face life with that kind of attitude? I copied a quote about this, but lost my source so I will share it without citation: “Now when it comes to contentment and the grace of God, are you humble enough to be willing to take the crumbs? Or do you think maybe you’re too good for the crumbs? The Apostle Paul knew what it was to feed on filet mignon of faith, but he was also in prison enough to be content with the crumbs of grace. We love to quote this verse, but sometimes we forget the context. Paul found himself in prison, and unable to be free to do the one thing he wanted to do—travel the world preaching the gospel. He wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
Here is the heart of contentment, learning to accept our lot in life. But we can't stop there. There are some issues in this life that are not acceptable. Abuse, violence, racism, poverty. We can remain thankful while working to improve our lot and the lot of others. Perhaps our gospel, and our theme, touches on these as well. I want to share another quote I found in my research, this one from - LaDonna Sanders Nkosi, “Perhaps, with this in mind, we might begin to declare “Ephphatha!” in our nations, our cities, and the closed places in our midst. Ephphatha! Be opened! That our hearts may be open to see one another as God sees.” We live with constant news of juvenile vulnerability and crises of education quality and safety, sexual violence, gun terror, and poverty, We need to hear the call for our hearts and minds to be open to solutions. Ephphatha! Be open to options that will give us hope. Open to options that free us from the partisanship that separates us and makes it impossible to make meaningful change. Faith for a free, safe, and just tomorrow requires we open our hearts to options.
We got a little bit away from thankfulness, but even in the midst of this troubled world, maybe we can find some things for which we can give thanks. We can be thankful for the efforts the CCC committee is making to protect vulnerable members of our community. We can be thankful that we live in a democracy where there are opportunities for change. We can be thankful for the community in which we live where there are people working for a better day. We can be thankful that we have a deacons fund to help individuals whose options have been severely limited. We can give thanks for the MAM committee and the work they do to give our community's homeless hope. We can be thankful for this family of believers gathered in God's cathedral to share the peace of Christ and a meal; thankful for fellowship and prayers. We can be thankful that in Christ, there is always hope for a better day. It is up to each of us to work to bring hope and love and grace into our world.
Our world continues to struggle to find the grace and love that Jesus teaches. Perhaps when Jesus teased, or tested, that Syrophoenician woman, he had in mind this narrative, “According to one rabbi, every morning a Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank thee that I was not born a Gentile, a dog, or a woman.” That is not an example of the thankfulness of which we are speaking today. We want to understand that a spirit of gratefulness can change our whole outlook. And though it isn't explicitly stated, we can imagine there was great thanksgiving going on for Jairus and the Syrophoenician woman. They got exactly what they desired. Our test is this- can we live in thankfulness even when life doesn't turn out to be all we might dream it could be?
Billy Graham tells the story of a man who gave thanks when life had turned against him. “The next footsteps in the corridor, he knew, might be those of the guards taking him away to his execution. His only bed was the hard, cold stone floor of the dank, cramped prison cell. Not an hour passed when he was free from the constant irritation of the chains and the pain of the iron manacles cutting into his wrists and legs. Separated from friends, unjustly accused, brutally treated—if ever a person had a right to complain, it was this man, languishing almost forgotten in prison. But instead of complaints, his lips rang with words of praise and thanksgiving! The man was the Apostle Paul—a man who had learned the meaning of true thanksgiving, even in the midst of great adversity. From his prison in Rome, Paul wrote, “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20, NIV). He could give thanks because his trust with in the Lord. May it be so for us; and we best show that by living a life of thankfulness in all things. Amen.
Hymn: Let All Things Now Living 554 PH