Living Between Gracious & Greedy
~ Sermon ~ Sunday, October 9, 2016 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson
Diane Gottsman, a present-day manners and etiquette expert, (so of course her advice “column” is “online”) was asked these questions regarding the etiquette of expressing gratitude for a gift received.
- In your opinion, is the traditional thank you note outdated?
Her response: “Is gift giving outdated?”
- How do I know when I need to write a thank you note?
If you are ever in the position to wonder if you need to write a thank you note, the answer is most likely a resounding yes!
- Is it true that if you are “looking them in the eye when you say thank you”, you do not have to send a thank you note?
Generally speaking, if you live in the same house or share the same bathroom, you are likely immediate family so a verbal thank you is all that is warranted. However, it all depends on the gift, gesture, and effort. Even your mother or husband would appreciate an unexpected and heartfelt thank you note for their gesture of kindness.
- How long do I have before a thank you note is no longer appropriate?
It’s always best to send out a thank you note within the first 48 hours but a tardy thank you note is better than no thank you note at all. Even a year later, believe me, the giver still remembers and will be relieved to know you used the gift or appreciated a monetary gift.
And by the way the mass email thank you just does not cut it!!
The question for this morning is “How soon do we have to say thanks?”
And the answer, informed by today’s well known biblical story, is: “The moment we feel grateful.”
But what does gratitude feel like? How do we identify its presence in us?
For some, gratitude may feel like a tightly budded rose slowly unfolding in the chambers of one’s heart, a deep seated, wordless sensation. At other times, gratitude may feel more like fireworks exploding in the center of your being, the uncontainable seeking expression.
Whether gentle or intense, these moments of gratitude demand a response – a tear rolling down a cheek, a quick prayer, a promptly made phone call or a bear hug delivered to the one who has been for me the “bearer of God’s grace.”
Jesus was such a “bearer of God’s grace” to these ten lepers. They in their longing for wholeness and healing called out to him as he walked the road to Jerusalem. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They pleaded from a safe distance. And Jesus, ever so compassionate, tells the ten to “show themselves to the priests.” While they are on the way to the temple, their leprosy is healed. The rest of the story is legendary – ten were healed, one return to thank Jesus and this one was a Samaritan, a despised foreigner.
The truth is we are sometimes found among the ingrates and sometimes we might be like the one who came back.
One theologian calls this dual aspect of our nature the battle between the gracious and the greedy. The greedy side of us overconsumes all the good things of life thinking that we are somehow deserving, entitled. It’s rather like the old Scotsman who was said to have kept the Sabbath and anything else he could put his hands on! (Being of Scottish ancestry I can say that!)
The gracious side, on the other hand, meets life with a sense of humility at the many blessings all around us. It takes only what it needs and understands that such gifts are meant for all.
So let’s take a look at these two sides of ourselves
First, when we are among the nine, what is it that keeps us from coming back to God in gratitude?
There are many answers.
We’re too busy, too self-absorbed, too taken up in the whirl of each day.
We are too wealthy; we are too poor,
or too worried about the current state of our lives.
We care too much about ourselves and too little for others.
We are striving too hard to get ahead.
We are too bitter about past hurts, too demanding of other people,
and our expectations for what we deserve in this life are entirely too high.
To name a dozen!
What worries me most, though, regarding my own lack of gratefulness, is that too often it stems from my tendency to be more rational that faith-full. How often have I, in my oh-so-modern wisdom, explained away God’s grace with a ton of rationalizations?
Charles L. Brown (Not the friend of Linus and Lucy!) suggested some time ago that the nine cured lepers who did not return with gratitude might have used these rationalizations.
One waited to see for sure if it was real.
One waited to see if it would last.
One said, “I’ll catch up with Jesus later.”
One decided that he probably never really had leprosy to begin with.
One said that he would have gotten well anyway.
One gave all the glory to the priests.
One said, “O, well, Jesus really didn’t do anything. He just spoke to us keeping his distance.”
One said, “Any rabbi could have done it.”
And the last said, “I was already much improved.”
I guess my point is that gratitude rarely grows from a rationalizing mind. Gratitude grows from an open heart, a believing heart, a heart willing to believe that God can and does offer us grace-filled moments that cannot be, need not be explained away by rationalization.
“Gratitude is born in hearts that take the time to count up past mercies.” said Charles Jefferson (a congregational minister from the early 20th century.) As trite as it may be it is good to on occasion take the time to “count our blessings.”
Which leads us to the other side of us. What makes us come back to God with grateful hearts?
What makes us come back are powerful infusions of grace. We are going about in our heady, preoccupied state and, wham, grace breaks through and rips the blinders from our eyes. And then we can see:
That smile in a stranger’s eyes when she looks our way;
The puffed up sparrow in a winter tree disclosing perfectly the beauty of God creation;
The apology that is accepted without one judgmental word;
The snide remark withheld; the sarcastic word suspended;
The healing that comes from one kind word delivered to us on a bad day;
The utter miracle contained in each breath we take, each sunrise we witness, each day of this magical mystery tour we call the human life;
And oddly enough gratitude helps us to see the inequalities of our world such as absolute injustice of some feasting happily on God’s plenty, while others go hungry in the night, to recognize our modern day “lepers” who are forced to live on the edges of society.
But what happens when even just a few Christians cannot see this, when we choose to be indifferent or ignorant of the sufferings of people, strangers, those different from us. Sometimes we do not “see” in order to protect our privileges, way of life and comfort. What does this say to others about our faith and our Jesus? The world is watching and sometimes wondering!
In his book, The Christ of the Indian Road, E. Stanley Jones asked Gandhi how to best naturalize Christianity into India. Gandhi replied in part:
“I would suggest first of all that all of you Christians, missionaries and all begin to live more like Jesus Christ.”
Remember the fellow who came back was a Samaritan, a foreigner.
It is only when grace has removed our blinders that we can begin to allow our graciousness to overcome our greed. And that is the moment when our gratitude is perfected in God’s sight.
A while ago I was driving from home to the church on State Street, I came to one of the intersections and there was a group of three or four people just about to step into the crosswalk. Now I don’t know about you but hardly anybody stops for pedestrians on State Street, especially after Labor Day! But that time I did for some reason. And as they started across the street I could then see that one of them was using a walker. And it was soon evident that even with a walker this person needed some assistance. So it took a little more time than usual, a little more time then I planned.
So I waited. A vehicle came up behind me. They had to wait.
Another one coming in the other direction was forced to stop and wait because of what I had begun. They had no more than got across the one side of the street when the driver of the oncoming vehicle impatiently pulled through right on their heels.
When they reached the other side the person with the walker looked my way and simply smiled. The companions with a tip of the head mouthed a “Thank you.” And everyone was on their way.
There we were on a cool autumn morning doing a little dance of gratitude, the strangers for making it across the street without as much worry, me for the little smile, a tip of the head acknowledgment that made my morning.
How soon should we say thanks?
The moment we feel grateful.
And what will it look like?
A wave of the hand, a silent thank you, and smile that opened up the “eyes” of one’s heart that it might have a little more room that day for gratitude.