Love and Gratitude

A Thanksgiving Sermon by Pastor Chico Martin

November 19, 2017

Lections: 1 Samuel 7:7-13; Luke 17:11-19

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This morning, as we give thanks to the Lord our God, we also look forward to the holiday of Thanksgiving which we will celebrate later in the week.  It is right, as we say in our Great Thanksgiving, always and everywhere to give God our thanks and praise.  Truly, we are blessed in many ways.

Of course, when we pause to recount our blessings, we aren’t necessarily having an easy time of it. We all experience difficulties and hardships, and being grateful doesn’t mean we should overlook the conditions and circumstances of our lives. Conditions and circumstances change, and we are more thankful for some changes than others.  As people of faith, however, we recognize a goodness that abides unchanging.  And it is from the depth of this abiding goodness, which we experience as love, that gratitude arises.  

I remember the first time I felt gratitude.  You could say, gratitude was the last born of my emotions.  Or the twin of the other late born emotion, which was love.  For no sooner had I experienced love, than I experienced gratitude.  And many of my years lay behind me.

Let us call “goodness that abides unchanging” God’s showing of himself to us in this earthly abode of our experience.  This we can know: God’s love is always and everywhere and mysteriously personal.  As John rightly observes, “We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Love is the platform of discipleship.  We fulfill the Great Commission Jesus left us with when we love God and one another.  We mirror love for the world.  And with God’s help, as we get better and better at being love, our gratitude – our thanks and praise – grows too.

A mature gratitude resembles a mature love; we do not hold ungratefulness against the ungrateful any more than we put conditions on our love. When we act to please God, we do not act to be pleased or recognized by others.  Our standards are high, and we hold ourselves accountable.

We know that there are peoples all around the world who are experiencing extreme hardships, and we are complicit in their hardships.  Many have been displaced from their homes and become refugees, living in resettlement camps, because of war, famine brought on by climate change, poverty, or political injustice. These people have little hope of enjoying a meal with their families, taking stock of the year, or securing a safe place to live. How can we expect them to experience love and gratitude, and share their thankfulness; yet some will, for the God who does not change yet changes everything.

Today’s Scriptures give two examples of thanksgiving.  In the first, Samuel gives thanks to God for success in battle; Israel had defeated the Philistines, so Samuel “took a stone and set it up between Mizpath and Shen.  He named it Ebenezer (“stone of help”), saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” Knowing this story helps us to appreciate the 18th century hymn we sung earlier, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”

In the Gospel, Jesus heals ten men with leprosy. After they had shown themselves – as cleansed persons – to the priests, only one, a Samaritan, came back to Jesus “praising God,” falling at the feet of Jesus, and thanking him.  Jesus was incredulous that of the ten, only the “stranger” “of another race” gave thanks.  He restored the man completely, not just bodily, but also spiritually, because of his faith.

Gratitude is one of the ways we move along the spiritual path.  When we surrender to God, we experience our dependence upon the goodness that sustains us.  Then we are healed, and we cannot help ourselves: we “Give thanks for the earth and the blessings of the world that God has created.” Our praises rise above, and we sing with the Psalmist:

“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the waters.”  (Psalm 24:1-2, NIV)

Let us pray:

Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth.
By your appointment the seasons come and go.
You bring forth bread from the earth and create the fruit of the vine.
You formed us in your image and made us stewards of your world.
Earth has yielded its treasure,
and from your hand we have received blessing on blessing.

And all the people said, Amen.

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