“Distracted Gratitude”
Let me start by saying how glad I am to see all of you here. I am indeed thankful that all of you would come out on this cold wet evening.
You see, I don’t take this for granted. I am pretty certain that most all of you are very busy people. You have responsibilities and obligations, and some of these are mightyheavy. Some of you have come here from jobs that are a constant stream of new demandsdelivered with almost no time to think. Some of you have come here having worked longand hard at home to prepare for company tomorrow. Many of us are thinking of all thework at home that is yet to be done.
We live in very busy times. There are many ways to characterize the era in which we live. But surely this one is right on the money: that the pace of life is faster than it everhas been and is getting ever faster, it seems, with each passing year.
Now, that’s not to say that life is harder for us than it was for earlier generations. I think it’s obvious that life was almost unimaginably more difficult for our ancestors thanit is for us. But the challenges we face are noteworthy, and perhaps even historic.
Life is faster. We drive faster. We eat faster. We’re expected to work faster, and as a matter of survival we do, or at least are able to pretend that we do. More and more of uswork in jobs that present us with data and attendant demands for a decision many timeseach day, if not each hour.
Many of us are what they now call “knowledge workers.” How can you tell if you’re a knowledge worker? Well, If you are busy, not assembling parts or cranking widgets,but shoveling through long lists of e-mail messages each day, then you just might be aknowledge worker. If you have flexible lunch times and have girly smooth hands, youjust might be a knowledge worker. . . or a pastor.
Knowledge workers have been enduring the increased pace of work and life for some time. It is the knowledge worker for whom the 40 hour work week first became synony-mous with “part time,” for whom the word “multitasking” first came to be associatedwith Pepcid-AC and therapy.
But it is no longer only the knowledge worker who feels the stress of the increased pace of today’s society. The pace and the stress have migrated into other areas of employment,almost all of which have been ramped up with expectations to perform at superhumanlevels. Today, to survive means being able to adjust to an ever-increasing rate of changingdemands and expectations.
Indeed, the effects of this pace have made their way into all areas of life: family, friends, leisure, worship. All these have become subject to the frenetic pace of the world,so that either we engage them frantically or not at all. It seems that now the pace of life isso high that there’s hardly any time for life.
And so, let me say again: thank you for being here. By your presence, you have shown that you believe it’s important for you to take this time to give thanks. Either that or you have been effectively nagged or guilted into coming. In any case, good for you! I believe that the pace of life leads not only to decreased attendance at worship services on Thanksgiving Eve. More importantly, I believe that it distracts people from doing whatThanksgiving is really for, and that is giving thanks. The pressure to do and do and dosome more, the demands in life that require constant responsiveness — these are robbingus of our mindfulness to give thanks. When we take a moment, sure, we’re grateful. Butwe are distracted in our gratitude: distracted from recognizing our blessings, distractedfrom naming them.
You see, to have a general feeling of gratitude is not being truly grateful. To be grateful, truly grateful, means that you name that for which you are grateful, and that you thankthe one who is the source of those things for which you are grateful. Anything less thanthat is not gratitude. It’s just pretending.
The Gospel lesson I read shows us what this is about. Jesus is traveling from town to town as was his practice. And on the way, some men with leprosy come out. They keeptheir distance, just as the law required them to do. But they start shouting out to him:“Jesus, Master! Have mercy on us!” Clearly, they wanted Jesus to heal them. Quite likely, they wanted Jesus to stop what he was doing and do something for them, utter a spell or offer a prayer or spread apoultice on their skin, something, anything.
He doesn’t do any of those things. Instead, he shouts back, from that safe distance, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” This, of course, is what a leper is supposed to do when his leprosy is gone, when the leper believes that he is now in fact no longer a leper.
But these lepers weren’t yet clean when Jesus told them this. Nonetheless, they go, setting out to see the priests, even though this may have struck them as a little premature.
Whatever they thought, whatever their concerns about the timeliness of the command, these concerns must have vanished. Because, as they were making their way into townto find the priests, one of them happened to glance at the hand with which he held hiswalking stick.
“Wow! Would you look at that!”And his companions all stop and say, “What? What do you see?”“My hand! The leprosy is gone! All gone!”And all of them check their own leprous spots, which now are nowhere to be found.
We would expect, wouldn’t we, that all of them were very happy. With that happiness, no doubt there would be a feeling of tremendous gratitude. But here is where the storyturns. From here on the story follows only one of these healed men, for it is only one whostops, turns around, and makes his way back to Jesus, “praising God with a loud voice.”When he sees Jesus, he falls down and thanks the one who had healed him.
Now, this one who returned to give thanks was unlike the other nine. He was not a Jew, but a Samaritan. He was not one of the upright, but one of the outcast, an outsider, someone from the wrong side of the tracks, one whose religious sincerity would be sus-pect. This is one who would not likely know “the rules,” the things that good religiouspeople would do.
But, even so, this man knows what gratitude truly means. He recognized his healing, he named it, and he went about thanking the source of it.
And what about the others? Well, we’re not really sure. I suspect that they continued on “their mission,” you know the one, to go present themselves to the priests. This iswhat the law required. This is what Jesus told them to do. They were on this path, lockedinto it by a stubbornness that might otherwise be admirable, but in this case just seemsshortsighted. “No, I can’t give thanks right now. I’ve got to go to church.” They were, it seems, distracted in their gratitude. They were distracted by their reli- gious obligations. They were distracted by their desire to get back to their regular lives, tothis point interrupted by illness and ostracism. They were distracted by culturally preor-dained tasks that they now intended to complete. They were distracted in their gratitude.
And in the end the question had to be asked: were they grateful at all? It’s pretty clear whom from this lesson we are supposed to emulate. The one who returned to Jesus in order to give thanks: this is the one whose example we are to follow.
Sadly, it is all too often the nine who did not return whom we follow. We, too, are often distracted in our gratitude. We, too, are often bound by our intentions to completeculturally preordained tasks. We, too, find our so-called “obligations” crowding out timeand attention for acts of thankfulness. We, too, get stuck on how things are supposed to bedone, and forget thankfulness, which undergirds and transcends all rules.
But one did return. And Jesus blessed him and rejoiced with him. He was an outsider, and yet it is this one whose example we are to follow. For he recognized that the mostimportant thing in that moment was to give thanks. And so that’s what he did. He gavethanks, joyfully, specifically, naming that for which he was thankful and praising the onewho made his healing possible.
The thankfulness and gratitude of this man were focused on something specific: the healing that he had received from Jesus. He was joyful in his thanks because of thisspecific thing he had received from Jesus. He wasn’t “thankful” in general; he didn’t goabout with a vague sense of gratitude. No, he was quite focused in his gratitude, for itwas quite specific. He was thankful for his healing, and for it he gave thanks.
I think this is very important. You see, it means nothing to give thanks in general. To be thankful, truly thankful, is to be quite specific in the thanksgiving. George Buttrickonce wrote: The prayer of thanksgiving should be quite specific: ‘I thank thee for this friendship, this threat overpassed, this signal grace.’ ‘For all thy mercies’ is a proper phrase for a general collect, but not a private grat- itude. If we are ‘thankful for everything,’ we may end up by being My friends, let us be quite specific in our thanks: to God, and to each other. Let us not be distracted in our gratitude, but rather let us resolve to live thankfully by giving voiceto specific thanksgivings each and every day.


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