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Gratitude is more than a feeling

Trinity 14 BCP

09 September 2007 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

Last week we heard that the priest walked by on other side of the road, passing his wounded neighbour so he could keep himself clean for Temple worship. Yet today in the gospel, the lepers are commanded to show themselves to the priests. In the light of Jesus’ usual practise of challenging and bucking the system, there seems to be a curious approval of the Law and the purity system, or at least acceptance. I raise this as a puzzle. However, the heart of today’s gospel concerns gratitude. If only one in ten of the cleansed lepers gives thanks and glory to God for his cure, surely the Lord is dropping a heavy hint that for 90% of the time we all fail…we forget to thank him. The one cured leper who did thank God with a loud voice had much reason for gratitude…for in a sense he had received a double cure – being both a leper and a despised outsider from Samaria. We read in the Greek that the all the lepers were cleansed…but only one who gave glory to God has been saved: ‘thy faith hath saved thee, rescued thee – made thee whole.’

Our society seems to be increasingly ruled by emotion – the depth of which is often negligible, and the constancy of which is usually ephemeral. People act on emotional fads. This can cause amusement amongst friends (I’m not saying this was a fad)…but I was highly amused by a priest friend who took up Salsa dancing about 18 months before his 40th birthday. Very good at it he is too. I was amongst about a dozen or so ‘old friends’ when he had a birthday party that included over 50 of his very new salsa friends. Not that I can dance in any fashion…let alone salsa. The odd thing was that many of his best and closest friends, who might have thought he was ‘off his trolley’, were not invited. I imagined, in case they imparted the benefit of their wisdom to the reinvented mover. On a more serious level we know how acting on the whim of emotion and fads can lead to the ruination of relationships.

The Christian tradition always sees love as more than an emotion or feeling, and love is regarded as a way of acting and of living. Love your enemies – even if you don’t like them. Behave in a loving way, regardless of emotion, and in Christian terms we cannot go wrong. As people of faith, we are quite familiar with this idea. Perhaps we can do the same concerning gratitude. Many people have daily situations, pains, afflictions for which the thought of a grateful response would seem quite a contradiction. But maybe, just as we understand love to be a way of action, so gratitude is a fundamental Christian attitude by which we constantly live and rely upon the grace of God. There are plenty of examples in the psalms of the writer being honest about suffering or ghastly situations, for which it would be impossible to have the emotion or feeling of thankfulness. Rather, the contrary. Yet, even in these situations, the lament itself is made to God. The psalmist never loses confidence in the grace of God in all situations.

Thanksgiving is the kernel of the Christian life. The opposite is to assume that we are the equal of God, and can live independently of God’s grace…with no need of him. Cut off from God. In other words…a life of sin. And the disease we might describe as a gratitude problem is actually more disfiguring than any skin disorder. Living in gratitude is not easy in a modern world that emphasises the values of independence, individuality and equality. As a result of these fashionable values, our view of freedom, and our attitude to equality, are easily skewed and distorted. Because Christian life must always presume at least one true, permanent, and abiding inequality. Namely the inequality between Creator and creatures. The inequality between God who as Creator is the origin and source of life…and the created order…all of us who are the recipients of life. GLORY…be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit…as it was in the beginning…is now…and ever shall be. There is no avoiding our dependence upon God.

Jesus lived a life of constant and faithful gratitude – even when dying on the cross. With a few loaves and fishes he fed 4000 and then 5000, having given thanks to God, broken, and then given away. He did the same with bread and wine on the night before he was betrayed…giving thanks…breaking the bread…and giving it away…offering his own body and blood which was given for us at Calvary the next day. The life of behaving with permanent thanksgiving begins at baptism (as it will shortly for Harriet) as we are washed in the new Jordan river of the Holy Spirit. The Eucharistic life…relying on the grace of God as the origin and source of life, and as the source of the eternal life which awaits…our thanksgiving/gratitude to the alpha and the omega feeds that faith which Jesus told the Samaritan had made him whole. As it will for all who give God the glory. Thy faith hath saved thee. Faith in the grace of God.

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