Generations of Generosity: Grounded in Gratitude
Generations of Generosity: Grounded in Gratitude
October 9, 2016 Maple Grove UMC
Kent Millard is a retired United Methodist pastor who was once appointed to be a district superintendent in South Dakota, following Reuben Job who’d been elected a bishop. This appointment required his family to relocate, and as sometimes happens, not everyone in the family was happy about moving. Kent’s son Kendall absolutely did not want to move and leave his friends, and he made his unhappiness abundantly clear. When the Millard family arrived at their new parsonage, however, Kendall was shocked by what he found set up in the living room. It was a beautiful electric train set with a note that read, "This is a gift from the Reuben Job family to Kendall. Hope you enjoy your new home."
You can imagine the excitement and joy from young Kendall to find such a wonderful gift from a family he didn’t even know. He played with that train set all day long. The next day, Kendall came into his father’s study with his hands full of coins and plopped them down on the desk, saying, "Dad, give this to God." Rev. Millard was surprised by his son’s spontaneous offering and so he asked him, "Why are you giving this money to God?" The child answered, "Just to say thanks."1
Kendall had received a generous gift from a kind pastor and he was so overwhelmed with gratitude that he wanted to give an offering back to God, just to say thanks. Young Kendall Millard was grounded in gratitude.
The truth is that all of us have received abundant gifts from the hands of our generous God. God has filled us with the blessings of life and love, family and friends, a community and congregation, relationships and resources. We are calling today "Gratitude Sunday" as we kick-off our GENERATIONS OF GENEROSITY Capital Campaign for much-needed maintenance and upgrades to this grand old building. The question before us this morning is, How do we tell God "thank you?" When we consider all the generous gifts God has given us, how will we respond? How will our lives reflect that we too are grounded in gratitude?
As we ponder those questions, there is no better place to turn than to the story of Jesus and the Ten Lepers, our gospel reading today. Scholars tell us that leprosy in the Bible was not the same as modern leprosy, which is known as Hanson’s Disease. Biblical leprosy was a variety of different skin conditions for which there was no treatment and little hope. Leprosy ate away at people’s bodies and left them maimed and disfigured. It left people unable to work or marry or enjoy even the simplest pleasures of life.
The worst thing about leprosy, though, was not the disease itself but the ostracism.2 They believed the disease was highly contagious, and the scriptures commanded Israelites to put lepers out of the camp (Numbers 5:2). Lepers were not supposed to get within 50 yards of a clean person, and everywhere they went they heard the familiar words, "Leper! Unclean!" It’s clear in the Gospel story that as the ten lepers approached Jesus, they made sure to stay at a distance. Their life was a hell of isolation and loneliness.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying, we know just how those lepers felt. We don’t; we can’t. But some of us know something about isolation. Maybe you live far from family or don’t get along with family. Maybe you’ve never quite fit in, been excluded because people found you ‘different’ or ‘difficult.’ Maybe your spouse has died or your marriage has ended, or perhaps you isolate yourself due to depression or circumstances. Few of us are lepers, but many of us know something about isolation.
Well, here’s what Jesus did when the ten lepers came to him crying for mercy. He sent them to the priest, who had authority to declare them clean. He didn’t even cure them first; he just told them to go to the priest, and they were cured along the way. Nine of the lepers apparently did what Jesus told them to do—they went to the priest and got declared clean. Only one of the lepers, a Samaritan, did not do what Jesus told them to. Instead, when he discovered that he was cured, he came busting back to Jesus, praising God, throwing himself on the ground and loving Jesus with all his heart.
And Jesus says to this grateful Samaritan former leper a surprising thing. Jesus does not say, "Why are you here? Why didn’t you go do what I told you to do?" Instead Jesus told him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well." Your faith, Jesus says, has "made you well." Earlier, when it says that all ten were "healed" on their way to the priest, the Greek word is iaomai. It’s a medical term meaning "cured." But when Jesus speaks to the one who came back to say thanks, he uses a different Greek word, sōzō, which means to be saved, not just cured but fully healed. In the language of our God-Centered Wellbeing team, sōzō means to have not just wellness but wellbeing.
The story reveals that there is a difference between being cured and being well. Ten were cured, only one was made well. Being cured is a physical thing; being well requires being grounded in gratitude.
Barbara Taylor puts it like this: The nine, she says, were obedient and behaved like good lepers, good religious people; only one "behaved like a man in love."3 Then she becomes confessional. She says, what is apparent in my own life is that I know how to be obedient; I don’t always know how to be in love. I read my Bible, say my prayers, pay my pledge. And there’s nothing wrong with that, she says. It’s kept the church going for years. But our hearts long for something else, for something more than obedience. We want to come busting back to Jesus, praising God and loving Jesus with all our hearts. We long not just to be good religious people; we long to be in love, to be grounded in gratitude.
Taylor concludes by turning Jesus’ question around. Jesus asked the grateful Samaritan former leper, "Where are the nine?" Where are the ones who didn’t come busting back? But our question is, "Where is the tenth?" Where is the one who does come busting back to Jesus, grounded in gratitude? Well, I’ll tell you where that one is:
- That one came busting into my office several weeks ago, and with tears in her eyes she said, "Thank God, there’s been an unexpected change in my financial situation and I can make a pledge to the capital campaign of $ _______ . The number was so large that I was taken aback; I had to call her later that day to make sure I’d heard her right. And she continues to tell me, "I feel joy, I am privileged to be able to do this for the church that has changed my life." She is grounded in gratitude.
- A couple of weeks ago Maple Grove member Sandy Freer told folks, "Brian and I always do what we can to support the ministries here, the annual budget. But when I first heard about a capital campaign, I knew I wanted to be part of it. We are blessed to worship in a beautiful sanctuary and enjoy classes and meals here because people we’ve never met made gifts to build this building. Now I’m excited to be able to make a gift so that people in the future can continue to gather here to love God and serve others." Sandy is not giving grudgingly or dutifully. She’s excited to give. It’s her way of busting back to Jesus with a heart full of love, of being grounded in gratitude.
Now it’s our turn. The ushers are going to distribute Gratitude Cards to everyone here. There are just two simple questions on each card: What I am thankful for… and What I love most about Maple Grove is… Find a pencil, borrow a pen. If there are people who need help writing, someone give them a hand. You can put your name on it if you want—just remember these will be displayed for all to see. At the end of the service there will be people at each exit with baskets to collect your cards. I’ve got my own card, and a pencil here some place.
Where is the tenth? Where’s the one who will come busting back to Jesus with a heart full of love, the one grounded in gratitude? Here we are. Let’s all be that one!
1 Today’s sermon draws heavily from "Sermon 1: Grounded in Gratitude," http://www.horizonsstewardship.com/client-files/.
2 Justo González, Luke, Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 204.
3 Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life (Boston: Cowley Publications, 1993), 110-12.