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July 4 lesson: Attitude of Gratitude

June 19, 2021
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Attitude of Gratitude

Summer Quarter: Confident Hope
Unit 1: Jesus Teaches About Faith

Sunday school lesson for the week of July 4, 2021
By Dr.
Jay Harris

Lesson Scripture: Leviticus 13:45-46; Luke 17:11-19

The theme for this week’s lesson is “Attitude of Gratitude.” The theme for this first unit of the quarter has been “Jesus Teaches About Faith.” The theme for the whole summer quarter is “Confident Hope.” I remind us of these three themes because so much can be gained by looking at the interrelationship of gratitude, faith, and hope. Ponder gratitude as seen through the lens of faith and hope. Ponder faith and hope as seen through the lens of gratitude.

A Geography Lesson

In Luke 17:11, we read, “On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.” Jesus, whose ministry had taken place mostly in the Galilee region in the north, had set his face to go to Jerusalem in Judea to the south, which meant passing through the region of Samaria in the middle – unless you were one of the many who chose to go out of their way to avoid Samaria. Samaria held the descendants of the northern tribes of Israel, which existed many centuries before during the days of the divided kingdom. Before the divided kingdom came about, it was King David who had united the northern and southern tribes of Israel, and they remained a united kingdom through the reign of David’s son, Solomon. After Solomon, 900 years before Christ, the kingdom divided into a northern kingdom and a southern kingdom. The southern kingdom was referred to as Judah. The kings who served Judah were in the line of David, but the northern kingdom chose kings outside the line of David, which was a strike against the northern kingdom in the eyes of those in the southern kingdom. Furthermore, in the 8th Century B.C., the northern kingdom was conquered by the Assyrian empire, which was viewed as God’s judgment against the northern kingdom – another strike against the northern kingdom. It was the practice of the Assyrian empire to move the various people that they conquered around to other parts of the empire resulting in the mixture of the various cultural groups. The purpose of this mixing was so that the conquered populations would lose their former sense of identity and be less able to mount a rebellion. Over time, intermarriage would result in an even greater loss of identity and sense of belonging. This was yet another strike against the descendants of the northern kingdom, who would eventually be called Samaritans. The Jews, who were descendants of the inhabitants of Judah, felt they were above the Samaritans in every way. Many devout Jews in the time of Jesus would choose to take a detour around Samaria when traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem in Judea in order to avoid contact with Samaritans. It’s notable that Jesus chose not to take this detour, but to travel through the land of the Samaritans. In this week’s scripture lesson, Jesus is traveling in the area bordering the two regions.

Life for a Leper

In Luke 17:12, we read, “As [Jesus] entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’” For reasons we discover from Leviticus 13:45-46, lepers endured a miserable existence on the borders of towns so they could keep their distance and not risk contact with other people: “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” Lepers lived in small colonies together so that there would be at least some human contact they could experience. They were not only considered unclean, they were commanded to look the part with torn clothes and disheveled hair. They were to cry out in warning to others that they were unclean. Because they were expelled from the community in this way, they were reduced to begging in order to survive. So, it would not be an unexpected sight for a group of lepers to stand outside the town and cry out, but what would be different was what they were begging Jesus to do. They were crying out for mercy for Jesus to heal them.

The Healing of the Lepers

When [Jesus] saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean.” Jesus did not remark on their faith at that moment, nor did he heal them that very moment. Jesus directed them instead to go and show themselves to the priests. It is important to remember the law of Moses and the role that priests played in relation to persons afflicted with leprosy. In the law of Moses, priests played an important role in the community in relation to health, hygiene, and infectious disease control. The priests were the ones to declare when a person had contracted leprosy. The priests would also be the ones to determine that a person no longer had leprosy. So, when Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests, he was telling them to go to those duly authorized to determine whether or not they had leprosy. It was the act of going to the priests that was intended to offer proof of their faith, trust, and obedience. Jesus set it up for them to express their faith by taking literal steps toward the fulfillment of what Jesus commanded them to do. Jesus made it where there was a direct connection between going to the priests and the healing that would occur once they undertook their journey to the priests. It was a test of faith.

The Faith Response of the Samaritan

What the trip to the priests also meant was that, when they were healed, they would no longer be in the vicinity of Jesus. Once they were healed, they would be well on their way to resuming the life they had before leprosy. If there were to be any reunion with Jesus after their healing, it would require a special trip. That is why there’s more to this story after the healing: “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

Perhaps this option to return or not return to Jesus was also a test of faith. In this case, the healing of the 10 lepers did not depend on them returning to Jesus. All 10 lepers were healed. Nevertheless, we can certainly ponder what was to be gained by the one who returned to Jesus. The one who returned, of course, did not return merely to engage in light conversation with the one who healed him. He praised God with a loud voice. He laid face down on the ground at Jesus’ feet, a profound demonstration of humble adoration. He thanked Jesus for healing him. This was not lost on Jesus. Jesus wondered aloud why the other nine did not think to return and give thanks.

Jesus also made a big deal over the fact that it was a Samaritan, a foreigner as Jesus called him, who thought to return and give thanks. Jews looked down on Samaritans, but who could argue against the fact that it was the Samaritan who expressed gratitude so beautifully? We see this pattern a good bit in the gospels. Jesus stated more than once that his mission priority was to reach out and claim the lost house of Israel. Jesus, however, made a big deal over Gentiles, Samaritans, foreigners, and other outsiders who “got it.” Although there were a lot of gaps in the theology of these foreigners, they grasped important things, like the importance of giving thanks to God. There was a readiness to receive what God was offering through the ministry of Jesus.

Jesus told this outsider that his faith had made him well. The gratitude he showed made his faith response to Jesus more complete, and there also was a sense of completeness that came with his healing. His faith had made him well and whole. It was well, not only with his body; it was well with his soul.

Gratitude, Faith, and Hope

Expressing gratitude is more than just a polite gesture. Something happens relationally when we express our gratitude to someone. We are acknowledging what was done for us and the person who did it. We are saying that what was done did not go unnoticed. Their actions blessed us, and by acknowledging the blessing, it completes the circle and returns a blessing to the giver. A bond is forged.

Besides what it does for the receiver of our gratitude, something also happens within us. Our head, heart, and speech are joined together when we articulate our gratitude. It’s as if we’re producing a recording that is available to play in our head and influence our emotions. Over time, thankful words produce an attitude, a disposition, and an outlook. To be grateful in general is one of the best things we can say about ourselves. To be ungrateful is one of the worst things that could be thought or said about us.

The old hymn, “Count Your Blessings,” encourages us to name our blessings one by one and see what God has done. Counting blessings is a way of appreciating what God has done in our lives. A lot of those blessings come through the loving words and deeds of people, but we still acknowledge God as the ultimate inspiration and source of those blessings. The failure to appreciate what God has done in our lives is the same as not acknowledging God. You could even say it is a form of agnosticism. Through our failure to notice and acknowledge, it’s as if we take residence in a disenchanted world, a cold world, and a world of scarcity. When we have an attitude of gratitude, we find that we live in a world of abundance.

Perhaps the most important thing about gratitude is its relationship to faith. Faith is our thankful response to the loving initiative of God. We believe that God always acts first in the relationship between God and humans. We call this divine initiative “prevenient grace” (the divine favor that comes before, that precedes any response we make). So, faith is our thankful response. If there is no thankfulness in our response, we have missed the point, haven’t we? Furthermore, faith is a “whole life” response of thankfulness to God. What we mean is best captured in Andrae Crouch’s song, “My Tribute.”

How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me? Things so undeserved, yet You gave to prove Your love to me. The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude. All that I am and ever hope to be, I owe it all to Thee. To God be the glory…”

We cannot hope to give adequate thanks to God merely with our words. We owe God all that we are and ever hope to be … to the glory of God.

Let’s ponder for a moment the connection of gratitude and faith to confident hope. People who want to band together with others and make positive changes in their communities are using a positive, strengths-based approach known as Appreciative Inquiry. Instead of dwelling on what is lacking, you intentionally seek to recognize, acknowledge, and appreciate the resources, talents, personal strengths, and opportunities that are already available. You appreciate the positive values and visions for the future that are ours for the taking. You ponder with others what you want more of.

Although Appreciative Inquiry is taught in the business world, it works incredibly well in Christian endeavors. You could say that the apostle Paul was using Appreciative Inquiry when he told the Philippian Christians to “rejoice in the Lord always.” Instead of worrying, let your requests be known to God in prayer in a spirit of thanksgiving. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” He also encouraged them to be content with whatever they have, then he finished his thought with these words: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Different Christian traditions emphasize different names for the Lord’s Supper. My tradition most frequently calls this sacred meal, “Holy Communion.” We also share with other Christian denominations the use of the name, “Eucharist.” It comes from a Greek word used in the New Testament that is translated “thanksgiving.” You may have noticed that the central prayer in the Communion liturgy, which we happen to share with many other denominations, is called “The Great Thanksgiving.” Before the gathered community recites the Christian Story together in the liturgy, we affirm that “it is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, creator of haven and earth.”

Next time you participate in the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, ponder the relationship between faith, gratitude, and confident hope. Ponder these things in the liturgy and in the eating of the bread and in the drinking of the cup. More than pondering these things, let faith, gratitude, and confident hope live in you as Christ lives in you … to the glory of God!

Prayer

Gracious and loving God, thank you for all you have done for us through your Son and our Savior Jesus Christ. Grow in us a keen sensitivity to the blessings we enjoy, so that a spirit of gratitude may grow in us and become the hallmark of our outlook and witness. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God forever, Amen.

Dr. Jay Harris serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Ministerial Services for the South Georgia Conference. Email him at jharris@sgaumc.com.

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