The Death of Gratitude

In the movie “Finding Neverland” Johnny Depp plays J.M. Barrie, a struggling writer who was inspired through a friendship with the Davies family to write a play called Peter Pan. It’s a story of an eccentric boy who never grows up and lives in a place, of course, called Neverland.

As opening night approaches, the theater owner voices his worry that an adult audience won’t appreciate the play and it will be a failure. In response, Barrie invites 25 orphans to the play.

It’s quite a contrast. The adults are dressed up in handsome tuxedos and beautiful dresses, seemingly unimpressed with the appearance of the theatre. The children enter and are immediately enthralled with the beauty of room, and laughter fills the room as the children enjoy what they see. The adults are caught up with the joy of the moment and follow the lead of the orphans. It becomes a magical experience for everyone in attendance.

Our church recently completed it’s participation in Operation Christmas Child. It’s collection week, and we made sure to pack up and send 100 boxes to a neighboring church who is serving as a collection site. This number is a personal best for our church, and it’s rewarding to watch our people engaged in an effort to improve the lives of boys and girls living in poverty.

I’ve been amazed at what goes in those boxes. Just little things for the most part. Dolls, and small toys. Gloves and socks. Even those plastic toys that come in kids’s meals at fastfood places are put in there. These “dollar store” items wouldn’t be missed by people in “first world countries” but they are precious to children who are desperate for any kind of gift. Their faces light up in gratitude for things that we would easily cast aside.

It’s Thanksgiving. I am wondering how our nation is going to celebrate the holidays–if at all. I’ve heard from several people who wonder aloud how they are going to be with family members who voted the opposite way from them in the presidential election. It’s apparent to me that the divisions and wounds are not healed, and we are a long way from any since of normalcy.

We’re quite good at acknowledging our own problems. These come front and center in our thinking. But, it’s harder to recognize that others who have a different worldview and opinion also struggle. Perhaps it would be useful the adage, “Let us remember to be kind to one another. Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

The battle right now seems to be getting in the mood for Thanksgiving. Oh sure, I’ll take the days off and make the trip to visit family. We’ll gather around the table and enjoy a meal together, and I will offer a prayer for thanks for the people with me. Yet, I am concerned for us a faith community when it comes to realizing how much we have to be thankful for.

I’ve done a lot of funerals in my life; now I’m wondering if it’s time to do one for Gratitude. Can we recover the lost art of being thankful?

In Luke 17, Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem. This is a journey to the cross. On the way, he is shouted to by ten lepers who cry out to be healed. They cannot get close to Jesus, they are social outcasts and make their living begging alongside busy highways and roads. Jesus does something that most of us would never do: he sees them and says something to them. Jesus responds, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” Amazingly, they do it. The priests are the ones who would pronounce them clean and ready to enter society.

I’ve read this passage a few times, and I marvel at this exchange. There are no special words. Nothing dramatic. No “Be healed!” from Jesus. Simply a command to go, and they do and as they go they are healed.

That would be a great ending to the story, except it isn’t. One of them returns–a Samaritan. An important detail. A man who had two strikes against him with the leprosy and his heritage; now he still has the one. He falls to his feet in gratitude before Jesus who looks around and asks, “Where are the other nine?” Then he offers a personal message to the Samaritan, “rise and go, your faith has made you whole.”

Not only is the Samaritan physically healed. He is also spiritually healed. Salvation has come to his lonely house.

There is one characteristic about this Samaritan that sticks out to me: he has a BIG mouth. He is loud while voicing his problem to Jesus. And, he is loud voicing his praise to Jesus.

This Thanksgiving, it would be good if we could find a way to be as vocal with our gratitude to God as we are griping to God about our problems. I wonder who else we might find at the feet of Jesus.

There is a condition worse than leprosy; it’s called ingratitude. And, it’s contagious. May God help us remember the leper in each one of us who needed healing and acceptance.Gratitude is the path to grace.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

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