Grateful

Ephesians 1:3-10

3 Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! For in our union with Christ he has blessed us by giving us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly world. 4 Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him.

Because of his love God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his sons and daughters — this was his pleasure and purpose. Let us praise God for his glorious grace, for the free gift he gave us in his dear Son! 7 For by the blood   of Christ we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven. How great is the grace of God, which he gave to us in such large measure!

In all his wisdom and insight God did what he had purposed, and made known to us the secret plan he had already decided to complete by means of Christ. This plan, which God will complete when the time is right, is to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head.

 

Luke 19:1-10

19 Jesus went on into Jericho and was passing through. 2 There was a chief tax collector there named Zacchaeus, who was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but he was a little man and could not see Jesus because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus, who was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to that place, he looked up and said to Zacchaeus, “Hurry down, Zacchaeus, because I must stay in your house today.”

6 Zacchaeus hurried down and welcomed him with great joy. 7 All the people who saw it started grumbling, “This man has gone as a guest to the home of a sinner!”

8 Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Listen, sir! I will give half my belongings to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, I will pay back four times as much.”

9 Jesus said to him, “Salvation has come to this house today, for this man, also, is a descendant of Abraham. 10 The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

 

Luke 24:1-12

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

 

 

 

 

I remember over twenty years ago that we as a family were going on holiday. We had friends in the church who were looking after our dog Pokey, a border collie cross. We had dropped her off the night before and that morning when we got up to leave, early in the morning there was a phone call from Trudy. Pokey ran away that morning, when one of Trudy’s kids was feeding her.

I jumped in the vehicle and headed out to Trudy’s some 10 minute drive or so into rural Saskatchewan. And all of these feelings came up inside of me. Feelings I didn’t know I even had for a dog. Maybe a touch of anger for the stupid dog running away, or wanting to blame the child who had not been careful and had let the Pokey escape.

But there were tears. A huge sense of loss. How would the family react if Pokey were gone. It was crazy. My dog was lost, maybe gone for ever.

So imagine my joy and relief and gratefulness when I pulled in the yard and there she was on the other side of the road. I yelled “Pokey” and she came running and jumped into my arms. She was a border collie cross and so not tiny, but I held her and hugged her.

And I said “thank you God.”

I didn’t really know if God was responsible but I was grateful and wanted to thank someone so I thanked God.

The dog was lost and now was found. Gratitude was the feeling.

 

Gratitude is a complex emotion, I think, that sometimes happens when good things happen to us especially as the result of others.

I don’t know if you have had overwhelming feelings of gratitude when something overwhelming happened in your life.

Like when you got married, or when your child was born. Maybe somebody gave you an amazing gift, or someone was there and stood by you when you were in awful pain or enduring a terrible loss.

I remember a day when I was moved in tears to gratitude for my mother. I had gone to Central Bible College in Missouri after high school and was home for Christmas. It was the first time I had lived away from my mother, whom I had thought, (as a silly teenaged boy not really in touch with much that mattered), was pretty squaresville and silly and a nuisance. Always telling me what to do and hovering over me and intruding in my life.

But when I stood in church to tell the congregation about going to bible school after being away from my mother really for the first time, the bond I had with my mother was very strong and I realized just how much she loved me and just how much she had sacrificed for me, I was overwhelmed and started to cry. I was so grateful. I was going to bible college directly because of her. Most of the good things in my life were the direct result of her love and care.

 

So there are moments in our lives where feeling of gratitude can be very strong and powerful, just like feelings for love can be. But gratitude is more than just a feeling. Like love in its strongest form it is also a choice.

Love is a complex emotion and can often be felt. But when one really loves another, then that one chooses to act in a way that is in their best interest even when at that moment love is not the feeling felt.

Most if not all parents and spouses know the feeling or the experience of loving a child or a spouse and acting in their best interest even when you feel like throttling them.

Maybe you have even had a kid do something so bad or terrible that you said out loud something to this effect: “If he doesn’t die, I’m going to kill him.”

Love in its highest form is to choose to care and forgive and help and heal and restore and support and a whole bunch of things, even if the person you love doesn’t even deserve it.

 

And so gratitude in its highest form is not just a feeling you and I have when the dog is found, or you are found, or when you receive a gift, or when you are loved, or when you have a baby or a grandchild.

It is also a choice. It is a choice to live in a different way.

And just like love it is not always easy.

When the dog dies, or when you are sick, or when you lose a job, or when you are betrayed, or when you are raped, or when something catastrophic happens, you may think that there is nothing to be grateful for…

But I think that gratefulness is an attitude and a way to approach life, even in the midst of catastrophe.

You are not grateful that the dog died, or you are hurt or beaten or raped, or someone you know is hurting or died;

But gratefulness may be a better way to cope than anger or fear or depression or isolation.

 

Being grateful for life, for those who care for you, for the opportunities to love and care for others.

The wisest among us and most spiritual are often grateful in and through their sufferings, because who they are today is all part not only of good things but of hard and painful things.

 

So be grateful first of all for who you are. You are alive and unique and special. And be grateful for love in whatever form it comes, and be grateful for your own unique story.

Someone asked me a couple of years ago about whether I am grateful that I am a minister and that I chose ministry. I answered that I could have chosen a more financially rewarding life, and I probably could have chosen a less painful life, but what I am mostly grateful for is who I have become as a person because of being a minister

I have had the opportunity to learn, to grow, to heal, to change, to deepen my relationship with Christ, to learn about love and study love and preach love; and to be a better spouse, a better dad, a better minister and a better person because of ministry with all its trials and tribulations, and there have been trials and tribulations.

And so I am grateful.

 

Elie Wiesel, the famous author and Holocaust survivor in an interview one time with Oprah Winfrey, herself a survivor of abuse, said: “For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.”

Life is the gift to be treasured and for which to be grateful.

 

I know we try to teach gratefulness in our children. The worst thing about Christmas when I was a child was that my mother sat me down to write thank you cards to all the people that had given me a gift. She was trying to teach me some manners and how to be grateful. I must confess at the time I was anything but grateful when I wrote thankyous. It was a big chore.

 

But herein lies one of the problem with gratefulness. In the every day course of things, in families, at work, in cultures, societies and politics, gratefulness is a big thing. The problem is that gratefulness becomes a duty. I do something for you, then you have to show gratefulness. And if I do something for you, then you can show gratefulness by doing something for me. I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.

I have seen people very angry who did something nice for somebody, but the other person wasn’t grateful enough and so the benefactor becomes extremely angry. One wonders if it was really a gift that the benefactor gave, or was it a social transaction.

It is even easy as a parent sometimes to think that since we gave our children life, and sacrificed for them, and spent oodles of dollars on them, and invested tons of hours on them, they should be grateful instead of saying: “Whatever.”

But if what we truly give them is a gift, maybe we should be careful of that feeling that they owe us. Because when we start thinking that then we start running their lives and judging them. Sometimes even as parents we just need to be grateful for who they are and set them free to be themselves.

 

In Jane Austen’s book Pride and Prejudice towards the end of the book the Lady Catherine de Bourgh confronts Elizabeth Bennet, basically demanding that she turn down an offer of marriage from her nephew Darcy, because…because..

…Elizabeth is of low birth and not worthy in the eyes of Lady Catherine to marry her nephew. She thinks Elizabeth is being ungrateful because Lady Catherine welcomed her and treated her well, even though she was of low birth, and now Elizabeth owes her.

But Elizabeth will not accede to Lady Catherine’s demands. If Darcy asks then she will say “yes.”

Lady Catherine says: “You refuse, then, to oblige me. You refuse to obey the claims of duty, honour, and gratitude. You are determined to ruin him in the opinion of all his friends, and make him the contempt of the world.”

You see in Lady Catherine’s world. Gratitude is something owed. It is part of the big deal. I am nice to you, now you owe me.

 

And while the world tries to teach us gratitude so much of it is in the form: I do something for you, so you have to be grateful. And if you are not grateful then I will be angry and will withhold love or friendship.

 

And that is what makes Jesus visit to Zacchaeus’ house so different. You may remember the story of the man called Zacchaeus who climbed a tree to see Jesus.

He was a short man physically, and so he couldn’t see Jesus because of the crowd. But it is also possible that nobody would let him in to see Jesus because Zacchaeus was a tax-collector. He worked for the Rome, the oppressor. He worked for the evil empire and collected taxes from his own people. What was the pay? As much as he could put in his own pocket without upsetting Rome. He took a cut and became very wealthy taking the money from his own people.

Was he grateful? I suppose he was. He was wealthy. But he was part of the system of Rome. If Rome did you a favour, you were supposed to be grateful and you were beholding to Rome. Zacchaeus owed Rome big time, and so he had to collect a lot of money. He had to sell his soul, so to speak, and betray his own people.

And imagine the crowd when Jesus says that he is going to Zacchaeus’ house. Jesus is going to the house of a traitor. What up with that?

 

Is Jesus going to take favours from Zacchaeus and be in Zacchaeus debt? Is Jesus going to be part of the you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours system?

That is what happens in so much of the world isn’t it? Politicians depend on support to get elected. Are they then part of a system where they have to pay back the people who got them there? In too many places in the world that is exactly the system.

I am sure the crowd wondered if Jesus would have to be a part of the system if he went to Zacchaeus’ house.

But the opposite happened. Instead of Jesus being part of the system, he releases Zacchaeus from the system and turns him into someone who gives freely.

Jesus has come and freely given love and grace and forgiveness to Zacchaeus, asking for nothing. Jesus never asks him to repent or believe or do anything. Jesus gives freely. You don’t have to pay him back.

But that is precisely what sets Zacchaeus free to be a truly grateful man, who is grateful , not because he has to be, but because he wants to be.

 

And that is the beauty of the cross and resurrection. You were wondering when I was going to get to the resurrection, weren’t you.?

 

The beauty of the cross and resurrection and Jesus’ action is that it is free. You cannot pay Jesus back. There is nothing you can do. Jesus has given the free gift. It is love, it is forgiveness, it is his presence. It is his inclusion. It is to come into your house like he is family or best friend, and Jesus asks nothing of you. It is truly a free gift. No strings attached. Jesus loves you no matter what.

Jesus dies on the cross and from that cross says. “Father forgive them.” Jesus dies on the cross to save me and you and the world. Jesus in effect says. “You can kill me and I will still love you.

And if it free… Gratis… Grace….”

 

Now some people want to turn Jesus’ death and resurrection into a deal. Jesus dies, we accept Jesus, and then Jesus forgives us.

They want to turn it into something we do to get our salvation or to get heaven. Quid pro quo. You scratch my back Jesus and I’ll scratch yours…

 

But Jesus will have none of it. Thousands of years before we are even born, Jesus has already asked God from the cross to forgive us.

And the resurrection is the proof.

 

What do you mean? Well imagine that a bunch of thugs, or a bunch of church members, beat you up, torture you, make fun of you and kill you.

Then three days later you are raised to life miraculously, and you are given all the power in the world, what would you do?

You would probably go and kill those people, or hurt those people, or at the very least see that they are put in jail.

 

What does Jesus do when he is raised? He tells his followers to feed the sheep of this world. Feed the people of this world. And yet it is the people of this world that killed him. But Jesus tells his disciples to love them and care for them. He tells them to take the good news of his universal love all around the world.

Where is the revenge on the people who killed him? There is none.

 

If Jesus had not risen, we could always wonder if he really forgives, if he really loves, if he really includes us.

But since he rose, we know what his reaction was. We know he doesn’t hurt or get revenge or exclude. Instead he gives his love as a gift, even to those like us who don’t deserve it. We call it grace.

 

And since we cannot pay it back we are set free to be truly grateful. Not because we have to, but because we want to… and we want to be like the one who give loves freely without expectation of pay back.

 

And when we are grateful, it starts to be more than a feeling, but a way of life. …a way of life of being thankful for who we are, and being thankful for those who love us, and being thankful for the ability to do what Jesus does…and that is… give love and forgiveness freely.

And whenever, you, or me, or us, or anyone, does that….. gives love, inclusion and forgiveness freely, without expectation of payback, then we too are raised from death to life.

Amen.