On behalf of the parish of Holy Redeemer and myself, I wish each of you a happy Thanksgiving, filled with genuine gratitude. By coming into the Presence of God today, you are recognizing the reality that giving thanks to God is our highest duty. In the Gospel for today, Jesus underscores the importance of expressing gratitude: He praises the Samaritan who returned to thank him. He had cured ten lepers, but only one came back to say, “thank you.”
Perhaps we should not be too hard on the other nine. After all, they were doing what Jesus told them: “Go show yourselves to the priests.” They were obeying Jesus’ instructions to the letter. The Samaritan, however, obeyed a deeper law: the law of gratitude. In our hearts, you and I know the importance of gratitude. We were raised as children to be thankful, taught when it was important to send a thank you note, and we tried to instill the same sense of gratitude in our own children. As adults, though, we sometimes fail to take the time say, “thank you.”
Sometimes we think, “Well, the other person knows I am grateful. Why belabor the obvious?” But what if the other person does not know? Several times I sent someone a gift – and then did not hear back from them. I assumed that they were grateful, but then I began to wonder if I had sent something they didn’t like or, worse, what if it hadn’t even arrived? Later, when I would run into these people, I would ask if they had received my gift, and sure enough, they had. They expressed their gratitude and I was relieved. These experiences made me reflect on my own failures to promptly express gratitude. The Samaritan in today’s Gospel gives us an example of prompt gratitude. The one who has a grateful heart – and who expresses it in a sincere way – builds strong relationships—not only with other people, but also with God.
The power of gratitude can be seen by way of contrast: the opposite of gratitude is complaining. We complain because we are unhappy, or because things don’t go our way, or because we see lack in our lives. About a year ago, I received a purple bracelet from a minister friend of mine. The idea was to wear the band on my wrist for 21 days without complaining. Scientific studies have shown that it takes 21 days to create a new habit, and I wanted the habit of being grateful and positive, not negative and complaining. The way the band worked was simple: if I messed up and complained about someone or made a negative observation of any kind, I had to remove the band and place it on the other wrist. I would then begin the 21 days all over again. If you’re interested, this idea comes from a book entitled, “A Complaint Free World”. My problem was that I was driving Indiana highways every weekend, stalled behind slow moving farm vehicles or inattentive drivers who were applying makeup or making phone calls or just lollygagging. I moved the bracelet from wrist to wrist until finally it broke. The longest I went was 11 days. Someday I’ll do it again, I promise.
The lesson from the wrist band was that it made me more mindful of my negative observations and although I am still making them, I like to think I am at least trying to focus on the positive aspects of my life instead of the minor irritations.
Today, on my favorite holiday, I remember with gratitude all those who have come into my life and left it immeasurably richer by their presence. I think, first, of my grandparents, Pearl and Jack, who were there for me when there was no one else. I owe them everything and I miss them so much, especially today. I remember my parents and siblings, my aunts and uncles, my friends and the awesome people who comprise the parish of Holy Redeemer–including all those who have emailed me or posted comments on this site. Each has, in turn, brought me something uniquely beautiful by his or her presence in our shared spiritual journey.
Despite economic downturns, despite illness and suffering, despite the loss of the people who are no longer at our side, despite slow and inattentive drivers, we are all immeasurably blessed. We possess great abundance, even when we momentarily focus on our perceived lack. Jesus reminds us of this in the Gospel: “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.
Thank you, to each and every one of you, for the blessings you have brought to my life. I am deeply grateful for the gifts you have brought me and blessings you have imparted to me. I love you. God bless you now and always.