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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sermons: Shim Habte, November 27, 2011: Is Gratitude True Worship?

(Psalm 103:1-8; Luke 17:11-19)
"Thank God for his Son, a gift too wonderful for words."- 2 Cor 9:15 - Wow, let’s take a moment to express our gratitude, to God for his greatest gift, His Son.

Greg Anderson in his book, Living Life on Purpose, tells a story about a man whose wife had left him. He lost faith in himself, in other people, and in God. He found no joy in living. One rainy morning this man went to a small neighborhood diner for breakfast. Although there were several people in the diner, no one spoke to anyone else. Our miserable friend hunched over the counter stirring his coffee with a spoon. In one of the small booths along the window there was a young mother with a little girl. They had just been served their food when the little girl broke the sad silence by almost shouting, "Momma, why don't we say our prayers here?"

The waitress who had served them their breakfast turned around and said, "Sure honey, we pray here. Will you say a prayer for us?" The waitress looked at the rest of the people in the restaurant and said, "Bow your heads." Surprisingly, one by one, all heads went down.

The little girl then bowed her head, folded her hands, and said, "God is great, God is good, and we thank Him for our food, Amen."

That prayer changed the entire atmosphere; people began to talk to one another. The waitress said, "We should do that every morning."

Our friend said, "My whole frame of mind started to improve. From that little girl’s example I started to thank God for all that I did have and stopped complaining about all that I didn't have. I started to be grateful."

Jesus, on the way to Jerusalem, saw ten lepers standing at a distance. They called out to him in a loud voice, "Jesus, master, have pity on us!" Jesus said to them, "Go show yourselves to the priest.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

Jesus told the lepers to go to the priests because the Old Testament law required it. A leper was quarantined from the rest of society until he was declared cured by a priest (Leviticus 14:1-32). When the ten lepers saw Jesus they cried out for help. Jesus had compassion for them, and He healed them. The lepers had a hopeless condition, but they believed in God's power to give them a better future as it is promised by God in Jeremiah 29:11, 13. "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart."

We, too, can follow the examples of the ten lepers in seeking out God's help. They simply asked for mercy. Why didn’t they ask for healing? Perhaps they figured God's mercy would remove any hindrances for their healing. Why did the nine out ten lepers fail to give thanks for their healing? Here are nine excuses for the nine lepers:
1. One waited to see if the cure was real.
2. One waited to see if it would last.
3. One said he would see Jesus later.
4. One decided that he had never had leprosy.
5. One said he would have gotten well anyway.
6. One gave the glory to the priests.
7. One said, “O well, Jesus didn't really do anything.”
8. One said, “Any rabbi could have done it.”
9. One said, “I was already much improved.”
(These are from Coffman's commentary on the New Testament)

The healing took place in their obedience to Jesus’ command, "Go show yourselves to the priests." As they went, they were cleansed. Obedience is first and blessing follows. Obedience was God's instruction to Abraham in Genesis 12.

The cleansing (or the healing) happened as they went. What if they were to question the order, like the Syrian General Naaman in 2 Kings 5 when first he refused to dip himself in the river as the prophet Elisha told him to?

The Samaritan who returned and gave Jesus his gratitude is an example to all. "He came back, praising God in a loud voice, and he threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him." He received wholeness from Jesus. "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."

There were nine who did not return. Jesus seemed saddened by the lack of gratitude and asked, "Where are the other nine?" Lack of gratitude is a death trap; he who refuses to show gratitude is self-centered. A self-centered person focuses inward and ignores the kindness shown to him. Shakespeare writes, "Blow, blow, thou winter wind. Thou art not unkind as man's ingratitude…”

Giving thanks is a form of worship. To receive continually without giving something is a sign of spiritual death or a form of self-worship. “I did it my way."

“Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced, discharged, and used up in order to exist at all.” - William Faulkner

He who receives God's mercy can get healing as a package deal. The scientific evidence of how thankfulness produces a positive attitude is well documented by Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis. He has long been interested in the role that gratitude plays in physical and emotional well being. Emmons took three groups of volunteers and randomly assigned them to focus on one of three things each week: (1) hassles, (2) things for which they were grateful, and (3) ordinary life events. The first group concentrated on everything that went wrong or irritated them. The second group keyed in on situations they felt enhanced their lives. The third group recalled everyday events.

The results: The people who focused on gratitude were just flat-out happier. They saw their lives in favorable terms. They reported fewer negative physical symptoms such as headaches or colds, and they were active in ways that were good for them. They spent almost an hour and a half more per week exercising than those who focused on hassles. Plain and simple, those who were grateful had a higher quality of life. The study found that people who were consciously grateful:
1. Felt better about their lives;
2. Were more enthusiastic;
3. Were more joyful;
4. Got more sleep;
5. Were more optimistic;
6. Were more determined;
7. Exercised more;
8. Were more energetic;
9. Were more interested in life;
10. Had fewer illnesses;
11. Were more likely to have helped someone else.

Closing: Why giving thanks is good for us: Giving thanks makes us better. Lack of it makes us bitter and leads us to ponder why our life is so unfair. Dr. Jim Moore, Pastor at St. Luke's UMC in Houston, TX, wrote a book entitled, "You can grow bitter or you can grow better."

A young woman once came to Pastor Moore in a most tragic moment in her life. She had tears in her eyes and her knuckles were white as she twisted a handkerchief. She had just received word that her twenty-six year old husband had been killed in a farming accident, leaving her alone with three pre-school children. One moment he was alive and full of life, and the next moment he was gone. "I don't know how I am going to be able to get along without him," she sobbed, "But I do know one thing...I can either get bitter or I can get better."
Application: Show your gratitude to the Lord starting today by:
1. Sharing the good news that Jesus is;
2. Giving your money to support God's work;
3. Worship the Lord in prayer and praise;
4. Encouraging someone to keep going.

Jesus is God‘s gift of grace to cleanse every soul from the leprosy of sin–-which is terminal.

Pastor Shim Habte, First United Methodist Church, 544 N. Shasta St. Willows, CA 95988