“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form or thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” -G. K. Chesterton
Gratitude lies someplace close to the heart of discipleship.
When we follow Jesus we know that we have a savior because we need a savior! None of us can look back over our lives without regret – there is so much we would do differently, if only life would allow us a “mulligan” every now and then. But it doesn’t.
We make mistakes – sometimes little ones, sometimes big ones – and often enough we make the same mistakes over and over again. There are words we would desperately like to take back, but nothing brings back the spoken word. There are other words we wish we had the sense to say, but we didn’t, and now we can’t. Some of our mistakes have been mindless blunders, and others have been willful, sinful, evil acts or omissions. The past holds us like a prison, we can do nothing to change the past, or to redeem ourselves from it.
That’s what the cross is all about.
On the cross Jesus does for us what we could never do for ourselves: he sets us free. Nothing we have done is beyond the power of God to touch and change and transform into a blessing. As the Portuguese proverb goes: “God writes straight with crooked lines:” with the crooked lines of our life, transformed by the saving Grace flowing from the cross of our Christ.
Michael V., a successful businessman now in his late fifties, has overcome many obstacles over the years. An only child, he grew up never thinking he was a good enough son to his demanding and distant Irish mother. Feelings of guilt and inadequacy plagued him from childhood. As a young man he had no faith to anchor his life – or guide his conduct. He went from relationship to relationship, never feeling he was “enough.” Nothing he acquired fulfilled him. The more he got the more he needed, and the worse he felt.
To dull the pain he turned to drink, and he drank a lot! The booze took its toll.
He tells the story of waking up, one Saturday in his late 20s, in a hotel, in bed with four people he didn’t even know; nor did he know where he was, or how long he had been there. Making his way to the hotel front desk he tried to get some answers.
“Where am I?” he asked a startled clerk.
“Port-o-Prince Haiti, Sir.”
“And how long have I been here?”
“Since Tuesday, Sir.”
The last thing Michael remembered was being at his home in Montreal, Canada! He had no memory of traveling to Haiti, or how he got there. All had been lost to the bottle.
Lots of things were lost to the bottle in those early years: friendships, relationships, and opportunities of all sorts. Mike’s life was spiraling out of control – he was heading for a crash, and he knew it. He desperately wanted to pull out of the nosedive his life had become, he just didn’t know how. The alcohol was now in control: he needed it; his body craved it.
He tried Alcoholics Anonymous, and even that didn’t work at first. He would go without a drink for a time, then relapse. The pattern continued and he was almost at the point of giving up hope.
Then something happened – call it Grace, or God’s love, or the Holy Spirit.
As Michael tells the story, he was at home, and desperate to break his slavery to booze. He remembered the first step of the AA program: “admit you are powerless over your addiction.” In the past he had tried to overcome his addiction himself, with his own power. Now, feeling helpless, he got on his knees in his home and begged God to lift the curse of alcohol from his life. He confessed his powerlessness, but acknowledged God’s healing power over everything that held him in bondage.
That was 38 years ago. He hasn’t had a drink since that day. And during every day of each of those 38 years, Mike has given thanks to the Lord for the gift of his liberation – for the gift of new life.
Awareness of our blessings makes us desire to be a blessing to others! And disciples of the Lord are, before all else, aware that we are loved forgiven, and redeemed sinners. Through no merit of our own we are blessed.
There is a beautiful story in the Gospel of Luke about Jesus’ dinner at the home of Simon the Pharisee (7:36-50). Simon neglected the customary courtesies in welcoming Jesus to his table. As they ate, a woman from town, a known sinner, came into Simon’s home with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume. She stood by Jesus, weeping, washed his feet with her tears, and dried them with her hair. Then she kissed and anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume.
When Simon saw all this he thought that Jesus couldn’t be much of a prophet, because if he knew what kind of woman she was he would surely never let her near him.
Knowing his heart, Jesus asked Simon a question: “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” (7:41-41).
Simon came up with the obvious answer: “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon: “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has pored perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven, for she loved much. …”
All of us have been so forgiven much … And when we are aware of that great blessing with which we have been blessed, the only appropriate response is to love in return!
That’s not a pious thought, it’s a Christian imperative for every day of our lives. We have been greatly forgiven, blessed, loved. How can we, like the woman with the alabaster jar, wash and kiss and anoint the feet of the one who saves us and sets us free? How can we show that we are grateful for all that has been given to us?
We must do this intentionally!
Wake up every day with the intention to bless as many folks as possible. We can find them everywhere: they will be serving us coffee at Starbucks; or checking us out of the grocery store. Some will be passing on the street, or they’ll be in the cubicle next to ours in the office. They may be schoolmates or neighbors. They are there, but we won’t see them unless we open our eyes and hearts with sensitivity.
We are image-bearers of God, whose Spirit abides with us until the end of the ages. Why is that important? It’s important because while many of us may agree with this statement theologically, we don’t believe it in practice. What can we do to make a difference?” we tell ourselves. “There’s nothing special about us, we’re just ordinary people.”
Wrong. We are “Heralds of the great King.” Even the most humble among us brings the presence and power of God to everything we do.
Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Prize winning missionary doctor in Africa, had it right. When he approached patients in the hospital he established in Lambarene (now Gabon) in west central Africa, he would typically announce himself by saying: “Jesus of Nazareth has sent me to you to help you get well.” Schweitzer knew the King whose emissary he was, and he spent his life healing in the name of the greatest Healer. Schweitzer made a difference in the lives of his patients, and countless others. He knew he could make a difference, and he did.
As disciples of Jesus we are, each one of us, sent proclaim and BE the Gospel (good news) to everyone we meet. Look for opportunities to bless. Surprise others with kindness, be mindful of how much words of encouragement and support matter, and conversely how harshly unkind words can sting and hurt. Speak and act with love and gentleness – look for the opportunities each day presents to be a blessing from God.
Every day Michael V. looks for ways to show his gratitude. In small ways, and sometimes in large ways, he intentionally lives his life to bless others as he has been blessed.
Active in AA for the past 38 years, he has sponsored hundreds, if not thousands, of other men and women struggling with addictions. He not only sponsors them, he cares about them: he writes to them if they are in prison, he helps them get on their feet when they are released, he counsels, supports, encourages and befriends. Those who have been forgiven much love much!
Not long ago Mike had to go on a business trip to Detroit, Michigan. When he got there he asked one of his Detroit based employees how to get to the worst part of town. The guy cautioned him about heading there: “it’s very dangerous; even the cops don’t go there, when there’s trouble the authorities wait until it’s safe and then just go in to remove the bodies.”
Mike went anyway.
Once there he found an all-night convenience store with bulletproof glass windows and went in for a cup of coffee. “Can you believe that,” Mike said as he told the story, “bulletproof glass! My bank in Florida doesn’t even have bullet proof glass.” Ahead of him in line was a young woman with a child who had ordered coffee and a donut: she was fumbling in her purse to find the few bucks she needed to pay the bill. Before she could come up with the money, Mike paid for her; she was amazed. She turned and asked him: “Why did you do that?” and his simple answer was: “Sunshine, it’s my pleasure.”
Those who have been forgiven much love much!
Next Mike asked the clerk where to find the nearest liquor store, that’s where he knew he would find some drunks, he wasn’t disappointed. Outside the store he found one guy trembling because he didn’t have the money to buy the booze his body craved. Mike went into the store and got him a pint of vodka. The guy asked: “Why?” Why are you helping me out? Mike’s answer was more telling: “I’m helping you, brother, because I could be you.”
Those who have been forgiven much love much!
Driving out of that neighborhood Mike passed a prostitute on a street conner. He pulled his car over, rolled down the window, and gave her twenty dollars. Taking the bill she asked Mike what he wanted her to do for him, a reasonable question in her line of work. But the answer she got must have surprised a woman who thought she was out of surprises. He said “I want you to go someplace and have a decent breakfast, that’s all.”
Those who have been forgiven much love much!
Paul tells the Thessalonians: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Amen and Amen.