Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time: “Walking in Conscious Gratitude”
2 Kings 5: 8-15
2 Timothy 2: 8-15
Luke 17: 11-19
Today’s theme is “Walking in Conscious Gratitude.” Based on this theme, I would like to apply the title of a 1970’s Ringo Starr song as the title for this homily: “It Don’t Come Easy.” It’s true, conscious gratitude doesn’t just happen, it don’t come easy. I apologize for the syntax of this title, but the truth of the statement makes up for its grammar deficiency.
When faced with a big exam, does a student just play around the week prior, then sleep with the textbook under their pillow the night before? No, it don’t come easy. To score well, one must study what they are being taught. Does a businessperson go into a big presentation with a prospective client without even preparing notes? Of course not, because in the corporate world, it don’t come easy. Similarly, 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “study to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” Psalm 111: 2 states “Great are the works of the Lord! They are studied by all who delight in them.” The things of God are studied. There is conscious effort! The more we study His Word, the more we delight in Him, the more we will be aware of our need to be thankful to God. It don’t come easy.
Gratitude is not always an automatic response. We see God’s goodness, experience His greatness, over and over. We have been exposed to it so much that we have become desensitized to it. We can become insensitive, and are no longer consciously grateful to God, because it don’t come easy.
Ironically, ‘foreigners’ don’t have this problem. In our readings, we have two foreigners who experienced the goodness of God for the first time, and they were very thankful. In Luke 17:18, the Samaritan leper experienced the work of Christ in his life for the first time, and Jesus wanted to know why no one came back to give thanks except “this foreigner.” The nine local lepers had probably seen and heard of the works of Jesus before, but not him. In the first reading, Naaman the Syrian--a foreigner--saw God’s power for the first time, and sent a major thanksgiving offering. He couldn’t thank God enough! But King Joram of Israel had experienced so many times the miraculous power of God through the work of Elisha, he did not say thanks--even if his life had been spared. He had become insensitive. It don’t come easy.
Adam experienced the power of God for we don’t know how long. He lived in the fullness of God’s majesty every day. But when God made Eve for Adam as his helper, he never said, “Thank you, Lord!” When God made Adam and Eve skins to cover their nakedness, they never gave thanks. Could they have become desensitized to God, even in Eden? It could be, because when it comes to conscious gratitude, it don’t come easy.
This is why the center of a Christian worship service is the Great Thanksgiving. We don’t call it the Great Thanksgiving for nothing. Often in the Eucharist we say, “We thank you, Lord,” because we are reminding ourselves of many different things that we should be thankful for. In the Mystery of Faith we thank Him because He died, He rose again and He is coming again. All this is so we won’t become insensitive to what God has done; this results in ingratitude. There are so many things to be thankful for, but we lose sight of them because they are with us all the time. You see, it don’t come easy.
Contrast this passionate, eager, and thankful heart to what we see in much of Christianity today–a laid back, chill, no-sweat Christianity. We are told, “Do what you can, or do what you have time for, or just do whatever you feel like doing–and Jesus will do the rest!” Don’t even think about it, chill–because God will take care of it all. “It does come easy!”
Is this biblical? Paul says in Philippians 3:14, “I press on towards the goal for the price of the high calling in Christ Jesus.” Pressing on seems a lot different than being chill, but we have developed a ‘press-free Christianity.’ It is Christianity with no pressing, with no sweat, or no need to be conscious of what God is doing. ‘Press-free Christianity’ tends to be all about “me,” not about our brothers and sisters. Is this the way? Does it really come that easy?
St. Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:10, “For this reason, I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus.” Endure all things for the sake of others. In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestled with the angel of God all night long until he got his blessings. It didn’t come easy. In 2 Kings 13, Elisha told the king of Israel, “Take these arrows and strike the ground with them, as a sign that you are going to conquer Aram.” The king struck the ground two or three times, and Elisha was furious. Here was an enemy that had been a problem for generations and it was time to get rid of them. “You should have stricken the ground five or six times!” Elisha said. There was an intensity and a consciousness he desired, which the king did not demonstrate. Aram was not destroyed, because it don’t come easy.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” Be conscious of things around us. Endure; press; and be consciously aware of the deeper level of gratitude that we should have, because there are so many things around to be grateful for. But if we are insensitive to God, then we will be less grateful than we ought to be.
Why has the Church universal developed this ‘press-free Christianity’? Perhaps it is due, at least in part, to a phrase that, sadly, has become more of a meme: “God is good.” Don’t get me wrong; this is absolutely true. Jesus Himself said this numerous times. The problem is that we confuse ‘good’ with ‘nice.’ In Modern English, they are sometimes interchangeable, but in biblical understanding, there’s a million miles between the two. When the Bible says, “God is good,” this means God is righteous and holy and–good. When we call someone ‘nice’ it usually means the person does things exactly the way we want them done. We say, “My new teacher is so nice, I turned in my assignment three weeks late, and she didn’t deduct my grade.” My boss is so nice, He gave me a raise.” We confuse “niceness with goodness.” God is certainly good, but to think that God just exists to give us everything we want is lowering the nature of Who He really is. When we get there, it really, really, don’t come easy.
Something that needs to rise up in our consciousness is not just the goodness of God, but the greatness of God. Goodness and greatness go together when it comes to Him. When I was a child my family prayed, as we still do today, “God is great! God is good! Let us thank Him for our food. By His hands we all are fed, give us, Lord, our daily bread.” God is great AND God is good! We need to have a conscious awareness of both. If we understand His goodness and His greatness, we won’t have a problem with being thankful. We will have a consciousness of all He is; all He’s done.
For the twenty-six years that I have been with Cathedral of the King, there always been a big focus on the greatness of God. Many of our songs say, “God is Great!” “How Great Is Our God!” “How Great Thou Art!” “Great Is Our God!” “Great Is Your Love!” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness!” “Great Is the Lord!” (We sing two different songs with that title; one fast, one slow, both powerful) God’s greatness has always been presented to us, and it should always be that way. What I am concerned about is that the corporate Body of Christ needs to be aware of this, and not continue to sink in to this ‘press-free Christianity.’
We must hold on to that which we have been taught from the beginning. Yes, God is good. Praise God He is good! But He is also great! Bring it to the front of our consciousness, because this is how we will maintain our gratitude to Him. We don’t have to be a foreigner, like Naaman or the Samaritan, to be thankful. As a child of God, right here in His house, we can maintain this level of gratitude, because we are aware of His fullness.
Great is His faithfulness! Great is our God! Even though His mercies are new every morning, always with us, they never grow old or common to us. Because of this, we give thanks to Him with a grateful heart! Yes, it don’t come easy. But when we learn to press on, it does come, as certain as the dawn.