THANKSGIVING: Gratitude completes the circle
The penmanship had to be up to standard; the wording precise and sincere. Now, if someone gives me a gift, I can't enjoy it until I write a thank-you note.
Recently, my mom came to Nashville for some medical treatment. For part of her regimen, she had 28 straight days of radiation treatments for an acoustic neuroma. On most of those days, friends from my church picked her up and took her to Vanderbilt, and after her appointment they would usually go out to lunch. My mom thought she was a celebrity.
And I wrote a lot of thank-you notes: "Thank you for the kindness you have shown my mother. Your gift of hospitality will not soon be forgotten."
As I wrote those notes, I noticed something was different. I wasn't just writing notes because they were socially expected. I was writing to my friends. In some mysterious way, writing each note acknowledging their acts brought me closer to each person.
I have been pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church just south of Nashville for more than 20 years. I know these people. I know about the pressures on their time. I know what it meant for them to give up several hours to help my mom. So, when I wrote the notes, it ended up bringing me a little closer to those who had given us one of the most expensive gifts of all -- their time. That's what gratitude does. It brings you back to the giver.
In Luke 17, Jesus healed 10 lepers by telling them to go show themselves to the priests to be declared clean so they could rejoin their communities. As the 10 began to run home, one of them circled back and thanked Jesus for healing him. Jesus was amazed. All 10 were cleansed, yet only one -- a foreigner at that -- came back to say thanks. Jesus said something very interesting to the man: "Your faith has made you whole."
Wait a minute. Hadn't all 10 been cleansed? Yes.
But only one was made whole? That's right.
Is there a difference between being made whole and being healed? Jesus used two different words in His conversation. There's one word for "healing" and another word for "whole." The word for "whole" is sozo. It's the Greek root word for "salvation" and gives this passage a new meaning. Can a person be healed but not saved?
Of course. My knowing that Jesus heals doesn't necessarily mean I surrender my life to Him as my Lord. Gratitude is the moment when we celebrate the gift and the Giver. Gratitude completes the circle by returning in thanks to the Giver.
An ungrateful life won't bring us back to Christ. We take in the good things around us and use them as if we deserved them. We take our lives, our relationships and our resources for granted. We go through the day and miss the everyday miracles in front of us. We never seem to notice the wonder of it all. The seasons change, the rains fall, the earth turns on its axis, and we rarely think about how finely tuned our world has to be in order to work.
When we take it all for granted, we never say thanks. Because we never say thanks, we never come back to Christ, and because we never come back to Christ, we never hear the rest of His conversation with us.
When a lover gives a gift to the beloved, the gift is a symbol of the lover giving himself. Without the love of the lover in the gift, the gift has no meaning.
Every gift we receive from Christ is saturated with His love for us. It's the relationship -- not the gift -- that has meaning. In returning to say thanks, we remember that it's Christ -- not the gift -- that matters. Gratitude completes the circle.