Summary: A thankful spirit is a distinguishing feature of a Christian.
Thanksgiving is coming up, as you all know. When you think of Thanksgiving, what do you think of? Well, mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade rolls, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, and of course, turkey. At least, that’s what most people think of. But in the past few years, vegetarians have been promoting an alternative to turkey, a tofu turkey, or “Tofurky”. Now, I don’t want to be judgmental, but my response to this is – Yuck! A tofu turkey? Is nothing sacred? Here is what Thanksgiving dinner is supposed to look like [Norman Rockwell painting]. If you’re planning on having Tofurky for dinner on Thursday, please forgive me, call me an unenlightened carnivore, but personally I’m very much looking forward to eating a dead bird for Thanksgiving, and I expect to have no pangs of conscience whatsoever.
What else do you associate with Thanksgiving? Families getting together. The kids playing ping pong in the basement. The grownups dozing off after dinner while they watch football on TV. Eating turkey sandwiches for supper (and lunch and dinner). Well, what I’d like to do this morning is focus on what the holiday is really about, buth which ironically is often forgotten in the midst of our celebrations, which is giving thanks to God for all of His blessings. I’d like to look at why it is so vitally important for Christians to maintain an attitude of gratefulness toward God; not just one day a year, but as a habit of life.
First of all, a thankful spirit is one of the key distinguishing marks of a Christian. It sets us apart from the world, it makes us different. In 21st-century America, we live in an entitlement culture. We have so much wealth as a society that we tend to take for granted things like food, and clothing and shelter. Ralph Nader ran for President on a platform which called health care a universal human right [not just something good or desirable, but something we deserve]. Most people today consider a color television and a VCR to be necessities rather than luxuries. What we consider to be ‘poverty’ today is far above the quality of life that most people enjoyed a hundred years ago. From a material point of view, we’re better off now than we’ve ever been. And that inevitably colors our attitudes. We don’t see all these things as blessings, as gifts to us from a loving and gracious heavenly Father. Instead we tend to view things like having enough food to eat, and having warm clothes to wear, and having a roof over our head as things we have a right to, things we deserve. Even though most people in the world see us as incredibly wealthy, we tend to view all of this abundance and prosperity as simply our birthright. And if, for some reason, we are temporarily deprived of the standard of living we have grown accustomed to, we feel very put out, as if we are being denied what is rightfully ours.
I may be overstating it a bit, but it’s hard to argue with the statement that in America, we tend to take our prosperity for granted. And the danger in that, for those who are seeking to follow Christ, is that it will dull our sense of gratitude and thankfulness toward God. Because paradoxically, the more we have, the less we seem to appreciate it. Why does that matter? Let’s look at Luke chapter 17, verses 11-19 (NIV):
“Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."
Let’s set the scene here. These days, we have effective treatments for leprosy, but in Bible times there was no cure. It was a gruesome, horrible disease that crippled and disfigured its victims. Anyone with leprosy was forced to live outside the city, and was forbidden to have any close contact with other people, lest they spread the disease to others. In this passage, the ten men are outside the village. They can’t get close to Jesus because of their disease, so they have to stand at a distance and yell to him, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” Jesus gives them a command, which they follow, and as they are walking, miraculously, all are healed of their disease.