|PRIDE AND THANKSGIVING
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
November 24, 1996
I invite you to turn with me to Luke 17:11-19.
On the way to Jerusalem He - Jesus - was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When He saw them He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then said Jesus, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Jesus once said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive...” (Acts 20:35). Often it seems that it is also easier. It is often easier to give than to receive.
Have you ever gone to a restaurant with a group of Armenians? Who pays? We’ve all seen this, the argument over the bill. Grown men and women each trying outwit each other, grab the bill, and claim the right to pay.
I love watching the techniques people use. Some people are really good at this. They contact the waiter ahead of time, through an “off-to-the-side” discussion, leaving a credit card or money with the waiter. By time the other party realizes what's happened, its too late.
Some people resort to using slight of hand and manual dexterity - quick movements - to scoop up the bill. I’ve actually seen people literally jump across a table to snatch a bill out of someone’s hand.
There are also rules to this game - and quite frankly this is why I never win - I don’t play by the rules. The most important rule is “three - insists and it’s mine.” Or, depending on your role in the game, “three - let me get that and it’s yours.”
You know what this is like. The looser of the grabbing contest, with great indignity, says, “What are you doing. Let me get that.”
And if you’re holding the bill the proper reply is, “No, I’ve got it.” This exchange is suppose to be repeated 3 times.
This is where I usually loose. When someone says, “I’ve got that.” I usually say, “Okay.” If we ever go out to eat, be forewarned!
Why is it so hard for us to accept the graciousness of others - to receive? Or, put slightly different. It is often hard for us to be in a position of disadvantage - or weakness - towards someone else - why?
It is especially true of us as Armenians. Maybe because of our common history. Years of being a subjugated people, being massacred, living within hostile and anti-Christian cultures. It has become inbred in our ethnic psyche that we cannot trust others - we cannot show weakness - we must be self-reliant. Often this insecurity is overcompensated for with feigned self-sufficiency and pride.
If we are unwilling to admit our need, it is impossible to really give thanks. Why give thanks for something we don’t need - or could have provided for by our own self-sufficient means?
This is especially true in our relationship with God. Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. On the way He enters a village on the border between Samaria and Galilee. Ten lepers, standing at a proper distance, call to Jesus. Their cry is for pity - mercy - something to help alleviate their misery. This was the standard way lepers had to get their needs met. They are simply conducting business - like a person living on the street who begs for a living.
Jesus meets the need of these social outcasts in a way that they really didn’t ask for nor could have ever imagined. Jesus instructs the lepers to go to the priests for the legally required declaration of health - and as they go - they are cleansed.
We know this story. Nine lepers continue on to Jerusalem. One leper, when he realized that he was healed, returns to Jesus - praising God at the top of his voice - and he throws himself at Jesus’ feet and thanks him.
Jesus says to this one leper, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” He came back to give thanks because of his faith. Faith and thanks are tied together.
Faith says, “I have a need. I cannot meet this need by myself. I need help. You are my help.” The one leper admitted the immensity of his need - his complete and helpless and hopeless condition - and the priceless gift he had been given by Jesus. In faith he gave thanks.
This how we come to God for salvation in the first place. We sin and know that we are separated from God. The Bible tells us that it is impossible for us to ever do anything to change our condition before God. We are living in sin, separated from God, condemned to eternal punishment and separation from God - helpless and hopeless. Yet, God provides the way through Jesus Christ for forgiveness of our sins and restoring us to a right relationship with Him.
We enter into a forgiven, right relationship, with God, by faith - by admitting our need - our helplessness - and throwing ourselves at the foot of the cross - God’s graciousness poured out in Jesus Christ. Only when we admit our need to God can we begin to respond with genuine thanks giving - true gratitude - for what He has done.
Since we moved into our home, our next door neighbor has been relandscaping his backyard. For the last two years he has been tearing out a gazebo, jacuzzi, terracing, putting in a block wall, a patio, drainage, and other stuff.
When I can, I go over and help him. I enjoy myself. For him it’s work - he has to landscape his backyard. For me, it’s like a vacation. I love to work outside and build things. So, I’m having fun and helping him out as well.
For example, a short while ago he was building a section of fence. I went over and helped him to build it. I felt good about what I had done. You see, I had paid the bill. My pride and self-sufficiency were intact.
A few days later, my neighbor and I were talking about my yard and I happened to mention a problem I was having with our ivy. I’m allergic to ivy - common - everyone has some in their yard - garden variety ivy. If I just come into contact with it I break out into an itchy rash that lasts for weeks. And I have this really large patch of ivy which keeps threatening to take over a section of the yard. For me to remove this ivy from our yard would be a life threatening experience.
My neighbor said he would come over and get rid of the ivy. Suddenly I felt very uncomfortable. He wanted to pay the bill. I was going to be at a disadvantage - indebted to my neighbor. Even with my great need I struggled to accept his graciousness.
So, what does all this mean? Does this mean we should let people pay for us in restaurants? Consider two thoughts.
1. GIVING THANKS SHOULD CHANGE OUR ATTITUDE TOWARDS GOD
Nine lepers were cleansed and continued on their way. Only one considered the undeserved miracle Jesus had performed. Only one set aside his self-sufficiency and said thank you to Jesus. Often we act towards God as we would towards someone who has done us a small, almost unnecessary, favor. God, knowing the immensity of our need, has given His life to save ours.
David said, “How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me?” (Psalm 116:12) - This question should be on all of our lips. The debt is too great. The bill for our sins has been paid and there is no way to argue effectively about it.
Many people are like the nine lepers. They hear the Gospel and can see clearly God’s great love. But they sit in pews Sunday after Sunday refusing to respond because it means indebtedness. Responding in faith, thanking God, means admission of complete inability, inadequacy, a lack of self-sufficiency. This is especially true in our self-sufficient Armenian culture, where we are afraid of what it means to be indebted to anyone - even God.
But, it should not be true of the church. We should be like the one leper. To return to Jesus - to fall on our knees - completely prostrate without pretense and pride - in humble thankfulness for what God has done.
And this attitude of thanks giving will change our service for God. What we feel in our hearts - humble gratitude - will determine the magnitude of our response - our service and the depth of our relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus.
2. GIVING THANKS SHOULD CHANGE OUR ATTITUDE TOWARDS EACH OTHER
Years ago I was on Kaui - sitting on a beach - minding my own business - working on my tan. At some point I realized that I was not alone on the beach. Sharing the beach with me were hundreds of little sand crabs. Each had its own hole in the sand. When a wave would come in they would all retreat to their individual holes. Then, when it was safe they would come out - scurry around - bump into each other - scavenge for food - and run back to the safety of their own holes before the next wave struck.
In a sense, they were a community of crabs. Sharing a beach, having a common heritage, facing danger, and even interacting with each other. But, to me it seemed like such an artificial community. A life of hiding and fear. Each crab living alone in the midst of a large community.
In a very familiar passage (Acts 2:43-47) the community of the early church is described as having all things together in common. And, if anyone had a need, they would sell their possessions and goods and then take care of their fellow believers. They had glad and generous hearts which continually praised God. The early church - the early community of faith met needs because they knew each others needs - they shared needs.
So often today the church is like an artificial community - the antithesis of how the real community of faith is described for us. Our relationships are rarely based on needs and the meeting of those needs. When we see each other it is at meetings and banquets and the social hour after church. Even our Service of Worship has its limitations - our infrequent Regional or group Bible Studies. We come to a building and call it church. But church is a community of faith - faith springing from admission of need.
A community drawn together in common need to our Savior, Jesus Christ. A faith based community where needs are expressed and met.
There are some tremendous areas where community is being expressed here at Calvary. One of the greatest strengths of our congregation is that people really do care for each other. And yet, in the midst of this we do feel and desire a greater openness - a deeper fellowship - a sense of a more committed community - a greater expression of Jesus’ love towards each other. How well do we know each others needs? And, are we really willing and prepared to help?
How many times we could have helped if only we had known the need. There is a rumor that as the pastor I have the inside track - or my ear closer to the grapevine - and know what needs there are in the congregation. This is simply not true. Often I am the last to know when someone is hurting. And, I’m frustrated by this. I want to call and visit and pray and do whatever I can. Our Deacons stand ready to help. But, we can’t help if we don’t know that the need exists.
And, we are frustrated when someone comes with a need and we’re unable to help - either through lack of resource or people power. And, the help we could offer is not unrealistic. We could have helped but we as a congregations were not prepared.
I do not know if you have any fences which need to be built - perhaps a plumbing job - maybe you just have a few projects around the house - help grocery shopping - a need for someone to talk to or pray with. Whatever the need. We as a community need to help each other. When we admit our needs to each other - and God uses us to help each other - then we really can give thanks to each other and God for what He will be doing.