Let me begin with some numbers.Did you know, according to Fortune, the average American will spend $186.05 on Thanksgiving this year? In 2018, the average Americans spent approximately $176 on Thanksgiving. In 2017, the average Americans spent approximately $165. Thanksgiving expenses can be broken down into two categories. The first category is travel. The average American will spend $33.49 to be with family and friends. That is 18% of the total. The second category is the meal, itself. The average American will spend $152.56 on the feast. That is 82% of the total. According to the National Turkey Federation, 88% of all Americans serve turkey on Thanksgiving. That means, 46 million turkeys will be consumed at an average of $1.36 per pound. However, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we understand Thanksgiving is not just about a meal. It is an attitude. Thanksgiving is not just a day. It is a lifestyle.
We find ourselves today in the seventeenth chapter of Luke. According to the text, Jesus is traveling between the border of Samaria and Galilee. As he travels, he encounters various people. Many of those encounters are long forgotten One of those encounters is remembered annually, the ten lepers. You may know their story. Leprosy was a highly contagious skin disease caused by a certain bacterium. The disease still exists in our world today. In the United States approximately 100 cases are reported annually. However, today it is treatable. In the days of Jesus, it was not. In Jesus’ day victims of leprosy were forced to live in isolation, away from family and friends, in leper colonies. This is the story of the ten men in the scripture lesson. They are living with leprosy without any hope of a cure. Death would have been a welcomed relief. Then, they hear the news that gives them hope, Jesus is coming! They have heard of his healing power and they run toward Jesus. However, they can’t invade his personal space because of their disease. They are mandated by law to keep their distance. The best they can do is yell at Jesus as he passes. This is the good news: Jesus not only heard their desperate voices, but he healed them. As was required by their law, Jesus instructs them to go to a priest for inspection. The priests had the authority to grant them permission to re-enter society. On that day ten men were healed. However, this is the sad truth: only one man returned to Jesus to say, “Thank you.” The other nine never returned; the other nine just resumed their lives. Jesus, who seemed to know everything, was shocked by their ingratitude. In verse 17 of our reading, Jesus asked, “Where are the other nine?” It is a good question.
There are many things we don’t understand about God, but there two things we do know. First, God is a jealous God. The Almighty must be the top priority in your life. Don’t just run past that statement. Think about it. If God is your top priority, then family and country aren’t your top priority. That is hard for some to accept. God is a jealous God. Second, God likes being worshipped and praised. The Bible is filled with verses that underscore this point. Let me give you just one example. Psalm 100 is about worshipping and praising God. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” God likes being worshipped and praised. In other words, just like in the Bible story, God wants us to say, “Thank you.”
When I was young, we used to spend Thanksgiving morning in church. It wasn’t just my church. We would combine with the three congregations that shared a common corner in Warren, Ohio. There was my home church, Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). There was Saint Peter and Paul Byzantine Catholic Church and the synagogue, Beth Israel Temple. For one day, Thanksgiving, we put our theological differences and thanked God for our blessings. The priest, the rabbi and the minister sat side by side, by side. It was a nice picture. I have warm memories of that service, but now it is part of history. My home church is not having a Thanksgiving service this year.
When I came here, we had a Thanksgiving service. At first, it was ecumenical. Every year, we gathered at a different church and heard a preacher. I took my turn. Every year, there was a community choir and the offering went to a local cause. Those services were held on Thanksgiving Eve. One year those services ended because no one came. Next, we gathered with other United Methodist congregations in the area. The format was the same, but we met on the Sunday evening before Thanksgiving. We hoped to pick up a few people because we didn’t want to compete with meal preparation. When those services died, because no one came, we joined with the Canfield churches. We hosted the last one. On that night, the choir was bigger than the rest of the congregation. It was embarrassing. This year there is no community Thanksgiving service, and no one seems to care. Do you see the direction I am going? Do you see the direction our society is going? Did you know Thanksgiving Eve is now one of the big party nights of the year? Our society has changed but God is still a jealous God, who loves to be worshipped and praised. Could it be we are guilty of the sin of ingratitude? This is one of my favorite Thanksgiving stories.
Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) is one of the great names in American history. He made a fortune in the steel industry. However, he was also one of the great philanthropists of the late 19th century. During the last eighteen years of his life, he gave away approximately 90% of his wealth, a total of $350 million. Conservatively, that equals $65 billion today. It was a good thing to be in the Carnegie family too. He once gave a distinct relation, who he had never met, $1 million dollars as a birthday gift. That equals $17 million today. You would have thought, the family would have been thankful, but no. He complained he should have gotten more. Do you know of anyone who resembles that distant Carnegie relative? Do you know of anyone who isn’t thankful?
Mental health professionals tell us ingratitude is rooted in three things. These three things are contrary to God’s ways.
- Envy It is called the green-eyed monster or simple jealousy? Do you know of anyone who walks around obsessed with other people’s advantages and possessions? They are so worried about others, they become blind to their own blessings. Proverbs 14:30 says, “a sound heart is life to the body, but envy is rottenness to the bone.” How big of a part does envy play in your life?
- Entitlement Do you know of anyone who feels like they deserve certain privileges or benefits just for being themselves. They are a cut above and handle their relationships based on what they can get. When they don’t get what they think they deserve, they become angry? 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says, “If anyone is unwilling to work, then he shall not eat.” Do you feel entitled?
- Expectations Some expectations are normal. You can expect me to show up on Sunday morning prepared for worship. I expect to get paid every two weeks. Some expectations are unrealistic or unreasonable. You expect people to cater to your needs. You expect God to answer all your prayers with a yes! It is an important question. What do you expect? Ingratitude comes when we expect too much. Proverbs 10:28 says, “The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish.” What do you expect?
Several weeks ago, my wife, Kathryn, came home from her weekly Bible study. The group is not just made up of her church members. They have joined forces with another small membership church in that community. She and the other pastor share the leadership. On that night, the other pastor was leading the discussion and made two big mistakes. First, he opened the door and let politics be discussed. No one comes to church to hear political opinions. People come to church to hear about Jesus. Second, he exposed his political opinions. In a moment filled with emotions, in a room filled with patriotic Americans, he called America “a crappy country.” According to my wife, the room grow silent and his credibility was lost. She wondered how many wouldn’t return the next week. Someone said later, “I don’t know what he is, but he isn’t a pastor. If America is so bad, he needs to get out” That pastor is not alone. There are many who are blind to their blessings. Did you know 48% of all Americans fail to express their gratitude daily? Don’t be one of them. Be one of the 52% of Americans who express their gratitude daily. Alice Walker (born 1944) is an American author, short story writer, poet and social activist. She once said, “’Thank you’ is the best prayer anyone can say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding.”