The phrase that stuck out to me the most from John’s message Sunday was this:
We ought to be a people known for our thankfulness.
John emphasized that the world looks at us, especially in those difficult times, to see what we’re made of. He challenged us, even in those difficult times, to be people who are thankful.
Now, I don’t think that means we have to be blindly optimistic and I know John didn’t mean that. Neither does it mean we’re going to ignore the real difficulties and challenges that humanity faces on a daily basis because we’re just so thankful. But I think John nailed it—part of being whole humans is learning to be thankful in every situation, and that thankfulness is part of our witness!
I came away from the sermon thinking that being more thankful could be part of my “living a questionable life.” If I’m a more thankful person, I think that will not only be true in my private prayers. It’ll also be true in my public conversations. In my friendships and relationships with Christians and with not-yet-Christians, I can naturally speak to what God is doing in my life in terms of thankfulness, even without mentioning God directly. And just maybe, by being thankful, the question will cross somebody’s mind: “Who are you thankful toward?” Or people might ask, “How can you be so thankful?”
The practice of thankfulness is part of becoming more fully human. It’s when we recognize our dependence on something greater than ourselves and on people beyond ourselves. That’s a quest for all humans. And those of us who follow Jesus believe that it is God on whom we depend, because in him we live and move and have our being.
Having listened to John’s message on Sunday, I’m challenged to be more openly thankful, not just in my prayer time, or my time praying with and for other Christians. I commit to be more thankful with not-yet-Christians, with friends with whom I’ve never had a spiritual conversation. I commit to looking for opportunities to be thankful, and to voicing my thankfulness out loud, with that person, because I know that it is part of my witness in the world.
The move toward being “missional” is always a double-edged sword. In this case, I see the narrative John read is openly emphasizing the other side. Which of the former lepers came back to Jesus to say thank you? Wasn’t it the despised Samaritan? The foreigner? The “mudblood”? Luke helps us see that we have to be people who listen to others’ thankfulness. Jesus is an example and a model of listening to foreigners, to listen to people who are different than we are, to ask them what they’re thankful for.
Let’s affirm those things. Let’s grow because we hear the thankfulness of other people. Let’s allow that to challenge us to be better people. And let’s invite others to participate in that life-giving act of giving thanks.