October 13, 2019–Gratitude, Good for the Heart

Posted on October 8, 2019 by faithlens

Scott Mims, Virginia Beach, VA

Warm-up Question

  • As you look to the future – both your own personal future and the future of our world – what are some of the greatest challenges that you see?
  • In terms of the above, what gives you hope?

Gratitude, Good for the Heart

Want to live longer?  It turns out that looking on the bright side could save your life.  A study recently published in the medical journal, JAMA, found that people who look at life from a positive perspective have about a 35% lower risk of major heart complications, such as a cardiac death, stroke, or a heart attack, compared to those whose outlooks were pessimistic.  In fact, this meta-analysis of nearly 300,000 people found that the more positive a person’s outlook, the greater the protection from any cause of death.  These results correlate well with prior studies that have also found links between optimism and other positive health attributes.

 

Yet, as lead author, Dr. Alan Rozanski, notes, it is important not to confuse optimism with happiness.  Whereas happiness is an emotion, and thereby transient, optimism is a mindset – a persistent approach to life.  The good news in this is that optimism can be learned.  You can train yourself to be a positive person.  Using mental exercises such as meditation and the practice of gratefulness, we can actually change the structure of our brains in ways that support a positive mindset.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/27/health/optimism-heart-attack-stroke-wellness/index.html

Discussion Questions

  • It is said that an optimist sees the glass half-full, while a pessimist sees the same glass half-empty.  In general, how would you describe yourself?  Is your glass half-full or half-empty?  (Or are you an engineer who sees a glass that is twice as big as it needs to be? 😊)
  • At some point you have probably heard the story of “The Little Engine that Could.”  In your own experience, what role does one’s perception or mindset play in successfully (or not) meeting a challenge or overcoming a difficult situation?  Can you think of an example from your own life?
  • It has been shown that regularly practicing gratitude or “gratefulness” can actually help to “rewire” our brains toward a more positive mindset.  What do you think of this?  What role might “counting our blessings” play in cultivating optimism?

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c

2 Timothy 2:8-15

Luke 17:11-19

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Samaria.  Once again Luke reminds us that Jesus’ ultimate destination is Jerusalem and the cross, and this encounter helps to enlarge our perspective on who will be included in his saving ministry.  Since Samaritans were generally considered by their Jewish neighbors to be outcasts and only marginally connected to the people of God, the location of this story also serves as a backdrop to the “scandal” at the heart of an otherwise straightforward story about healing.

Jesus’ initial contact with these ten people who suffer from leprosy fits with how lepers were supposed to act according to the Jewish law.  Lepers kept their distance from non-lepers and were required to call out in warning so that others would not accidentally come into contact with them. (see Leviticus 13:45-46) In essence, they were totally cut off from their families and communities.  So, when these ten see Jesus, they cry out, begging for mercy. And Jesus responds!  

Jesus, like the prophet Elisha in this week’s first reading from 2 Kings 5, does not make a big show.  Such is the power of God at work in Jesus that he doesn’t need to. He simply tells them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  This was what people who had already been cured of leprosy were supposed to do in order to be readmitted to the community. (see Leviticus 14:2-32) They go, and, in their obedience, discover along the way that they have been healed. One of them, however, turns back.  Praising God with a loud voice, he lays down at Jesus’ feet in an act of gratitude and worship.  The scandalous surprise, of course, is that he is a Samaritan!  Those who should be most attuned to God and most grateful for the lives they have received back are not, while the despised “outsider” becomes the example of gratefulness and faith.  We see this elsewhere in Luke’s gospel and in the book of Acts, with sinners, outsiders, and Gentiles receiving God’s grace with joy and gratitude while the “insiders” seem to miss the point entirely.  

In the end, Luke doesn’t say that the other nine former-lepers were any less cured than the Samaritan, though he does imply that they are less thankful.  Jesus himself points to a deeper experience for the Samaritan.  The word that gets translated as “get up” in verse 19 is a word early Christians would have recognized as having to do with “resurrection.” Similarly, Jesus’ final phrase might also be translated, “your faith has saved you.”  The Samaritan has been made “new” by the power of Jesus and he knows it!  There is a connection here between grace and gratitude, between faith and salvation.

Discussion Questions

  • With which of the people in this passage do you most identify?  Why?
  • At the beginning of this encounter with Jesus, the ten lepers were all in the same predicament.  How can a shared experience (such as going through cancer or a disaster) break down barriers between people?  How does God’s love and grace for all people fly in the face of the distinctions we often make between “insiders” and “outsiders”?
  • Why do you think the Samaritan was more grateful for Jesus’ actions than the other nine lepers?  How might his status as an “outsider” have contributed to his response?
  • Why is giving praise and thanks to God so important?  How do such acts of worship impact/change us?
  • The lepers in today’s reading experience God’s love and grace both in healing and in being restored to their families and communities.  When and where do you experience the grace of God?
  • What connection do you see between gratitude and faith?  How can praying for the small things, seeing God at work, and giving thanks encourage us to pray for larger matters?

Activity Suggestions

  • Prayer Journals: Encourage participants to keep a list of the people and situations for which they pray.  They might even put a check mark besides prayers that are eventually “answered”. The point of this activity is to notice, over time, how God works in and through our prayers, even if in unexpected ways.  To help folks get started, you might provide a small, inexpensive pocket-sized notebook for those who are interested.
  • Count Your Blessings: Have everyone make a list of the people, things, and experiences for which they are grateful.  Don’t forget the small everyday stuff that we normally take for granted (e.g. clean water, food to eat, a hot shower).  If you have time, have participants share from their list – you may well discover in the course of this discussion that you have even more reasons for gratitude.  End the activity by giving thanks to God.  You might connect this to the closing prayer by first gathering in a circle and having each person lift up one thing from their list that they are especially grateful for today.  Then end with the prayer below, or something similar.

Closing Prayer

Gracious and loving God, source of every good gift, in the waters of baptism you name us and claim us and make us your very own.  Thank you for the gift of faith, and for your relentless love that will not let us go no matter what.  Help us to count our many blessings, that we may live lives of praise and thanksgiving.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen. 

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