“A Transformational Way of Gratitude: The Way of Gratitude” (4 of 4)
Psalm 100 (VU 700) & Luke 7:36-50 ~ Northwood UC ~ October 30, 2022
How we show up in the world makes all the difference. We can show up with confidence, or in humility. We can show up with shame, or in arrogance. We can show up feeling that we are ‘not enough’, or feeling that we truly are ‘enough’. We can show up as a hallowe’en ghouls or goblins, witches or warlocks, princesses or paupers. But make no mistake, how we show up makes all the difference.
Turning to this morning’s focus text, the woman in the text shows up under the cloud of judgement. She has been labeled “a sinner” by Pharisees like Simon. The text reports that “she is woman of the city” which scholars note as being a likely reference for one’s work in the sex trade. We don’t know much about her. Her story has echoes in the other gospel writers telling similar ones of Mary Magdalene anointing Jesus with costly nard, wiping his feet with her hair, and preparing Jesus for his impending death. However, this story occurs in the seventh chapter, very early in Luke’s gospel. We aren’t even thinking towards Jesus’ passion yet. We are just learning about this radical rabbi whose way of love and forgiveness will transform all who show.
And the way that this woman shows up is in gratitude / in worship for this one who receives her fully. Did you feel the tension in the room as she entered. Of course you did! Simon, the pompous Pharisees who knew right from wrong, who could recite every religious law from memory. They showed up with entitlement. The woman showed up in hope, in worship/ in gratitude. You heard their judgmental tones of ‘sinner and saint’ being tossed about. The exclusion of some and the welcome of others. Of course you felt that tension. Some of us live in that tension, don’t we? The story is filled with the reality of life’s complexities!
But amidst the judgement, amidst the shame, amidst the glares, the woman shows up in worship / in gratitude trusting that the pure light of God that shines through this Jesus, that Luke introduces us to, will shine upon her. While Simon rudely ignores his guest by not even offering Jesus a basin and towel to wash his dirty feet, the woman shows complete adoration and extravagance. Simon essentially ignores his guest’s need saying: ‘nice to see you, shame you won’t be staying’. The woman, on the other hand, receives Jesus as an act of gratitude / of worship and shows up in a way that welcomes him fully. She doesn’t offer a basin filled with water; she offers her tears. She doesn’t offer a towel; she lets down her hair. She becomes fully vulnerable and offers all that she is in worship / gratitude. She shows up fully and receives the immeasurable grace of God.
This text has profound power as we receive it 2 millennia later. This story is all about the transformational power that is found in the ways we show up. We can show up with confidence, or in humility. We can show up with shame, or in arrogance. We can show up feeling that we are ‘not enough’, or feeling that we truly are ‘enough’. Ironically, Simon is blinded to the very identity of Jesus because he shows up in arrogance. The woman shows up in worship/ gratitude and the Son of God is revealed to her. I think this text bears the promise that when we show up with gratitude / worship we are greeted with the opportunity to meet the transformative power of the Holy that is around us.
Sadly, the window through which we are viewing in this text is all too familiar. The woman’s story of shame and judgement is the story of many of our lives. How many of us have known the feelings of shame and judgement in the past? How many of us know it right now? We have lived under the shadow of judgement and shame at times. We have felt that we are ‘not enough’. Business, industry, advertising all profit when we feel the need to consume in order in order to feel like we are enough. And many in our world have remedied these feelings with addictions of many sorts. And the effects upon our mental and physical well beings continue to mount. Indeed, how we show up truly matters. Yet, we have a choice in how we show up. That choices is what we meet in the woman. She demonstrates the powerful transformation that occurs when we show up in gratitude / in worship. For when she shows up this way, she meets the forgiving, grace-filled light of Christ. The woman (somehow) knows (deep in her bones) she knows that to show up in the way of gratitude / in the way of worship will lead to her being fully received, fully loved, being fully in the full presence of God. While she may have hidden away in the shame of the past, she shows up and receives the wonderful light of God in Christ.
My friends in faith, what we have been touching on over these past 4 weeks is truly powerful and transformational. And faith is not about getting it (up here). Rather, faith is about finding transformation in our soul…and having this divine part of our being come alive! Indeed, thanksgiving is not a day. Every day (as we sang) is a day of thanksgiving. For when we show up in worship / in gratitude / in thanksgiving, we are blessed with this transformational gift of Christ in our lives. Just imagine if we lived as people of gratitude. Imagine if gratitude / worship was the course we set our compass upon; if gratitude / worship was the vision we looked out upon our lives; if gratitude / worship was the way we approached (not just Sunday morning) but EVERY morning!
If we did this…truly amazing things would occur. As we discovered, early in our conversation, our individual lives would be transformed. We talked about the range of benefits that occur when we exhibit high levels of dispositional gratitude. When gratitude is a foundational part of our being the personal benefits are staggering: increased levels of happiness, reduced levels of depression, a deeper inner strength when facing adversity, and improvements with our physical health in the areas of sleep and immunity (just to name a few). Who we are, as grateful beings, would grow in joy, in health…we would become closer to who God dreamed for us to be.
And from a communal perspective, if we showed up in gratitude our communities would become richer, deeper, more supportive and effective. Communities with high levels of collective gratitude have this wonderful, resilient power that allows them to grow as a team, a group, an organization, a family. It becomes a remedy for toxic relationships and destructive attitudes countering the negative emotions of anger, greed and envy allowing for communities to forgive and flourish, for family trees to grow and thrive.
Last Sunday, our choir offered a beautiful version of the Zambian children’s song ‘Bonse Aba’: “all who sing have the right to be called the children of God.” And, when we show up in gratitude that is exactly what we are allowed to do with our lives. For when we show up in gratitude we can…sing. Sing when we are struggling – and know that others will help the song to be carried. Sing when we are in joy – and know that this joy will bless those who are struggling. Sing the song of faith, in gratitude, in trust that God will transform the world in the worship-filled ways we live our lives.
Our church has had a long commitment to interfaith relations with the Surrey Interfaith Network and the Multifaith Action Society. It was one of the elements of Northwood that drew me to align my ministry with yours. Thanksgiving is one common element that is shared among world religion. From Buddhists to Bahai’is, Mennonites to Muslims, Catholics to Christian Scientists. My Indigenous friends tell me that the first action in hunting after a kill is made is to gather beside that animal in thanksgiving for the life, which the Creator gave. In fact, thanksgiving is the one way of being that is shared between people of faith and those with no faith. Thanksgiving is what makes us human and allows us to create a world that is shaped by compassion, hope and love.
As Christians, we follow the one whose light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not put it out. And we follow in thanksgiving through the darkness and through the light.