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Sunday, October 9, 2016 | 8:00 a.m.
More Than Meets the Eye
Victoria G. Curtiss
Associate Pastor, Fourth Presbyterian Church
2 Timothy 2:8–15
We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.
C. S. Lewis
The young man couldn’t wait to ride his new motorcycle. In contrast, the religious servant seemed listless as she obediently recited her daily prayers. Catholic priest and author Richard Rohr said that the one expressing enthusiasm—the motorcyclist—was closer to God. Enthusiastic persons, people full of energy and glad to be alive, are closer to God than those who just go through the motions of observing their religion. The word enthusiasm itself gives us this clue. It comes from en, meaning “in,” and theos, meaning “God”: in God, possessed by God, inspired by God. The people who give glory to God are those who are so full of life they exude gratitude. The poet e e cummings radiated such vitality with these words:
I thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes . . . (http://bit.ly/2dQndlA)
It makes one wonder what happened to e e cummings that his heart would be so full of gratitude to God. Amidst the blessings of life he saw more than meets the eye. He saw the wondrous love of God, who is the Giver of Life, and gave thanks.
In today’s Gospel story we see the wonder of God’s love. Jesus totally transforms the lives of ten people who had been shunned by their community, ostracized because they had leprosy. The disease itself was bad enough. It disfigured them physically and, because it reduced their ability to feel pain, led to wounds going untreated. Back then leprosy was considered highly contagious, with no known cure. So in addition to the physical burden of the disease, lepers also experienced the pain of being isolated and cut off from loved ones. There was no hospital or shelter where they could go, no friends or family with whom they could live. They weren’t even allowed to enter the villages or cities.
Jesus told them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” The law in Leviticus required that if you were healed from some disease that had ostracized you from the community, you had to go to the priest. The priest would then certify you were healed, so you could be restored to your place in the community. The ten obeyed and were healed while they were on their way to see the priest.
Just imagine how they must have felt! After months, if not years, of suffering from their chronic condition, now they had a brand-new life. They couldn’t wait to return to their families and friends.
One of them, when he saw he had been healed, started praising God in a loud voice. He turned back to Jesus, lay down at his feet, and thanked him.
We can’t blame the other nine for rushing home to hug their families. But Jesus seemed disappointed. “Were not ten made well? Where are the other nine?”
All ten were healed. But only one expressed gratitude to God. And only to this one does Jesus say, “Your faith has made you well.” Jesus seems to be saying, “You are healthy, you are whole, because you expressed gratitude.” All ten were physically cured, but only one became whole.
The one who was thankful saw what the others didn’t see. He saw more than meets the eye. “Now the eyes of my eyes are opened.” Yes, he saw his physical flesh restored to its normal condition with a healthy glow. But he also saw this miracle as a gift of love from God. He saw the connection between what had just happened to him in a most personal way and God our Creator. His healing didn’t just return life to being normal. His healing opened his faith. His cure drew him to God. He was made whole once he experienced and expressed gratitude.
We can learn from those who pause to praise God, those who give thanks:
The Hopi elder who says, “Today we are into a lot of things that we claim is ours. Land isn’t ours. Life isn’t ours. Language isn’t ours. Someone created all that.”
The hunter who holds the head of the deer he just killed and prays to honor both the deer and the Source of Life before removing the deer from the woods as food for his family.
The mother who fills the transitional shelter for formerly homeless persons with singing praise to God because she and her newborn son are no longer living on the street.
The extended family that really celebrates the seventieth birthday of their grandfather who’d had a massive heart attack a few months earlier.
The African women who drum and dance as their sister gives birth
The friends who cry and laugh together, reconciled after a misunderstanding.
The cellist who plays her heart out with the fullness of talent God gave her.
The Buddhist monks who bathe in the sacred Ganges River at dawn, celebrating the new day God has made.
The child who runs to give mom and dad a hug when they come home from work.
All these people are not just going through the busyness of everyday life. They are not taking life, or God, for granted. They are enjoying life as a precious gift and praising God. There is more than meets the eye when healing happens or forgiveness is offered or love is shared. There’s more than meets the eye when trees bear fruit or the sunshine breaks through. God is at work here. Our joy bursts forth. We praise God’s name. We are made whole when we express our gratitude.
Gratitude is important in the dynamic of giving and receiving. From the giver’s side, the act of giving is incomplete until the gift is received and acknowledged. We don’t give gifts in order to be thanked, but when the thanks don’t come, we wonder, “Did they actually receive the gift? Did they not like it? Do they not appreciate it?” We may doubt that the love we sought to express means anything to the recipient. We give our gifts because we want to express and experience a deeper connection with those to whom we give.
In the Bible, especially in the psalms, we hear the persistent demand that we “praise God.” This troubled Christian theologian C. S. Lewis when he was a young man: Why was God constantly asking praise for himself? Is God so self-preoccupied? Why does God need us to keep telling God how great God is? We want a God who is people-centered, not God-centered.
But then Lewis observed that if we fail to admire great art, for instance, we have missed something. The art isn’t poorer for our refusing to admire it, but we are. When we fail to praise God, we are missing something. When we praise God, we connect with God, and God communicates and connects with us. We enjoy one another. We delight in each other. We are enthusiastic—en theos, in God.
C. S. Lewis thought that praise almost seems to be inner health made audible. Praise is what spontaneously overflows from enjoyment (C.S. Lewis, “A Word about Praising,” Reflections on the Psalms). The world rings with praise—lovers adoring one another, readers affirming their favorite poet, walkers admiring the countryside, athletes delighting in their favorite game; praise of good weather, vintage wines, delicious dishes, talented actors, smooth-running cars, fast horses, quality colleges, beautiful countries, historical personages, playful children, pretty flowers, magnificent mountains, rare stamps, unusual beetles, even selfless public servants and profound scholars.
Just as people spontaneously praise what they value, so they spontaneously urge others to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely?” “Wasn’t it glorious?” “Don’t you think that magnificent?” When the psalmists tell everyone to praise God, they are doing what all people do when they speak enthusiastically of what they care about. They want to share their joy with others and want others to join in their excitement and gratitude.
God made us so that “all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise.” We can’t help but praise and rejoice in what we most enjoy. The enjoyment itself is stunted and hindered if it is never expressed in joyful celebration.
Lewis thought that praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete until it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch. Praise completes our enjoyment.
God’s pursuit of our praise is for our own health and wholeness. Our satisfaction in God is incomplete until we express our praise to God.
St. Teresa of Avila wrote,
Love once said to me, “I know a song,
would you like to hear it?”
And laughter came from every brick in the street
and from every pore in the sky.
After a night of prayer, he
changed my life when he sang,
God’s effort to elicit our thanks and praise is both the most loving thing God could do for us and the most glorifying thing God could do for God’s self.
In her book The Color Purple, Alice Walker wrote a dialogue between two low-income women about God, who is sometimes referred to as “it”:
One day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed. And I laughed and I cried and I run all around the house. I knew just what it was. In fact, when it happens, you can’t miss it. . . . Listen, God love everything you love—and a mess of stuff you don’t. But more than anything else, God loves admiration.
You say God vain?
Naw. Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it ticks God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.
What it do when it ticked off?
Oh, it make something else. People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back. . . . It always making little surprises and springing them on us when we least expect.
You mean it want to be loved just like the Bible say.
Yes, Celie. Everything want to be loved.
God wants to be loved. God showers love on us and is saying “Notice me, notice me.” God wants our attention, our praise, our thanks. God doesn’t want to be taken for granted any more than we do. God wants a strong connection with us. God wants us to enjoy life, to be amazed and enthusiastic, grateful and adoring. God wants to share our joy with us and for us to share our joy with God, because God knows we are only truly whole when we experience and express our gratitude.
So let the eyes of your eyes be opened and the ears of your ears awake. Thank God for this most amazing day. Let your hearts sing and sing and sing again, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is in within me bless God’s holy name.” Amen.