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Pastor's Corner: Thankfulness and giving are at the very core of true joy


November 17, 2017

Over the years, I have come to realize that thankfulness and giving are at the very core of true joy. This is illustrated in the Gospel of Luke 17:11-19.

Call me a stickler. Call me a creature of habit. Call me ADD. For the past 25 years and especially the past 15 years, I’ve written in the margin of my Bible who preached the sermon and the day. On Nov. 8, 2004, Rowlie Hutton preached a sermon from Luke 17:11-19. We know it as “Healing the Ten Lepers.”

In the margin I wrote these three words three times:

“Thankfulness Creates Joy.” “Thankfulness Creates Joy.” “Thankfulness Creates Joy.”

Leprosy was a terrible skin disease. It was infectious. This means it could spread from one person to another.

I’ve seen pictures of faces without ears or noses. Farther down there are no fingers and toes. There were strict rules that a leper had to observe. The person had to live outside the camp away from other people so the disease would not spread. If the sores went away, the leper had to go to the priest to be examined. If the priest said that the man was no longer contagious, he could go back and live with his family.

The story about the 10 lepers occurred when Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. The men met him, but stayed a distance away. The law said a leper must not come near and must call out “Unclean!” so people would know he had leprosy. The men called out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They knew he had healed others. Jesus was their only hope.

Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests, and as they were going, a wonderful thing happened. Their skin became clean and free from leprosy! We can just imagine the joy they felt!

Nine of the men continued on to go see the priest, but one man turned back and came to Jesus. He was praising God with a loud voice, and he fell at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.

Jesus asked where the other nine men were. Ten were healed, but only one came back to say “thank you.”

“Thankfulness Creates Joy.” “Thankfulness Creates Joy.” “Thankfulness Creates Joy.”

Give thanks with a grateful heart.

Give thanks to the Holy One

Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son.

And now let the weak say, “I am strong”

Let the poor say “I am rich”

Because of what the Lord has done for us.

I want to take you back to 1930 or 1931. A little girl (my mother) and the very elderly lady that raised her sat in their small apartment on Ninth Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets. It was Christmas Eve. They’d been to church.

Mom would say to us, “I knew there was no need to hope. There would be no Christmas gifts and no Christmas dinner. We had nothing and there was no need to even hope. I knew it would only make ‘Grandma’ sadder.”

“Then a knock came on the door,” she continued, “I thought it might be one of my cousins stopping by or perhaps it might be someone from downstairs coming to wish us Merry Christmas.” She’d go on. “I opened the door. It wasn’t my cousin or the people from downstairs.”

“It was a man in a uniform from the Salvation Army. He had two boxes. He sat them down for us. In the first box there were two chickens and everything you’d need for a Christmas dinner: potatoes, rolls, vegetables, pie”

Then her eyes would get large and she would go on, “The other one.” Then she would stop and tears would well up in her eyes, “The other one had the most beautiful doll you’ve ever seen! And in another package was a wooden horse. I don’t know whatever happened to the doll. I loved her very much. I suppose Grandma gave her to a little girl that needed her.”

Then she’d reach behind her back and bring out the wooden horse, the trick rider. She’d let us play with it for just a moment. Then back in her special drawer it would go. Outside of those times we were never allowed to play with it. It simply reminded us that generosity demands gratitude.

When Mom passed away, the very first thing I went and brought to my house was the wooden horse and trick rider. It sits on a shelf in the spare bedroom.

When the red kettles come out at Christmas, Mom could never pass one without putting something in … and I can’t either.

My daughters know the story. Laura first suggested that we adopt someone from the Salvation Army “Angel Tree” at Kmart. We do it as a family, and as we do it we thank God for the generosity of those who made Christmas so very special for a little orphan girl long ago. We do it in appreciation for a mother and grandmother who loved us enough to show how to give and how to share joy.

Thankfulness creates joy. It did 85-plus years ago. It does today. And come another month or less, thankfulness will create the joy of putting something in one of those red kettles.

May God bless you as we work together in gratitude for the greatest gift we will ever receive — Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.


Ila McClenahan is the pastoral care and activity director for Northern Montana Health Care.


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