Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?

March 18, 2012

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?
Thus begins Dr. Seuss’s book “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are”.  First published in  1973 Seuss’s tale takes our hero, only identified as “Duckie”, on a journey to show him how blessed he is, but it is done by showing how unfortunate other people are. 
Perhaps your parents did that to you when you didn’t want whatever it was they were serving for supper and they would remind you of the children in Africa or India who would be more than happy to have what you were being served.  And I discovered the appropriate response was not “well let’s put it in an envelope and mail it to them.” Or perhaps you remember the pithy little saying from yesteryear, “I was sad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”  And I discovered the appropriate response there was not “So I took his shoes, he didn’t need them.”
In 2010 I was teaching in Ghana in West Africa, People have asked when I’m going back and that would be next January and I will be talking more about that in the days ahead.  But back to the story, I was in Ghana when the news of the Earthquake in Haiti reached us and I was intrigued by the response, Joe Ocran the National Superintendent of Ghana told me “In Africa we watch Haiti because it reminds us how lucky we are to live in Africa”
Let’s finish up the story.  (Read last page of book)
And maybe that is normal to put our lives in perspective by looking at the lives of others.   Perhaps we have become so used to what we have that we lose perspective on how lucky we are to have it.  Which is why Thomas Fuller commented “Eaten bread is soon forgotten.”
It doesn’t take long for us to become accustomed to what we have, and so our first house which seemed so massive and beautiful when we first moved in soon became simply ordinary and it isn’t long before that new vehicle which impressed us so much when we drove it off the lot becomes simple transportation. 
In the scripture that was read earlier Paul gives direction to the early Christ Followers on how they were to live their lives and he finishes with this bit of advice Ephesians 5:20 Give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We probably don’t often think about how little these people had compared to what we have today.  2000  years ago life was rough, Ephesus was located in what is now Turkey and it was occupied by the Romans, who reigned as conquerors.  In many ways it was exponentially worse off than what we would refer to as a third world country today.
Remember there would have been no running water, no sanitation, no garbage collection, no electricity, no modern school system, no human rights and no hospitals.  There was hunger, there was persecution for being followers of Christ, there was disease and there were high infant mortality rates.  And Paul tells these folks Ephesians 5:20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And when those early believers stopped and thought about it they were probably better off than many people were in that day and age.  And because they didn’t know what we would have today they didn’t know what they were missing then.  When I was growing up I didn’t miss the computers and video games of today and five hundred years from now when society looks back and wonders how we existed with the little we had in the way of technology they won’t understand how blessed we were.
“Have I ever told you how lucky you are?”  Because the reality is that we don’t often take the time to reflect on how blessed we are, sometimes it’s too easy to compare ourselves to those who have more than us than to look at those who have less.  Because we know in our heart of hearts that those who have less than us could have what we have if they only worked harder just as we know those who have more than us are just lucky.
In the stories of Jesus there are no more dramatic accounts then those who were healed of leprosy.
Lepers lived without friends, family or future.  They lived a life of tragedy without a home and without a hope.  Have you ever heard someone say “They treated me like a leper” or “they acted like I had leprosy?”  Back in the eighties when AIDS was just surfacing and  society and science still didn’t have a grip on how it was spread or who would contract it you would often hear those who had acquired AIDS make that statement, “I feel like a leper.”  And while I wouldn’t want to minimize the hurt that people feel when they ostracized by others it is doubtful that anyone in this time could ever fully comprehend what life as a leper was like 2000 years ago.
Leprosy was probably the most feared disease of the time, and that wasn’t just then either, we don’t think of leprosy as a modern disease but the world health organization estimates that there were 192,246 new cases diagnosed last year (2011)
We forget that the rest of the world doesn’t have the health care that we have.  And while we gripe about a half-hour wait for the doctor or a three-hour wait in outpatients there are many places in the world where the closest hospital is a day journey away, and drugs are almost impossible to acquire for the common person.  As a matter of fact it’s not a far stretch to say that this group of people would be considerably smaller if we lived in a third world country, because some of you would not have survived without the medical care that you have obtained in Canada.
And so people were terrified of leprosy, as you can well imagine, and so at any sign of a skin disease the person was examined by the Priest and put into quarantine, if the symptoms disappeared the person was considered cured however if became apparent that the disease was or could be leprosy the consequences were actually quite dire.
And if the physical effects of leprosy were horrible there was something even worse.  The leper had to bear the mental anguish and heart break of being totally cut off from the people he loved, being banished from society and shunned by everyone.
The book of Leviticus contained the law for the people of Israel and this is what it said Leviticus 13:45-46 “Those who suffer from a serious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed. They must cover their mouth and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp.
 Nice huh?
The person with leprosy was not allowed to mingle with anyone who didn’t have the disease, they weren’t allowed to live in the village or the city they had to move into the wilderness living in caves and hovels, their only companions other victims.  The closest they could come to a person without the disease was six foot which would have made for a tough time keeping your marriage intimate, but that didn’t matter because once you were diagnosed with leprosy you were considered dead and your spouse could remarry and your estate was divided up amongst your heirs.
There has never been a disease that has so separated people from the rest of humanity as leprosy, not even AIDS.
And numerous times in the gospels we read accounts of Jesus violating a half a dozen Old Testament laws as he touched and healed lepers who had come to him seeking healing. 
They were asking for the one thing that they desired more than life itself, to be healed.  That their disfigured faces would once again be looked upon with love instead of revulsion, that twisted limbs would become straight and that life, life would return to normal.
And in each of these cases we are told that when Jesus touched them that instantly the leprosy disappeared.     
I wonder what it felt like as the nodules disappeared and their skin was made smooth again, as twisted limbs became straight and strong.  I wonder how many of them had lost appendages to the disease and what it felt like as fingers and toes grew back.
And there are a pile of life lessons that we can learn from those who were healed from this horrible disease, we see how they realized that their only hope was Christ, we can see how they approached Jesus humbly, without demanding that their requests be met.  And we should marvel at their faith, how without question they believed what Christ offered them. 

But what I marvel more than anything is that in all of the accounts there is only one record of a leper saying “thank you.” 
Think about it, their lives were radically changed, their lives were literally given back to them but the only time we hear a thank you is in Luke 17:15-16 One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.
Perhaps Jesus should have asked “Did I ever tell you how lucky you are?”    So I wonder why those who were given so much didn’t even take the time to say a simple thank you?  Because maybe, just maybe it might provide insight into our response to God for the many, many blessings in our lives. 
Perhaps They Were Overwhelmed with What happened.  Sometimes what happens is so incredible that we can’t find the words to acknowledge what has happened.  And maybe that’s what happened, it wasn’t that they were ungrateful it was just that so much more was happening in their lives that they simply didn’t get around to saying thank you.  Kind of like those “thank you” notes that you’ve always intended to write.
For whatever reason it is sometimes harder to show gratitude for the big things then for the little things.  It’s easier to thank someone for saving our place in line then for saving our life.   Benjamin Franklin said “Most people return small favours, acknowledge medium ones and repay greater ones — with ingratitude.”
And so in the haste to get their lives back, they forgot the one who had given them their lives back.  Very few of us will be physically in that situation, although there are some who owe a doctor or paramedic their very lives.  But what about the spiritual gift of salvation? Are we so overwhelmed with the gift of eternal life that we haven’t taken the time to thank the giver? 
Or maybe They Were Underwhelmed.  Oh sure they had been given their health back, they had been healed from this horrible disease, but it wasn’t enough.  You’re probably wondering what more could they want?  They had probably thought about this day for a long time, and imagined what it would be like.  But sometimes our imaginations are greater than reality.  Have you ever talked to someone whose life has changed radically, a windfall of money, or a healing or a better job and yet they still aren’t happy.  They still haven’t found what they are looking for.
Perhaps they thought that life would be like it had been before the disease only to discover that their spouses had remarried, their property had been divided between their children, and their job was now filled by another person. 
Perhaps they realized that they had lost the freedom they had as lepers.  Confusing, maybe, but as a leper they had no social responsibilities, no moral responsibilities, they didn’t have to provide for others they didn’t have to worry about disciplining the kids or doing a good job at work.  All they had to do was stay alive.  Mark Twain made this statement: “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you; that is the principal difference between a dog and a man.”
Some people become Christians and then are disappointed because they don’t become more popular, they don’t get a better job, or make new friends, or they aren’t healed.  They are disappointed because they are still human and life still goes on. 
Epicurus said “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
Or perhaps They Took It For Granted. You know what I’m getting at here.  They thought “Well of course he healed me that’s what he’s supposed to do.” 
Kind of the difference between a dog and a cat.  You feed a dog and they think you are the most wonderful person in the world, you feed a cat and they wonder what took you so long.  Somebody said that when you take care of your dog the dog thinks you must be a god, when you take care of your cat the cat thinks it must be a god.
We don’t thank the Doctors who make us better physically because that’s what doctors are supposed to do.  We don’t thank the teachers who make us better intellectually because that’s what teachers are supposed to do, and we don’t thank the pastors who help us grow spiritually because,. . . well let’s not go there it’s too self-serving.
Too often people view God as some genie in the air who is there only to take care of our wish list and we never acknowledge the debt because we don’t really acknowledge the gift.  Most prayer lists have a lot more items on the “I want” side than on the “Thank you side.”  When our prayers are answered how often is it written off as a coincidence?  Or do we think “Well of course God answered my prayers, he’s God, that’s what God is supposed to do, answer my prayers.”  Don’t take God for granted, he doesn’t have to answer your prayers, after all he’s God.
The truth is we don’t know why the we don’t read about others taking the time to thank Jesus for being healed, but we do know that one did.  I would suspect it’s the same proportions today, most of the time we don’t take the time out of our lives to express our thanks to God. 
How would our lives change if we embraced an “Attitude of Gratitude”?  If we took the time to pause and give thanks to God and to others?  Maybe we need to take heed of the words we started with in Ephesians 5:20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  
It was William Bennett who said “Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that thankfulness is indeed a virtue.”  Who comes to mind right now that you should be saying thank-you to?  How about your parents, you know there was a period in your life that if they hadn’t been there you would have died.  And there was probably a time in your life that if they hadn’t exhibited some self-control they would have killed you.  But you’re still here and there’s probably a lot of things in your life that you need to thank your parents for.
How about a particular teacher?  Years ago I phoned a man by the name of Joe Thomson in Saint John to thank him for the impact that he had on my life.  Joe was my grade twelve English teacher, but more than that he was my debating coach and a good portion of who I am as a public speaker was formed by influence that Joe had on my life.  And it took me twenty years to get around to thanking him.
How about God, what has God done in your life that you need to stop and say thank you for?  Look around at the country we live in, the life style you have, your health, your family, your salvation.  You have experienced God’s salvation haven’t you?
You see all Jesus gave the leper was life, he gives us an even more incredible gift he gives us eternal life. 
“Have I ever told you how lucky you are?”