Late one afternoon a sailor was walking across the pier on his way to town for shore-leave when he heard the cry of a child from the water. He plunged into the water and rescued a six-year-old boy who had fallen in. As soon as the child was placed on the pier, he scampered away, leaving the nameless sailor standing there dripping wet. The next afternoon the sailor was leaving the ship again to take the shore-leave he had missed the day before when he heard a vaguely familiar voice crying out, "There he is, that's the one." He saw the boy he had rescued the day before coming toward him holding his mother's hand. The mother asked the sailor, "Are you the one who rescued my son yesterday?" The sailor stood tall and said, "yes Ma'am." Then the mother said, "Where is his cap?"
There may be sins more serious than ingratitude, but few are quite so painful. It would be difficult to improve on Shakespeare's classic description of ingratitude. In the tragedy, "King Lear", Shakespeare has the old king sum up his tragic experience with two ungrateful daughters by saying, "Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend, thou art more hideous than a sea monster when thou showest thyself in a thankless child."
What did you do -- prenatal -- to earn the when, where and to whom you were born? How much effort did you put into acquiring your birthright? If your birthright is a fact over which you had no control, how much choice did those born into poverty-stricken situations have? Most of us live under circumstances of material well-being that would amaze millions here and around the world. Oh, we have our little complaints, but they seldom have to do with necessities. We live our comfortable lives with little thought of gratitude for the blessings of our fortunate circumstances, when we should thank God every day. Our gratitude should take the form of action to help alleviate the brokenness and poverty that blankets much of the world. The problem of hunger around the world, as well as here in the United States, is so great that it may paralyze us into inaction. It is easy give up on the problem of poverty by pointing out that Jesus said that we would have the poor with us always. (John 12:8). We might reason that since we cannot eliminate all of poverty, it is all right to ignore it. However, our task is not to do everything, but to do everything that we can. Dr. Scott Peck titled one of his books "What Return Can I Make". That is a daily question for each of us. The maturity of our faith can be measured by the extent to which we are willing to give our best efforts to resolve the problem of poverty, which started before we were born and which will not be resolved in our lifetime. Action is gratitude that counts. As we are properly reminded, "Faith without deeds is dead." (James 2:26)
Mary Steuben, a teen-age girl from Ohio, was inspired to write a thanksgivings verse as she looked at the dirty dishes and fragments of food after dinner.
"Thank God for the dirty dishes, they have a story to tell,
and by the stack that we have here, it seems we are living well.
While people in other countries are starving, I haven't the heart to fuss,
for by this stack of evidence, God has been very good to us."
Many years ago, it was reported that Rudyard Kipling, a popular writer, received ten shillings (about 2 US dollars) for every word he wrote. That was lots of money back then. Some smart-aleck students from Oxford University sent Kipling ten shillings with this request, "Please send us one of your very best words." Kipling cabled back to the students this one word message, "THANKS."
Thanks was one of the very best words then, and it is still one of the very best words today!