Sermon for Sunday, October 13, 2019 || Proper 23C || Luke 17:11-19
This summer, I went to the place where that Gospel story happened. We were heading back to Jerusalem from Galilee, and we stopped in the West Bank town of Burqin, just like Jesus did – except he wasn’t riding an air-conditioned tour bus. We walked up a hill to a church that commemorates the healing of the ten lepers. Preserved there are the ancient underground caverns – holes, really – were people with skin conditions were set apart from the rest of society. I climbed down into one, and I can’t imagine being there for more than a few minutes.
So when I read the story of the ten lepers, I now see in my imagination a dusty, sleepy town. I hear the lepers shouting to Jesus while keeping their distance. I watch their leprosy vanish as they make their way to the priests. Then one turns back, and he does something no one else in the entire Gospel does besides Jesus.
He gives thanks.
This Samaritan ex-leper gives thanks to Jesus for healing him. Now, Jesus gives thanks for things all the time, but this guy is the only person to give thanks to Jesus.
Giving thanks is fundamental to our lives as followers of Jesus Christ. When we gather to worship God, we hear the Word proclaimed and we share the meal of Holy Communion. Taken together, this is Holy Eucharist. This strange-sounding word – Eucharist – is less strange in its original Greek, where it simply means “Thanksgiving.” Each and every Sunday we gather here to give thanks to God for all the blessings God has given us. We do this not to relegate the act of thanksgiving to an hour on Sunday morning, but so that we begin each week with the right frame of mind and heart: a mind aware of blessing and a heart inclined toward gratitude. Giving thanks here on Sunday morning propels us along a trajectory in which we continue thanking God the rest of the week.
So, why is giving thanks fundamental to our lives as followers of Jesus Christ? Here are four reasons.
Number One. Giving thanks makes us more generous people. Generosity blossoms in an environment where the fear of scarcity holds no sway. Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus and his disciples are looking out over a sea of more than five thousand hungry faces. Jesus and his friends have nothing more than one family’s lunch – five loaves of bread and two fish – but he tells them to feed the crowd anyway. Their supplies are laughably meager, and yet Jesus takes the bread and gives thanks to God for it. And somehow all the people in the crowd eat their fill. In the act of giving thanks, Jesus dismisses the fear of scarcity (not the scarcity itself). When we give thanks to God – in times of scarcity and in times of abundance – we move away from fear and toward generosity. The more generous we are, the more apt we are to rely on God’s grace, which continues moving us away from fear. With this movement, a virtuous cycle develops, and the act of giving thanks makes generosity a defining characteristic of our identities.
Number Two. God is always present in our lives, but we are not always present to God. Giving thanks offers us an opportunity to participate in and deepen our relationships with God. When we are simply glad, our gladness has no target. We say we are glad about something, but not that we are glad to something. Not so with gratitude. When we are grateful, we can say we are grateful about something and grateful to someone. The Samaritan in today’s Gospel lesson returns to Jesus to express his gratitude, to give thanks. The other nine are presumably glad they were healed, but they do not show their gratitude. By returning to Jesus, the Samaritan signals his desire to remain in relationship with Jesus, who blesses him again saying, “Your faith has made you well.” When we give thanks to God, we show our gratitude to our creator, who blesses us with deeper relationship.
Number Three. When Jesus sat at table with his friends on the night before died, he took bread, and gave thanks to God for the food and for their companionship. He implored them not to forget him, and he gave them his presence in the bread, which he called his Body. Then he shared the bread with them, and ever since his followers have been doing the same. Thus the act of giving thanks – especially in the meal we will share together in a few minutes – gets us outside ourselves. We give thanks together. We share Christ’s presence as a community. Giving thanks, then, makes the community stronger.
And lastly, Number Four. Because Jesus calls us to engage in thanksgiving as a community, giving thanks propels us to use our gifts. The best way to give thanks to God for a gift God has given is to use it for God’s greater and the building up of the community. I can thank God for my singing voice by saying, “Thank you God for my singing voice.” Or I can sing. When we serve one another and the world by using our gifts, then we have truly thanked God for them.
Giving thanks is fundamental to our lives as followers of Jesus Christ. We remember the Samaritan today because he gave thanks to Jesus, unlike anybody else in the Gospel. But not unlike us, for we are a people shaped by thanksgiving. Thanksgiving replaces our fear with generosity. Thanksgiving draws us into deeper relationship with God. Thanksgiving strengthens our community. And thanksgiving allows us fully to embrace our gifts from God. As a people shaped by thanksgiving, we continue to take the opportunity to thank God in many and varied ways. We keep our eyes and our hearts open to catalog the abundant reasons to give thanks. And then we share God’s abundance with all we meet.
At home, we’ve been adding phrases to our dinnertime grace for a few years now. Currently, we say, “Thank you, God, for food and family, and keep us ever mindful and responsive to the needs and rights of others. Amen.” Before the kids could get their mouths around that, we said, “Thank you, God, for food and family.” And before that, when they were just starting to talk, we began with the simplest form. Yet, even this simplest form contains the most profound action. We simply prayed, “Thank you, God.”
Banner image is an icon from the church in Burqin.
There are two references to Monty Python in this sermon. Can you find them?