See All the Gifts

Sermon for Sunday, October 9, 2022 || Proper 23C || Luke 17:11-19

I’d like to talk today about the action of giving thanks. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus heals ten people of the skin conditions that have marginalized them from their society. One of them  returns and thanks Jesus for healing him. And Jesus commends him for his faith. If you remember from last week, faith sharpens our vision and motivates our actions. This person, who is healed of his leprosy, acts on his faith in Jesus by giving thanks to him. We can learn from his example and find God’s abundance in so many surprising places in our lives when we intentionally practice thanksgiving. At the end of this sermon, we’re going to sing a song about thanksgiving that I guarantee is going to get stuck in your heads, so…fair warning.

But for the bulk of my time with you this morning, I’d like to take you through a framework for intentionally giving thanks that you can use every day. Your program has a bookmark of this framework stapled to it, which I invite you to take home with you today. This framework splits our thanksgivings into five categories: the Now, the Always, the Never, the Past, and the Future. I know that sounds vague and strange, but stick with me. We’ll give each one about a minute, starting with the Now.

The Now
We give thanks to God for the blessings God is currently showering down upon us. Oftentimes, these will be thanksgiving for a good meal or seeing an old friend or acing a test. Stuff like that. The blessings of Now tend to be immediate, the things that are on our minds in the moment. Giving thanks for these present things helps to train us to see God’s presence in the dailiness of our lives. But when we’re having a rough day, the Now category can be hard to fill, and that’s okay. Don’t force it. We have other categories.

The Always
The next is the Always category. We give thanks to God for the constancy of God’s blessings. Here we look deeper into our own realities and see God’s eternal presence at work. We give thanks for our breath, for nature, for the sun rising over the ocean, for God’s creative action in the universe. The immediate clamors for our notice, so we have to be intentional about thanking God for that which has always been.

The Never
And we also thank God for that which has never been, something we’ve never experienced ourselves. The Never been category is the trickiest category of thanksgiving because it can lead to self-satisfied smugness. We thank God that our lives have never been visited by disaster or disease or poverty or injustice. But we don’t stop there. Our thanks contains within it the seed of service. We recognize our privilege, and our thanksgiving propels us to see that the thing-that-has-never-been for us is always happening somewhere, to someone else. And so our thanksgiving puts us on the path to work towards justice, equity, and peace for everyone.

The Past
So, we give thanks for the Now, the Always, and the Never. We also give thanks for the Past. Sometimes tough and challenging moments of our lives do not seem, in the moment, to be causes for thanksgiving. (And they might genuinely not be. I’m not saying that trauma is good or necessary.) But looking at our pasts, even our traumatic ones, we can sometimes find moments of connection that link our stories to the stories of others. And the outgrowth of this is community. And for that we can give thanks for our Pasts. 

The Future
Finally, we give thanks for the Future. We often get scared or overwhelmed thinking about the great unknown that is the future. But we can reorient this fear and anxiety through the act of giving thanks. We give thanks that God is already in the future, that, wherever we go and whatever we do and whatever happens to us, God will be present. This type of thanksgiving is better known as ‘hope.’ And hope allows us to be daring.

So, we give thanks for the Now, the Always, the Never, the Past, and the Future. In each of these categories, we find God’s abundance through the act of thanksgiving. And when we discover God’s abundance, we can share that abundance with all we meet. We practice this sharing every Sunday when we gather for Holy Communion. Another name for our worship is the Eucharist, which is just the Greek word for “Thanksgiving.”

To get us in the right mindset and heart-set to give thanks to God this morning, I’d like to share with you a song I wrote ten years ago this week for a special service at my old church in Massachusetts. The song is designed to help kids (and, well, everyone) to learn about giving thanks. It’s participatory, so I will need your help. And, I apologize in advance, this song is really catchy. But I’m also glad, because you’ll still be singing it later today, which means you will be practicing thanksgiving.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.

Season 5, Episode 10
“D&D Party!”

In this finale of Season 5, Carrie and Adam have some fun making D&D parties out of the characters they talked about for each season of the podcast. The results are eclectic to say the least. We round out the episode with a few reflections on The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

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