First Reading: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Second Reading: 2 Timothy 2:8-15
Gospel Reading: Luke 17:11-19
Sermon: “An Attitude of Gratitude”
I know its still October, but we are going to talk about Thanksgiving and gratitude this morning. Actually, we are kind of at the beginning of Thanksgiving season here in North America – The Canadians celebrate theirs tomorrow. A little research on the web found this description of the Holiday: The origins of Canadian Thanksgiving are more closely connected to the traditions of Europe than of the United States. Long before Europeans settled in North America, festivals of thanks and celebrations of harvest took place in Europe in the month of October. The very first Thanksgiving celebration in North America took place in 1578 in Canada when Martin Frobisher, an explorer from England, arrived in search of the Northwest Passage. He wanted to give thanks for his safe arrival to the New World. Therefore, the first Thanksgiving in Canada was celebrated 43 years before the pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts!
For a few hundred years, the Canadian Thanksgiving was celebrated in either late October or early November, before it was declared a national holiday in 1879. It was then, that November 6th was set aside as the official Thanksgiving holiday. But then on January 31st, 1957, Canadian Parliament announced that on the second Monday in October, Thanksgiving would be “a day of general thanksgiving to almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.” Thanksgiving was moved to the second Monday in October because after the World Wars, Remembrance Day (November 11th) and Thanksgiving kept falling in the same week. This year, Canadian Thanksgiving is October 10th, 2022.
It is indeed a good thing to give thanks to Almighty God not only for bountiful harvests, but for all manner of good things. What circumstances make you the most Grateful? Health or healing? Generous giving of material blessings? Acts of Love? Help with a seemingly unsolvable situation, Prayer and support from family and friends? I suppose we are grateful for all of these things and many more. But what makes us fall down on our knees in worship and praise like the formerly leprous Samaritan in our gospel reading this morning? To evoke that depth of response, something fundamental had to transpire. It was a matter of life and death; of conversion from ultimate despair and exile to new life; He had been brought out of the darkness of ultimate despair and exile into the marvelous light of belonging and wholeness. He had been noticed, healed and saved by his Lord despite his condition and his identity. Therefore, his response was worship and praise – what else could he give?
Luke tells us this story to lift up his example and to have us wonder a bit about the other 9 lepers. Luke would have us locate ourselves in this story, understanding that we might be uncomfortable to realize the extent of our negligence. So the sterling example of the hour turns out once again to be a Samaritan.
You remember the story of the “Good Samaritan” of course. In past years, I’ve told you a bit about the hundreds of years of strained history between the people of Judah and the northern area know as Samaria, that had been the sister nation of Israel, before it was conquered by the Assyrian army. As a result of that conquest, many in that area were exiled and others from other countries were brought into the land as a way of preventing rebellion. The result was of course, inter-marriage and hybrid religious practices that made them seem strange and “other” to the folks in Judah, even though they worshipped Yahweh too and were closely related. They despised each other even more than the complete pagans that surrounded them. As one commentary says: “as feuding Christians can readily attest, it is sometimes hardest to accept those whose intense disagreements with us conceal a much broader foundation of shared beliefs.” These “cousins” of the Jews were hated because of the close, but not quite, nature of their relationship.
I find it interesting that in this group of 10 Outcasts, the Samaritan isn’t identified as different, until after he was healed. While he was afflicted, he was simply a leper, quarantined according the the Levitical codes to protect the rest of the population. In the face of that barrier, being a Samaritan apparently didn’t matter all that much. Jesus seems determined though to point out this difference, not to shame him, but rather to point out the lack of gratitude of the others – those who should have, claimed to known better.
Perhaps we can learn from this foreigner too. Jesus seems to think he is especially noteworthy and worth pointing out to those around him. After all, the “foreigner” recognized Jesus for who he was, while the Pharisees continued to to spar with Jesus, refusing to accept his authority in spite of his gracious words and powerful miracles. Let’s call this fellow “The Thankful Samaritan” and note carefully his progression and attitudes. For after all, they lead him to a place where we should all aspire to be – First, at the feet of Jesus, pouring out worship and gratitude for what had been done for him. Then, he was sent out on his way as a witness to the power of faith in God. That’s a great journey for us too, so let’s see how he got there.
Originally, as we noted before, his status as a despised Samaritan has been consumed by something even worse – a seemingly incurable disease that meant he was unacceptable to the rest of society – feared, shunned and exiled to the margins. His only company was the fellowship of those in an equally miserable state. We’re not going to go into the details of the whole host of conditions known as leprosy in that day, because it’s not really the point of this story told by Luke. In this case, Leprosy was simply what kept him apart from family and friends and all the rest of society. Jesus and his disciples er these men because they were traveling in the borderlands between Samaria and Galilee – out there were these 10 miserable but polite souls. As was proper, they kept their distance and call out for help.
These lepers had heard of Jesus – the one who cured diseases, who fed the hungry and even raised the dead! Jesus had come near to them and now they respond with cries for help. They knew their condition, they had no allusions that they could help themselves. They asked for mercy from the one that they had heard could change their lives. They didn’t dare come close, they just called out and hoped for a response. Helpless and yet hopeful. That was the first step – recognizing the one who had the power to help.
Jesus employed many different forms in his healing miracles. Sometimes he healed with a touch, other times with a command or a word. In this case, seeing the condition of the men, Jesus simply tells them to go and do what the Torah demanded of one who had already been healed. The Levitical code gives authority to the priest to examine and declare a person unclean when they saw evidence of certain diseases and they had the authority to examine one who had been cured and declare them clean again. They were to be carefully examined, sacrifices offered and a ritual washing done. After a short period of time, the priest would declare them clean and restore that person to their place in the society of the people of God.
Its a beautiful picture actually of what Jesus Christ has done for us – sinners that we are. Paul reminds us in Romans 5:6 “you see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” We, as sinners were just as powerless as this Samaritan leper. We too have received a status of belonging, adopted as the very children of God. Furthermore, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide us and teach us on our way. The Kingdom of God has come and given us belonging and an eternal destiny. We will celebrate this in a little while this morning in the sacrament of Baptism. In this sacrament we are claimed and adopted into the family of God.
What is the appropriate response to such a gift? Is it not to do exactly as this Samaritan? How can we not respond in praise and worship to the God who loves us so. To do less is be like the other 9 and just walk on. I’d like to think that the others were grateful to as the offered their sacrifices at the temple, but only the one returned to thank Jesus directly. When we understand our former helpless condition and that we have received measureless grace, worship is the most natural thing. We sing and testify what God has done for us. We also understand that we belong to a new family made up of folks who got in just exactly the same way as we did – by grace alone. Therefore we are all exactly in the same wonderful state – none better of worse than any other – each of us called and justified not by our merits, but only by the merit of Jesus our Savior. All the former divisions of the world are now irrelevant. Male or Female, rich or poor, well born or from the other side of the tracks – all these things pale to insignificance in the light of the love of God.
Through our praise we thank God and we testify to others what God has done for us. To do less is unthinkable. Let us sing our thanks as we join in hymn 643 “Now Thank We All Our God”.