From Pastor Kenny's Desk
November 25, 2018
On the journey to Jerusalem, Jesus passed along the borders of Samaria and Galilee. As Jesus was entering a village, ten people with Leprosy met him. Keeping their distance, they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Rabbi, have pity on us!”
When Jesus saw them, he responded, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going, they were healed, One of them, realizing what had happened, came back praising God in a loud voice, then fell down at the feet of Jesus and spoke his praises. The individual was a Samaritan.
Jesus replied, “Weren’t all ten made whole? Where are the other nine? Was there no one to return and give thanks except this foreigner? Then Jesus said to the Samaritan, “Stand up and go your way; your faith has saved you.”
~ Luke 17:11-19
Over the years I have found Thanksgiving to be one of the most difficult preaching assignments imaginable. I mean, other than saying, we ought to be thankful, what is there to say?
And right there's the problem, don't you think. Thanksgiving … that is, the genuine expression of gratitude … can't be commanded. It's like your mom, after you forgot to say thank you, prompting you with the oh-so-patient, You're welcome. Sure, you say thanks then, but it doesn't quite mean the same thing.
Even though I truly believe we need to consider all our many blessings as well as our lack of saying thank you, it can be a trick to preach about it in an inspirational and meaningful way. I can't say I've got the whole thing figured out, but I've found a few clues in Luke's story of the 10 lepers. Most of us are probably familiar with the story: ten lepers are healed; one returns, and it's a Samaritan no less. Perhaps one way to preach this text is to praise the Samaritan as a fine example of the only one who was appreciative enough
to say thank you and being grateful for the gift of healing. Trouble is, I’ve learned most people do not respond to examples like this because they just tend to make them feel guilty.
There is however another interesting point to the story that I think is a good point to consider: the fact that all ten were healed. All ten, even the nine who didn't return to say thanks or even utter a word of gratitude. The question is: what made the Samaritan different? Its as simple as realizing that the Samaritan noticed. That's pretty much it. Oh, I know, the Samaritan returned to say thanks once the Samaritan noticed. But I think that was kind of inevitable, or even almost involuntary. I mean, once you notice something spectacular, it's hard not to say something. … I've got good news; the cancer is in remission … I’m engaged, look at my ring … I just saw the best movie … I can't believe you’re here! Thanks!
I believe it was like that for the Samaritan: once the Samaritan realized the healing, filled with joy and awe, the Samaritan couldn't help but turn back and share this joy and thanksgiving with Jesus.
Thanksgiving is like that. When it's genuine, it's spontaneous, even involuntary … you recognize you've been blessed and can't help but sharing your joy through thanksgiving and gratitude.
So, the Samaritan turns back to sincerely say thanks. The Samaritan knows the precious gift that has been given and can't help turning around to saying something. And in doing so the Samaritan is given a second gift in leaving the encounter with Jesus not only healed but also blessed in his own recognition of healing, blessed at being drawn into deeper relationship with the One receiving thanks, blessed at hearing himself commended for having great faith.
Imagine the difference that must have been made in the Samaritan’s life … being praised by a Jewish rabbi for having great faith … faith sufficient to effect healing.
And that, my friends, is the way thanksgiving always works … in giving thanks for a gift given, we are blessed again.
So how does all this help to inspire us to think differently about thanksgiving? Here’s two things to think about: first, consider for yourself the nature of gratitude and thanksgiving … which is always worth doing and always beneficial by itself, even if done so briefly … then move to this issue of noticing … be aware of your surroundings – what do you see, smell, hear, feel around you … notice the activity, beauty, people, buildings, trees, plants, flowers, birds, dogs, cats … what do you notice and discover, enjoy or not enjoy. For those with eyes to see, we realize God's blessings are all around us. And as we give thanks for them, we notice even more and are blessed yet again. We live in an age governed by a sense of scarcity and fear and an attitude of looking out for number one. A simple word of gratitude opens us up to a world of abundance … mercy … love and grace. It may seem a small thing … noticing and thanking ... but it's the first step to setting in motion a cycle of gratitude, love and grace.
Second, while having this new discovery … risk modeling it and encouraging other to do the same. That is … try noticing those in your inner circle: family members, friends, colleagues, etc. Share with them some of the things you're thankful for, some of the places you've encountered God's blessing. Even more, notice these people. Tell them what you are thankful for about them, about your life, friendship together, about your work relationship, church, or community and world you share. Having been noticed with gratitude and thanksgiving, they will find it easier to gratefully notice in return.
Our words of thanksgiving and gratitude not only create happiness but they are also contagious. The more we say thank you … and grow happier … the more others will likely also express their gratitude and thanks and grow happier, inspiring yet others to do the same … and so on and so on until this world is a much more grateful and happy place. All of us could certainly benefit and be grateful for that reality.
Giving thanks with an attitude of gratitude for God’s all-encompassing and transforming gifts of love, hope and grace brings us to a deeper awareness and appreciation of the Holy One. It is a way that we together can grow in knowing the God who blesses us with all things and to whom we should return thanks … and who I suspect is even more glad when we show our thanks by loving those around us. Try it … my hunch is you’ll really like it!