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Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost, October 13, 2013

When I got married, the popular gift for the year was candlesticks. I must have gotten eight or ten pairs. Though I had written thank you notes all my life for presents I had received from family and friends, writing a note for one particular pair of candlesticks proved to be a real puzzler. They didn’t match, and it didn’t seem to be a mistake on someone’s part. They didn’t match on purpose. What was I ever going to do with them? But of course it was still necessary to write a note letting the giver know I had gotten the gift and was grateful for her generosity. I ended up saying something like I appreciated the gift because one candlestick was traditional and one was contemporary and my husband and I were a mixture of both.

Writing thank you notes completes a circle of love and caring. Someone works hard – or even not so hard – at picking a gift for you. You appreciate their thoughtfulness even if the gift is something you cannot use and you write them a note. They feel appreciated and loved for their efforts. I have written thank you notes for gifts, for volunteers making special efforts, for people who visit our church.

In today’s gospel, a man’s thank you changes his life forever and gives the disciples a lesson in faith. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, where he will suffer and die for our sins. He is in the region between Samaria and Galilee, a place where he probably should not be since no Jew would willingly be near a Samaritan. But Jesus is always entering spaces where he shouldn’t be. He is meeting people he shouldn’t meet and he is changing their lives. No one else would do this. Only our savior, who has a particular feeling for the marginalized, would do such an outrageous thing. Only our savior would take unsavory characters and make them part of God’s fold. Only our savior would take us, sinful as we are, and make us God’s sons and daughters through his love for us.

Jesus is approached by 10 very unsavory characters – lepers. Leprosy was not the Hansen’s disease we know today, but a variety of skin conditions. People were put out of the community and marginalized for something they could do nothing about. They were isolated from their homes and families with no hope of returning unless their disease somehow cleared up. Imagine someone you know with a condition like psoriasis. We would not put them out of the community for that, but people in Jesus’ day believed all those skin diseases were highly contagious, and they stayed away from lepers. These 10 lepers have heard about Jesus’ healings elsewhere and they know he is their only hope. So they are going to make sure that he sees them. They draw as near to him as they dare and shout at him so he cannot fail to hear, begging for mercy.

Jesus, truly the Word of God, has compassion for them and heals them with his words. He tells them nothing but to show themselves to the priests. And off they go, obedient to his command, expecting to be healed along the way, and they are. But one of them, a Samaritan, sees that he is healed and can hardly contain his gratitude. We do not know what the others thought about their healing, but they must have kept on their way. But the Samaritan cannot do that. He turns around and runs back to Jesus, giving praise and thanks to God for the miracle Jesus has done for him. The gratitude is just spilling out of him. The ten lepers had faith enough to come close to Jesus; the one prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving. His seeing what has happened to him and his turning around, his new perspective on life, has drawn him right to Jesus’ feet, so much nearer than when he was a leper, so much nearer because he is completing the cycle of grace and gift by offering his heartfelt thanks. This much despised foreigner had become an example of living his faith.<p/

Though Jesus had not told the lepers to return and give praise to God, he wonders where they are, why they have not come back. They could say they were just being obedient, but sometimes it is better to turn around to give thanks and praise. They could have gone to the priests later. In Luke’s stories, it is often those who are marginalized who experience Jesus most deeply and give thanks most sincerely. They have been treated badly, and they are so grateful for being given a chance for new life that they experience a second blessing (David Lose). Not only do they receive the healing, but they recognize it and express their gratitude.

All the lepers had faith, but the Samaritan’s faith is special. It is life changing not only in the physical sense but in the spiritual and emotional sense as well. When Jesus tells him to go on his way, that his faith has made him well, “well” can also be translated as “whole” or “saved”. His completing of the grace-gift-gratitude cycle has brought him into the kingdom, has made this supposed “heretic” a beloved child of God”.

All of us here have been so blessed by God that we have to say thank you. God’s grace has called us here. Jesus’ love has saved us. How much greater a gift can we get? How can we not turn from our usual focus on ourselves and say thank you to the God who has done so much for us? Saying thank you is our privilege. It is our second blessing. It is our work on this earth. Jesus does not save us because we are worthy. Jesus saves us because he is worthy, and the Samaritan recognized that. We can too. We come here for Eucharist, a word that means thanksgiving. We come here not just to receive, but to give our thanks and praise for our lives, our loves, our gifts and our graces (Kimberly Bracken Long). We come here to fall at Jesus’ feet and say thank you – oh thank you – for all you have done for me. We come here amid our problems and our questions and we still say thank you for those. No matter what state we are in, there is always something to be thankful for.

God has blessed our church in big ways too. Look at the 60 people who came to Friends and Family Sunday to worship, eat and have fun. Look at the baptism of Matthew and Madeline Hubbard, our newest members. Look at our Family Ministry Program’s Vacation Bible School, full of children learning Bible stories about how God helps people do heroic things that they could not do on their own. Look at our work with AFAC, where we help feed the hungry. How can we fail to respond to God for these gifts and more?

Thankfulness is a mark of mature faith. It is a way we draw near to Jesus as the Samaritan did. It is a way of life. I am a worrier by nature, so I keep a gratitude list to remind me of all God has done for me in the past. Each night before I go to bed I write a gratitude list for all the blessings God has given me that day. It really helps, folks. It makes our gifts real; it grows our hope; it shows our praise and thanks.

Remember to put on your list a thanksgiving for God’s giving us the opportunity to give back. We tend to think of giving money away as putting a hole – H-O-L-E – in us, of making us more vulnerable. But that’s not true. Giving back is about wholeness – W-H-O-L-E. It makes our faith life complete. It saves us and frees us from whatever chains shackle us. It gives us joy. So stop where you are in your daily routine, turn around and give thanks to God by giving to St. John’s for all the blessings we receive here. It is at once the least we can do and the most we can do. God gives us grace to draw near. Then God gifts us. Finally God saves us and makes us whole. Through our thanksgiving, we respond in love to God, the giver of all things, and the grace-gift-gratitude cycle blesses our lives over and over again.

AMEN

     - The Rev. Ann Barker

 

Works Cited
David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, “Second Blessing”, Blog post
Kimberly Bracken Long, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 4 (Louisville: John Knox Press 2009), p.168