October 13, 2013

Philippians 4:4-9
Luke 17:11-19

“Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!”

This is the first sermon I’ve written in a long time without my cat, Samuel, snuggling up beside me on the couch or trying to crawl on top of the lap-top while I’m trying to type. Unfortunately, Sammy got suddenly very sick last weekend. He stopped eating and drinking, and by Monday afternoon we knew it was some form of cancer. On Monday evening, we made the very difficult decision to euthanize him rather than putting him through the discomfort of treatments that might have given him a few more months at most.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, it was really hard to start telling people what had happened, and I found myself in tears again and again when I attempted to share my sad news. But at some point on Wednesday, I was about to make my way back upstairs to my office, and I said, “I need to go start working on worship for Thanksgiving Sunday. I’m not feeling very thankful yet, but maybe by Sunday I’ll be more in a Thanksgiving mood.”

And Karen said, “Aren’t you thankful that all this didn’t happen on Saturday evening instead Monday?” I said, “Yes, that’s for sure. I would have been a mess!” And then I started to think about what I was thankful for. I was thankful for the vet and his kindness and compassion for us. I was thankful that Nick was there and I didn’t have to go through it alone. Although the timing took me completely by surprise, I was thankful that it didn’t happen a couple of months ago when we were on holidays in BC.

Then a few hours later, I managed to tell my sad news again to the knitters who had gathered in the church parlour to make prayer shawls together. And Lesley Bens, who is a cat-lover too, helped me to spend a few minutes giving thanks for Sammy’s life. We shared stories and reminisced about many great cat-moments, and we pondered together what cat-heaven might be like.

After that I found that I could tell people about what had happened without immediately bursting into tears. It didn’t mean that my grief was over, but my thankfulness was growing, and I was growing stronger.

I know we’ve all heard this morning’s Gospel story about the ten lepers lots of times before. And sometimes it just seems like a lesson in “remember to say thank you.” You know, be polite and say thank you. If someone does something nice for you, Miss Manners would say you should write him/her a thank you card. One former-leper came back to say thank you, and he was a foreigner. He didn’t even know our culture or customs, but he said thank you. The others were just rude, don’t you think?

But it seems to me that saying thank you to God is more than just a matter of manners. I think that saying thank you actually changes us… being thankful actually makes us well.

“Boost your health with a dose of gratitude” was the title of a web launch by a medical group. The essay cited thousands of years of philosophic and religious teaching urging gratitude and then cited new evidence that grateful people, for whom gratitude is a permanent trait, have a health edge.

Commenting on this web site, preacher John Buchanan writes, “It may be that grateful people take better care of themselves, but there is evidence that gratitude alone is a stress reducer, that grateful people are more hopeful, and that there are links between gratitude and the immune system. So your mother was right when she made you call your grandmother and thank her for the birthday card.”

C.S. Lewis, observing the connection between gratitude and personal well-being wrote this: “I noticed how the humblest and at the same time most balanced minds praised most; while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least. Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.”

Did you notice what happened in the gospel story? Jesus was approached by ten sick people who wanted his help. Jesus didn’t do anything obvious to heal them. He didn’t touch them. He didn’t wave his hands over the leprous skin. He didn’t tell them to wash, or to use a certain ointment. He just told them to go and show themselves to the priests. (The priests were the ones who could verify that the lepers were indeed healed and restore them to the community. That’s why going to the priests was so important.)

And it was as they went that they found themselves healed.

Now, they were ALL healed. Did you notice that? Not just the Jewish ones. Not just the foreigners. Not just the ones who would remember to say thank you. Not just the ones who had faith.

But only one of the former lepers turned back to praise God and thank Jesus. All we really know about him is that he recognized a gift when he saw it and experienced it, that he returned to say, “thank you,” and that Jesus said to him, “Your faith has made you well.”

Remember, ALL of the former lepers were made CLEAN. They would all show themselves to the priests and be restored to the community. But only the one who came back to praise God and thank Jesus was made WELL. Another possible translation of the Greek phrase here could be “Your faith has saved you.” For some reason, I don’t think that Jesus was just talking about the fact that the man’s skin was clear again. He was talking about wellness, about salvation, about the kind of wholeness of life that comes from an attitude of praise and gratitude to God for every sign of God’s grace and mercy.

In a pastoral reflection, Kimberly Bracken Long explains our gospel story in this way: “Jesus is teaching about the nature of faith. In short, to ‘have faith’ is to live it, and to live it is to give thanks. It is living a life of gratitude that constitutes living a life of faith – THIS is the grateful sort of faith that has made this man from Samaria truly and deeply well.”

This week, as I thought about our celebration of thanksgiving, it became clear to me that thanksgiving is not just an activity for those whose lives are going well in every respect. Instead, no matter what our circumstances, we are called to praise God and give thanks.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Philippian Christians from his jail cell in Rome, encouraged them to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” He said, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Christian writer, Anne Lamott, explains that her two favourite prayers are quite simple. In the morning she prays, “Help me, help me, help me.” And in the evening she prays, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” No matter what our circumstances today or tomorrow, may we join in these prayers, and by God’s grace may we be made truly and deeply well. Amen.