thanksgiving week sermon
Grace and peace to you through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
As we prepare for our nation’s holiday of Thanksgiving, I am both frustrated and excited. We plan this day every single year. It is something to look forward as we try to get back to our family and close friends, to gather with the people who mean the most to us. But for those who are unable to get home, this holiday can be quite painful. Looking ahead at the weather, I’m grateful and excited because it looks like it should be a nice time to travel, a good time to be on the road heading towards family and friends.
But I’m frustrated because at the same time we remember with gratitude the abundance God provided, we also celebrate greed.
I’m guilty of combining these two events of gratitude and greed one day after another. One day being grateful then next greedy. But this year is a bit different as the stores are actively taking over the day of Thanksgiving. And we are letting it happen.
The big question that seems to be glaring at me as we start this holiday season is the fact that our priorities are truly brought into question based upon how we act. Are we the ones being grateful or are we taking our abundant blessings for granted?
And oddly enough, I think the story in our gospel text seems to highlight some of this tension as the nine follow orders in the way they know how while one is able to show a different set of priorities.
The story of the ten lepers has always fascinated me. Not because of the one who returns, but because of the other nine and Jesus’ reaction. Whenever I read this story, I can easily picture 10 unfortunate lepers who are blighted by the horrendous skin disease that has lead them to be outsiders who can only look but never interact. This is exclusion and separation in its simplest form. They have been all but shunned by family and friends. So when they see Jesus, they cry out for mercy, for Jesus to have pity on them and to take notice. They want help, and Jesus provides them with a simple command to show themselves to the priest.
Now the tradition for dealing with lepers was that a priest had to check them and make sure that they have been cured. The Jews did not want to take a chance that someones leprosy would cure for a short time but come back. The goal was to prevent the spread of disease, so they checked to make sure that they were truly clean and healthy and ready to be welcomed back into society and their families.
So when Jesus tells them to head to the priest, they must have been so excited to get started. I mean, he is telling them to walk to the very people who have the power to announce that they are clean and able to come home. They follow his command and start walking. And as they walk, they are healed. They are healed as they obey the command to go and tell the priest. They don’t look back but only ahead towards the lives they can reclaim.
Oddly enough, the text provides us with one detail that doesn’t necessarily seem necessary: this tenth leper was a Samaritan. I’m never really sure what to do with this, but I’m thinking that it is significant that the Jewish lepers continue on toward the priest while the Samaritan stops.
The Jewish lepers are truly obeying the command they have in order to rejoin the world they stood alongside. They are following their tradition of going to the priest, and after being declared clean, perhaps to giving thanks in the temple. They are heading to the location where they have known God to be found, not realizing that God was the one walking along the road.
But the Samaritan is able to see that God is doing great things through the person of Jesus, and is able to give thanks to God not just in a temple, but alongside the road.
Nine follow the road in front of them that leads them to the temple, but one turns around.
One turns and gives thanks to Jesus and praising God for the healing that took place. Before he left, he went back to the source of his joy: Jesus who healed him.
He knew who to thank, and before he was officially declared clean, he was giving thanks. Once he noticed that his skin had cleared, he gave thanks. He did not think up a fancy ritual or sacrifice to show his gratitude, but instead he gave thanks and praise to the one who had the power to heal.
We can look to this leper as an example of what pleases God. I mean, he gave thanks when he was feeling most grateful, without waiting. He simply turned and threw himself down in front of Jesus.
His day of thanksgiving showed up on a unplanned day.
But I am curious as to what Jesus was thinking. I mean, on the one hand, the nine are obeying him. They heard his command and are following it. It’s like they are afraid that if they change directions and don’t follow through with the command, Jesus will change his mind and give the leprosy back. So they keep on moving.
But Jesus gets upset with them. Maybe if the one hadn’t returned, he wouldn’t be disappointed in the other nine, but the story is set up so that we see one of ten as grateful while the other nine are ungrateful.
Does Jesus need the thanksgiving? Or is he aware of what’s in the hearts of the others and is displeased with them because of that.
Here I go trying to make up excuses to understand the nine and to help them escape the anger or disappointment.
And isn’t that exactly what we are like?
Some days we are intentional about giving thanks, of setting aside a certain day that is meant for that purpose, almost as though the one day is enough to appease God for all that we have been given. Like the Jewish tradition, we have our rituals in place and think that those actions are enough to show our gratitude.
Other days we are quick to react and give thanks and praise at random times. Like the Samaritan leper, we turn to God when we realize that we have been given much.
But other days we sit back and forgo the thanksgiving as we get caught up with other actions in our lives. Like the nine lepers, we blindly continue on the road that we were commanded to go down.
It is always good and appropriate and right to give thanks and praise to God. But what do we do when our thanks are given because it is expected of us instead of the thanks that flows out of us? So as we get ready to celebrate the day of Thanksgiving, which category describes you? Where do you fit into the story?
The litany of thanksgiving highlights some of what we can be grateful for, and I’m sure that we can each add more to the list. God has truly blessed us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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