25 Nov A Thanks-Giving Observed
Giving Thanks in All Circumstances
Well here we are—about to celebrate another holiday in a way we never expected.
Tomorrow we will eat a meal alone or perhaps together with a smaller than usual number of family members. I’m sorry if it’s different for you this year, but I hope you are safe all the same.
More than anything, I hope that in this worship time, your thoughts move away from what you will eat, or wear, or who you will be with, or who you will not be with for Thanksgiving.
I hope your attention is drawn to what we are sharing together right now. It is something that St. Paul once wrote about in his first letter to the Thessalonians. We’re giving thanks to God in all circumstances. This worship service is intended to prime your heart and mind—so that tonight, and/or tomorrow, you pause and give thanks to God.
I thought more closely about the 10 lepers in our gospel story (Luke 17:11-19) tonight given the unique context of this pandemic within which we find ourselves.
In Jesus’ lifetime, people with leprosy were set apart in their community. They were cast out from their homes and considered untouchable. They were people you’d stay far away from. Their condition was considered very contagious – so for their sake and the communities, no one was to go near them.
One difference with leprosy, however, is their disease also made them unclean. Society believed leprosy to be a judgement from God. It was believed that these ill people must have done something wrong to deserve this condition.
We all know the story. It just sounds a bit closer to our own reality tonight. We’re told the lepers even keep their distance from Jesus.
I wonder if 6’ apart was the norm back then too?
These 10, suffering from leprosy, call out to Jesus for mercy. Jesus notices them and tells them to go show themselves to the priests. The lepers follow Jesus’ instruction and before they even arrive anywhere near wherever the priests were located, all 10 are healed.
It is at this moment, one turns back. The one who was among the most outcast of all, this one, turns back. He praises God with a loud voice, and lays himself at Jesus’ feet, thanking him. Thanks giving. That is what this healed one offers back to God and Jesus.
Giving of Thanks
So, let’s reflect on this giving of thanks and the thanks-givings from our other Bible readings shared tonight.
First, thanks-giving is about remembering the Source from whom all blessings flow. Yet, how often we don’t remember.
Like you, I’ve read this story of the 10 lepers and Jesus so many times in my life I could recite it from memory. Yet this time around, that phrase he “turned back” jumped out at me.
Here, we learn this one leper not only experiences healing, he experiences the realization of the Source of his healing.
He has that “Ah ha!” moment. And he turned back. He realized where his new life had come from. And he turned back to that Source. He turned back to praise God and he fell to the ground in thanks at Jesus’ feet.
Our psalmist tonight also turns back to give thanks to the Source of all life, goodness, and healing. I don’t know if you noticed but this psalm also gives thanks to God for our forgiveness and salvation—along with praising God for creation. How’s that for an all-encompassing thanks-giving!
My Dad messaged me the other night to give a heads up to watch the live stream docking of the SpaceX rocket with the Space Station. My husband David and I tuned in. What incredibly clear live footage!
As we watched, it was announced that the Space Station and SpaceX were travelling together at 17,000 miles an hour in orbit. The two space ships approached one another over Madagascar. Minutes later, when they docked, they were flying over the state of Indiana.
Wow! From the live stream, you could see parts of the world, the clouds, the oceans, the darkness of space. Then the images turned with wonder to the anticipation of the astronauts meeting aboard the Space Station. Praise God!
The psalmist voices our thanks giving to God, our Source of creation, by beautifully saying in verse 8, “those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs; you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.”
Read Psalm 65 (Psalm 65:1-13) as part of your Thanksgiving devotions tomorrow, and remember our God, the Source of all life and the source who, in addition to creating all things, has given you and me forgiveness and new life.
A Way of Being in the World
Which brings us to a second observation about thanks giving. Thanks-giving isn’t a day, it’s a lifestyle. Thanks- giving is more than words, it’s a way of being in the world.
A colleague found this prayer to God, which includes this excerpt:
“Creating God….Our thanksgiving is deeper than words. Rather it is a way of being in the world, a sense of being loved, a recognition we are known …by you – held …by you—called …by you – created …by you…O love that shapes the universe and fills our breath with promise, hear our thanksgiving, our gratitude, our faith that we are yours”. (When We Cannot Say Thanks, a prayer.)
Thanks giving is a way of living that recognizes our dependence on God. We have no life apart form God, or apart for each other, for that matter. We are interdependent.
The German mystic Meister Eckhart is reputed to have said that if the only prayer you make is “thank you,” that will suffice.
I’ve read of an elderly woman who had a simple, daily habit. “Each morning, as she took her walk (outdoors), she gave thanks for the many blessings in her life.
Though she walked slowly through her neighborhood, burdened by the aging process and the grief accompanying her years as a widow, she confessed that she never ran out of things for which to be thankful.
Her simple practice of thanksgiving shaped how she lived her life, faced aging, and related to others.
If the only prayer you make is “thank you,” that will be enough. And, “thank you” can be said over and over again – not just to God for the blessings of this day, but to everyone whose life touches yours in a creative way.
Such gratitude opens us to new blessings, but more importantly opens our hands to bless others — through a kind word, as well as our time, talent, and treasure.” (God’s Harvest for All: A Thanksgiving Reflection November 09, 2010 By Bruce Epperly.)
For finally, thanks-giving doesn’t happen apart from belonging.
When the one healed from leprosy returns to Jesus, Jesus proclaims to that one: “your faith has made you well.”
Another translation has Jesus saying: “your faith has made you whole.”
Not only has this one been healed, but by realizing that Jesus caused his healing and then taking the time to go back and give him thanks—that action was a step of faith. That step acknowledged that Jesus had initiated a relationship with this person that made them whole.
We have no idea what became of this healed person after they thanked Jesus for making them whole. But we do know from our reading in 2nd Corinthians (2 Corinthians 9:6-15) tonight, that once people realize their healing and wholeness comes from Christ, their network of relationships begins to build.
A network of relationships that not only connects one with Christ, but with others.
Then, in the body of Christ, the wholeness and well-being of one member is connected to the wholeness and well-being of others. We are interconnected seamlessly. No one is to be left behind, rejected, or neglected – if the body is to remain healthy and whole.
Generosity is About God
St Paul had a stormy relationship with the Christian church in Corinth. But that didn’t stop him from calling on this church to be generous when the members of another church, the people of the church in Jerusalem were facing a famine.
That’s the context of our New Testament Bible reading tonight. Paul reminded the Corinthians that generosity wasn’t about him, it was about God.
Paul writes: “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”
And he continues “for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.”
When we give thanks, we recognize the generosity of God with gratitude, as we’re invited to become generous ourselves in how we treat each other. Thanks giving and generosity go hand in hand.
Our generosity is a chance, as Christians, to echo the generosity of God.
So dear friends in Christ, may this Thanksgiving be more than a day for you.
May you be generous in your thanks giving—as others depend on it.
May thanks giving grow to become your entire way of being.
And remember the Source, as you give thanks to the One from whom all blessings flow.
Even in these most unusual times, may we continue to say, thanks be to God!