On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
At this time of year, with Thanksgiving just around the corner, we tend to hear a lot about giving thanks and being grateful for what we have. The truth is, no matter what is happening in your life, if you take the time to think about the things that you are thankful for you usually realize that there is a lot more to be thankful for than you thought.
This morning, we heard about the video that the children watched during Sunday School about being thankful for the little things that we usually take for granted: for waking up in the morning, and for family, for lights that turn on whenever we want them to, and for running water, for food to eat, and jobs to work, for shoes to wear, and for cars to drive.
I know that sometimes it gets a little sickening to hear about the silver lining in every cloud or to hear people talk about the “Pollyanna principle” that encourages us to always find something to be glad about in every situation. Because the truth is, life is hard. We all face struggles and difficulty. We work hard and we don’t always feel appreciated for what we do.
So I am sure that, for some of you, one of the last things that you want to hear from the pulpit on Sunday mornings, is how to live a life of gratitude. And if you are feeling that way today, I’m sorry, because that is what we are going to talk about. But let me start by saying that I’m not just talking about hoping and dreaming, about lollipops and rainbows and unicorns, though I know the Escola family would be very excited if we talked a little more about unicorns in worship!
I am talking about LIVING lives of gratitude, not just thinking about what we are thankful for. Because there is a big difference. Friends, as we talked about a few minutes ago, we live in a broken world. There are people hurting and struggling all around us, and sometimes we’re those hurting and struggling people ourselves. And the truth is, it’s too easy to think that simply being grateful is our only responsibility, that if we think about what we are thankful for and feel good on the inside, the world will be a better place. But, unfortunately, that is just not true. Because that nice warm cozy feeling that gratitude gives us is just the beginning. You see, gratitude is the electric current that empowers our ability to actually respond. And the response to our gratitude is the important part. Simply keeping that feeling of gratitude to ourselves isn’t enough. But when we act on our sense of gratitude, that is a whole different thing. Because then, we are actually doing something to make a difference.
Several years ago, our denomination, the United Christ of Christ, used a slogan or a tagline that said, “Don’t place a period where God has placed a comma, for God is still speaking.” Have you ever heard that before? I hope so, because that why every week, here in Oldtown, after the scripture reading, we take a deep breath and we center ourselves to listen for God’s Still Speaking Voice. We know that God is simply not finished with us yet.
Gratitude also calls us to think about punctuation, but rather than a period or a comma or even an exclamation point, gratitude calls us to use a question mark. And it calls us to ask ourselves some important questions. So, what are you grateful for? What does your gratitude call you to do? And how will you live your life differently because of it?
In our gospel reading today, we heard about a man who did just that, he responded to his gratitude and he lived his life differently because of it. If you remember: Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, when he met ten men who had leprosy. Scripture says, “They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed and healed from their ailments.
That’s a nice story, isn’t it? Ten men who had been outcast and suffering because of a terrible disease are healed!! And they are able to return to their families to hug their spouses and children and to reclaim the lives that they knew before they got sick. Then, scripture goes on to tell us that one of them, one of the ten, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. It says that he threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. One of the ten praised God and thanked Jesus.
We don’t know what the other nine did. Hopefully, they went back to their towns and villages and made a difference, but that is the part of the story that we never hear. We only know that one, one of the ten, turned his thanks-giving into thanks-living.
Can you imagine being healed like that and having your life changed? Or being given a second chance; a chance to begin again, fresh and new? And then just walking away, not saying, “Thank you,” or doing anything in response to such a gift?
The truth is my friends, we have all been given gifts. Our lives have all been changed at one time or another, sometimes by the grace of God, and sometimes through the kindness of others. And if we take the time to think about the things we are thankful for in our lives, those gifts and graces tend to come to the forefront. But it is easy to go through life and take those things for granted, isn’t it? It’s easy to think that we are in control and that we can handle things on our own, and that we don’t need help. But that is simply not true.
Friends, today I want to ask you all to take some time to truly think about the things that you are thankful for. Take some time to think about your faith, and about this church, and about the times when you have felt welcomed, or encouraged, or inspired, or prayed for, or challenged, or the times when you have received unconditional love and support. Because in just a few minutes, we are going to get the chance to live out our gratitude and respond to the gifts and graces that we have received. Because today we are celebrating Promise Sunday. And Promise Sunday gives us the ability to live out our thankfulness as we promise to share our time our talents and our money in the coming year.
As most of you know, because of how our congregation works, our “Congregational polity,” our church is run solely by the hard work and contributions of you, the people in our pews. Everything, from the paper for our bulletins to our Sunday school curriculum and crayons, to the heat, electricity, telephones, and building maintenance, to the pastor’s salary, comes from the generosity and the hard work of our church family. We do not receive financial support from our denomination or any other entity. It’s up to us to set a budget and to live by it. And that is not always easy!
But, I have to say, I am always amazed at what this small church does. I know that the possibilities are endless here in Oldtown when we all work together and stay centered on our faith. And I know the generosity that comes from our church family is amazing when we put out personal frustrations and issues aside and truly live our out thanks. But like the lepers in our scripture reading today, it’s sometimes easy to be so excited by the good that is all around us that we celebrate and even praise God, but we forget, as it says on our bulletin cover, to thank and to give.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we prepare to make our promises to the church for the coming year, I pray that you would take a few minutes to think about the things that you are thankful for; and let them lead you in the giving of yourself to help the future of our church. Then later, when you go out into the world, may your eyes be open to the gifts all around you, especially those that we so often take for granted.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God! Amen!