October 13th, 2019 18th Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 23) YR C
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Ps 111–I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart…”
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.”
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give Him thanks and praise.
It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
The words of the Psalm, the message in the gospel, and especially our Eucharistic prayer ring with gratitude. It is right and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty. Always and everywhere!
In our gospel lesson today, only one of the ten lepers who had been healed came back with words of fervent gratitude, praising God with a loud voice, prostrating himself at Jesus’ feet. When was the last time we did that? When was the last time I felt myself overcome with gratitude? When was the last time I threw myself down in a prayer of thanksgiving? It’s been awhile–it’s not my daily practice. And yet. And yet I have so much to shout about, I am grateful for all that I’ve been given–for family, for this church, for so much beauty, for wonderful experiences. We all have so much to fall on our knees in gratitude for, and we say–every Sunday at least–we say that it is right and a good a joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks. We believe that we should be grateful–it is part of our faith. Always and everywhere–like breathing, really.
Do you know someone who seems eternally grateful? Do you have a person in your life you gives thanks all the time? I certainly did–my mother. My mother, Evelyn Whitfield, was a walking, talking embodiment of gratitude. Her thankfulness was authentic, transparent, and a total part of who she was. I, being her daughter, thought for most of my life, that this was just weird, actually. I might even have been heard to be making a little joke about it from time to time. When Mike and I took mom for a trip into Arizona–I think she was about 95 at the time–the gratefulness and appreciation for each cactus just rolled out of the back seat, keeping time with my own eye rolling.
But of course, I really appreciate learning about gratitude from mom. I know that her gratitude was never based on material possessions or a comparison with anyone else. She was honestly grateful for each day and each person that she encountered. Those who came into her presence left blessed, even people whom she didn’t agree with. Her gratitude was her faith, her gratitude stemmed from the very core of her spiritual being. And she spread it generously. Her joy in life and love for all that surrounded her was grounded in her relationship with God.
And she taught me, the reluctant learner, a little about gratitude. And faith. And turning back. Because just as the leper in the gospel story realized, healing is only part of faith. All 10 lepers were healed, but only one turned around, praising God. To him alone, Jesus said, “your faith has made you well.” Gratitude is the key to healing and to faith.
A few of my friends and family members are cancer survivors. They have been through it–the fear, the diagnosis, the treatment that is sometimes life-threatening itself, the long processes, the years of waiting to see if it will come back. I have witnessed their despair, their hopelessness, and their climb back into health. Without fail, these friends tell me that they view life differently now. They are extremely grateful for each day, for each moment with family, for each positive checkup. They are grateful. And that gratitude is part of their healing, It is essential to their healing, as a matter of fact. It is their faith that all will be well. It is their turn around from fear and illness.
But what, really is gratitude? What is being thankful about? Is it based on the misfortune of others? Are we like the Pharisee, standing in a public place, declaring that he was glad he wasn’t like such a scum bag? Are we grateful when we leave the presence of hopeless poverty that it isn’t us? Are we likely to say, “I’m glad I don’t struggle with …”, fill in the blank with addiction, poverty, whatever?
On Wednesday night I was headed home after a day of being hyper aware of the unhoused and needy that inhabit the streets of our city. Father Brent and I had been at a workshop all day that talked about the traumas of childhood experiences. As I was driving back across town, I looked at those who sit on the street corners and rest in the parks. I could just see the traumas and the crises that surrounded them. I thought, “This is too much. I’m too tired. I need to go home.” It hit me hard right then, in the car, in traffic, the people on the streets and in shelters were in their “home.” They were there–that was it for them, whether it was a park, the mission, or a shelter.
Then I began thinking, while driving, about this sermon. About these words that I want to say about gratitude and faith and healing. I realized that the gratitude that I felt then for a warm house or an easier life was partly based on comparison with those who don’t have much. That doesn’t seem like the right attitude. The leper was grateful for his own healing, his new life that he’d been given. He wasn’t grateful that he was better suddenly than the other lepers. As he experienced the joy of his healing, he turned around. He turned around and worshiped and gave thanks. He became grateful for new life, new opportunities, new desire to serve and to be saved. When we recognize who we are and where we are. When we see God acting in our life and feel joy and thankfulness for God’s presence–that is gratitude–the gratitude that is the key piece in faith. Our healing happens, and we turn toward a new way of being, a way of rejoicing in our Savior. We turn to a new way of doing life.
For me, that my gratitude of comparison leads me to my knees once again. I pray for forgiveness and clarity. I pray for discernment about how I can be more intentional in ministering to those in need. I ask to see each one more as my fellow being in this tough life. I pray to see my sisterhood with people in great need, with those who are lost to addiction, with those who have given up, with those who have a limited use shelter, limited access to food. How can I be more authentic, more intentional, more transparent to those I work with? Can we find a way to work together on the problems that surround us? Can we build relationships that withstand the barriers of economic and privilege differences? Can we heal together and give thanks together and turn around in gratitude together? What will that look like when it happens?
I want to confess something to you. I’m so very happy to be here with you in this beautiful space. I need to be here, worshiping with you. But… But a part of me wants to be out making connections, lending a hand up, restoring people into their right places in our community. I would like to see if we could work together to bring some healing, some hope, some way out.
Father Brent suggested last week that as we pray about pledging, we look for a way to give until we feel it. I suggest to you that we also should give of our time until we feel it. My place is here, now, with you. And I’m comfortable and warm and joyous to be here. But I would give it up now if I could make another contact, provide a little support, be a human face to someone in need. I am not suggesting that I will be absent from you. But I am pledging more time and more authenticity to our fellow human beings that show us such depth of need.. My schedule at the church is wonderful and busy and full. My time away is fun and busy in a retirement sense of things–beach and mah jongg and sushi making classes–you know. I’m going to pledge money to the church, just as each of you are. I’m also going to pledge time–more time–time I take away from the privilege that surrounds me, time taken from lazy mornings and extra activities, time snatched from being in a park for the fun of it Because relationship building takes time and commitment. Because when you live in a park during the day, you envy those who casually walk through with their pampered pet on a leash. Because when you are a young parent who has run out of hope and dreams, you need someone to give you some time and some resources and some energy to try again. You need someone to see you as a person, not as a ministry. I’m telling you this today because I want you to hold me accountable. I want you to ask me how my ministry pledge is going, how I’m finding time, how I’m doing with authenticity and relationship. And I want to be able to tell you. I want to turn around to you and give joyous thanks for all that is happening.
Let us not grow weary of doing what is right. Let us each examine our deep, deep relationship with ministry, with money, with time, with gratitude. Let us take this week to look into that curtained window of our soul. Let us fall before our Savior and give thanks. And then let us go out into our world, and give of our energy and time until we feel it, until it hurts, until we are cleansed and transparent and real.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God, for it is right and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to God.