Prayer of the Day
Almighty and most merciful God, your bountiful goodness fills all creation. Keep us safe from all that may hurt us, that, whole and well in body and spirit, we may with grateful hearts accomplish all that you would have us do, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c – Naaman washes in the Jordan and is cleansed
2 Timothy 2:8-15 – If we die with Christ, we will live with Christ
Luke 17:11-19 – One leper made clean by Jesus gives thanks to God
What does thanksgiving look like to you? That question might immediately bring to mind pictures of a turkey laden table from days gone by. All the trimmings spread around. Hungry mouths gathered around. A feast that is intended to represent a harvest feast. This demands a lot of imagination from us city dwellers who harvest no crops, kill no livestock, many of us don’t even do the cooking. Not to mention that fact that we can get most of these products any time of year from the grocery store. But we pretend and we are thankful for another year’s harvest. Is that what thanksgiving looks like to you?
For our Canadian neighbors and those among us (too bad Janet isn’t with us today), thanksgiving looks like tomorrow. Yes, while we are celebrating Columbus Day, they will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day. Last year, Scott and I were in Montreal for Canadian Thanksgiving and due to a mini heatwave, Thanksgiving up there was looking a lot like a day in August. People were out strolling and enjoying the unseasonable warm day. We were told, by the Montrealers at least, that they didn’t really have the custom of the big family feast that those of us to the south engage in.
Thanksgiving may look like a thank you note. Always nice to receive, not always sent in a timely manner, or sent at all. Yes, thanks-giving can sometimes be a chore. Thanksgiving can be a hug of appreciation, an honoring party, a big banner, or a simple flower. So many ways to say thank you, to give thanks, so many looks for thanksgiving. Today’s readings offer us some more pictures of thanksgiving, pictures offered up by some great expressions of thanksgiving and some great misses.
Our first reading is truly one of the funnier stories that come out of the life of the way too serious prophet Elisha. It starts with what many in Israel would have thought a bit of a riddle, a rather strange proposition. For some laughable, even. In the kingdom of Aram, what is today Syria, a kingdom that was an enemy of Israel. (Here we are nearly 3,000 years later and nothing has changed.) But in that ancient kingdom, there is a military man who is seen as blessed by God because he has had success on the battlefield. A non-Hebrew, enemy of Israel blessed by God. As I said, laughable to some. And from the presence of the Israelite slave in his house, one can see that some of his military success has been against God’s chosen people. What is going on here? However, that is not the point of this story. It is just a stated fact, as uncomfortable as it might make some people that an outsider, an enemy even, is favored by God. But back to the story. The Israelite slave speaks of a possible cure for General Naaman’s leprosy, and so the favored military leader gets the king of Aram to write (in peace) to the King of Israel – who in turn, unable to give thanks for the possibility of a peaceful exchange, immediately assumes once an enemy always an enemy; and he figures that the King of Aram is asking for the impossible so that when the answer is no, he’ll have reason to attack again. The king of Israel could not open his eyes to give thanks for all that God had given him, great prophets and faithful promises, but only saw his own shortcomings and so saw pictured no thanks giving at all.
But Elisha jumps in and says, send Naaman to me. Now Naaman is coming with lots of thank you gifts and he is ready to say thank you to whoever cures him in a really big and rich way – gold, silver, garments. (There’s a thanksgiving we would all like to picture being given to us.) But Elisha won’t have it. He is happy to direct Naaman to the healing power of God. And tells him to simply wash seven times in the Jordan and he will be clean. Blinded by his own self-importance and expecting a miracle worker to give a performance worthy of the treasure that he is ready to give, Naaman is outraged by such humble, mundane directions for the cleansing of his illness. He expects great things, greater attention, greater production. (He would have fit in well in our reality TV, celebrity pampering culture. But I’m not mentioning any names.) But once again, as in any comedy of the Roman theatre, it is the servant who speaks the wise words to the foolish and blind, self-absorbed master. Naaman follows the directions and he is healed. And with his wholeness restored, his life returned to him, his thanksgiving is a bold statement of faith affirming that God is truly God.
In the gospel reading for today, Jesus encounters 10 who are in need of the same healing that Naaman was after. 10 lepers. A disease that was robbing them of life, as it slowly killed them. Robbing them of family and community, because they were no longer permitted to live among the healthy ones. A disease that robbed them of any meaning, purpose, or identity. No names, just a label. Those people over there. Those lepers. Who live in a leper colony. Who are as good as dead.
They cry out to the miracle worker passing by. Obviously even to their community of death word had reached them about this great teacher and healer who had been traveling the land. Now he was on his way to Jerusalem. They get no show, they don’t even get instructions for a big river washing. They simply get a directive from Jesus to go and show themselves to the priests. You see, if one had signs of leprosy, they were considered unclean, pronounced so by the priests. And if one was to be called clean again, the law said it is the priests that made such a diagnostic declaration.
You heard what happened. In route to the priests they discover that they are clean once more. Disease free. Saved. Restored in every sense of the word. They are returning from the land of the dead to the community of the living. And for one of them, thanksgiving is not about following the law that says a priest must be involved, but thanksgiving looks to be a return to the source of salvation. Thanksgiving looks to be kneeling at the feet of the one who has saved him, restored him, resurrected him. Foreign as that savior might be; for this healed man is a Samaritan, another enemy of the Jesus’ people.
Thanksgiving is deeper, more profound, when we get beyond the look of social convention or adherence to rules and laws, and tell the truth about how far we have been delivered, how great is our salvation, how full is our resurrection. We start each liturgy with confession so as to tell the truth again of from what God has saved us, healed us, resurrected us. And so our thanksgiving has the look of songs of praise, shouts of alleluia-joy, sharing with thanksgiving from our God-given abundance, joining together as a community of faith in Christ’s presence at Christ’s table to multiply our thanksgiving, and to go and spread the good news to others who might want to give thanks.
Today, the saints among us that we are honoring are Jamie and Sean who serve as the rangers to the new National Monument that is across the street – The Stonewall Inn. They help people see the truth about how far the LGBTQ movement has come since that call-for-help-and-deliverance uprising 47 years ago. Truth telling so that there can be thanksgiving of what has been. And encouragement to go forward.
To conclude, one more word to add to this picture of thanksgiving: humility. Humility is at the center of thanksgiving that is grounded in faith. Not poor me, bad me, nothing me, humility; but humility that speaks the truth so that we might see all that God has done and is doing for us, undeserved as it may be. With this humility and thanksgiving, the Holy Spirit guides us in the way of faith that makes us well, makes us whole, makes us alive in Christ Jesus. Let our thanksgiving always be seeking new heights and new expressions. Let our thanksgiving know no end.
The Rev. Mark Erson,