Lives of Thankfulness

LK. 17:11-19
10/14/07

“THANK GOD FOR JESUS! THANK GOD FOR JESUS!” In 1952 my Dad was working at his desk in his office in our house in Kansas City. Through the house came the words, “Thank God for Jesus!” Dad poked his head around the corner and crept into the kitchen to find Classie scorching her way through one of his white shirts. Both my parents worked and Classie was the cleaning lady, cum laundress. She weighed in at about two thirty and could bench press a complete load of wet laundry with ease. “Are you okay, Classie?” Dad asked? “I sure am! Thank God for Jesus!” “Why do you say that?” “Because He keeps me going!” Dad slunk back to his office while Classie helped herself to what was left in the refrigerator.

When Dad told the story at dinner that night, we started to laugh. He cautioned us, “Classie is a sincere and devout Christian. She loves her family and she loves Jesus. She reminds us how important it is to be thankful in all parts of our lives.”

When I read the Gospel story for today, I remembered Classie and her full blown, free wheeling thankfulness for Jesus. Her life was hard and monetarily she certainly didn’t have much for which to be thankful. She had, however, been blessed with faith and found a spiritual community in which she could nurture her thankfulness and her faith. She had found a church.

Now the more closely I looked at the Gospel passage from St. Luke the more I was struck by the fact that this relatively short story has a very high Christology. By that I mean that both implied and articulated in this story is a very complex and sophisticated concept of the nature of Jesus. He is more than a simple traveling rabbi/faith healer. First of all he is “Master” or “Lord.” He merits respect and obedience. Jesus tells the lepers to go show themselves to the priests (that is in accordance with the liturgical laws of ritual cleanliness following a healing). But one fellow turns back and presents himself to Jesus. Jesus, then, is his priest. The man praises God for what He has done in Jesus and thereby in the formerly leprous man. This leper is a Samaritan. Like many times in Scripture Jesus is taking the authority to break boundaries and going to the outcasts. Furthermore, by acts of healing Jesus is fulfilling one of the many signs of messianic expectation, given in the prophets (the blind see, the lame walk, the sick are healed and the dead raised). All of this takes place on Jesus’ journey towards Jerusalem, and the cross, where he will become a truly healing sacrifice for the sins of the world. So when Jesus tells the man, “Your faith has made you well,” there is a lot of implicit theology in the text. To cap it off, the term “healed” is the same term used for the word “saved.” We already know the man is healed (as are the other nine), but this man has faith, therefore he is “saved.” He has found salvation.

All of that implicit and explicit theology that is found in this passage of the healing of the lepers is part of the theology of the Church into which you and I were baptized. It is that theology that gives meaning and purpose to our lives as Christian as we seek to do “meaningful work,” (the subject of my sermon last week), and as we seek to “stop stop,” or cease doing the things that get in the way of our proclaiming the Gospel fully and joyously (the subject of my sermon two weeks ago.) That theology is also the basis for our living “thankful lives.” We have much for which to be thankful: We are saved. We are forgiven. We are offered healing. We are assured of eternal life. We are given hope and eternal love. We have full reason to shout, “Thank God for Jesus!”

St. Luke and the Church may have a “high Christology” and a sophisticated theology, but I have a “low anthropology.” I think we have a lot of basic instincts and urges that are God given (after all we are “made in the image of God.”) I think “thankfulness” or “gratitude” is one of them. Last Sunday, at the St. Francis’ blessing of the animals you could just see how thankful the owners were to have their companion animals. You could also see how thankful some of the dogs were just to be alive. I had a wonderful five minute conversation with “Boomer,” Barbara Murphy’s dog. We just thoroughly enjoyed being with each other, and we shared our gladness at being alive.

When I read the story of Jesus’ healing the lepers, I could not help but think of the number of times when I have seen little children, who are loved and adored by their parents, sent out to play. The children burst into the yard full of energy. The mother or father stands in the doorway and watches them. One of the little ones stops, turns around and rushes back to the parent and throws her arms around the knees of the parent and tightly hugs the parent. “I love you.” The child says. “I love you too,” replies the parent. The child is so thankful for the love and security of the parent that she lets out a yelp and runs back to the others.” Haven’t you seen that? Haven’t you experienced that? The child is bursting with gratitude and love, with thankfulness and joy. On the most basic level, that is what this Gospel passage is appealing to. We want to give thanks. We want to praise. We want to be grateful. We want to love.

It is hard to live thankful lives. We are acultured out of it early on. The child learns not to run back to the parent. The child learns to pick up the cues of the pack and the folkways of society and culture. We learn to focus on our needs, which are legion. We seek to deal with insolvable problems: sickness, employment, care of aged parents, the fear of war or homelessness. The instinct to give thanks, to be grateful, is pushed down over and over. We fear being thankful because maybe it will bring bad luck. Maybe we will lose what we have. Maybe we will be rebuffed or hurt. To express gratitude is to acknowledge our vulnerability; it is to leave ourselves open to manipulation or rejection by others. Not having been able to say “thank you” in the way we live our lives as we grow up yields adults who fear genuine intimacy and are emotionally stunted. Not too long ago I thanked a priest for saving my life. He replied, “Well, well. How good to see you. Hope all is going well.” That was distancing. It was “off putting”. He should have said, “Thank you. I am glad you told me that and are doing well.”

It is the function of the Church, its worship and its liturgy to help people give thanks. To give thanks is “healing.” To give thanks and praise is “saving.” It is part of the process of salvation. We do not whoop and holler like the Baptists or Pentecostals, or like the church of Classie’s people. After all, we are Episcopalians- those who are burdened by impeccably stifling good taste. We call our service of Holy Communion “The Great Thanksgiving” and then read it like a train schedule. No whooping and hollering here! Our “alleluias” are squeezed out through clenched teeth. We have even eliminated the Doxology “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. . .” in our services, probably because it was sung as a dirge.

But there is in our Prayer Book a prayer of thanksgiving that is glorious. It is found in the service of Morning Prayer.

“Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

And we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen” BCP pp. 58-59.

That is an example of the Church at its best, responding to our God given desire to give thanks by articulating our thanks and praise. Allow yourself to say “thank you.” Allow yourself to express your gratitude to others and to God in a free, but appropriate, manner. Allow yourself to let the Church and the liturgy move you along and lift you up, as it can when done well, so that you can break from the pack, run with joy and throw your arms around the knees of Jesus, and say, “Thank you. I love you.” Allow Jesus to say to you, “Thank you. I love you too.” Then, just may then in a moment of joyful reflection, by yourself or with others, you too can say, “Thank God for Jesus! He keeps me going.” Ð Amen-