~ Deuteronomy 8:6-11/Luke 17:11-19 ~
When it comes to Thanksgiving there are two words that come to my mind: Thanks and food. Now the word ‘thanks’, of course, is in the title so that can’t be ignored. And we’ll get to that word shortly. But, of course, with Thanksgiving is food; lots of food. In our American experience Thanksgiving means eating lots of food. Even though we more often than not regret how much food we ate at the Thanksgiving meal it just seems to go with the day – lots of food. Or, in our case this morning, lots of pie.
I think the reason that is so is because from the very beginning Thanksgiving was a celebration of the harvest and, hopefully, an abundant harvest. Thanksgiving is a celebration of abundance.
In a sense this is what our scripture from Deuteronomy is about. Behind the stern words to keep God’s commandments is a celebration of the abundance God provides: “a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.” “You shall eat your fill,” it says. And, significantly, “a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing.” And there it is: Abundance, not scarcity. In that sense Thanksgiving is about celebrating the abundance of all that God has given.
Yes, there is much to be grateful for. So, why is that we often forget to say, ‘thank you’? It’s as if being thankful is not the norm of human experience and people have to be cajoled into being grateful. It’s like we’re little children having to be reminded by our parents to say, ‘thank you’. “What do you say, Johnny?” “Thank you.” Or maybe you grew up in a household in which as soon as you got a gift from grandma you were expected to sit down, right then, and write a thank you card.
I must admit I can quite easily forget to be thankful. Oh, I might claim that I’m grateful, in sort of an under-the-surface kind of way. But I’m often remiss in expressing thanks openly, verbally. Yes, I am the kid whose mother has to say, “Did you remember to say, ‘thank you?’” OK, I am the husband whose wife has to sometimes say, “So, how’d you like your dinner, dear?” Yes indeed, I do need to be admonished to be grateful, at least more openly and more often than I am prone to do.
That seems to be the perspective of our gospel reading today. Jesus heals ten lepers and only one returns to say, ‘thank you’. One out of ten – not a good percentage. The lesson is we should all learn to say, ‘thank you’, first to God and, by extension, to others. Which is why, of course, this passage shows up at Thanksgiving.
However I don’t think being thankful is what this healing story is really about. My inclusivist take on this story is that the one who returned, the Samaritan, would not have been accepted by the priests in the first place. Remember, Jesus told them all to go show themselves to the priests to be declared clean. But the Samaritan would not have been declared clean simply because he is a Samaritan. The point of Jesus statement at the end, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well,” is to say that in the Kingdom of God one does not need the temple priests to be declared whole.
And yet, saying ‘thank you’ is part and partial of the story. He “turned back, praising God with a loud voice.” He threw himself to the ground and said, “thank you, Jesus.” Praising God – our worship is replete with praising God and giving thanks. Our call to worship: “We give thanks to God; we worship God.” When scripture is read we say, “thanks be to God.” The doxology: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Hence, a key element of worship is saying, “thank you, God.”
But saying ‘thank you’ to God is just one aspect of being a community of faith. I believe that saying ‘thank you’ to each other is just as important. Indeed, we are to be as grateful for each other and to each other as we are to God. Sometimes we take each other for granted. Sometimes we forget to say ‘thank you’ to each other. I know I do.
Today we have the special opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to one very special person. Kay Coleman is moving away. True, Santa Rosa isn’t terribly far away. And we certainly will not be cutting ties with Kay. But she’ll not be around much anymore. Hence, today we engage in a NVM tradition, a tradition of giving a blessing to a departing loved one – the Rite of New Beginnings.
Kay has been such a steady presence over the years that we may have taken her for granted. She has contributed so much to the life of this congregation that we almost don’t know where to begin chronicling it all. Maybe all we can do is say, ‘thank you’.
My admonition to us all this morning is that we don’t just wait until someone is leaving to say, ‘thank you’. Let’s just do it all the time to all of us! May we never cease to be a thankful people – to God and especially to each other. Amen.