On this Thanksgiving Sunday, we gather to praise God and give thanks for His blessings and gifts. As we will learn, Luke’s message today challenges us to think about what it means to say thank you to those who extend to us acts of kindness offers of grace.
November 19, 2023
Luke 17: 11-19
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
Luke 17: 11-19
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him. Keeping their distance from him, they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!” When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they left, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus replied, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.”
With Thanksgiving Luke 17: 11-19
This Sunday is Thanksgiving Sunday. And knowing that, we were all probably expecting some Thanksgiving-ny text to be read today. You know like Psalm 100 which says: “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Or maybe 2 Corinthians 9 which says: “The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9 As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness[b] endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.11 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” Right, Thanksgiving-ny?
We certainly weren’t expecting this text from the Gospel of Luke. Sure it mentions the word “thanks” in verse 16 but it doesn’t have the same effect as all the other traditional Thanksgiving texts.
What I mean by this is that unlike our usual Thanksgiving texts, this particular text from Luke doesn’t call us to give thanks. It doesn’t put us in the mindset of God’s abundance. It doesn’t call us to be generous so that all will know from whom our blessings flow. Or so it would seem…
Now before we dismiss Luke’s story as not quite Thanksgiving-ny enough, I invite us to take another look at it. And when we do, we realize that Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem. The significance of this is that in the chapters to follow, we will hear about the procession of palms, the Last Supper, and eventually the empty tomb. But for now, the significance is that Jesus has begun his journey of ushering in the Beloved Community of God. And one of the first things he does in bringing about the Beloved Community of God is healing ten lepers, healing 10 people who because of a skin disorder, a skin disease, have been pushed to the margins and declared unclean. As Jesus approaches them, they call out to stay away. But he can’t. Jesus doesn’t. Jesus sees them. He sees them, not only as lepers but as people created in the image of God. Jesus sees them as ones who are in need of healing and wholeness in their lives. So after seeing them, after noticing them, Jesus then tells them to go show themselves to the priests.
The amazing thing is they didn’t even have to make it to the priests before they discovered that they had been healed. All 10 lepers’ lives were changed. All 10 lepers were healed. All 10 lepers were transformed and welcomed back into the community but only one came back to say thank you. At this point, we as readers are wondering why Luke feels the need to point that detail out to us. What are we missing in this story? Why is it so important that we pay attention to the fact that this one leper came back to give thanks?
To answer these questions, we need to take another look at Jesus’ response, When the one leper, a Samaritan no less, an outsider still even though he has been healed, when the one leper comes back to say thank, Jesus simply says…“Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.” To us as readers, even though the response of giving thanks seems out of place, in reality, it is the only appropriate response the one who is healed can give to experience the Beloved Community of God in their midst. Because of that moment, because of that connection, because Jesus brought the Beloved Community of God to these people who everyone else ignored, Lives were changed. Bodies were healed. The lost were welcomed back.
All 10 lepers’ lives were changed. All 10 bodies were healed. All 10 were now part of the community once more. But only one came back to say thank you. Only one came back to give thanks. But only one remembered from whom all blessings flow. Only one was told that he was saved.
Through this one leper, Luke is reminding us that our faith is not only grounded in hope. It is also grounded in thanksgiving. It is grounded in the knowledge that God is God and we are not. Our faith gets us in touch with the life transforming power of our God each and every day, a power that brings life and love to all.
So knowing all that, why are we surprised that Luke asks us as his readers “If this had happened to you, wouldn’t you come back and say thank you?”
You see, Luke wants us to remember as people of faith, we always have a choice. We always have a choice in picking which narrative will guide and shape our lives. We have “a choice to see our blessings, name them, and express our gratitude in word and deed. We have a choice to give voice to our gratitude, a choice with the consequences, for as we express our gratitude, we affect those around us, even shape the reality in which we live.
Think about it. Gratitude is not the only emotion we might choose to express in response to the events of any given day. There are reasons for gratitude, yes, and also reasons for fear, for anger, for frustration, grief, for regret, for apprehension. Each and all of these colors our experience, makes its appearance on the stage of our lives, and perhaps each has a place and role to play from time to time. But we choose how much stage time to grant each of these emotions by giving them expression, and as we do so we give them power in our lives. Let me say that again: whatever we give expression to in our lives, we give power to in our lives.
And that’s what’s key: Day in and day out we are making choices. We may feel a range of emotions in all kinds of circumstances and situations, but we choose which to give expression. When confronted by someone who is angry, do we respond with anger as a form of self protection or do we choose empathy, trying to understand the emotions of the other, and gratitude that the person was willing to be honest? When we are set back in some endeavor at school or work, do we express frustration or a resolve to keep at it and gratitude for what we’ve learned through this setback? These are choices.” (David Lose) These are the things we must decide if and when they have power in our lives.
This Leper made the choice to say thank you in response to God’s amazing grace. Thank you in response to God’s healing love. Thank you in response to God’s continued presence that surrounded and made him whole.
And we have the same choice as well. We have the choice to wake up each day with gratitude or with fear. We have the choice to see the glass as half full or as half empty. As people of faith, we have the choice to see that even in times of darkness, God is there, loving us, guiding us, calling us and empowering us to be lights of hope that shine bright or we have the choice to believe that this world has the last word.It is and has always been up to us to choose to have an attitude of gratitude.
Because we know God is always there, guiding us, leading us, surrounding us, loving us. We know that there is no place that we can go that our God is not already there. God is always there, waiting, inviting us to choose life. God is always there, reminding us from whom all blessings flow. God is always there, ready to continue reminding us that God is at work in the world, bringing healing and wholeness to all of God’s children. No strings attached. No expectations of something in return. God is doing all of this because God loves us and wants us to be made whole. God is at work in this world, immersing all of God’s creation in amazing grace. And all we need to do is say Thank you!
Today and all days, we are reminded that in giving thanks, in allowing grace to be the power that is at work in our lives, there is healing, there is love, there is transformation, that we are invited to open our eyes to the amazing possibilities of new life which surrounded us and enriched our lives every single day. By embracing an attitude of gratitude today and all days, we as people of faith, are invited to live into the promises of God’s Beloved Community and experience the presence of God in all things, through all things, something which constantly transforms our lives.
Like the one leper who returned to give thanks, may we always choose to see and name God’s amazing grace as the power at work in our lives and in our world.
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