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October 9, 2022: Gratitude, Healing and Faith

Sunday School Activities

Home For Thanksgiving-Luke 17 11-19
(Thanksgiving-14th Sunday after Pentecost October 9, 2022)
Have you noticed the flocks of geese yet, overhead in their noisy, elegant V-shaped formations? It’s an image that comes to mind as I think about Thanksgiving and the human instinct to migrate home for certain holidays. Thanksgiving is one of those times of year where the urge is to be home–surrounded by those you love and those who love you. It can be a healing journey, the trip home. Of course, this instinct to migrate home is what makes the holidays difficult for some. If home is a place of judgement, if home is a place where you can’t be yourself, if home is a place of anger and violence or if the home you knew is no longer around the urge to migrate home for the holidays is known because it is felt in the pain of frustrated longings for love, support, understanding and connection. The instinct to migrate home is known in frustrated longings for healing.
“Frustrated longings for healing”, “homeless”, I think that might be an apt description of the ten men with the skin disease in our faith story today. These men literally have no home. According to the laws of the Book of Leviticus people with such conditions are expelled from the community. The book of 2 Kings (7:3) speaks of a group of such people left outside the city walls to languish. Illnesses are viewed through the lens of God’s judgement on sinners, these people are considered forsaken by God. If you think things are bad for these folks consider the one who returns to thanks Jesus, he is a Samaritan. Samaritans are not well liked among Jesus’ people. They practise a different form of Judaism and are seen as unclean and unworthy of God’s love and care. Even among his fellow sufferers he is an outcast.
Imagine being this Samaritan man. In order to do this some of us might need to heed the words I once heard from an Indigenous elder introducing a story, “This is a true story, although it might not have happened exactly this way.” Let’s use our imaginations to find some truth in this story. You see a group approaching the village, by now you’ve heard of Jesus, word of his healing ministry has spread far and wide. That morning rumours were spreading he is on his way. You see him and you rush toward him, it takes all you’ve got so that you don’t break the laws of Leviticus to keep your distance (13: 45-46). Hoping against hope, you and the others call out to him. Astonishingly he responds, and he says the strangest thing with all the confidence in the world; “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” After a moment of stunned silence, it hits you, there can only be one reason for a person with a skin disease to go and see a priest. Priests are the only ones that have the authority to say you are cured and to re-unite you with your family, with your community. What have you got to lose? Somewhere along the path to the temple it becomes apparent to you that your skin is clearing up, you begin to feel a health and vitality you haven’t felt in some time. You are overwhelmed with gratitude and although the others continue on their way to see the priests, the gratitude in you reaches down into your legs, and it moves your feet back in the direction of Jesus. Although the home of family and friends is in the other direction, you know that there is a more enduring home, one that no one can take from you. It is gratitude that takes the Samaritan man home into the presence of God.
Its gratitude that takes us home, to the loving arms of God. One of the ironies of life for people of prosperity and privilege is our hearts can be hardened by abundance, isolating and separating us from us God, from our deep connection to each other and creation. Unless we are intentional about being grateful. When we aren’t grateful, we experience the opposite of gratitude – entitlement. Entitlement is a nasty thing because it leads to resentment. We see this all over the news and social media, don’t we? Fuelled by insecurity, amplified by social media algorithms and people who benefit from such resentment we see people angry and resentful at the loss of things to which some feel entitled—freedom to do as one wishes without regard for others, a society based on white, male, Christian, cis-gendered, heterosexual norms, ways and culture. Resentment is a dangerous thing because it always separates us from others and God. We see evidence of this separation everywhere in political polarization, hate motivated crime and fear of people’s gender expression. I’m not suggesting that if we all make gratitude lists all this will go away. But what gratitude does, especially from a faith perspective is it re-frames our lives as a place of grace, a place where God is found providing what we need. We no longer live in a dog-eat-dog place of scarcity, we exist in a place of abundance where the question is not, “how do I get mine?” but rather, “how do we share all these gifts?” Gratitude leads to an abundance mindset, robbing resentment of the fuel it needs to grow and re-connecting us with those whom we share our communities, our nation, our planet. Gratitude brings us home into the presence of God.
This is what our faith story tells us. Did you notice the language of scripture: only the Samaritan is made well, it is a term reserved for him. All the others with the disease are made clean or healed but only one is made well. The declaration that he is made well was based on his show of gratitude to God. What does this mean though that he was made well? The King James Version of this story might give us the insight we need. It translates the Greek this way, Jesus says, “your faith has made you whole”.
Gratitude opens the door to wholeness for the Samaritan. The others are cured, but by not returning they seemed to take the gift they had been given for granted. But the Samaritan recognises in his cure God’s action at work in the world. He chooses to see what happens as a moment of grace, God’s presence in his midst. Because of this he is brought into deep communion with God, a communion that overwhelms him, that brings him low to the ground in humility and praise. The one in deepest need sees most clearly God’s provision, God’s grace and is brought home.
It’s hard for people of prosperity and privilege to see the need for healing. But, it’s gratitude that heals us, that brings us home, that re-connects us with each other and God. Gratitude opens the door to wholeness, allowing God in by acknowledging that we really are children of the one God–Inextricably linked to the web of creation in which we are a mere part of a strand connected to all people, to the plants, the animals, the stars, the planets all infused with holiness.
May this Thanksgiving weekend, bring to our minds and hearts a deep need for healing and an openness to grace. May we, in the words of the poet, go everyday into our lives with a Spirit of lingering, observant for the gifts that are daily bestowed.1 May gratitude bring us home for the holiday knowing in the words of the Gospel that this will make us whole. Amen
Rev. Joe Gaspar