GOSPEL Luke 17:11–19
11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
A couple of months ago, in our newsletter, I was asked what my favorite part of ministry was. And I said funerals. I have found that funerals, and the time preparing and leading up to a funeral is some of the most sacred and God-filled time that I experience in ministry. When someone has died, everything and everyone seems to move slower. I find that I walk slower those weeks. Everything slows down and we all seem more aware of how fragile, and sacred, and precious this life is. As I get older, I have found the same to be true with the holidays. For as crazy and busy as it is, I walk more slowly during the holiday season. I see differently. I don’t know what it is about this season – the low light and driving home in the dark or the music or the decoration, but I always get nostalgic, and I really actually find myself being more thankful for the things in this life. And it is totally cliché and fleeting and the luxury of a somewhat trouble free holiday is not lost on me. But that’s how it is for me these days.
One of our preaching professors says that preaching on Thanksgiving can be one of the hardest times to preach. Because other than telling people that we all ought to be thankful, what else is there to say?
And often on Thanksgiving is this text from Luke about the 10 lepers. Where all 10 lepers are healed, but only one turns back to praise Jesus in thanks for the healing he has received. And so we tend to lift up this tenth leper as the example and say, “See! Now go home and be like him. Be thankful for what you have.”
Recently, we’ve been very proactive in teaching Elliot to say, “Thank you.” And he does. Robotically. “Thank you.” Elliot, what do you say for mama making you lunch? Thank you. What do you say to Ms. Lisa for watching you today? Thank you. And we know that he is simply just telling us what we want to hear. We don’t actually know or feel that he really is grateful.
Which is why it is so amazing when he says, “Thank you” all on his own. You bring him his lunch over, without prompting he says, “Thank you, mama, for making me lunch.” Or you sit down to play Legos with him and he says, “Thank you, daddy, for playing with me.” And it just melts your heart. Because you know he did it on his own. You have this sense that he meant it.
And that’s just the thing about gratitude, right? You can’t force it. You can’t tell someone to be thankful. You can’t demand a “thank you” – because it renders it meaningless.
And I think we learn more from this story about the ten lepers than simply the need to be thankful.
All ten lepers were healed. But only one turned around to offer thanks. Why only the one? What was different about him? “And as the ten went away, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.” What was different about him? He noticed. He recognized the healing that had happened. And when he saw that he was healed, he turned back.
Once he realized that he was healed, he couldn’t help but turn around and offer his joy and thanksgiving to Jesus.
And that’s at the heart of gratitude, isn’t it? It isn’t simply about saying thank you. Anyone can do that robotically. Even my 2-year old Elliot. But it’s about noticing, really noticing what has happened. It is about seeing with new eyes what someone has done for you.
All ten lepers were healed, but the one who turned back was healed and he could see it – which means not only was his leprosy healed, but his eyes were too. So that he could finally see again. Really see.
At the heart of gratitude and thanksgiving is first the recognition of the gift given. I was reminded of this just a couple of weeks ago, when a friend of mine heard that when I was growing up, my dad always taught us to say thank you to my mom for the very nice dinner that she made. And upon hearing this, my friend’s eyes lit up with this half desperation, half excitement as she said, “Really? That sounds so nice. Will you tell my husband that? Seriously. Will you tell him about what your dad taught you? Because that would be amazing if he said that after each meal. You go tell him that if he starts doing that, it will improve his marriage. No, his love life.”
Isn’t it interesting how most parents teach their kids to say please and thank you, but then how rarely we do it ourselves as adults?
And here’s the thing, my friend isn’t really looking for a habitual or assumed or robotic “thank you” after each meal. No, what she is really looking for is for him to first notice – to see – that she has worked so hard to put a nice meal on the table. And when he can see that – with new eyes – the gratitude will flow out naturally.
After that tenth leper saw the healing that had happened, and then turned back in gratitude, Jesus says to him in the end, “Get up and go on your way. Your faith has made you well.” But that word there – the greek word for “well”, can also be translated as “whole.” Get up and go on your way. Your faith has made you…whole. Complete.
Maybe we are never fully whole, fully human until we recognize and really see what we have, and from there offer our genuine thanks. Because when we do, it seems to start this cycle of gratitude that catches everyone up in it.
This is the gift of the holiday season, I think. That they can slow us down and help to see with new eyes. But really it is the gift given in every worship service. That we might be able to leave this place every week with clear eyes and full hearts.
“Anyone actively engaged in this world can’t help but have his or her vision made a little foggy. There is so much pain, and doubt, and hardship that it can be difficult to sustain faith in a loving God. The readings and sermon, the prayers and songs that constitute our weekly worship serve to remove the film that clouds our ability to see God at work in the world and to recognize God’s face shine through to us in the need of our neighbor. So week in and week out, we come to church to have our vision clarified, our eyesight restored, so that we might return to the world looking for God out ahead of us, knowing that by the end of the week our vision will once again be cloudy and that (clear eyes) await us again on Sunday.” (David Lose)
God’s blessings are all around us in such ordinary ways. And all it takes is noticing. Seeing. And then saying thank you. And then in some odd way, we are made fully whole. By sharing in deeper connection with one another.
So, I simply want to take a little time to share some of what I have seen with new eyes in just the past couple of days and weeks that reflect to me God at work in the world, for which I am extremely grateful.
I am grateful for one of my best friends, Pastor Laura Aase, who had the courage and the faith to walk into a congregation member’s home late last Friday night and sit with them as their world was ripped apart by the sudden death of their 27 year old daughter, Erin.
I am grateful for Jesse Knutson – who is from Aurora – for being willing to pick up a friend of mine, but a complete stranger to him, yesterday morning, and drive him to and from Mankato for a court hearing that he had no way of making it to. This guy needs a helping hand, and Jesse was just that.
Yesterday, Lauren and I had a big scare with the baby. And for a couple of hours, I didn’t think this pregnancy was going to last. In the midst of that, I am grateful for the way our nurse, Peggy, approached us in the waiting room with such caring eyes and a compassionate voice, choosing not to just shout out our name, but rather to walk over to us, to place her hand on Lauren’s head (almost in blessing), and ask us if we were ready to go back. Her gentleness towards us was simply incredible. And by the way, the baby is doing fine now.
And lastly, I am grateful for all of you and our two churches. I am grateful for how you surround the youngest ones among us with love and welcome. I love how you really do act like a big family, bickering sometimes but also having a rooted and deep love for one another too. I love how you support people in need through Meals of Hope, and the mitten tree, and the backpacks for kids over seas. I am grateful for the love and support you show me and my family throughout the year. And I am grateful for how you keep showing up here at church week in and week out.
When I am given new eyes to see, when my sight is clear, those are just some of the ways I see God at work in and among all of us. For which I am so grateful… May this time of worship – may each and every Sunday – clear our vision and slow us down – to take notice and recognize all that God has done and all that God is doing in and among all of us. Happy Thanksgiving… Amen
*I am indebted to David Lose for the insights into this Scripture text