Every once in a while, when we are having a particularly whiny, complaining, cranky evening at the Andrews-Weckerly household, I will break out the old, “So, what are you grateful for today?” question. I cannot claim that our family has mastered some Zen-like practice of gratitude. In fact, we still have to regularly remind each other simply to say, “Thank you!” And if I am being honest, my question about what we are grateful for is a question based out frustration not out of a sense of habituated thankfulness.
I think that is why today’s Gospel lesson from Luke makes me so uncomfortable today. Jesus graciously heals ten lepers at once with barely a word or flourish. One of them, a Samaritan to be clear, returns, praising God in a loud voice, prostrating himself at Jesus’ feet, and thanking Jesus. But Jesus’ response is where my guilt resides. “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Jesus asks. How many times have I been one of the nine? How many times have I experienced blessing, only to focus on another ill in my life? How many times have I been surrounded by bountiful abundance only to be able to talk about scarcity?
For Jesus, this is unfathomable. For Jesus, faith and gratitude go hand in hand. Scholar Kimberly Long describes the issue thus, “…to ‘have faith’ is to live it, and to live [faith] is to give thanks. It is living a life of gratitude that constitutes living a life of faith…One might almost say, in fact, that ‘faith’ and ‘gratitude’ are two words for the same thing: to practice gratitude is to practice faith.”[i] Some of you may be thinking, “Oh, to be faithful I just have to be thankful? That’s not so hard!” But how many of us have started a gratitude journal only to get out of the habit? How many of us have engaged in the Ignatian practice of closing the day with enumerating the blessings of the day, giving thanks to God, only to slip into watching one more episode of your favorite show or reading one more chapter of a book, only to slip off to sleep before remembering to give thanks? How many of us have had New Year’s resolutions or Lenten disciplines about gratitude only to drop them after a few weeks?
But here is why gratitude and faith are so intimately connected. Jesus says at the end of this passage today, “…your faith has made you well.” Now if we understand faith and gratitude as being synonymous, then Jesus does not mean because the Samaritan believes something he is healed. He means because the Samaritan has embodied gratitude he has been made well. But Jesus is not simply referring to being healed of leprosy. The Samaritan’s life of gratitude has made him whole – has made him “truly and deeply well.”[ii] C.S. Lewis perhaps captured the relationship of gratitude and wholeness most clearly. He said, “I noticed how the humblest and at the same time most balanced minds praised most: while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least. Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.”[iii]
Of course, this should not be news to us. Luke’s gospel is always featuring praising. As one professor explains, “Praising/thanking/blessing/glorifying God is a recurring theme in [Luke’s] writings – from the shepherds in the fields (2.20), to Simeon and Anna at the presentation in the temple (2.28, 38), to witnesses of Jesus’ miracles (5.25, 7.16, 18.43, etc.), to the centurion at the foot of the cross (23.47), and to both Jews and Gentiles who witness the growth of the church in Acts (4.21, 11.18, 13.48, etc.). It seems, therefore, that Luke recounts this story not to distinguish one leper from the others but to emphasize the proper response to any act of grace: thanks and praise to God.”[iv]
Luckily for you, Hickory Neck actually grounds you in praise every Sunday. When we celebrate the Eucharistic feast, the celebrant says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” and you respond, “It is right to give him thanks and praise.” [or in the case of Rite I, we say, It is meet and right so to do.] And then the celebrant affirms your words, saying, “It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.”[v] [“It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God.] In fact, the entire Eucharist Prayer is also referred to as the “Great Thanksgiving.” Our whole purpose of gathering on Sundays is to enter into praise of God – and as Luke tells us, we do that to make our beings whole – to make our beings truly and deeply well.
And because we know doing something out of habit can make us forget why we are doing what we are doing, this month we enter into what we call stewardship season – or perhaps what should be called gratitude season. This month we will be talking about the bountiful goodness we all experience in this community – the ways in which Hickory Neck is a blessing to us, the ways in which Hickory Neck feeds and shapes our faith lives, and the ways in which Hickory Neck helps us be a blessing to others. In this month of praise and thanksgiving, we will be talking about how to make our praise tangible: how the gift of our time, the offering of our talents, and the presentation of our financial giving might be acts of praise and gratitude. This community has been a place where most of us have experienced transformative healing and wholeness. Our invitation is to follow the example of the Samaritan and let our acts of gratitude become reflections of how Hickory Neck is helping us be truly and deeply well. Amen.
[i] Kimberly Bracken Long, “Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 166.
[ii] Long, 166.
[iii] As quoted by John M. Buchanan, “Homiletical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 165.
[iv] Oliver Larry Yarbrough, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 169.
[v] BCP, 361.