it is right to give God thanks and praise

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Last week we talked about how valid prayer may sometimes consist of complaining to God about the times in our lives when we’re upset—when things don’t seem fair, when things aren’t going well, when there’s just too much suffering.  And there’s a whole big batch of Biblical literature that supports the prayer of complaint, which is also called the prayer of lament.  I’m particularly thinking of some of the psalms.  Some of them are almost offensive—or ARE offensive—to our ears right now.  But honest sharing of feelings with God is always good prayer, even if it sounds not-so-pious.

Well today, we have an interesting and very different approach to praying, and it’s set forth in our gospel.  It tells us about how Jesus cured 10 people of leprosy.   Our Old Testament story of Naaman, the Syrian army leader who was cured of leprosy, gives us some parallels to the Jesus story. 

So, what is this ailment that the Scriptures call “leprosy”?  In those days it was like a big umbrella term that could cover various kinds of skin ailments.  If someone came down with one of these skin conditions, they had to separate themselves from other people—because they were so contagious.  It wasn’t necessarily what we call Hansen’s disease today—but perhaps it was included under that big category called “leprosy.”

All right, so we have these lepers keeping their distance, because of their contagion.  They are crying out to Jesus for a cure.  And he instantly, without any fanfare at all, tells them to go and show themselves to the priests.  And the priests, of course, were the ones who were in charge of certifying that someone was free of illness and able to rejoin normal community life. 

At least one of them recognizes instantly that he’s been cured, and apparently even before he gets to the priest he turns around and he comes back.  He turns back to Jesus and begins to praise God in a very loud voice.  And then he falls down flat before Jesus—he prostrates himself.  He falls down flat and thanks him profusely. 

Praise and thanks.  These are the 2 movements of the soul that fly from this one fellow who knows without a doubt that he’s now free from his disease.  And the interesting thing is that he was a Samaritan. 

Samaritans, as we know, were outcast from the regular Jewish population of Israel and Palestine.  They were rejected by the Jews / because the Jews thought the Samaritans sold themselves out to the Assyrians, who had invaded and conquered their part of Israel some 700 years before Christ.  And they intermarried with their conquerors.  And if that’s not bad enough, elements of Assyrian religion crept into their own Hebrew observances.  Their religion became adulterated with the foreign gods and practices of their occupiers.  And so the Jews saw the Samaritans as less than devout, less than whole, as it were.  By Jesus’ time they saw them as foreign and no longer as cousins.

So here we have this one leper come back to praise God and to say thank you.  He was an outcast by virtue of his ethnicity and also by virtue of his disease.   He was a double outcast.

So when Jesus says, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well,” it amounts to him saying “Get up and go on your way; your faith has saved you.”

Healing others—saving others—is one of the primary acts of Jesus in all 4 gospels.  Healing and restoration are unmistakable indicators of divinity at work.

 

And what of us?  What’s our invitation here in this story?  It’s to remember to say thank you to God and to praise God for all God has done for us.  The apostle Paul wrote a sentence in his first letter to the Christians in Thessalonica that tells them and us, “in all things give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”  [1 Thess 5:18]   In ALL THINGS give thanks…

Easier said than done, right?  Especially when we may be in a time of our lives that’s really unpleasant.  “In all things give thanks.”  Really?  That honestly sounds awfully Pollyanna-ish to me.  But.  We ARE also allowed to complain.  So:

Complain.  Get it off your chest.  And then remember.  Start to take stock of all the blessings that surround us.  Blessings that we wade through unconsciously every day.  This town.  Our families and friends.  The ability to make a living.  You name it. 

In a few minutes we’ll enter into the Great Thanksgiving part of the Eucharist.  That word Eucharist means Thanksgiving.  I’ll say, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.”  And we’ll all respond, “It is right to give God thanks and praise.”

We’ll give thanks not only for the everyday blessings but also the immense blessing of being loved, saved, and made whole by Jesus, and restored to the heart of God.  We give thanks like this every week and yet it’s so easy to lose sight of what we’re really doing and maybe not even to hear it anymore.

So don’t forget to give thanks.  Maybe take stock every night before bed.  Name and give thanks for all the good things.  We have one parishioner here who has a gratitude practice.  She writes down 5 things from the day for which she’s grateful. 

Scientists have shown that such a practice may help you sleep better.  Wow!  There’s a good reason to do it.  Being grateful also helps to promote general mental and physical health.  It brings us close to God.  It’s like taking a big spiritual vitamin each day.

I’m going to end here by giving us a thought to chew on for a while.  It applies directly to our invitation to give thanks, to remember, to see the sacred in everything.  And it comes from the preeminent physicist of the 20th century, Albert Einstein.

Einstein said, “There are only 2 ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle.” 

How shall we choose to live?

Amen.