“How do we say Thanks?”

Luke 17: 11-18, November 21st, 2021

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

Thanksgiving on Thursday, the 25th

“Hear now these words from the gospel according to Luke, chapter seventeen, verses eleven through eighteen.”

Luke 17:11-18

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 

“Having heard the account of the ten Lepers, let us consider the importance of giving thanks; especially on this Thanksgiving week!”

“How do we say Thanks?”

Verse nineteen of our reading continues… telling us that: Then (Jesus) he said to him, the Semaritan, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”  /Luke 17:19/ Why did this one man, one out of ten, take the time, to turn back to praise God and humbly give thanks to Jesus for healing him? Why the reference to the fact that the ‘only one’ of the ten lepers who chose to ‘turn back, praising God and humbly saying ‘thank you’ to Jesus, why the reference that he was a foreigner, a Samaritan? Why does Jesus ‘single out’ the ‘Samaritan Leper’ that “his faith had made him well”? We do know, from other writings within the gospel documents, that the Samaritans were outside of the circle of folks around Jerusalem, who were in good graces with the Jews. Thus, Jesus was ‘lifting up’, for our ears to hear that this ‘twice’ marginalized man… was clearly responding with a grateful heart by his actions and his taking the time and effort to ‘personally thank’ Jesus for the gift of healing. There are several messages, several learnings we can ponder as we reflect on this event as recorded. What is the more important message for us to consider here? Is it that we all ought to be willing to say thank you, no matter where in the social order of things we are? Or is it that praising God and giving thanks to God’s Son Jesus, are equally important? Or perhaps we need to come to grips with the inference here that, that being grateful and thankful are synonymous.

As we enter-into this Thanksgiving week, perhaps we might wish to be more conscious of how we treat others, especially others who have been looked down upon by even those we consider friends and or family. Many of us tend to celebrate our annual Thanksgiving tradition, which is this Thursday, by perhaps cooking up a big meal.  Additionally, we tend to seek to invite family or be invited by family and friends, to gather ‘together’ and celebrate the harvest, an abundant harvest for many.  And for those of us who can, let us ‘reach-out’ to help through our food pantry donations, which shall primarily help-out folks with their daily need to nourish their bodies with food. Our Thanksgiving Celebration is an opportunity to pass to the next generations which shall follow us, and they do shadow the examples we leave for them, let us, therefore, pass on to them the true tradition that has risen from our day of Thanksgiving, which has been passed forward to us.  It is a perfect moment in history to remember, it takes all of us, it takes a ‘village’ of folk working together to accomplish all that has been achieved in our society, in our towns and communities and even within our personal families.  The stories of the lepers, the sick, the lonely, and the marginalized prevail all around us.  If you or I have the opportunity… the example we set will be seen, heard, and perhaps even be felt by others who will possibly follow our example – of how we share our thankfulness!

I have found myself feeling very thankful these last couple weeks.  There are so, so many around us, here in our own church who exemplify the meaning of ‘passing forward’ the love of God to others.  We see it expressed in the level of giving… which has pushed aside so many financial obstacles this fellowship has faced these past months.  We are doing better financially than expected and that is a direct connection to your loving and generous offerings and gifts.  On behalf of all, let us all, let us simply say ‘Thank you’ with grateful hearts.  And it is not just the witness to those who financial give, it is also my observance of the talents of so many being put to work within our community.  It is easy to see, especial as we look to our musical ensemble.  Collaboratively and collectively, our full musical staff and team of volunteers, is a sight to behold.  Held back by the pandemic, plague, and sickness of what seems like a lifetime; our talented musical group is coming back together to do new and uplifting and inspiring music as we worship and praise God.  At the same time, it is with thankfulness that we acknowledge the gifts of our musical staff, and a small handful of voices and instrumentalists who have helped bring and hold the heart of our times of worship together over these difficult months.  For this we say thanks.  Thanks for your talents and the time you give to this our faith community.  Our challenge now is to be grateful in our hearts for all who offer their time, talent, and treasures, for the good of this community; and for the good of those outside our faith fellowship, as good givers almost always give outside their church… as well as within it!     

In our remembrance today, of those who have recently passed, it is hard to forget all that they gave to this fellowship over their years amongst us.  Katie’s smile, Carol’s tenacity, Phil’s dedication, Beth’s generosity, Janice’s good natured smile, Opal’s friendship, Louise with her kindness, Vern’s friendly easy-going nature, and the gift of June’s loving family; All, including Larry, Eleanor, Robert, Alan, and Lee, have each in their own way have contributed to our extended church family and many have given thanks and praise to God – for the gift of their lives. Many do not fully appreciate what impact presiding over those services of remembrance, memorial services have upon me, personally and professionally as a pastor.  Many have touched my heart in life, and many have touched my heart as family members and close friends have shared with me the life of their beloved.  My ministry is enriched due to these moments; and my life experiences have taken on a deeper meaning as I too face my mortality, my human frailty.  My heart, at times, is so filled with the honor bestowed upon me to have presided over these remembrance moments.  My heart just seems to be filled with humble gratitude.

When we celebrate ‘Thanksgiving’ this year, let us remember the ‘Pilgrims’ were ‘celebrating’ their survival after that first HARD year in the New World, as they called it.  We also need to recall that the ‘Pilgrims’, they were immigrants, immigrants seeking a new home!  And let us not forget about the Native Americans who were here to greet them! Let us recall how history tells us that it was the ‘Native Americans’ who helped teach these new settlers how to survive.  They taught the settlers how to plant corn, after giving them the first kernels, giving them the seeds to plant.  They also taught them how to grow vegetables and how to cultivate and fertilize the land.  As we celebrate, let us remember what a vital part the example of the native tribes, who resided here first, had upon those early settlers, the ‘Pilgrims’.  Native Americans taught by example the basic skills of survival in this rich fertile land in which we reside.  Yes, let us be sure to include all who were truly apart, at the beginning, of what we now so proudly call our homeland.  Indeed, there is much to be grateful and thankful for!

Last week and again this week I have endeavored to bring back our children’s time during worship.  It is with humbling gratitude that parents have begun to, once again, come to church with their children.  I am sure others will soon follow.  Let us give thanks that we have such a beautiful spacious facility to accommodate our activities, including our Sunday school room, our youth room, and our nursery room.  Also, the six volunteers who selflessly put their names on the list of volunteers to be part of our Christian Education program, which is shaking off the dust of a long pause, due to the covid plague.  Once again, following the example of those who came before us and following the teachings of Jesus, we invite the children to gather with us on Sunday mornings.  We acknowledge them with a short conversation and prayer with the pastor.  We offer an opportunity of a peace filled respite for their parents, during a time of worship, while the children embrace a story or teaching connected to our allegiance to the teachings of scripture and the ministry of Jesus which culminates the love of God.      

What a truly fitting passage for us to lift-up this morning as this one from the gospel account of Jesus, healing the ten lepers, noting that one was a Semaritan. The lesson lifts-up an ‘old’ adage, God loves those who give for the joy of giving; and God also loves those who are grateful for what they receive!  Jesus’ lesson to us speaks of his willingness to cross the social barrier between the Israelites and the Samaritans, as Jesus not only acknowledges the one Leper, who came back to Jesus to thank him for being healed, but it is also pointed out that this one thankful man – was a Semaritan!  Clearly a slap in the face to the ‘bigotry’ and ‘resentment’ between the two groups, which had caused the Samaritans to be distant and marginalized from the larger group!  Can we think of any areas where this is still happening in our society?!  Surely you can acknowledge at least one such area.  At least let us think about where we may have built barriers between ourselves and other groups who have different customs or traditions then we do.  Or are their folks that look different then yourself or migrated to America from a different region than your ancestors.  Oh, didn’t you know that America is ‘primarily’ a land of ‘immigrants’ from foreign lands?  Personally, I am thankful we are all are not alike and have differing and diverse backgrounds.  Our communities which we all live in have access to so many different native tastes for feasting.  This past week alone I ate at a Columbian, a Mexican, an Italian and a Chinese restaurant.  What about you?  Are you planning to have a turkey on Thursday?  Or perhaps you are looking forward to a nice rack of baby-back ribs, or a leg of lamb, or a scrumptious roast of beef!

Customs of Thanksgivings from my ancestors which were pasted to me seemed to always have a large turkey or two, and a lot of family as we gathered.  Great memories.  When I was stationed in Thailand while in the US Air Force, back in 1968, I have no memories of a meal of turkey.  Perhaps a plate of stir-fried vegetables and rice, or some Thai noodles, like the ‘Pad Thai’ we might enjoy in local Thai or Japanese restaurants.  The true traditions and practices of our ‘American Thanksgiving Holiday’ are meant to signify our joy – joy for all that we do receive.  Whether we are the giver or the receiver, the true meaning of Thanksgiving is to ‘share with gratitude’ for all we have, and to try to ‘share it’ with others with gratitude and love in our hearts.  Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!


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