Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Bishop’s Convocation in Indian Wells. It was a wonderful enriching time apart. The guest speaker was Diana Butler Bass. I was so excited to attend. She I one of my favorite Christian personalities. I have followed her on twitter for years and have always appreciated her take on Christianity and current events. I have been a fan for years, but I have never actually read one of her books, most because I’ve been in seminary and have had a ton of books to read. Her book “Grateful” came out last year and that is what she spoke on during the retreat. She calls “Grateful” the subversive power of giving thanks.
I’m a big believer in the power of gratitude. Every morning I spend time writing and I either start or finish with the list of things I am grateful for. Living in an attitude of gratitude has changed the quality of my life. In recovery programs, one of the first things recommended is to make a daily gratitude list, even if all you can be grateful for is your toothbrush. There is always something to be grateful for. When we experience gratitude, it changes the chemistry in your brain. Robert Emmons, one of the world’s leading researchers on the subject of gratitude, summarizes this research from studies on heart patients, “Gratitude drives out toxic emotions of resentment, anger, and envy, and may be associated with better long-term emotional and physical health in transplant recipients.” Being grateful is good for your heart, emotionally and physically.
In our scripture today ten people were cleansed of leprosy, which is a terrible disease that rendered one unclean. People with leprosy had to leave their friends and family and go live alone, or with people with the same disease. They lost their health and their community. These men saw Jesus from afar. Knowing that Jesus shouldn’t come near them they shouted. Jesus have mercy on us. Jesus shouts back to them to go show themselves to the priest. They will be healed. Can you imagine how exciting that must have been. As they are making their way to the priest their wounds are healing. Their skin is clearing. I’m sure they were in a big hurry to see the priest and be able to return to their loved ones. Not only were they no longer sick they were no longer alone.
But one man stops, he sees that he is healed and so he turns around praising God with a loud voice and he lies face down at the feet of Jesus and thanks him. Jesus asks about the other nine. Didn’t he heal 10? It sounds as if he is disparaging the nine for not returning, but I wonder if what Jesus emphasizing how remarkable it was that this one person returned. He was pointing out that something was different about this person. This Samaritan, this foreigner. And then he sees it. This one has been made whole. This one has been saved by his faith.
After the Samaritan saw that he was healed, the rest of his response is characterized by four verbs: turn back, praise, prostrate (literally fall on his face), and thank. Jesus highlights the first two verbs by repetition: “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Return and praise play significant roles in Luke. At Jesus’ birth the shepherds “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen … ” (Luke 2:20). After witnessing Jesus’ ascension, in the last two verses of this Gospel, the disciples “worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the Temple blessing God” (Luke 24:52). Return and praise frame this Gospel, suggesting a road map for our response to God’s activity in our world.
The passage ends with a command to the Samaritan: “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” When it appears in Luke-Acts the phrase “get up and go,” suggests that a significant, even wondrous. change is about to occur. After the annunciation, for example, Mary “gets up and goes” to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39). The prodigal son decides to “get up and go” back to his father (Luke 15:18), and God tells Paul to “get up and go” to Damascus (Acts 22:10; cf. Acts 9:11; 10:20).
The command to get up and go comes with a promise to the Samaritan: “your faith has made you well (literally saved you).” The good news of this encounter carries with it the promise that through Jesus, God empowers people to step across boundaries, share mercy with outsiders, pay attention to things worthy of praise and move forward into God’s future with assurance that there is more to God’s story than meets the eye. For that, may we always give thanks.
As we prepare for our Charge Conference on November 17th, the Bishop has asked us to craft a vision statement for our church. Pastor Mary and I decided that it would be appropriate to have two statements, one from each ministry. I have an idea about the direction our church can take, but I need more information. I need to know more about you and your relationship with this church. I need to know what you are grateful to this church community for. Today we will all play the role of the Samaritan. This is our opportunity to turn back, praise God, fall on our face before the lord and give thanks. I think we can leave out the fall on our face part unless you feel so led. There are blank slips of paper included in your bulletin. I’d like you to take a few moments and jot down some things you are grateful to this church for. It is okay if the things you are most grateful for happened in the past. It would be helpful if you could include something you grateful for recently as well.
We all want this church to get up and go, to be a part of this community, and be faithful to God’s purpose. Before we can do that, we need to turn back and give praise. I’d like you to turn in your gratitude list with your offering. You don’t need to put your name on it, unless you want to. Let’s us take a few moments to be in an attitude of gratitude and write down what comes to mind.
In her book The Color Purple, Alice Walker wrote a dialogue between two women about God, who is sometimes referred to as “it”:
One day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed. And I laughed and I cried and I run all around the house. I knew just what it was. In fact, when it happens, you can’t miss it. . . . Listen, God love everything you love—and a mess of stuff you don’t. But more than anything else, God loves admiration.
You say God vain?
Naw. Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it ticks God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.
What it do when it ticked off?
Oh, it make something else. People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back. . . . It always making little surprises and springing them on us when we least expect.
You mean it want to be loved just like the Bible say?
Yes, Celie. Everything want to be loved.
God wants to be loved. God wants our attention, our praise, our thanks. God doesn’t want to be taken for granted any more than we do. God wants a strong connection with us. God wants us to enjoy life, to be amazed and enthusiastic, grateful and adoring. God wants to share our joy with us and for us to share our joy with God, because God knows we are only truly whole when we experience and express our gratitude.