On Thankfulness
October 10, 2010

On Thankfulness

Passage: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, 2 Timothy 2:8-15, Luke 17:11 -19

Proper 23, Year C-2010

A key element in a vital spiritual life, in wholeness and holiness, is gratitude, thankfulness, thanksgiving. The practice of thankfulness is profoundly spiritual. I am intrigued and haunted by the words of Johannes Eckert, a 14th century Dominican: „if the only prayer you ever say in life is “thank you”, that would be enough.

Yet being thankful, saying thank you, can be difficult. Consider our Gospel story (Luke 17:11-19). A group of ten lepers call out for mercy. They call out of the tragedy and alienation of leprosy, a dreaded skin disease that separated them from their community. Jesus hears them and tells them to go the priest, who could certify whether they were lepers or not, and on the way they are healed of their leprosy.

Only one came back to say 'thank you,' and that one was Samaritan – not expected to be among the holy and elect.

It is great to say 'thank you,' but not everyone does, not everyone can. Jesus asks – where are the other nine?

This is not a parable of judgment. Let us gently consider why sometimes it is difficult:

  • One can become so bitter that it is very difficult to say thank you. Hearts can get hardened.
  • One's illness or burden can become one's identity, so that one is lost without it.
  • One can be angry and offended – didn't earn healing. Guilt or unfairness.
  • Some may not believe Jesus had anything to do with healing. “Secular scientist”.

There is another set of reasons why they may not have returned. Perhaps one went the priest as Jesus commanded, to offer the appointed sacrifice. And perhaps one was a woman who had been separated from her family, her loved ones, for years by this disease. When she saw she was healed, then like a wild animal released from captivity, she went straight home.

So let us not be judgmental about those who do not, or cannot, say thank you to Jesus. Jesus is very, very, very patient and loving towards us. Let us celebrate that one leper returned to say thank you to Jesus and was affirmed in his or her faith.

Being thankful, like holiness over-all, is both a gift, involving grace, and is also something we can practice and seek to develop. I would like to suggest three ways to practice and grow in thankfulness, and thus in wholeness and in spiritual vitality.

First – thankfulness involves reaching beyond yourself. It is relational – not focused on oneself alone but open to, relating to persons or a power beyond ourselves.

Consider our first reading from the Prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is writing to the Israelites who have been taken captive, into exile. They are offended, burdened, enslaved by their exile. They desperately want to be home. Shockingly perhaps, Jeremiah urges them to settle where they are. To build houses and plant gardens and take wives and husbands where they are and to have children. Rather than focusing just on what was, and on being offended or stricken by what they had lost, they are to seek the welfare of the city where God has led them, for God has plans for their welfare. God will bring them a future with hope. (Jer. 29:11) So practice thanksgiving with those who you are with, even when you are not where you used to be.

This attitude of thankfulness is expressed by Dag Hammarskjold in his journal: Markings: “For what has been -- thanks. For what shall be -- yes.”

Second – take an inventory; ‘count your blessings’. Sometimes we get so caught up in the immediate and the urgent that our worries obscure many more things for which we could and ought to be thankful. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Philippians. says: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8)

Remember Jesus words (which we heard last week) – consider the flowers of the fields, the birds in the air, the beauty all around us, and let them help us focus on and be thankful for God's Kingdom, which is at hand.

Taking an inventory of what you might be thankful for helps maintain perspective. And the most important things for which we can and must be thankful for is the gift of being alive, and God?s love which gives us this gift. Listen to Paul's testimony to

Timothy in today's Epistle (2 Tim. 2:8-15) – even though he is suffering hardship, he celebrates that Jesus Christ was raised from death for us. He reminds us that we can be confident of God?s faithfulness and our part in God?s ministry and kingdom.

Third – accept the messiness of life, including within yourself. There is much we can be thankful for, and much that is terrible and awful. The lepers met and healed by Jesus did not forget their experience of leprosy. Those to whom Jeremiah wrote in exile did not forget their homeland.

I don't know why some persons experience tragedy – terrible suffering, or almost losing their life or loved ones – and come out the other end thankful for life, for what remains, while others get stuck in grief or anger or guilt or doubt or fear. Our part is to be in relationship with them, accepting and being thankful for them, and patiently waiting for God?s grace to sprout and grow in the midst of their messiness. To be thankful and to love, that is what we can do.

As for ourselves, can we accept who we are – beloved children of God, and sinners whom God redeems. Can we come to milestones in our lives and journeys, acknowledge them with thanksgiving, and then continue on the journey, wherever it will lead, wherever God leads.

The result or effect of thankfulness, is to live more freely. To appreciate the abundance of life. To live with generosity – towards others, towards yourself, towards God.

When we share thanksgiving, and share what we have, we appreciate it more fully and find that we have even more. Didn't Jesus say: “give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:38) So let us practice thanksgiving! Amen.

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