Text: Luke 17:11-19
Give thanks to the Lord, sisters and brothers, for God is good and provides all that is needed for abundant life. Amen.
Ten years ago my mother gave me an unusual Christmas gift. She gave me two copies of the same journal, “The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude.” This journal is intended to help users develop the spiritual discipline of gratitude by training them to find something each day to be grateful for. The first journal I opened was empty, one for me to use in developing my own practice. The second journal was already filled with words from my grandmother – my father’s mother – who was faithful each day for an entire year in recording that evidence of grace for which she was thankful. She’d been dead for some years by the time I got this gift, and it was my parents’ hope that I would be strengthened by her example as I myself grew in gratitude.
The journal has a brief introduction by author Sarah Ban Breathnach. She writes,
“Gratitude is the most passionate transformative force in the cosmos. When we offer thanks to God or to another human being, gratitude gifts us with renewal, reflection, reconnection. Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life (is it abundant or is it lacking?) and the world (is it friendly or is it hostile?). Once we accept that abundance and lack are parallel realities and that each day we choose – consciously or unconsciously – which world we will inhabit, a deep inner shift in our reality occurs. We discover the sacred in the ordinary and we realize that every day is literally a gift. How we conduct our daily round, how we celebrate it, cherish it and consecrate it is how we express our thankfulness to the Giver of all good.”
When I read my grandmother’s gratitude journal the thing I’m most struck by is the consistency of it. I have a bookshelf full of journals, most of them received as gifts. Some are full, most are not, and the dates on the entries offer evidence of my inconsistency. I’ll write every day for a week, then months will pass. One journal can hold clippings from a decade of my life. But my grandmother’s gratitude journal holds her daily entries and proves that over time an attitude of gratitude leads to a new way of seeing the world. It establishes a capacity to actually experience life in a new way, as a gift.
As December set in, she writes, “God, I feel no joy for the snow and ice, but I am grateful for my comfortable apartment and food; also – first Christmas letter and phone contacts. I like the quote: ‘God gave us a memory that we might have roses in December.’ In Jesus name – thank you!” A week later her entry reads, “thank you God for improvement. Today just a constant dripping nose. Still in gear. Lovely day. I include myself with prayers for others. There is still so much to be grateful for. I still have hope.”
The quality of vision that develops over time as we train ourselves to live lives of gratitude, the ability to see gift where others see lack, is present in the gospel reading this morning. Jesus is traveling in the area that separates Galilee from Samaria, the symbolic borderland between insiders and outsiders, when he comes across a group of the most isolated sort of outsiders you can imagine. He spots a group of lepers, people forced by culture and by law to live their lives on the outskirts of community and to brand themselves by crying out “unclean, unclean” whenever anyone approaches so that their disease does not spread. Jesus sees them, as people not pariahs, as gift not lack. Jesus heals them without much fanfare. He doesn’t even tell them that he’s providing for them, he just tells them to go to show themselves to the priest – the standard procedure in those days for verifying that you were healed and fit to return to the community. God in Christ Jesus sees the needs of God’s people and provides for them.
On their way, the story says that one of the ten saw that he’d been cured and turned back to give thanks. It’s not clear if the other nine also saw that they’d been cured but continued on to the temple, or if they were so beat down by their illness that they couldn’t even perceive when it left them. But the one who returns to Jesus is commended for his thanksgiving and left with the following words, “get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well.”
This is a little mysterious, perhaps even more than the miracle of healing that precipitated the exchange. What can Jesus mean by saying that it was the Samaritan’s faith that made him well. The lepers begged for mercy, and God provided it. God’s healing was made available to all ten equally, and there is nothing in the story to suggest that Jesus revoked the healing for the other nine. But to the one who returned to give thanks, Jesus commends his faith and declares that he has participated in his own healing and recovery.
Life is like this, isn’t it? Undoubtedly the majority of life comes to us as a gift. Our hearts continue beating without our attention. Our breath continues when we sleep. The sun shines and rain waters the ground. We are born into a world of abundance. But we are not simply passive consumers of God’s abundance, we participate in God’s work in the world. We care for our children. We till the land and harvest the crops. We protect those who sleep and minister to those who are ill because by grace we can see that life is a gift. We are moved to gratitude by our awareness of the preciousness of life, and we demonstrate our gratitude with the service of our lives. Showing gratitude in this way, offering thanks in this way, keeping faith in this way we join with God in healing and reconciling the world and we are made well.
This work takes place all throughout our lives. It happens at the dining room tables where many of us will be gathering later this afternoon, as generations of family and networks of friends pause to take stock of their riches measured in years spent together and love that only grows with time. It happens in our congregations as we focus on the needs of our neighbors and the gifts God has given us to address those needs – rather than focusing on fear of the future or internal anxieties. It happens all throughout our neighborhood as people and organizations like Humboldt Park Social Services organize power for change, real change in the lives of those who live at the outskirts of our community – those who are homeless, who are hungry, who are unemployed and underemployed.
In all these places we are given a chance to practice using the vision that comes from a discipline of gratitude. We are offered the opportunity to take part in God’s healing miracles by seeing people as evidence of God’s generosity, not as problems in need of solving. We, ourselves, are healed as we turn back to offer thanks to the God who has healed us by making us members of one another’s lives. It is faith in the power of that miracle that makes us well.