Believe it or not, I can procrastinate a bit. When it comes to writing sermons sometimes I tend to find anything I can to avoid listening to the Holy Spirit. It’s not that I don’t love to write sermons, because I do. But it’s a discipline that I’m still growing accustomed to. And often, like last week, I end up writing a sermon that I need to hear more than I need to preach and that is difficult. So as I prepared to write this sermon, I had exhausted my normal procrastination method: Facebook. So, I turned to CNN.com. These were the headlines: “Protests around the US; What Wilson told grand jury; Charges: US men supported ISIS; 3 to 6 hour backups at some airports; Cops: Boy’s gun looked like a firearm.” And that all was pretty depressing. I then turned to the Clinton Herald online. These were the headlines: “Gateway leaders unify on ‘Save Target’ front; Two granted deferred judgements in burglary case; Lawsuit against city claims water flow is damaging property.” Turns out, that was pretty depressing too.
I then turned to where I knew things wouldn’t be so depressing: Pinterest! If you don’t know what Pinterest is, just imagine a virtual bulletin board organized by all of your interests and within those interests are articles, images, and what not associated with your interests. I have a lot of recipes on my Pinterest boards. Of course, as I logged on, I saw articles for setting the perfect table, cranberry sangria cocktail, how to handle awkward conversations during the holidays, and, inevitably, article upon article about the numerous ways to cook (or not cook) a turkey. And as much as I wanted to be excited about Thanksgiving, those headlines kept popping into my head.
Now, I try not to be cynical, and I try to be a “glass half full” type of person, but sometimes, it’s just hard to be thankful. Sometimes, it’s hard to feel God’s blessings on me and those I love. Sometimes, it’s hard to know if God even is aware of what is going on in this hurting world; and yet I am supposed to be thankful.
And yes, tomorrow, I will wake up with a roof over my head, next to someone who loves me, to our daughter who is healthy, and we’ll eat out of a well stocked fridge. We’ll have dinner with people we love and walk (or waddle) away regretting a second piece of pie but not at all begrudging the company. And we will be thankful. We will be beyond thankful. That doesn’t stop Friday from happening. Friday will come and there will still be hurt in the world. And it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe instead of being cynical, or frustrated, or slipping a little too easily (and even a little too early) into bah-humbug that the most radical and appropriate response really is thanksgiving. I don’t mean the meal or the day or the celebration, I mean the literal giving of thanks.
The more I thought about giving thanks, the more I realized that it is a simple sentiment that is often implied but rarely voiced. When we do voice thanks, it is often met with resistance. How many times do we say “thank you” only to have the response “it was no big deal” or “no problem” or “it was nothing.” I do it too, almost daily. But when we thank someone, we are doing so because they did something they did not have to do. The Samaritan in our reading today didn’t have to thank Jesus, but he did. Jesus didn’t have to cure the man of his leprosy but he did. And sure, the argument could be made that “of course Jesus cured the man. That’s what Jesus does!” Just because that’s what Jesus does is our response, it doesn’t make the Samaritan leper any less thankful.
After my accident I took cookies to the fire departments that pulled me from my car as a thank you. I realize that they had to respond to my call because that is their job, but that doesn’t make me any less thankful. When a doctor finally figures out what has been ailing you, yes he or she was doing their job, but I bet you’re still thankful just the same. Really, what it comes down to is this: saying thank you is just another way of acknowledging that you have received a blessing. There were 10 lepers that came to Jesus, and all 10 were cured. But 1 of those lepers turned back and gave thanks. I have to believe that the other 9 were thankful as well. But this one turned back to give thanks because he recognized this blessing and wanted to give thanks.
There is something very powerful about not only receiving a blessing but then to be able to name it, and claim it, and give thanks for it is something almost overwhelming. It’s almost as if giving thanks makes us whole. When we express gratitude and thanks, what we are really saying is this “I can’t do this on my own. God gifted you with the ability to help me and because you did, I’m better; my world is a little better.” That’s powerful! And again, as strange as it sounds, when we say “thank you” sometimes what we’re really saying is “I’m not perfect, but with your help, I got a glimpse of it and felt whole.” Gratitude is a very powerful emotion that has the ability to free us from fear, shame, and darkness.
We do have real troubles in this world, obviously. But we also have a world full of blessings if we’re willing to recognize them even if we start small. Thank you for being here tonight. Thank you for being willing to be part of a community that prays together, that worships together, that has fellowship together, and that has a meal together, no matter what. Thank you for loving me for reasons beyond my comprehension. Thank you for caring for this community by giving to our food pantry and our care fund. Thank you for taking the risk and loving yourselves once again. Thank you for being proud of this place.
We are blessed by friends, family and neighbors that care for us. We are blessed by teachers willing to give their heart and passion to our children. We are blessed by those who protect us that we may be safe. We are blessed by a government (even with all its flaws) that enables us to be the freest nation in the world. We are blessed by a God who sees our scars and says “I love you not inspite of your scars but because of them.”
This world is hurting and it is broken. And there are far too many headlines that beg for us to get angry, complacent, or even sad. And perhaps what our hurting, broken world needs now is a blessing. And perhaps that blessing can be you. You can share a healing, powerful word of thanks with those outside these walls. That small gesture will make your little corner of the earth a little better. You have been called, and claimed, and loved, and forgiven, and blessed. Leave this place, not only tonight, but every time you leave, anxious to be a blessing to someone else. Thank you.