I’m curious. By a show of hands, how many of you were made to write thank you notes growing up? Now, put your hands down if you only wrote them for the “big” occasions like graduation and weddings (meaning you were not expected to write them for your birthday or Christmas). Isn’t that interesting? I’ve thought about this off and on this week. I wonder if it is sending the thank you note that has gone out of fashion, or if saying “thank you” has gone out of fashion. I once had someone ask me about our parenting style with Ellen. “Do you make her say ‘thank you’?” They asked. I probably looked at them as if they had lost their mind. “Of course!” I said “she is taught please and thank you. We expect her to use her manners.” And the person who had asked me that went on to tell me about another set of parents they knew that didn’t require their children to say thank you. They wanted their children to be free-spirits and make their own decisions. I’m all about that. I want my daughter to be strong and independent. After all, I allowed her to come dressed as Batman to church on more than one occasion. But if there is something she will do is say thank you. When she is old enough I plan on being that mom who won’t allow her to play with her new toys or wear the new clothes until the thank you notes are written.
Whether we recognize it or not, thankfulness is part of our worship life together. We start with a hymn of praise where we sing “we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.” When we have communion we start the portion of the service in gratitude. Remember, the words go “The Lord be with you” [pause] “Lift up your hearts” [pause] “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” [pause]. And finally, we end the service by being sent in gratitude. I usually say something along the lines of “Go in peace, remember the poor” or “go in peace, to love and serve the Lord” and you all say [pause]? Even when we say “alleluia” it is a form of thanks and praise. And from the outside, people may wonder why we (as Christians) spend so much of our time in worship thanking God.
It’s a legitimate question, right? If you look around the world and the state that we are in, it’s no wonder those who aren’t Christian or who don’t believe in God wonder what in the world we are thankful for. A deadly hurricane swept through the Florida coast this past week. It caused much of its damage in Haiti; a rough estimate is that 900 people thus far in Haiti have died. This is a country still trying to recover from a deadly earthquake that happened 6 years ago. What in the world are the people of Haiti thanking God for this morning? Our friends in and around rivers lately haven’t had a lot to be thankful for lately either. Entire fields of crops have been damaged and even lost for the year. What in the world are they thanking God for?
As Jesus traveled from village to village, word started to spread about what kind of man this was. Word got around that he healed people, fed people, and forgave people. But lepers? Really? It’s hard to imagine anything that exists in our society now that we can compare to leprosy. The closest I can think of (in regards to people’s fear, confusion, and those affected being outcast) is how those first diagnosed with HIV/AIDS were treated. In those early days there was fear that even drinking out of the same glass as someone diagnosed could give you AIDS. We know now that thanks to modern medicine, HIV and AIDS is no longer the immediate death sentence it once was. But for a while, those that were diagnosed were outcasts.
The lepers may have thought “what do we have to lose?” If they weren’t cured, they still were in the state they were in. If they were cured, there would still be a lot of unanswered questions. But because he healed those that are outcast, it tells us a lot about the kind of person Jesus was. Even more, because he healed a Samaritan that tells us and all of those who surrounded Jesus at the time that this was going to be a Savior who didn’t care about boundaries. Because it was a Samaritan, the worst of the worst during Jesus’ time, who realized what Jesus had done for him. He was the only one to return to Jesus and thank him. And when Jesus tells him “your faith has made you well” he’s not just speaking of physical health. Jesus made the Samaritan whole. The healing allowed the Samaritan to go back to his family, back to his community, even back to work. Every part of the Samaritan was made clean again.
The Samaritan, who had no right to expect anything from Jesus realized what a gift he had been given. He didn’t need a priest to confirm that. He saw for himself what a miracle had occurred by Jesus making him whole in every single way. How could he not turn and thank Jesus. Not only a simple “thank you” but a full-throttle, top of his lungs, bowing and most likely crying thank you. The Samaritan didn’t feel entitled to anything.
I often wonder if the sense of entitlement is what prevents us from being thankful. It’s not completely our fault. We do live in a tit-for-tat society. I did this for you, so you do this for me. It’s logical for us to think that God works the same way. “I went to church on Sunday so of course God will forgive me.” Or “I served a meal at that homeless shelter so of course I will be healed.” But what does that say about our faith and our relationship with God? We cannot do anything without God. God doesn’t keep score or keep tabs. And what happens when life doesn’t turn out the way we want? What happens when we pray and pray and pray and God doesn’t answer prayers the way we expect? We can quickly spiral into a faith crisis. Often I have heard people say “I don’t know why this is happening to me. I’m a good person.” Or “I don’t know why God is punishing me like this.”
I get it, brothers and sisters, thanking God is tricky. Why would anyone thank God for a cancer diagnosis. Why would anyone thank God for a lost child? Why would anyone thank God for mental health issues? Why would anyone thank God for financial troubles? If you’re one of those people who are sitting here today wondering “yeah! Why should I thank God? Doesn’t God know what I’m going through?” I hear you. I understand you. I’m not going to try and convince you to just push those thoughts aside and thank God anyway.
But our thankfulness comes in one simple form: the cross. No matter if you feel like your life has been one crappy situation after another the cross guarantees us this: in death, there will be no more suffering. In our death, our sins no longer burden us. In death, our fears and failures are erased. In our death, our sicknesses will be healed. In death, we will be made whole. All of this because one man died on the cross for you and for me, for all of us. Maybe, just maybe, our challenge for today is to look at the cross and say “even if life isn’t good, God still is.”