November 20, 2016 – Giving thanks in all seasons

Thanksgiving Sunday       November 20, 2016   Psalm 65,  Deuteronomy 8:7-18,

2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Luke 17:11-19     Give thanks in all seasons

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I wasn’t there to hear his tone of voice, so I really can’t say for sure – but it sounds to me as if Jesus is pretty ticked off and disappointed – with these nine of ten lepers who don’t say thank you – to the One who has healed them….

I can guess some of the possible reasons why they don’t praise God and give thanks… Maybe they were so thrilled to be healed they didn’t think – just made a dash for home. Maybe they were so focused on getting certified cleansed from leprosy so they could go home and reenter society that they forgot to say thank you – as their parents probably taught them to do from birth.

Or maybe they were strict literalists. They heard Jesus say “go show yourselves to the priests.” They didn’t hear him say “and praise God.”

Or, perhaps all nine fully intended to go home, clean up, dress up, come back quick to say a proper formal thank you… We don’t know…

But whatever their reasons, we do know – only one of ten comes back to say ‘Thank you Jesus!’

And I can relate… I’ve been one of those nine. I’ve been known to forget to say thank you. And this is not a good defense – but – It’s pretty easy to be thankful…when everything’s going well… Easy to be thankful when we’re feeling good, surrounded by family and friends, feasting, enjoying good company… Like in a Norman Rockwell picture. Turkey on the table, everyone gathered round together, saying grace…

Of course those wonderful Normal Rockwell moments are usually not the times when I forget to say thank you to God. And in fairness, I don’t think any of these  lepers are feeling like they’re in a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving picture… They’ve been kept outside society for as long as they’ve been diagnosed with leprosy. The term leprosy in those days covered a multitude of skin diseases. (Check out the middle chapters of Leviticus for details, but the term leprosy usually didn’t mean the illness we call leprosy today.) But having any form of leprosy did mean being excluded from the wider community – not allowed even to live in their own homes or move about freely even in their own home towns… So maybe these lepers have forgotten the good manners their parents taught them… Because of being away from home for too long.

It is harder to be thankful when our family and friends are far away… As would have been the case for these lepers, who were required to live outside the city gates and identify their presence by shouting “Unclean! Unclean!” whenever they approached other people…Their condition was considered highly contagious.

I haven’t had to experience that extreme form of exclusion. And even on occasions when I have been far away from family and friends during holidays, I’ve usually had some kind of community backup available.

I have pleasant memories from my seminary years in Boston, of being invited to share Thanksgiving dinner once in the home of one of our teaching assistants, who warmly welcomed me and made me feel like part of her extended family…

Another year in seminary two of our usual gang of eight were home alone in our student apartment building on Thanksgiving. Mid-day, one of us asked the other – “shall we do dinner?” And John and I went out for Chinese food down the street… Which, thanks to God and some good conversation, ended up as a kind-of different but perfectly good thanksgiving…

Of course it’s harder to be thankful if the best we can manage is a very small meal with very little company… Like our bulletin cover art today by Henry Ossawa Tanner. The title of the painting is Thanksgiving Poor. Which can be taken more than one way, but Thanksgiving Poor sounds better… and a lot more thankful… than Poor Thanksgiving

And this is how I picture the one leper who does turn back… He’s a foreigner, a Samaritan, an outsider to the people of Israel. Maybe in this grey  borderline territory between Samaria and Galilee he’s been considered a borderline person… But rather than letting the views of others shape his personality, instead he’s cultivated the habit of giving thanks, even for very small blessings.

Now he’s the one who remembers the goodness of God…. even when the table looks pretty bare… and only two are gathered together in prayer… He’s the one who sets the standard for the rest of us to look up to.

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Now I’m pretty sure all or nearly all of us know many good reasons why we should be one of those there with that otherwise lonely one leper who says thanks very much to Jesus.

Even if we’re not familiar with our reading from Deuteronomy, we’re probably familiar with it’s message – that we are not to claim that any of the good things in life come to us because of our good works. All the good we have comes to us as a gift from God…. . And even though the word of God here doesn’t demand that we say thanks to God – if we know everything good comes to God we should certainly be able to figure out… we ought to be thanking God early and often…

Much like as little children we sometimes learn to say our please and thank yous because if we don’t we know we won’t get desert or the treat or whatever we’re asking mom and dad for – so too, I’m pretty sure, many of us adult Christians learn that gratitude’s not only good, it’s also good for us. It’s very much in our enlightened self-interest to be thankful. Because gratitude is good not only for our spiritual health, but also our physical well-being. Studies indicate people who are more thankful get sick less often, enjoy life more, and live longer… (If we missed reading any of those studies in the scientific journals, don’t worry. The self-help industry’s read the studies for us, and keeps busy passing the message along about…. How much happier and healthier we are, when we’re thankful… Hundreds of self-help books, thousands of articles have been written telling us easy-to-remember ways to be more thankful…)

So most of us know the theory of gratitude…We know the many reasons to thank God. And if we’ve been in church awhile we know, as Corinthians tells us, God loves a cheerful giver. And we know biblical giving is broad spectrum giving, which includes giving and sharing of our prayers, our presence, our spiritual gifts, our material gifts, our service, our witness… our thanks and praise to God…

We also know giving of ourselves and all the gifts God has entrusted to us is meant to be contagious, meant to inspire thanksgiving on the part of others… Giving is part of our witness… and…

We know this… But there are days when praise and thanks don’t flow so easily…

It’s much harder to give thanks if we’re suffering from a major illness – a lost job –  or a broken relationship… It’s harder to be thankful if we’re a refugee… or homeless… or depressed and discouraged… And over the course of a lifetime, most of us will experience some form of major illness… Most of us will go through difficult times and seasons… And –

It’s often hard not to want to celebrate on a beautiful Spring or Summer or Fall day, when the earth is beautiful, and weather is often cooperative…

But November can be a difficult month… With autumn fading and winter not yet here… An in-between time that can evoke mixed emotions… A good time to be remembering… those who have come before us… Remembering also that biblical faith equips us to be able to give thanks to God…while experiencing all the full range of human emotions, from the most intense joy to the deepest grief…

The pilgrims and Indians who celebrated the first Thanksgiving here in Massachusetts understood what the bible says about giving thanks to God even when times are hard. The pilgrims knew the last verses of the prophet Habakkuk’s scroll (3:17-19), where the word says: ‘even though the harvests fails, still I will rejoice in the Lord.’ They knew the words of Psalm 126: “those who go forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” They knew the words of Jesus: “Blessed are those who weep, for they will be comforted.” It’s good they knew these scriptures, because half the Plymouth colony settlers died either on shipboard coming across the ocean or in the new land, from illness, by the time of the first harvest feast…

And the Wampanoag must have already sensed that life was going to be much more complicated now, with these new settlers, already sharing their traditional hunting and fishing spots…

But together they celebrated the harvest for three-long-days…Feasting with gratitude and giving thanks, together, to our one Creator God…

Most of us know the familiar stories of our early history in this place. Thanksgiving has been part of our tradition from before most of us can remember.

Many of us also know that all the bible speaks of the importance of giving thanks and praise to God from Genesis through Revelation….With all the saints in heaven and earth joining in singing unceasing praises and thanks to God in the closing chapters of the bible…

We know the basic theory of giving thanks in all seasons. Yet we also know knowing the right thing is not always enough. There are times when it’s hard to feel thankful. In such times we try to pray more, read the bible more, and refresh our memories of the why and how and wherefore of giving thanks…

But what usually works best for me… is to see gratitude happening in our midst…The company of even one or two people living with thankfulness is usually the best way to get me remembering to be thankful also…

I thank God for our daughter, who is often good at giving thanks for blessings. I thank God for another family member (who doesn’t want to be named in a sermon) who has kept a blessings journal for many years, writing down each day’s blessings, adding little thank you notes to God… And following their lead, I thank God for each of you, every time I see you thanking God in any way in any season… Together, by grace, we can all be the one who gives thanks to Jesus and thereby helps all the rest of us remember to give our thanks too…

Together we can be the whole ten giving thanks – then the ten times ten, who help a hundred times a hundred… to remind a thousand times a thousand… to turn and return and give thanks to God… Till all creation is singing songs of praise and thanks to God along with us…

Singing Thanks be to God.  Amen.