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National Thanksgiving

An Attitude of Gratitude

Readings: Job 1:1, 2:1-10; Ps 26; Heb 1:1-4, 2:5-12; Luke 17:11-19

There was a certain preacher who was known for his uplifting prayers. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, “Certainly he won’t think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this.” Much to his surprise, however, he began by praying, “We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this.”

We Canadians have so much to be thankful for, and yet it takes specific times of the church year to remind us to give thanks to God. It is easy to come up with a list of needs and petitions for our prayers, but seemingly much harder to come up with a list of things for which we are grateful. As we look around at the decorations in our church this morning we know how blessed we are to live in Canada. To live here means to share in the bounty and beauty of one of the wealthiest countries in the world. It means to live in freedom. It means to live in comfort. Sometimes we need to be reminded that such bounty brings with it responsibility. Along with the fruit and vegetables that we use to decorate our church, what we really offer to God is ourselves. We offer willingly and with thankful hearts all that we are and all that we have. It is that attitude of gratitude that comes through in a wonderful way in today’s gospel. It is an attitude that is not always easily acquired, even, or perhaps especially in our first world mindset.

The gospel today links gratitude to God with healing, with coming to wholeness. That is a wonderful thing for us to consider as we celebrate our National Thanksgiving.

We live in a world that is calling out for healing. Many in our world suffer from hunger, from want, from disease, from oppression. The gospel holds out the promise of healing and liberation through the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.

As Christians, we are called to wholeness. But more than that, we are called to share that wholeness with others. Most of us if asked what wholeness is, would speak in terms of being physically well. But true wholeness is far more than that. It is no accident that in Greek, the word we translate as "salvation", can also be used to mean health. In fact, modern psychology is just catching up with Greek, as it begins to see the strong link between health of body, mind, and spirit.

Luke tells a story that shows that link so clearly. Jesus was travelling between Galilee and Samaria. He was venturing out into the unknown, into a dangerous and uncertain place, a place where anything can happen, There he meets ten lepers. They are not in that "uncertain" place by choice. They are conforming to the law, a law which says they must keep their distance from people. However, they are allowed to call out for charity.

"Have mercy on us," they beg Jesus. And Jesus, in compassion, says to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." As they go on their way, they find that they have been cleansed, made clean. One of them, a Samaritan, an outsider, on finding himself healed returns to thank Jesus.

"Your faith has made you well, healthy, whole in every way," Jesus says to him. Not only is he clean as are the other nine, but he has received salvation. Because of his gratitude he has been made truly whole.

We need to question why that connection between gratitude and wholeness is so difficult for us to make. Indeed, it often seems as if those outside the established faith community are more open to the full healing message of Jesus Christ than those inside.

Let us reflect for a moment on the nine lepers who did not come back to Jesus. What kept them from acknowledging the healing grace that had been given to them that day? Was there something in their past which kept them from real wholeness?

Many things can keep us from being grateful. Perhaps fear or distrust kept the lepers from reaching out beyond themselves. Fear can keep you from accepting a gift of grace, even God’s grace.

Perhaps they were too angry at life to ever say thank you for anything again. When anger consumes you, there is no acceptance of the good things that God has in store. There is no forgiveness for what has happened in one’s life. You are beyond that kind of acceptance. And that is tragic.

Perhaps they did not connect the healing with the healer. It happened too easily. Because it was so simple, it was easy to think that it was all a dream. It didn't really happen at all. If something is too easy we may not see the need for gratitude. We may simply expect it as our due. We may think we have earned it as a right.

Perhaps they were so used to sickness that they could not handle being well. There are people like that. They get so caught up in being sick that they don't even know how to be well. They revel in their sickness.

Perhaps they were so overcome with emotion at being healed that it was impossible to talk about it. Or perhaps they were so anxious to talk about what had happened that they couldn’t wait. Was there family waiting for them? Children perhaps who had not seen their parent for many months? The excitement of being with loved ones could keep one from remembering. Are we ever forgetful of the good things that God does for us?

But one of them came back. What was different about the one who came back to say thank you? Part of it certainly lies in our childhood lesson about saying “thank you”. But the one who came back came not just to say thank you, but to give glory to God. Giving glory to God, recognizing that through Jesus God is active in our world, focusing on God, takes his action beyond that of simply giving thanks. He is offering himself. He is acknowledging God’s saving grace. And that is what made him whole. That is what gave him salvation.

What keeps us from real wholeness? How do we return to give thanks to God? All sorts of things that happen in life keep us from wholeness. But the real point is that Jesus doesn’t sit around waiting to be thanked. Jesus healed all the lepers. God offered each one a gift of grace. It is offered to each one of us, a free gift, no strings attached.

So let us come up with an amazing list of things for which we are thankful. We are thankful on this Thanksgiving weekend for family and friends with whom to share the bounty of God’s creation. We are thankful for the privilege of living in Canada, a land of opportunity, of peace, of wealth. We are thankful for freedom to worship, for the heritage of this lovely building, for its history, for people of faith who have worshipped here, and made it a holy place; for people who continue to support the ministry of this congregation; for the life and witness of Vincent Massey whom we honour anew this day, remembering his great contribution, his great leadership as Governor General of Canada.

It is through gratitude, through counting our many blessings, that we accept that free gift and realize God's healing grace. It comes about through our faithfulness to God. It is expressed in our worship. It is demonstrated through love. Let us daily remember how much we have to be thankful for. This thanksgiving can we open ourselves, heart, mind and soul, to God who freely graces our lives? Can we worship God with abandon? Can we be truly reconciled to God and open our lives to God's healing grace?

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