Trinity XIV

Saint Luke xvii, verse 18 – There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Our gospel lesson today is found only in Saint Luke’s gospel.  It is typical of Saint Luke’s own particular perspective in its very positive and favorable portrayal of a Samaritan.  The Samaritans were thought of by orthodox Jews as half-breeds.  Samaritans were despised by the Jews of our Lord’s day, but are portrayed in a very good light by Luke.  Saint Luke wrote his gospel for a Church of Gentile or pagan converts who did not know much about the Old Testament or Judaism and who certainly did not care to maintain Jewish prejudices.  Luke more than the other gospel writers often picks out events to repeat from Christ’s life that show our Lord relating positively with non-Jews.  Today’s lesson is a good example.

The basic theme of this lesson is, obviously, thankfulness.  Ten lepers approach Jesus.  Lepers were social outcasts, because people feared their disease and disfigurement.  Misery loves company.  The lepers’ common misfortune seems to have overcome other differences between them, so that in their little community a Samaritan could associate with Jews.  When our Lord heals the ten lepers, nine of them take their healing and run, without a backward glance or a word of thanks.  Only the one Samaritan ‘returned to give glory to God’.  None gave thanks ‘save this stranger’.

The two highest forms of vocal prayer are thanksgiving and adoration.  Thanksgiving is a form of gratitude in which we praise and bless and thank God for some particular good that we enjoy or evil that we have avoided.  I am thankful for my parents.  I am thankful that God has delivered me from terrible accidents or disease.  Thanksgiving praises God for something that relates to us.  Adoration is higher still, because it praises and glorifies and worships God purely for himself.  In the end adoration spills over into contemplation, because it seeks simply to gaze upon the splendor and beauty of God with a spiritual eye and to adore him for his great glory.

It is not necessary to separate thanksgiving and adoration.  My many blessings lead me to thank God, and that in turn leads me to understand God better as he is in himself.  Thinking about God in himself leads me inevitably to think about how God’s love and goodness and power led to my creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life, above all in my redemption by our Lord Jesus Christ.  We need not separate adoration and thanksgiving, but today the gospel leads us to concentrate more on thanksgiving.

There are many kinds of thanksgiving.  I can thank God for myself or for others.  I can thank him for good received or evil avoided.  I can thank God for the past or present or future.  I can thank God for something specific or for his goodness in relation to us in general.  Perhaps the most important thing to say in a sermon about thanksgiving is that we need to cultivate a general attitude of thankfulness and gratitude.

Let me give some examples.  I mentioned once in a sermon something that happened on, if memory serves, my trip to Haiti three years ago.  To get to the village of Tapio you have to take a bone-jarring jeep ride up a rocky, almost treeless, very hot, very steep mountain track.  The ride takes about 45 minutes.  [Note from 2017 – some things improve – the trip is much faster now with a better road up the hills.]  Most people, of course, don’t have vehicles, so they ride donkeys or, usually, walk.  The walk takes five or six hours.  Whenever I am riding up or down that track, I fantasize about what would happen if the jeep broke down.  I see children and old folks walking that mountain and know that I probably could do the same if I had to, but also, spoiled as I am, think that I would just about die.  Well, on this particular occasion the flight I was on back to Miami was cancelled, and I had to take a later flight which caused me to miss my connection to Atlanta.  I spent a couple hours in lines in the Miami airport, then took a taxi to a hotel where the airline put me up for the night and gave me a dinner.  I fumed and felt extremely sorry for myself.  Poor, poor, poor, poor me; poor, poor, pitiful me.  At some point, perhaps over a cocktail in the hotel restaurant or in the really very pleasant hotel room, to my credit, I thought, ‘You selfish idiot.  Every single soul in Tapio would probably gladly exchange his day for yours, and here you are feeling sorry for yourself.’  Just a little bit of thankfulness for my blessings transformed my attitude.  I suspect it lowered my blood pressure, and I’m sure it turned nasty, selfish sinfulness into an attitude more pleasing to God.

Along the same lines, I like to remind the children of the parish of something I once told them after another trip to Haiti.  At our orphanage in Port-au-Prince everything each child owns is either on that child’s back or stored under his or her bed, which bed is in a room that five or six children share.  Those children have almost nothing, including parents or privacy, and yet they are luckier than many children in Haiti because the Church gives them shelter, food, education, the protection of loving adults, and the Christian religion.  I would like our children to think about what they have.  Most of them have rooms of their own, a telephone at their disposal, a television, plenty to eat, too many clothes to fit under their bed or perhaps even in their closet, families that love them, and so much more.  I don’t particularly want our children to feel bad about their blessings.  What I do want is for them to recognize their blessings, to be thankful to God and their parents, and to give a  thought to the fact that the vast majority of children in this world would be dumbfounded at the thought that our children could for even one minute have anything to complain about.  Think on these things next time Mom tells you you’ve got to go to Church or Dad tells you to clean up your room.

What is true of us as individuals is true of us as a community and nation.  We live surrounded by incredible blessings.  Some of us here would have died years ago if we did not enjoy medical care undreamed of a few decades ago.  We enjoy the protection of the laws in a relatively orderly and decent society.  We have wealth and conveniences which make the poorest in our land in many ways far better off than the richest of most previous generations.  We are blessed to be where we are and when we live.  I have, again, no wish at all to make us feel guilty about this.  We should not feel guilty, but blessed – incredibly, wonderfully blessed.  We should return and give glory to God, again and again.  We should share our blessings with those less fortunate, and we will be eager to do this if we truly understand that those blessings are gifts which God and many others have made possible.

We owe God thanks and thank-full-ness.  Not only is thanksgiving our bounden duty as blessed and graced creatures, but it also is the secret that transforms unhappiness and selfishness into a life of grateful peace.  A little with contentment is better than great riches, and a little leaven of thankfulness leavens the whole of life into peace and worship.  And so, let us now proceed to the central and great act of our thanksgiving, as is most meet and right.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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