The other morning I was yelling at everyone to get ready for school, and shouting the morning countdown until the bus would be arriving. I told Blake that it's too bad they haven't made halograms yet, because you could just record me saying the same thing every morning. As a parent I find that I repeat myself to the point that I am as annoyed with myself as my kid's are. One thing I think I have said almost every day is don't forget to say thank you. Thanking people is an important value to us. It's important I think for people to be thanked and told they are appreciated for the giving of their time and energy.
We are just few days away from Thanksgiving — a time set apart to itemize our blessings. Telling people thank you, and counting our blessing is important, but there is something divine about practicing gratitude. "To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us - and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference."
Amid the various ecclesial, ethical, and liturgical reforms of the sixteenth century, Martin Luther was once asked to describe the nature of true worship.
His answer: the tenth leper turning back. According to Martin Luther, the nature of true worship is found in this little story today, let's step into the story and see what we discover.
First of all, this story takes place in a place that does not exist. Luke tells us Jesus is somewhere between Samaria and Galilee. There is no literal region between Samaria and Galilee. You are either in Galilee or Samaria. I imagine for the readers of Luke, they understand to mean, that Jesus is between two worlds that are odds with each other. He is at the check point between Israel and Palistine. He is on the south side of Chicago, between the University of Chicago and 53rd street. What this would trigger for the original audience is that Jesus is in a place of social and racial tension. And in that place he comes in contact with people who have a skin disease and are outcasted from society. It's a barren place, where there isn't much hope. — This is where the story takes place.
And in this place are people Who nobody Wants. They are literally on the margins; unwelcome, unwanted and unclean. They were lepers. The physical ramifications are horrendous. Leptbsy attacks the body, leaving sores, missing fingers, missing toes, damaged limbs. In many cases, the initial pain of leprosy. gives Wa.y to something more terrible than that - a loss of sensation in nerve endings, leading to mote damage to more body parts. The disease can take 30 years to run its Course, and in that time span, entire limbs can simply fall off It is, assuredly, a most horrible disease. We have nearly an impossible task in trying tO fathom What it was 2,000 years ago,
when medical treatment as we know it today was almost non-eXistent. In addition to pain and Suffering, they experienced complete isolation and abandonment. The emotional pain of d leper, however, must have been even worse than the physical pain. He was removed from his family, from his community. There could be no contact, whatsoever; with his children or gandelaildren, None. Immediately rernove± His wife would not be allowed to kiss him goodbye. He would not have allowed it, for fear that she too, would become afflicted.
Lepers tended to roam together, looking for food, begging for assistance from a great distance, learning to yell in loud voices, both from the need to warn others, and to beg for help from across the way.
Jesus comes across 10 lepers. They are yelling at him, keeping their distance, begging to be made well.
Jesus tells them to "Go to the priest, just as the Old Testament says, and show him that you have already been cured."
As they go to do this, they find out they are already cured. Only one of them comes back to say "thank you." What a strange little detail!
In his little book, The Way of the Wolf Martin Bell asks, "Where are the nine" Just imagine, he says. You've been cured of a disease that segregates you. A dreaded skin disease separated the contaminated from the healthy. Suddenly the disease is gone. So what do you do? Where do you go?
Martin Bell imagines one leper was a mother. She ran back to hug one of her children. Another was a literalist. If the Bible said "go see the priest," he went right to his priest. Another was offended. He expected he had to do something to earn the healing, and Jesus healed him before he could earn it. He was offended.
Another was so happy that he forgot to go back and say thanks. (1)
Like Jesus, anybody can ask, "Where are the nine?" What I want to know is this: what was going on in the one? What made the one turn back?
Luke says he was a Samaritan. That is a second strange detail. Back then, everybody hated the Samaritans. They are the last person anyone would imagine doing the right thing.
Feeling and expressing true gratitude isn't easy. I dare say its more difficult for people who feel entitled, who don't understand the luxery of being able to go out to dinner or filling up a gas tank, or having a home. It's an ironic thing but those with less often have greater capacity of thanking more.
The other 9 lepers are healed, and they go on with their lives, but they aren't saved. The only one who is saved, is the one who expresses gratitude. — And by gratitude, I don't mean obligatory gratitude. I don't mean, the thank you note your mom made you write to your aunt for the socks and underwear you got for Christmas, although that's important. I don't mean, the casual, conversational thank you, as you go through the check out counter. I mean real, authentic, heartfelt gratitude.
I wish there was a way to give every hurting, skeptical, hateful, entitled, greedy human being a serum of gratitude, so that they could see that everything they have belongs to God. So they could see that every day is a gift. So that they could know that when they are relieved of pain, they are being healed. I simply wish people could turn to Jesus as this 10th leper does. Gratitude requires humility -that it is only by the grace of God that we are healed. That is only by the grace of God that we have anything. But maybe our job is not to worry about the 90% who go on
their merry way, maybe our job is rejoice with one who came back and celebrate, like the woman who found the lost coin, the like the shepherd who found the lost sheep, like the father who welcomed the lost son home. Moreover, in our daily struggles let us make sure we are not one of the 9 who is off and running with our agendas and personal achievements. Did we run back?
Did we turn around? Did we remember to say thank you. Look for gratitude. Look for thanksgiving. Practice being the person, despite, or perhaps because of whatever struggle you are facing — Keep looking beyond it glory and abundance.
Martin Rinkart. He became the pastor of the small German town of Eilenberg in 1618 just as the slaughter and chaos of the Thirty Years War was beginning. This was a period so catastrophic that the population of Germany fell from 16 million to 6 million over thirty years. Eilenberg was a walled city. It became a crowded haven for political and military refugees. This left the city vulnerable to disease and famine. In the year 1637 there was terrible plague. Martin Rinkart was the only pastor remaining in Eilenberg. He conducted 4000 funerals in that year, including up to 50 funerals a day. As the signs of peace and the tide of slaughter, famine and plague began to recede in the 1640s, Martin Rinkart, who had lost half his household, including his wife, and could have been forgiven for feeling resentful, angry and unforgiving, sat down and wrote one of the most famous hymns in the German language, Nun danket alle Gott, which we know in English as "Now thank we all our God". Viewing the wreckage of war, and the folly of his
fellow human beings, he nonetheless still saw the ultimate grace of God, which had given him life, had given him Jesus, had given him hope, had given him unlikely friends, and still gave him faith. He did the simple thing, and just said thank you. It's difficult to imagine what it might have meant for Martin Rinkart to be healed. But it's hard to doubt that he was saved. And in writing this hymn he displayed what we rediscover when we sing it today: the power of saying thank you. Martin Rinkart was a person in whom the glory of God was revealed. And it was revealed through his ability and willingness, even amid untold suffering, to say thank you to the God of wonder and glory, who created us all, who suffers in our suffering, and who alone can raise us to new life. May we too learn to say thank you, in great ways and small, and may we too become people in whom the glory of God is revealed.
Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices, Who wondrous things hath done, In whom this world rejoices; who from our mothers' arms, hath bless us on our way with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
0 may this bounteous God through all our life be near us, with every joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us; and keep us in God's grace and guide us when perplexed. And free us from all ills in this world and the next.