Our deepest thanks is not for things

Thanksgiving Day 2011

“Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

In today's Gospel story from Luke ten lepers are cleansed in the act of obeying Jesus' directive – rooted in the Mosaic Law - to go show themselves to the priest.

Their cure means they suffer no longer physically from the complex of symptoms known as “leprosy”, and their appearance before the priest is their ticket to re-entry into society, from which their malady isolates them. It is a remarkable sign in many ways of the dominion of God active and on the move in Jesus of Nazareth.

Ten lepers who approach Jesus in faith for healing receive that for which they ask. Nine go on their way into a new life. One returns to Jesus to give thanks. He returns with great joy and loud rejoicing, giving praise to God.

And – as Jesus notes – this man is a foreigner. He is not of the household of Israel, but is a Samaritan.

Here is a further sign of the reign of God on the move with Jesus of Nazareth. Old barriers disappear and the compassion of God moves with generosity toward the alien and the stranger to Israel.

Ten lepers are cleansed, and one leper – a member of a despised minority – is made whole. The healing is so complete that it overwhelms him with joy. He now has a relationship to God that fills him and completes him as a person.

That is the promise of the Reign of God to all of us. The gift of God to us unfathomable, and we are capable of giving thanks for it only as we deepen our awareness that life is all gift.

Recently my wife and I were able to move into a new home we enjoy very much. I was standing in that house looking out the window and was feeling some conflict. I was thankful for the good fortune to be at home in a place I love, and at the same time aware that others around me struggle and suffer. I was feeling my feelings about that. There was pleasure, and also some degree of sadness.

I shared this with someone and they said “you deserve it.” They were referring to the house and our good fortune in finding it.

While I appreciate their kindness in saying that, I still cannot find rhyme or reason in why I should deserve my good fortune while someone else suffers. Life and the universe are fundamentally more mysterious than that.

The important thing about that moment for me was that in it I was drawn into a relationship with God. I was drawn into the realm where all is gift. In that realm, there is no ultimate “ownership” of anything. The house, my good health; these things are on loan. They could quickly be gone, and at the end, I'd still be held in God's providence. The only place I can be is in the moment, giving thanks, and sensing as well my connectedness to and responsibility toward those who are not as fortunate as I am.

On thanksgiving day around many tables there will be enumerated lists of things for which people give thanks. I hope so, at least.

Ultimately, our deepest thanks is not for things. Our deepest thanks is for relationship with God; a relationship God initiates and which God alone sustains. The ex-leper from Samaria leads the way.

The General Thanksgiving in the Book of Common Prayer enumerates a great many reasons for thanksgiving, and concludes with these words, which we pray in the spirit of that ex-leper, and in continuity with him:

“...Above all, we thank you for your son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom....”

The life of the kingdom is the life of service to the world we find so broken and fearful around us. It is life that draws its strength from deep wells of God's continuing care and faithfulness. As we take holy things from this altar/table we pray to be strengthened to live this life for God and for others.