Sermon, November 24: It’s Enough

What are we celebrating when we celebrate thanksgiving? We know gratitude when we feel it, but it’s difficult to put it into words. The closest I can come is by focusing on that feeling of heightened well-being that seems to accompany a sense of thanksgiving. It seems to involve a sense of the goodness of the giver as well as the goodness of life.
What’s the opposite of thanksgiving? Some people would say it’s the notion that just being who they were born confers certain inalienable rights. They are the people who understand themselves as self- made and self-sustained, requiring no obligation to others. You know their names.
So does today’s story say anything to this clash of thinking? All the lepers had the same disease. All suffered from the same isolation their disease imposed. Then, suddenly all lost the signs of physical disease. You’ll notice that the story never says that they weren’t all thankful – only that the Samaritan and returned to share his gratitude with Jesus.
Gratitude is an emotional response, often – like the Samaritan’s – to a specific event. More importantly from a practical viewpoint, gratitude becomes an attitude – an attitude that will continue to affect your life. Scientists would call it a neuroplasticity, referring to learning patterns we create in our brains so the actual path that leads to gratitude is deeper and faster in the thankful person.
More than that, gratitude leads to a sense that our trust in goodness is warranted. And perhaps that’s what the Samaritan realized that the other lepers didn’t. Perhaps Luke wants us to understand that the Samaritan’s return to share his joy with Jesus is a sign of more than physical healing. It’s a sign of what Luke would call salvation and modern theologians would call wholeness.
How might we hear that awareness in a world closer to our own? Meister Eckhart once said “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.” Think of that – all the words and words and words we use to make sure God knows exactly what we want. And one prayerful thank you says so much more.
UCC minister John Thomas once put it in these words: “Each thank you becomes a way to practice gratitude so that more and more our lives are weaned away from the myth of entitlement and the arrogance and isolation of independence. Each thank you becomes a way to practice gratitude so that more and more our lives are shaped by the truth of our belonging to others, even to Christ.” If the only prayer you ever say is thank you, that’s enough.
So let us give thanks this Thanksgiving for this extraordinary truth: we live and move and have all the times of our being sheltered within the loving care of God – the Holy One who laughs with us and cries with us and through it all, never stops reaching out to us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton

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