|Photo Credit: PCStratman on Flickr.com
Good morning, my friends. It is so good to be here. --- We are celebrating Thanksgiving, a special day in the year for considering and witnessing to all that we know and remember ourselves and those we love having been blessed with, ---and praying to God, with gratitude -in blessing, praise, and thanksgiving, (indeed, as we read in the Eucharistic prayer of our BCP).
The eucharist, our celebration of Holy Communion, week in and week out, is literally a work of thanksgiving –such is the actual meaning of the Greek term from which our English word is derived, Eukaristia.
We meet for the celebration of the Eucharist, not only because we like it -and we do- or because it enables us to gather with people we love -which it does- but, mostly, because we are commanded so to do. Jesus himself, when instituting the Eucharist in the Upper Room, not only said “this is my body, this is my blood” but also, “as oft as ye shall do this, doitin remembrance of me”.
By the way -I am sure that most of you know that this is not by far the only Eucharistic service offered in this parish of St Luke. We have another service on Sunday mornings, and a 10am mass on Wednesday mornings, a monthly Sunday 1pm service in the parish hall…
Our parish community organizes itself and works towards making the sacrament of holy commu-nion available also to our brothers and sisters who are unable to be with us in our worship services, as much as they wish otherwise.
For example, Last Sunday, we sent out our first team of lay pastoral visitors, who were entrusted with the reserved sacrament to have it brought to a member of our congregation who otherwise would not have taken communion that week.
We give thanks to God for the commitment of our brothers and sisters to this ministry, and I encourage you all to consider whether you could also serve in such capacity -and, if so, just speak to the rector, or to me, and we will be more than happy to facilitate everything for your ministry.
------As we gather for services in this church, each time, we use very specific readings from the Bible. Many of you know that we follow the Revised Common Lectionary, a selection of Scriptural readings set for every Sunday and every feast of the church year. --This is not just Anglican, but an ecumenical lectionary. ---So, if we should visit different churches on any given Sunday morning, chances are (because there are exceptions), chances are that they will be reading the same scriptural lessons as we would had read here.
The lectionary has its own, few downsides.
For example, because we are provided with carefully selected and curated scriptural lessons for each of our days in the liturgical year, we might –we might- succumb to the illusion that these are, each, self-sufficient texts, somehow hanging over the whole of the Scriptures, without much need for context, or background.
For example -from the content and length of the epistle lessons we read every Sunday, one could end up thinking that Saint Paul wrote many, very short letters, often to the same church, four to five paragraphs each. After all, such is all we really get to read and listen to while in Sunday worship!
I jest, of course. But I’m sure that you get my point--As we discern the hand and the Spirit of God, in the Scriptures and in our daily lives and ministries, we are so much better off giving to the context and setting the attention they warrant.
True, today, as it is often the case, our gospel lesson turns out to be, even without much context and research, still a very moving story. It tells us, on the surface, of an act of mercy, power, and healing, performed by Jesus, for the sake of ten persons who suffered from leprosy, and who had pleaded for Jesus’ blessing.
These ten men, we are told, are almost immediately sent away by Jesus, so they may fulfill what the Jewish law commanded for those healed of leprosy. On their way to see the priest, these ten realize that they are lepers no more.
All but one of them, however, fail to recognize that their healing has been freely granted by Jesus who in turn, when confronted by this one grateful man, declares that it has been this man’s faithwhat has made him well.
Again, as of itself, this is an inspiring, awesome narrative. In a day like today, even more so -as this one returning man embodies the best, most generous instincts in all of us when it is about reacting, in grace, in humility, and thankfulness, for a gift received –a gift that is, indeed, free, granted for grace’s sake alone.
Now -let us look at some of the context here, if only for a moment. First –this is all happening as Jesus is resolutely moving towards Jerusalem and, as we now know, to his return to the Father, viathe Calvary and the empty tomb.
It is on this way to glory where we are told about specific situations in which Jesus is doing the work of his Father:teaching, healing, giving life and love to those he meets –and to those who rush themselves to meet Him.
And it is in these acts of healing, love, and life-giving, where Jesus also engages in what we could call cultural disruption, godly disruption of our fixed ways. Just like in this morning’s gospel, with these ten men afflicted by leprosy.
Now, we are told that Jesus was moving through the region between Galilea and Samaria, or at least, that he met Samaritans.
These were persons of ‘mixed blood’, whose ancestors were both Jews who had not been taken in the Babylonian Exile, and people from Assyria, who had re-settled in the land of Israel, around that time. The Good Samaritan is, I am sure, a most familiar character.
To a Jew, Samaritans were ALL deemed unclean. They were despised because of their very different ancestry, sacred scriptures, and centre of worship. --- Still, Jesus comes into Samaritan territory, by all accounts, ready for a meet.
And, as if these were not big enough ‘tells’, then there is the issue of leprosy. In Jesus’ times, the equivalent of our word for leprosywas also used to describe all sorts of visible diseases affecting the human skin. People so perceived were prevented from worshipping or gathering with, let alone touching and speaking to, their fellows, friends, or even relatives.
They were true outcasts, in the full cruelty of the term. Condemned to only frequent those of their own condition, people who suffered from leprosy or associated conditions could only hope for a miracle to alleviate their suffering. And these ten men who came to Jesus –a miracle they got.
But once we contemplate the whole of the narrative, paying attention to both context and characters, the miracle, while still a powerful, loving sign of the grace of God expressed in the ministry of Jesus, yet still gains in scope and meaning –earthly, human scope and meaning.
We may not know or understand how events of divine healing come to happen, we may hesitate pontificating on the howsand whysof the grace of God dispensed to us His children. But we knowwhat solidarity looks like, what friendship and compassion and love sound and feel like.
It is precisely in this discernment of the mystery of the incarnation, this encounter between the earthly and the heavenly, where we can speak most powerfully about thanksgiving. --- and I suspect that such was just the mindset of that one man who, after having been healed, chose to return, and give thanks, and give witness, to the grace and wholeness that Jesus had worked in him –and his other, unreturning, nine fellows.
Thanksgiving, you would agree, goes far beyond the display of good manners, or even our choice, as people of faith, to give glory and thanks to God for being the source and grounding for all we are and all the blessings we receive. And don’t get me wrong –good manners are important. A good, healthy spirituality is very important.
But thanksgiving–it requires us to move, perhaps take uncharted roads, following the signs of what God has done and continues to do in our lives, both as individuals and as church. Thanksgiving is more like a way of looking at God, the world and other people, a way of talking, of acting, towards God, the world, and other people.
Here is, I believe, the genesis of service, the roots of so many among us who pursue a vocation, a calling, to service, within this our Christian faith. By serving, by enabling someone else to flourish as a human being, as a child of God, we are both bringing Jesus to, and meeting Jesus in, them.
Such a life, which finds joy in service, has been so recently recognized by our diocese and bishop, who appointed our own Heather White to the Order of Niagara. A life of ministry which, if I may suggest so, has been just about that, bringing Jesus to, and finding Jesus in, those we serve ----those whom Heather serves.
Your (Her) ministry stands for those of so many others among you, who embody this life-sense of thanks-giving, of thanks through giving, to God, whom we O so often meet in others.
I spoke before about the Lectionary -and you will notice that it also provides us with a Collect prayer, which gathers the themes and emphases of the scriptural lessons of the day.
In the collect prayer we have said today, we pray that we may have “grateful hearts” for all of God’s goodness, and “steadfast wills” to use that bounty well.
As collects often do, the one we have said today manages to give us, in few, powerful words, the essence of what we pray, and seek, and cultivate, that heart and soul of thanksgiving which we shape after those of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our worship, be it in prayer, in service, or in thanksgiving.
Martin Luther, the great German reformer of the sixteenth century, was once asked to describe the nature of true worship.
His answer: the tenth leper turning back.