“Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.”
I am going to date myself this morning and let you in on a personal fact: I like old movies and old tv programs. I don’t recognize the names of many of the current stars but give me one from the past and I’m all in. Jimmy Stewart is at the top of my list of favorites and one of his films has a great scene in it that relates to the morning’s lessons. The movie is “Shenandoah”, which was released in the mid-1960s. It is set in Virginia near the beginning of the War between the States. Jimmy Stewart plays the part of a widower farmer with a large family of six sons, a daughter and daughter-in-law. He prides himself in being a self-reliant individual. He and his family work hard to make a living and have no interest in the war going on around them. They own no slaves and do not rely on the government at all. His farm and his family are the center of his world; little else exists. It is as if he is on an island with no connection to the rest of the world or what is going on outside his farmland boundaries.
Early in the film the males come in from a hard day of work and sit at the large kitchen table to eat. The family waits for Stewart to give a blessing, and this is what he says in his very identifiable accent:
We cleared this land;
We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested it.
We cooked the harvest.
It wouldn't be here—we wouldn't be eating it—if we hadn't done it all ourselves.
We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel
But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food we're about to eat.
Yeah, Jimmy Stewart in this role, knew he was to say thank you, even if the gratitude was slightly missing.
So, in looking at this morning’s gospel how does this fit? Is Jesus simply talking about good manners, or is there something more to this giving thanks?
The story Jesus tells today is brief. Ten lepers approach him as he is walking in the countryside. They recognize him and call out Master, have mercy. And with that encounter they are healed of their leprosy and restored to life among their community. This is a pretty amazing occurrence. And Jesus, the master, is the cause of this wonderful life-changing experience. And yet only one of the ten who was healed turns back to praise God and give him thanks. That one is filled with joy and has the awareness to acknowledge the gift he has been given. His expression is one of true gratitude, not a half-hearted thank you.
We are not told about the others. Perhaps they too were in awe of the healing, but quickly went ahead with their lives rather than stop to say thanks. Perhaps the busyness of regular life took over and they simply forgot to say thank you. Or maybe they did not see the great nature of the gift they had received. Or perhaps there is some sense of being entitled to that gift. They ran into Jesus so of course he would heal them. Why that nine did not express their gratitude is unknown. The point is that one did and he is the one we want to emulate.
Before we condemn those others, I wonder, do we recognize the gifts God gives us daily and take the time to experience their joy? Because if we do that, I think we naturally want to express our gratitude. It is not just the expected thing to do, but rather the true expression of thanksgiving.
There are times in all our lives when we are aware of the great gift that life is. For some, the pandemic was such a time. The birds seemed to sing more, the sun shone brighter. Not being able to be around other people made the interactions we did have more precious.
For some it was a time of appreciation and gratitude for life that we had overlooked so often in the past.
Of course, being human, as time passes, we often forget. Our minds become clouded, and we do not consciously experience the joy and wonder of God’s creation and God’s support of us. When we lose that awareness, it is more difficult to remember to offer our thanks.
It is for those times that we must consciously cultivate that awareness. Listing how to do that is not the major point of this sermon except to say the church offers us ways to do it. Part of what we do in this space in the Eucharist is offer our collective thanks for God’s presence in our lives. Eucharist means thanksgiving, after all.
The daily offices give us a space to reflect, even if just for a moment, on the gifts God has given us on that particular day. There are multiple ways to pause and see the joy God offers. My point being that gratitude comes naturally through that reflection.
There is a benefit of expressing thanks, whether to God or to another human being, that is more than good manners. Expressing gratefulness is how we are in a relationship; it is a way of connection for the giver and receiver. It makes a circle of sorts, giving and receiving, receiving and giving.
In the example of our gospel today, one of the lepers completed that circle by thanking Jesus. The connection was made between them when he prostrated himself and expressed his awe-filled gratitude to Jesus. First the healing was extended by Jesus, but the bond was formed by the man’s return of Jesus’ gift through his praise of what a glorious thing Jesus had done. That leper gave thanks with his whole heart as the psalm today said.
There were others who had received the same healing but who lost the opportunity of forming a relationship by their lack of expressed gratitude.
Saying thank you, expressing gratitude for a kindness given, forms that connection which allows a relationship to happen. This is true for both human relationships and for our relationship with God. When we offer our thanks, we affirm the importance of others. We understand we are not the only one in creation that matter. When we acknowledge what the other has done for us our relationship grows.
(Even Jimmy Stewart in Shenandoah eventually understood gratitude for God’s gifts in his life, though not without much suffering.)
As Bishop Burgess mentioned last week, October is the month that many churches’ focus on stewardship. You have probably received a letter this week from Emmanuel encouraging you to think about the gifts God has given you and to pray about how you will tangibly thank God for those gifts this year. This is completing that circle of giving and receiving. Our relationship with God is deepened when we offer our gratitude for what He has given us.
Additionally for the next few weeks, there will be an insert in the bulletin offering thoughts on the lessons of the day and the principles of Christian stewardship. Traditionally in the Episcopal Church we have used the phrase of time, talent, and treasure to talk about how we can give back to God. The point being that offering our gratitude to God involves our whole being, not just our money. The writer of today’s insert adds a fourth word to that phrase of time, talent, and treasure. I encourage you to read the insert to find out what that 4th term is!
Being here in this place this morning is an acknowledgement of our collective thanks for the gift of life. As we continue our worship today may we engage our hearts with a true spirit of gratitude.
May we hear and say the words of the liturgy together as a reminder of the gratitude each of us has within our being and truly offer our thanks to God.
To assist in waking up that spirit of gratitude let us take today’s bulletin and read again psalm 111 together in unison.
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
In the assembly of the upright in the congregation.
Great are the deeds of the Lord!
They are studied by all who delight in them.
His work is full of majesty and splendor,
And his righteousness endures for ever.
He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.
He gives food to those who fear him;
He is ever mindful of his covenant.
He has shown his people the power of his works
In giving them the lands of the nations.
The works of his hand faithfulness and justice;
All his commandments are sure.
They stand fast for ever and ever,
Because they are done in truth and equity.
He sent redemption to his people;
He commanded his covenant for ever;
Holy and awesome is his Name.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
Those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
His praise endures for ever.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.