October 9, 2016

21st Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

Luke 17:11-19 

It only happened once. We had all gotten the same weekend off, and we travelled to a friend’s farm outside Augusta, Georgia. After dinner, six friends sat in a circle under the stars at the edge of a pond, telling stories, teasing one another, laughing harder that just about any time I can remember. At one point, one of us raised his glass to say, “I never want to forget this. Thank you. Cheers!”[1]

David Lose calls this the “double blessing.” Certainly, the night would have been wonderful without that moment of raising the glass. But by doing it, taking that moment to notice, to offer gratitude, deepened the blessing. It was experience on experience. When we say our thanks out loud; when we stop to be grateful; the blessing, which we already have, goes wider and deeper.

Ten lepers were cured. It’s important to note that. They were all healed, whether they said thank you or not. Nine of them were apparently so thrilled that they rushed to the temple, no doubt imaging the life they could now live—reconnected to their families, able to do meaningful work, no longer the source of revulsion and rejection. Who wouldn’t want to rush into such new life?

But one returned. One stopped to raise his glass, as it were, and Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well.” The blessing of his cure went deeper. His gratitude put him in touch with the deeper streams of wellness that flows in the life of God. The deepest and widest blessing is to experience our connection to God.

Somehow, being grateful, saying “thank you” is the door that opens the depth experience to us. We come to know it, to trust it, when we stop, turn around and say, “Thanks be to God.” “Thank you, Jesus!” they are bold enough to say in some traditions.

Gratitude acknowledges the moment, or the past, but what it really does is shape the future.Shawn Achor, in the one of the top 20 TED talks, says that if you write down three things that you’re grateful for every day, and you do it for 21 days in a row, studies show that you become happier because you begin to frame your life differently.[2]  You may not have more than you did before. You many not even have your challenges taken away. But you begin to see other streams of grace flowing in your life. And you learn to stand there to evaluate your life.

We have a Monday morning bible study. We talked a lot about the lessons for today. But when our time together came alive is when we went around the table and told one another what we’re thankful for: the gorgeous day, 63 years of marriage to an “adorable husband,” health that is lasting longer than predicted, a difficult situation that was surprisingly resolved, cookies left over from last Sunday’s recital, a group of Gloria Dei men who don’t engage in locker room banter, but in conversation that invites vulnerability and thoughtfulness, community found here after a move, glorious cello music from one of our youth. As these tender souls went around the table, I felt the bounds of blessing stretch, I experienced the second blessing in their own blessing. It made me give thanks for them.

And for all of you. As a staff, we probably don’t tell you enough how grateful we are to serve Jesus with you; to hear of your joys and sorrows, to sit with you at your bedsides, after surgery or before death, to plan and dream with you, to grow and stretch with you. Thank you for your generous love, offered even when we don’t deserve it. I confess that sometimes I get so focused on what needs to be done that I miss saying thank you for what has been done. I give thanks for Sundays, because this hour is a scheduled moment that makes me stop, turn around, go back, and say, “Thank you, God.”

It’s the time of year when we make financial pledges to the church. Often, we dream about all the new work we can do together. We talk of budgets. We point to our growing edges, or recount our grace moments.

I wonder if the heart of it all isn’t really a kind of thanksgiving, our pledge cards being the raised glass, when we say, “Thank you, God, for all manner of things.” We take some of our resources, carry them down the aisle, and raise them to God. By opening our hands, we find that our hearts are opened as well.

The offering isn’t simply a mechanism to pay our bills. It’s an act of worship. In this generous and then great thanksgiving, the blessing grows. It takes new life. It makes music. It heals hearts. It changes lives. It faces the challenges in our city and society with a lens of abundance, rather than lack.

After this weekend’s news, every single one of us needs to find, at least, three things to give thanks for, lest we give in to hopelessness.

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, into his suffering and death, when the ten lepers met him on the road. The one leper that gave thanks was the foretaste of the feast to come. On the night in which Jesus was betrayed, he took bread. He gave thanks. When supper was over, when he thought his life was about finished, he raised his glass. He gave thanks. This cup is the new covenant, shed for all those who cry out for mercy, healing for the nations.

He saw more than suffering and death. He saw into the future. His gratitude points forward into resurrection. In his offering, we are healed. And wondrously, in our offering, we are made well.

Only one more thing to say: Thanks be to God!

[1] I’m indebted to David Lose for helping me to remember this night around the pond. He tells a similar story in his essay on this text, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2796.

[2] TED Talk, Shawn Achor, http://21k12blog.net/2012/02/08/best-ted-talk-ever-shawn-achor-on-happiness-and-productivity/.