November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving Day, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

Luke 17:11-19

It was 17 degrees yesterday when I started my walk with a brisk wind coming pretty evenly out of the southwest.  When I lived in Atlanta, no one in their right mind would have left the house with the temperature that low.  But I’ve learned (and am generally grateful) how to be a Minnesotan.  I have the right clothes, the right kind of hat that can pull down over my ears, insulated gloves, and a deep appreciation for the gift of the sun on late fall/early winter morning.

What’s interesting is that I hardly noticed the wind when I was walking north.  It was at my back.  I enjoyed the walk, noticing the way the ponds had begun to freeze.  Morning frost coated the wild grasses. I had the clear view of two cardinals in the heart of a bare tree.  It was so beautiful, and I was so grateful to have the time.  I just kept walking with the wind at my back.

Until, of course, my Fitbit vibrated, telling me that I had gotten to 10,000 steps.  Safe to come home, grateful again that my body moved and that I had accomplished the day’s goal so early.

So I turned to make my way home. And the wind hit my face.  If I wasn’t wide awake by then, I certainly was as I faced into the wind.  It almost stung. My eyes watered, and my nose started to run.  It’s constant presence, which I had hardly noticed a few moments before, now held my attention for the rest of the walk.

I understand the nine lepers.  They had the wind at their backs.  Met by the mercy of Jesus, they were following his command:  go to the temple and show yourselves to the priest. When they were on the way, did they notice that the itching had stopped?  Or that the dull and constant pain which had been their life’s companion had ebbed?  Or did someone greet them on the way with a breezy “Good Morning,” no sign of the disgust that usually greeted their passing?

They did what, I think, anyone of us would do.  By the grace of God, they moved forward.  Because leprously kept you far from community as physically dangerous and spiritual suspect, they would have realized that they could go home, maybe for the first time in years.  Everyone could certainly now rejoice that healing had come.

God’s blessing does that.  It pushes us forward into life.  It opens doors that we were convinced were closed.  It provides healing that allows us to love again.  It forgives in way that lets us be free of who we were.  The mercy of Jesus literally and spiritually and physically and emotionally makes us live again.

We are raised from the dead.  The breath of the Holy Spirit is at our backs.

One of the lepers turned back, and that wind caught him full in the face.  It’s bracing, shocking presence made his eyes water, tears streaming down his face, and brought him to his knees.  He encountered the God, who was and always will be at his back, face to face.  Thank you.  It’s this relational encounter that makes him well.

Did you notice that?  Healing and being made well are two different things.

David Lose calls this “the double blessing.” The leper’s gratitude opens the door to a depth experience, embedding in his healing.  His turn to go back; his turn into the wind; widens and makes wonderfully evident what has been most true all along.

Gratitude, these moments of turning around to face the source of life, widen and deepen our experience.  The blessing is re-experienced, and even the memory of the healing is now a way to return to the original moment, to come back love.  Being grateful makes us well.

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.[1]   You may not have more than you did before.  You may not even have your challenges taken away.  You may be stuck with the same people around the Thanksgiving table. But you begin to see other streams of grace flowing in your life.

Gratitude, naming out loud our thanks to the source of all things, being self-conscious about thanksgiving, not as a day, but as a lifestyle, makes us well; makes us right; makes us deep; makes us real; makes us alive.

It’s also the antidote to entitlement, greed, self-centeredness.  It turns us from a focus on what we don’t have to what we do have.  If we practice Thanksgiving with depth, we won’t need Black Friday.  We will wake up on Friday morning, thanking God that we have what we need for today.

When Jesus met the ten lepers, the bible says that he had turned his face toward Jerusalem.  By now, he knew he would likely die; and he knew that the world could turn if he was faithful.

That one leper that came back was a foretaste of the feast to come. On the night in which he was betrayed and abandoned by his friends, Jesus took bread.  He broke it. And he gave thanks, as most certainly his mother taught him to do as a regular part of his life.  He turned again to the source of life, somehow mysteriously as present now in that bread as mercy was to the leper on the road.  When supper was over, when it was time to be handed over, he took the cup.  And he gave thanks.  He held in his hands a new covenant, shed for all those who cry out for mercy.

I suspect as he went out into the night, and, perhaps, the wind stirred, catching him in the face, bringing him face to face with the Spirit that moves even in the night, even in suffering and death, and it took him home where there was, no doubt, a great thanksgiving.




[1] TED Talk, Shawn Achor,