Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Little Timmy was asked to write a paper for a school assignment. The question was “What am I thankful for on Thanksgiving?” After much thought and deliberation, little Timmy wrote: “I’m thankful … I’m not a turkey!” I guess that pretty much sums it up! It’s hard to believe that we are already deep into the season of autumn. Many leaves have gone from green to yellow to gone! I’m still wondering where exactly summer went! But it is what it is and it is that time again – time to give thanks. Really, Thanksgiving is the only civic holiday that we commemorate in the life of the Church because it fits so well with the Christian faith.
However, we must confess that we do find ourselves getting hung up like little Timmy did with his school assignment. We find ourselves focusing more upon what we are thankful for rather than to Whom we offer our thanks. It seems to be part and parcel of our old, dead human nature to be “big on requests” and yet “small on thanks.”
I heard a story of two angels who were sent to earth to gather up the prayers of the people from all over the world. One was to fill his basket with prayers asking for stuff, the other with prayers of thanksgiving. They returned to the Father’s house, baskets in hand. One basket was piled high and overflowing with countless requests, the other returned with a heavy heart, as his basket was nearly empty. The angel searched everywhere for prayers of thanks, but they were seldom spoken.
It’s true that more and more, we tend to grow thankless and take God’s provision and generosity for granted. All of us, from the poorest beggar to the richest tycoon live, move and have our being by God’s grace and loving kindness. When Thanksgiving rolls around every October, we ought to perk up our ears and lift up our hearts and remember that God gives so abundantly because He is loving and gracious to us.
Just think about the Gospel lesson – Jesus and the 10 sick lepers. Jesus shows unbelievable mercy to these poor, sick and dying outcasts in that He miraculously heals them of their disease! No doctors. No pharmacies. No trips to the clinic. Instantly these people are returned to wholeness and health. All of a sudden they can return to those they loved and cared about, after having to live in seclusion and isolation from the rest of the community. They get a new lease on life, much like someone who beats cancer or overcomes a horribly debilitating disease. Their very lives are restored. How long had these people been praying for God to have mercy upon them! And then God does, in the flesh, answer their prayers for mercy. But . . . then what?
Well, the same thing that happens today! Most people these days have no idea that God is the giver of everything. The majority of folks reject any notion that anything other than their hard work and good management put food on the table, clothes on their backs and sports utility vehicles in the drive way. God doesn’t come into the equation at all – much like with these 10 lepers. Jesus healed them all, but then, sadly, He has to ask “Oi vei! I thought I healed 10 of you sickies, where’d the other 9 go?!” Only one of the ten came back. Naturally, when we look at this story, we see ourselves as this thankful and faithful leper, the one who runs back after being made whole to return thanks to the God of all glory and might. But, do we? If I were to hazard a guess, I bet we resemble more the other nine - now infamous - “thanksgiving-turkeys” who flew the coop!
Praise and thanksgiving well up inside of us and spill out when we come to know just Who the God is from Whom all blessings flow. This is what happens with this lone former leper. To top it all off, the guy was a Samaritan, an outsider, an alien, not even a child of Abraham like the rest of the Jews. The one who was “unworthy” to even speak to a Jewish Rabbi is the one who comes back to Jesus to give thanks. This foreigner realized from where his help came. He realized that this Jesus standing before Him was indeed the one true God to whom all praise, glory and thanksgiving belong. We are thankful for the same reasons. God still provides for all of our needs generously, even though we are poor, miserable sinners, unworthy to stand before Him. We are thankful because we know and have experienced the goodness of God. It has changed our lives. It has forgiven our sins and healed our sickness of sin by those outstretched arms of the Savior on the cross. It has conquered our condition of death by the stone that was rolled away from the empty tomb. Our God provides for us. He cares for us. He protects us. We have food, family, clothing and good ol’ fun times because of the vast grace of our Heavenly Father to us in Christ our Lord.
God has given us much and blessed us with more. So much so, it is probably to our detriment! Let me tell you what I mean. I think back to the Old Testament, the people of God, just brought fresh out of slavery under the Egyptians. God bares His mighty arm and delivers His people from oppression! Good stuff. The people are free and movin’ on up. “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing” (Deut. 8:7-9). God abundantly blesses His people. But then, what happens? It wasn’t all that long after they settle the promised land and start “livin’ the dream” when they forget all about God’s generosity, His awesome deliverance from slavery and never-ending care for their daily needs. Then, they turned from Him, ungratefully and thanklessly, and began worshipping false gods and trusting in their money.
Whenever God blesses His people with a beautiful life of abundant goodness – like the one we enjoy on a daily basis – people are quick to forget from where it all comes. We get busy with our activities, and jobs and hobbies and we forget to be thankful. Even when God does miracles in our midst, Baptizing us and forgiving us our sins, we get all gussied up, wear nice white clothing and then quickly get back to the business of being unthankful, disingenuous sinners! We fall into that group of the other nine “thanksgiving turkeys” whose attitude of gratitude was nowhere to be seen!
Last week a big Labrador Retriever walked into Hub Meat Market downtown, carrying a purse in his mouth. He put the purse down and sat in front of the meat case. “What is it, boy?” the butcher jokingly asked. “Want to buy some meat?” “Woof!” barked the dog. “Hmm, OK” said the butcher. “What kind? Liver, bacon, steak …” “Woof!” interrupts the dog. “And how much steak? Half a pound, one pound …” “Woof!” The amazed butcher wrapped up the meat and found the money in the dog’s purse. As the dog left, a man waiting in line watched this miraculous event unfold. His curiosity drove him crazy and he decided he had to follow the dog. The dog left the store, went down the street and entered an apartment building, climbed to the third floor and began scratching at a door. With that, the door swung open and the angry owner started shouting at the dog. “Stop it!” yelled the man from the market in disbelief. “This dog is the most intelligent animal I’ve ever seen!” “Intelligent?” shouted the man from the apartment, “This is the third time this week he’s forgotten his key!”
It is always easy to descend into unthankfulness, like a certain infamous thanksgiving turkey. But we must never forget that we are a people who have been blessed much! God has shown us His grace and favour in sending Christ Jesus to be our Saviour and our Messiah. In Him is the promise of eternal life and the promised land of heaven for all who believe. And even though we may be less thankful than we ought, our Lord still richly blesses us, sustains our earthly needs, and provides for us in many and various ways. Such grace has touched our lives and caused us to participate in God’s Divine life. Whether we have been given lots or little in life, the one thing needful has been given in the miraculous cross of Christ. … And besides, when was the last time you saw a funeral hearse towing a u-haul trailer?! … Earthly blessings remain here, but the heavenly treasures last unto eternal life.
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!” Amen!