Thanksgiving: don’t be like those lepers


Scripture: Deuteronomy 8: 7-18, Luke 17: 11-19

Today’s Scriptures are almost uniquely appropriate to Thanksgiving weekend. In the piece from Deuteronomy, Moses told the Israelites that they must never forget that God gave them the Promised Land. He reminded them not to get swell-headed. “Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and my abilities got me my wealth.’” As I said recently, don’t forget that we also inherited many advantages. And also good luck.

The ten lepers 

In the Gospel reading, ten lepers called out to Jesus, “Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus told them to show themselves to the priest. Only a priest could certify that they were disease-free. That would make them ritually clean. On their way to the priest, their leprosy disappeared. What a joy that they could now return to their families and friends. But only one of them stopped to say “thank you.” And he, said Jesus, was a Samaritan – someone that Judean Jews looked down on.

I don’t think today’s Gospel story is really about curing a group of lepers. Instead, it is actually about thanking or not thanking God for our blessings. Significantly, it was one leper out of ten who said “thank you.” One-in-ten is the same fraction as the tithe that the Israelites had to give to the Temple. It was 10% of their money or their harvest or their animals they had to give to God. But not any old 10%. It had to be the first and the best. Not the wilted vegetables, the slightly mouldy grain, the lame sheep. What a surprise for Jesus’ respectable Jewish hearers that only a no-good Samaritan had remembered to give thanks. He represented the best 10% of the whole group!

Saying thank you to God and to each other

I like to begin my own prayers with “Thank you” for all the blessings in my life, before I get to the things I want. These blessings include my home life, good health, and the joys of teaching and research I experienced at the University of Guelph. The parishioners in every parish where I have served, including this one, have shown me kindness — another blessing. 

I really appreciate that our prayer leaders include “Thank you” to God in the Prayers of the People each week. Unlike our St. George’s prayers, many of the litanies in our prayer book read like a laundry list of requests to God. I sometimes imagine God thinking on Sunday mornings, “Those Anglicans never say thank you. They just ask for things, like the nine lepers who forgot to say thank you.”

In the ordinary world, we teach our children to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Saying ‘thank you’ is more than just good manners. It is a way, consciously or unconsciously, of living out the commandment to ‘love thy neighbour as thyself.’ Every time we say ‘thank you’ for some small courtesy, we acknowledge the worth of the other person. It reminds me that when Charles was small, he once said that he didn’t have to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ at home. There were ‘home manners’, he said, and the polite manners he used at friends’ houses. I hope that we all remember to express gratitude for each small act of kindness – and not just the children.

An ‘extreme example’

In his book, book When Bad Things happen to Good People, Rabbi Harold Kirschner wrote about how someone he knew tried to show gratitude. When he paid his utilities bills he wrote “Thank you” on the cheque. He wanted to give thanks that his utilities were always available. He even wrote “Thank you” at the bottom of his income tax return. Why? Because he appreciated that our governments provide all the services like roads and bridges, health care, police, pensions, etc.

The Thanksgiving holiday brings thanks int our national life

National Thanksgiving weekend gives us a chance to stop and remember our good fortune to live in this wonderful land of Canada.  It’s a land of great abundance. To many people, it’s the same as the Promised Land that Moses spoke about.  Unlike many millions in the world, we have shelter and warm clothing. We shall go to bed tonight with full stomachs (perhaps too full). Almost all of us will sleep well, knowing that we sleep in safety. Even here in Canada there are many who don’t have those advantages.

Add to that, those parts of the world where war and violence are an everyday reality. Just imagine if we had to spend Thanksgiving weekend in the Kurdish area of Syria, being bombed  by Turkish artillery.  Or Afghanistan, Sudan, or Yemen. There would be precious little to give thanks for.  David Eddy wrote in last Tuesday’s Globe & Mail that Western society seems to be suffering from an epidemic of complaining.  Yet, the truth is that life is pretty good for most of us..

Next week, we shall be able to vote in a federal election. Some of us will be happy with the result; others, not so much. But whether or not there is a change of government, Canadian citizens will accept the result. That isn’t true everywhere. People in Hong Kong have been protesting for four months about their lack of political freedom. So let’s remember to count our political blessings this Thanksgiving weekend.

Thanksgiving has much in common with Church festivals

There are three big festivals in the Church year – Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. But they aren’t “one-off” events on a special day. They have meaning for us every day. For example, at Christmas, we remember Jesus coming into the world. We use the word “incarnation” meaning, “made flesh” for this event. As Anglicans, we teach an incarnational theology – that God in Jesus is with us in our hearts every day, not just Christmas Day.

At Easter, Jesus’ Resurrection experience tells us that death is not the end, and that our souls live for ever. Pentecost reminds us that even though Jesus is no longer physically on earth, the Holy Spirit is with us as an advocate and guide. Easter and Pentecost are timeless in just the same way as Christmas. Jesus’ ability to prevail over death is relevant every day of the year. Likewise, the Holy Spirit can fill us with excitement any and every day. Peter and the other apostles had so much excitement that first Pentecost that people that that they had drunk too much wine!  But they must have experienced the excitement of Pentecost every day.  Every day, they preached the good news about Jesus Christ.  Not just once, fifty days after Easter.

Thanksgiving meals and the Eucharist

And so I think it is with Thanksgiving.  I add Thanksgiving to Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost as a festival that is relevant every day of the year. It seems trite, and I know that I’ve said it before. A family Thanksgiving meal is very much like the Eucharist. At the Eucharist, we remember that Jesus took the bread and wine. He gave thanks, blessed them, and then shared them with his disciples. At Thanksgiving, someone prepares the meal. Often it’s the mother or grandmother of the family. We give thanks, say a blessing over the meal, and then share it with everyone present.

The Jewish Passover is also an annual thanksgiving.  It recalls the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery. Scripture does not record who prepared the meal for Jesus and the disciples at the Last Supper.  There’s nothing in Scripture to say that the disciples were good cooks.  So I wonder whether some of the women who supported Jesus’ ministry [Luke 8: 2-3] cooked that Passover meal for Jesus and the disciples. Whoever it was, I hope they got thanked for their efforts.  Just as I hope that the same goes for whoever prepares our various family Thanksgiving meals. And if it’s a pot-luck, that everyone who contributed gets thanks.

Thanksgiving is more than turkey and cranberry sauce. As Moses reminded the Israelites, it’s about thankfulness for all the gifts that God has given us. And one of those gifts is our community of St George’s, and the love and care we have for each other. And so my final comment is to thank each one of you in the parish for all the kindness and blessings that you give to me.