... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Thanksgiving Year C,
Message October 13, 2013

Thanksgiving: A Product of Faith

Text:

What a collection of readings we have for this long weekend of October! Tomorrow is thanksgiving and many of us have family home, a big meal in the works and hopes for a wonderful time of strengthening the family bonds. And these lessons seem to fit right in there, especially with Luke’s account of the ten lepers. Yet giving thanks or the acknowledgement of gifts and healing only seem to underscore the theme of faith. Faith is the main object of all the readings and thanksgiving is but one outward visible response to that inner concept.

Most of us have been brought up with teachings concerning the opportunities of thank you letters or emails, of acknowledgement for special occasions or of maintaining relationships by acts of kindness. These are socially acceptable behaviours. However what the lessons expound far transcend the limitations of social norms. They link the act of gratitude to the inner comprehension of faith. This goes beyond the knowledge of what faith is or what faith requires or how faith might be defined. Indeed with Luke’s account of the ten lepers immediately following the story of the mustard seed and placed in juxtaposition with Jeremiah’s counsel to the exiles in Babylon, we are admonished to look beyond the present to see God’s gifts to regard the bigger picture and realize a great sense of contentment. C.S. Lewis on his journey into faith observed the connection between faith gratitude and well-being, “I noticed how the humblest and at the same time most balanced minds praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least. Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.” Unfortunately there is no apparent connection between religious status and the amount of praise!

To illustrate my point I’m going to tell you a true story of a “religious woman’s” journey to faith. Let me tell you that she considered herself very religious and in an evangelistic faith community. She even bought into the concept of faith healing. When I first met this lady she had been depressed and angry. For almost a year she had had a lump in her breast and had used “faith healing” as a test of her faith and a measure of her religious journey. She had “attended” church, had gone to faith healing meetings and even spent a small fortune on TV Evangelist programs. All to no avail. I had been asked to visit her and right from the get-go she railed about how she must have been such an unforgiven sinner that God would not heal her. She was angry at God, at the evangelists and mostly at herself. It took several visits to get her to even see a surgeon. Unfortunately by then it was too late with regards to the cancer. However over the course of the many months I knew her we were able to explore what it means for healing, health, well-being and faith. What she had grown up with was not faith but an aspect of self-entitlement. She was a Christian and as a good Christian she expected God to personally take care of all her adversities. As she journeyed her last few months she came to understand God’s gift came in many ways and that health and well-being were not necessarily synonymous with being free from the realities of either the world or of the body. During her last week, despite the obvious pain and shortness of breath, she was radiant as she truly praised God and had a countenance of true inner peace and well-being.

On a societal scope Jeremiah was directing the exiles in Babylon to come to a similar understanding. Collectively the children of Israel, the chosen ones: have now found themselves in exile at the hands and wiles of heathens. Where was God, and why wasn’t God helping them? False prophets we are informed were telling them that their release was imminent and that God would take care of things shortly. Such was not the case. Their exile was a punishment for their apostasy. While they may indeed be the chosen children, they had acted and were still acting as arrogant snobs with little understanding of faith or praise. And Jeremiah calls them to understand that God has sent them into exile and there they shall remain for some time. Noth withstanding this illumination and dire message there is an element of hope – hope which involves embracing the situation, accepting their new society and in fact praying and working for its welfare and prosperity. By such course the people might come to comprehend God’s way, and learn what true faith is and how it might be expressed in human behaviour.

That which Jeremiah was encouraging, the Psalmist was witnessing by a personal experience. Through his or her own ordeal the realization of God’s presence was felt and in response comes the song of praise which acknowledges what all the earth has already displayed. Even in Paul’s letter to Timothy, we hear the echo of the Psalm in proclaiming what true faith accomplishes and offers to humanity for its life in the present.

The beautiful story concerning the ten lepers highlights the unexpected in both faith and gratitude. It is unexpected because the one who truly realized where the gift of healing had come from and the one who truly praised God was not one of the chosen or in-crowd but one who had been considered the outsider – the Samaritan. This story is only recounted by Luke and he places it immediately following the disciples request to increase their faith. Jesus’ reply is that faith is not some outward commodity but rather a state of trust and reliance on God, the manifestation of which is exemplified by the Samaritan. It has nothing to do with one’s religious states or theology. It has nothing to do with being part of the chosen or adherence to certain laws or customs. Faith is a firm belief in God and God’s presence. It enables one to see beyond the confines of stated parameters to behold the worship and bigger picture of Divine presence.

Whereas the nine others had obeyed Jesus and headed off to show the priests. Presumably they would have paid the thanks offering as directed by Temple laws and they would have gone on to live well. The difference between them and the Samaritan was that this foreigner saw beyond the veil and saw in Jesus the gift of God. In that realization he returned praising God with a loud voice and prostrating himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. Note needs to be made that both the verbal praise and the non-verbal prostrating are parallel forms of praise and submission. Jesus wonders concerning the other nine and then speaking to the foreigner tells him to get up and go. “Your faith has made you well!” And here is the crux of the story.

What we miss in the English is the meaning of the Greek word here translated as made you well. In Greek the word is ‘sozo’ which literally means “to save”. It was his faith which had not only made him well but literally ‘saved’ him. The implication is much greater. Having faith is much more than giving thanks it is what saves and it is that aspect which brings peace tranquility, acceptance. It is this saving aspect which C.S. Lewis understood when he observed that “praise almost seems to be inner health made audible”. It is the faith which gave my friend that ability to face her final days in tranquility despite the ravages of her cancer.

Thanksgiving, true thanksgiving flows out of an avid faith. May we all come to such a faith that we will live a life of thanksgiving! And by the way, as we celebrate our Eucharist this morning know that Eucharist literally translated means, “Thanksgiving!”