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Practicing Love Sermon 6: Practicing Love Series 10/09/2016

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Sermon: Practicing Love through Thanksgiving                         Jeffrey B. MacKnight
9 October 2016                                                                          St. Dunstan’s, Bethesda

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like to ask for help. I remember the first time my back went out several years ago. I bent over slightly, and felt that sickening pop, and I couldn’t stand up straight again. Later, after several scans, I was told I have a herniated disk in my lower back – a common condition, and there’s not much they can do about it without cutting you open….

So I asked for help (I had to). I tried the chiropractor, but that didn’t do much. I did physical therapy. And finally, I had a course of steroids, and it was like a miracle. I could stand and straighten my back again! What a blessing. I was so thankful to be healed.

Today Jesus tells the story of ten lepers. Those lepers, they kept their distance from Jesus. In fact, lepers were required to keep their distance from society, and shout a warning when they approached, lest anybody “catch” their disease. What an isolating, lonely way to live. 

But they found the courage to cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” After all the humiliation they had endured, they had the guts, and the hope, to cry to Jesus whom they had heard was a healer. They asked for help.

Jesus responded: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” The priests were the ones who authenticated healings, and would allow the lepers back into society. They would be set free!  Off they went, gazing down at the fresh pink skin on their hands and arms, rejoicing in their new, healthy bodies.

We are the lepers – if not physically in need of healing, then certainly emotionally, spiritually in need. We’ve all hurt people, and been hurt. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve been selfish. We have our weaknesses, our foibles our herniated disks. We carry the scars of life on our own skins – visibly or invisibly, they are there. 

And then…one of them – just one out of ten – turned back, praising God, and fell down at Jesus’ feet, and thanked him….and he was a Samaritan, a foreigner. Why not the others? Did they forget so quickly the awful state they’d been in? Did they think at all about this man Jesus who set them free? What would I do? Or you? Jesus seems very human in his sadness at this.

Then there is Naaman – a proud man, a military officer, used to deference. But he too was a leper.  A slave girl in his house told him about the God of Israel, who could heal him. Naaman came, with all his horses and chariots, to see the prophet Elisha. Elisha told him how to be healed, but Naaman thought it was ridiculous. He was proud. O my goodness, doesn’t that sound like us?  Would we stoop to wash ourselves in the sorry little Jordan River?  Or would we say, “Naw, this is silly.  I don’t believe in this stuff.  I’m an important man – too important to be doing this!” 

We are prideful, it seems, by nature. Look at the world – the posturing and preening of our leaders, celebrities, movie stars. We all want to be important, more so than the next guy. We don’t want to appear weak, or needy.  

Christian life is really all about coming back to give thanks. It’s about swallowing our pride, asking for help when we need it, and rejoicing when God grants us some healing, some new hope, clear new pink skin, a back that can stand up straight. Christian life is living in an “attitude of gratitude,” as they say. Knowing we need to depend on God, and responding with thanks for every gift. 

Giving thanks – that’s how we finally are free of our pride, our need to be self-sufficient, our desire to be stronger or better or richer than others. With gratitude, all of that falls away. What a freeing thing!

And what’s more, thankfulness heightens our pleasure and delight in the simplest of things – good hot coffee, a great meal, a walk in this gorgeous fall weather, the first red leaf spotted in a tree, the laughter of a toddler at the grocery store (and that’s just from my day yesterday). Oh and of course, the nuzzle of one’s favorite dog!

These are simple gifts – the best kind. We launch our Annual Giving Campaign today with this theme: Simple Gifts – for the Church and for the World.  I hope you’ll think about the simple gifts in your life, and take special joy in thanking God for each and every one of them. Just try it – starting with gratitude. It will bring you joy. 

One way to give thanks is to pass on the blessings to others around you. Your pledge to this church is one good way to do that. We all know that without your consistent, committed giving, St. Dunstan’s can’t survive. And yet, faithful people have helped this community survive and thrive for 58 years now. So much ministry has flowed through these walls, and out into the world around us for all these years; so many people have been touched and helped; so many baptisms and marriages have been celebrated here; so many saints have been commended to God here, after their deaths. So many children have learned about Jesus; so many youths have learned the joy of serving people in need. So many people visited in hospital or nursing home; so much joy in Easter and Christmas services, so much music offered to God and enjoyed by all of us. 

And overarching it all is one thing: Giving Thanks to God. That is the essence of the Eucharist.  It is the Christian life. Thankfulness frees us from our fears, our selfishness, our need to get ahead and outshine others.  Fear, self-centeredness, pride – those are the diseases of our day, the leprosy of this age. And the cure is ready at hand: gratitude; thankfulness to God. Jesus offers us the cure, the key to a new life. It is a simple gift, but a profound one. Let us take it! And let us be the one who, in his joy, returns to give thanks for the mighty work of God in our lives.  AMEN.   


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