God of harvest, gardener supreme, you place us at the centre, feed us, equip us with your Word and create in us a new heart, a different harvest - a fruitfulness of lives in service to you and others. Amen
We have arrived at my most favourite time of the year.
And this weekend with the weather so good and the natural beauty beginning its wonder-filled display of colour it is easy to know that this is harvest season
This is the time of year that we give thanks for the bounty of the earth
And this weekend in particular our thoughts so easily can be in an attitude of thanks
Easy and well… fitting… appropriate – the natural response to all that nature provides…
But… is it the natural response… or rather is it the natural response most of the time with yourself, your family or friends
This day, this weekend… maybe, but the rest of the year… I am afraid, in my opinion, not so much
It is my view, every day life doesn’t lead most people to a natural attitude of thanksgiving
Oh sure, most of us were either raised in Canada or spent the majority of our lives in Canada – and we Canadians are known through-out the world as people with good manners – we tend to remember our p’s and q’s
I heard an American comedian at the Montréal comedy festival that had our Canadian manners as part of his routine
He went on to say that everywhere he went he was assaulted by us ‘nice’ Canadians saying “thank you”, “please” and “sorry”
He said that he was so frustrated, and overwhelmed with all the good manners that he went to escape from it in the parking garage – and in a moment of anger he purposely drove his rental car into a post – only to have the rental clerk apologize for his inconvenience
…so manners yes… we Canadians are pretty good at manners – but actually having an attitude of thanksgiving… that, I think is more rare than normal
I think that it takes a day off as an annual holiday each year to help us get into the mood
But it is a wonderful holiday and time of the year
It is a holiday, that is rich with tradition – and for me it has always been that way – but those traditions I took for granted that they had been that way from time and memorial
And so this week, I thought I would look into the history of the holiday to find out if my sense of tradition was true
I found out that Thanksgiving in North America had originated from a mix of European and Native traditions.
Typically in Europe, festivals were held before and after the harvest cycles to give thanks for a good harvest, and to rejoice together after much hard work with the rest of the community.
At the time of the early settlers, Native communities had also celebrated the end of a harvest season.
However, little did I know, it was for most of its history a moveable date, depending on the regional traditions and customs and the local geographical timing of harvest.
Since 1872, in Canada, Thanksgiving Day was normally celebrated on November 6
However, when World War I ended, the Armistice Day holiday was usually held during the same week.
To prevent the two holidays from clashing with one another, in 1957 the Canadian Parliament proclaimed Thanksgiving to be observed on its present date of the second Monday of October.
In the US, the traditional annual date has been even less static, for most of the country’s history each it has varied regional.
It was President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 when he wanted to unite the north and south, that there was the first national fixed date was established.
While the practice was established for most areas from that point forward, it was not with all regions,
So in 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt, to give the country an economic boost, move a bill into law with Congress, making Thanksgiving a national holiday and settling it to the fourth Thursday in November,
So for at least one detail – thanksgiving has not been that long a tradition at all – only 54 years in Canada and 60 years in the US
Modern traditions aside – and looking at our gospel passage we hear ‘the story of the healing of the ten lepers’
Or some might like to call it ‘the story of the one thankful leper’
Ten healed – yet only one came back to thank Jesus for healing him
To further understand this story – I would like to shed some light on three key areas – Geography, Leprosy and Healing
Our text begins: On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. (Luke 17:11)
The geographical comment is puzzling.
The journey from Galilee to Jerusalem means going from north to south.
The border between Galilee and Samaria is nearly east to west.
Going along the border would not be the most expedient route to Jerusalem.
Also given that Samaria and Galilee border each other, there is no "region between" them,
And even if there were, it would be an odd route to take toward Jerusalem.
It may be that Luke has little grasp of the topography he describes,
But I tend to think his point is theological rather than geographical.
Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem, to the cross, and the encounters He has along the way reveal something about the nature of the Kingdom He will establish there.
This encounter happens in a middle space, where one would expect the tension between ethnic and religious differences to be palpable.
The geography of this story tells a story of its own
The Kingdom of God that Jesus came to inaugurate, was so much more than had ever been seen and shared before
It was about Jew and Samaritan and Gentile alike
It was about those that were nowhere – those that were in neither the chosen land nor those in the near but differing neighbouring land
In our gospel lesson for today, we are given a glimpse in people dealing with leprosy
In Jesus’ day lepers were quite literally cut off from the community because of their physical illness.
Leprosy was a name given to a wide range of skin diseases that were greater than the illness we know today as Hansen’s disease.
It was a condition that was met with fear and ignorance.
The leper was to be removed from sight and isolated from all communal and religious contact.
In Leviticus, the law says,
“The leper who has the disease shall wear torn cloths and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry, ‘unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp.”(Leviticus 13:45-46)
Disease and isolation are multiple illnesses.
Imagine, if you will for a moment, the plight of a person in the ancient Near East
Imagine contracting a disease that not only visibly deteriorates your skin, and the loss of body parts – starting with fingers and toes and moving to whole hands and feet – then arms and legs
Where you might be able to see the town, village or city where your whole life has been
You might be able so see the comings and goings of your friends and colleagues – but also your family – possibly your own children… BUT not able to be with them and to share in any of their life with yours
Where you were to exist on the hand-outs of others – the generosity of people who were already taxed at about 65% of their mostly meagre earnings
And whenever someone was to either come your way, along the route outside of town by accident or on route to somewhere else
You are to warn them to stay away from your disease ridden existence by calling out – “Unclean, unclean, unclean”
Perhaps people afflicted with AIDS might provoke a similar reaction as the people with ancient skin diseases.
The disease brings with it not only the physical problems but social alienation (by many)
Because of fears of the disease and the assumed, inappropriate behaviours that brought about the disease.
Being declared "cured" may not restore the person to social acceptability
Our story continues as follows:
12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.(Luke 17:12-14)
Can you imagine such a thing – if you put yourself in their place – can you imagine being on the outside of everything in life and being given the opportunity to show yourself “clean”
Forget looking back – forget walking to the Priests – I think I would have run through the village in a mad rush to find the first Priest possible
And I believe that is why nine kept on going
I believe that when your whole existence is mired down by this dreadful disease
That your whole perspective would have been completely consumed by the notion of being rid of leprosy
And going to rejoin the life that has been so tantalizingly close, yet out of reach
I understand the nine that kept on going and didn’t turn back
Basically I think human nature is rarely oriented towards an attitude of thanksgiving
I think that one in ten is about the right odds – from my experience – good Canadian manners aside
Yet for the one that did turn back – that did prostrate before Jesus – that did cry out in a loud voice worshiping and thanksgiving – to him we see our Lord’s overflowing grace even more
This special time of the year, when thanksgiving is all around us
We have a wonderful story that fulfills the 23rd Psalm
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.(Psalm 23:5)
We have what one scholar has said “nine were healed, but one was saved”
Look at how the various translations deal with the words of Jesus
(NIV). "Your faith has made you well"
Or as Eugene Peterson translates it in the Message, "your faith has healed and saved you".
Or as our pew bibles (REB) states “your faith has cured you”
And finally my favourite for this passage - the King James Version, "Your faith has made you whole."
However we translate it, one thing is clear: there is more at stake here than mere healing.
Another vital detail needs to be brought out – Think how our text relates the typical pattern of God's activities throughout scriptures -- namely, God acts first.
How our Lord commends the one that returned – revealing that our proper response to God's actions is praise and thanksgiving -- to see God's hand in what has happened.
God did not tell the Israelites in Egypt, "If you only had enough faith, I would lead you to the promised land." God led them out of slavery to Canaan.
God did not tell us, "If you only had enough faith, I would send Jesus to suffer and die for your sins."
It was because we had no faith that He sent us Jesus.
As Paul writes in Romans: "God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
God doesn't wait for us to have enough faith… God acts first… God's actions are to lead to a faithful response.
Amid the various ecclesial, ethical, and liturgical reforms of the sixteenth century, Martin Luther was once asked to describe the nature of true worship. His answer: …the tenth leper turning back.
Our word for this holiday is ‘Thanksgiving’
Which is of course is two words: Thanks (appreciation) and giving (response to gratitude)
Remember the ‘giving’ alongside the ‘thanks’
And that God did it first
God so loved the world that He Gave His one and only Son
We live in a world where - Not all share, for some have plenty and some have none.
Not all feast, for some throw food out and others die from hunger.
Not all give thanks, for some cannot see past their wealth and others cannot see past their poverty.
Yet we as Christians are given an understanding of the greatest gift ever given
We Christians are called and reminded to a higher attitude of gratitude
An atheist is a person that when good things happen they don’t know who to thank
…We do know who to thank
I believe with all my heart that people who have received nothing from God should not be asked to or cajoled into giving towards God’s purposes
Yet who amoung us can ever claim that we receive nothing from God
There’s an amusing story I came across this week that illustrates the higher calling that we Christians are called to
One day that a farmer from the country was in town to do some business.
He stopped at a drive-in restaurant to get a bit to eat.
As was his custom, before he ate, he bowed his head and gave a word of thanks to God.
There were some others in the restaurant whose manners weren't quite so refined.
They saw him praying, so in jest they asked him, "Does everybody where you're from pray before eating?"
The farmer looked up and said, "Nope. There are some who don't. We call them pigs and they just dig right in."
This past summer while we were on vacation – out of the blue Matthew (our youngest) started to do a somewhat unusual thing
He said thank you… when the moment was just right, when all were quiet (something that you really have to be patient for in our family)
Matthew would pipe up and say thank you
– He would thank us for taking him camping
– He would thank us (rather Kelly) for cooking the meal
– He would thank us (rather me) for doing the dishes
– He would thank us for bringing him to Nova Scotia…
And on and one he went – it was a great moment – each and every time
What may have started out as an experiment in testing parental behaviour, resulted in attitude of appreciation of Matthew
It was in turn appreciated by Kelly and I
For me this is a very real illustration of overflowing thanksgiving, carrying beyond – beyond Matthew, beyond Kelly and I – beyond
This attitude of gratitude in Matthew is what our passage from 2nd Corinthians is all about
10He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. (2 Cor 9:10-12)
Those that give – give unto God – and it overflows beyond the first purpose to return to God
- transformed as a thanksgiving
And all – all… comes from God first
So think past this Thanksgiving weekend – where we are reminded – bombarded with messages of thanksgiving
And strive for an attitude of gratitude
And if it doesn’t come easily – and you are wondering why not – consider your time with God
Is it beyond Sunday morning – could it be enhanced, improved on – are you exercising the muscle of relationship with God
Because there can be no greater reward than union with Christ.
There is no greater reward than knowing Jesus as our friend,
And that reward is freely given on request.
What then is the reward of faithful service?
The principle of reward in the scriptures is a simple one.
Those who act responsibly are rewarded with greater responsibility – the relationship is enhanced, when invested more of ourselves in it
God makes grace abound in us that we may abound in every good work
Those that give – give unto God – and it overflows beyond the first purpose to return to God transformed as a thanksgiving
Thanks be to God - Amen