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Always, Everywhere, and for Everything

Always, Everywhere, and for Everything

For weeks now it may seem like we’ve talked about the same theme over and over, and that’s because we have. Luke, since the beginning of chapter 15, has been telling a series of stories and teachings from Jesus’ life that, while weaving together various themes, have been focused on the outsider, the outcast, the despised, the ones society looks down on. At different times there have been teaching on self-righteousness, money, and even faith. But now the text turns again to the central theme of the outsider, this time from the perspective of thankfulness and humility.

Up to this point, since chapter 15, Jesus has primarily been teaching in parables, but in our reading this morning we get a miracle story with a lesson for Jesus’ audience and for us. Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem, and he’s going along the borderlands between Galilee and Samaria. He comes to a village, and Luke doesn’t tell us which one. While he’s there, ten lepers come to see him, but they keep their distance from him, which is what lepers were expected to do. Touching a leper would make you unclean and potentially sick. From a distance, these outcasts call out to Jesus for mercy. Like other miracle stories, Jesus doesn’t really do much. He doesn’t even say you’re healed. He tells them to go – to go to the priest, who would have lived locally and been responsible for declaring people healed from this type of illness.

Even though Jesus hasn’t actually told them that they are healed, in an act of faith they turn and head towards the priest. You’ll remember, of course, that Jesus just got done teaching his disciples about faith and doing the impossible, as we saw in last week’s reading. As the lepers go, they are healed. They respond to what Jesus says, obey in faith, and he takes care of the rest. But that’s not really what this story is about. After the ten lepers are healed, one of them, a Samaritan, who would be even more of an outcast, turns back. He comes back to Jesus, no longer keeping his distance from him. He’s giving glory to God as he approaches Jesus, and he falls at Jesus’ feet and gives him thanks, and this is the point at which Luke tells us that the one who came back was a Samaritan.

By implication, the others were likely Jews. Jesus even refers to the Samaritan as “this foreigner,” and he’s surprised that only this one, this foreigner has come back. He says, “Is it really the case that the only one who had the decency to give God the glory was this foreigner?” Remember that Luke’s already told a story about the return of the younger brother, and how the older brother was standing outside complaining as the story was going on. We’re given some idea of why the older brother was complaining, but we aren’t told why the other nine lepers didn’t return. And I think that’s the point.

On the one hand, you have the outcast of the outcasts. The ones who are the most desperate are the ones who show the greatest thanks. To most of us, a meal is nothing. To a starving meal, a small meal can be the difference between life and death. To most of us, having a home to go back to is something that we take for granted. To the homeless, a night indoors can mean everything. So, on the one hand, we have the outcast of the outcasts who returns to give thanks to God, and on the other, we have those who fail to show their thanks. And we don’t know why. We can only speculate.

Or perhaps instead, instead of speculating, we should take a moment to ask ourselves why we fail to give thanks to God for all the good things in our life. Paul says in Ephesians 5 that we are to give thanks “always and for everything,” but most of us struggle to give thanks “sometimes and for most things.” And why is that? I think for most of us, we have been lulled to sleep by the common-place nature of blessings in our lives. When water is always available, you take it for granted. When you’re in the midst of a drought, you thank God for rain. When food is plentiful, you go through the drive-thru lane at Chick-Fil-A and thank the drive-thru person. When you’re starving, you thank God for whatever you can find to eat.

I think it’s safe to say that we are some of the most blessed, fortunate people in human history. Even those that we would consider poor by today’s standards, by the standards of world-history, are incredibly rich. And that’s not something to apologize for and this isn’t a call to live like St. Francis and give away everything that you have. This is more like a warning, or maybe ‘reminder’ is a better word. Don’t be lulled to sleep. Don’t let your abundant blessings cause you to forget from whom those blessings come. Those of us who have been most richly blessed on a regular basis are at the greatest risk both of assuming that we deserve those blessings and of forgetting to be thankful for them.

But everything we have is a gift from God. That’s why we say after offertory “All things come from you, O Lord, and of your own have we have we given you.” That’s why the Celebrant says at the beginning of the Eucharist, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” and the people respond, “It is right to give him thanks and praise.” And then the celebrant building on the words of Paul that I mentioned earlier prays, “It is right, our duty and our joy, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.”

“Always, everywhere, and for everything.” That’s the thanks that we owe to God for creating us, for sustaining our lives, for redeeming us, for blessing us so abundantly, and, on the last day, for raising our bodies from the dead. There’s a subtle nod here to resurrection at the end of this story. You’ll remember that the Parable of the Prodigal Son ended with the Father saying that his son was dead but is now alive again and that the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus too ended with Abraham saying to the rich man that his brothers would not listen even to a man who rose from the dead. So too, in this story, when the man throws himself at Jesus’ feet in thankfulness for what God has done for him through Jesus,  Jesus tells the man, “Arise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” That word “arise” is the verb for resurrection.

We have been blessed abundantly, both in this life and in the age to come. But the danger is that we let those blessings begin to feel commonplace to us, or even worse, we begin to feel as though we deserve them. We don’t know why the other nine beggars didn’t turn around and give thanks to God through Jesus. Maybe they were busy. Maybe they were excited and wanted to go see their family and friends. Maybe they didn’t fully understand what had happened. Maybe they thought they deserved to be healed. We don’t know. What we do know is this. For all that God has done for us, for all the ways that we have been so richly blessed, for the fact that God will heal us and raise us from the dead on the last day, we should be like the leper who returned. We should give glory to God. We should throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus and give thanks always, everywhere, and for everything.

Amen.

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