This Week's Sermon
Thanksgiving Sunday October 8, 2017 Rev. Micol I. Cottrell
“Sit down with me for a moment,” the stranger invited me. I took a seat beside him on one of the vinyl waiting room chairs beside him. “My name is Bob” he said as he reached for a handshake.” I was a student studying to be a minister and on that day I was handing out pamphlets for the spiritual care program at a hospital in Toronto. Bob was waiting in the ER to see a doctor.
“I haven’t been feeling right for the last couple of days,” he told me, “and I thought I better get it checked out.” Then without prompting Bob told me his story. “I had a massive heart attack a couple of years ago and almost died.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I responded. “Thanks.” Bob said. “My heart attack changed my life. I have to be more careful about what I eat and drink now, I need to exercise, and watch my health more carefully now.” He paused and smiled “ But you know something, my life is much better now than it used to be. I used to work really hard, I was successful in my business but stressed out all of the time, I always thought I had to be doing something, and I didn’t spend enough time with my wife or children. After my heart attack I finally decided that it was time for me to retire. I make time now for my family and friends. You have to make time for the important things in life otherwise they can just pass you by and you never know what might happen.” Then Bob smiled and continued “You know what my wife and I do every night now? We make a pot of tea, sit on the balcony and watch the sunset. These last two years have been the best years of my life. Make sure you take time to enjoy life.”
Bob and I only talked for a couple of minutes but I think about him every now and then and his advice that we need to slow down and savour life’s blessings more often.
As Jesus walks with his followers towards the town ten people with skin conditions call out to him from a distance. “Heal us.” It is a stance they are used to, standing at a distance begging for help. In Jesus’ time people who had, what the bible translates as leprosy which is actually any number of skin conditions, were outcasts. Those labeled as unclean because of skin disease were considered untouchable. They were removed from society and couldn’t enter the towns. It was written into the laws of scripture. Colonies of these people often lived outside of the towns where they would beg for the necessities of life. If a person was fortunate enough to have the skin condition heal itself they could go to the priests who would determine if they were clean and able to enter society again. Being labeled as a leper was more than just having to live with a devastating skin condition, it meant being treated with fear and rejection, being an outcast.
“Heal us,” the ten call out. Jesus responds by telling them to go see the priest and as they go they are healed. Seeing this, one of them, a Samaritan, turns and runs towards Jesus praising God. She falls to Jesus' feet and says “thank you.” We don't hear anything else about the other nine.
I have to say, when I think about where I would be in this story if I were one of the ten, I don’t think I would be the one running back to Jesus. I don't think the other nine characters in this story are ungrateful. Who can blame them for what they do? Being healed for them is salvation. Being healed and determined to be clean means they can go home. They can see their family and their friends. They can go back to work and provide for their loved ones. Life has been restored for them. This is salvation for them – they are saved from being outcasts and untouchable. I think I would be with them, running home with joy.
Today is a special holiday weekend in our culture – it's Thanksgiving. For many of us it will be a day to spend with family. For some it is a busy day – getting everything ready. For some of us it is a day to relax knowing we don't have to work tomorrow. Some of us will think back to better Thanksgivings with a mixture of sadness and gratitude for what was. Children in schools have probably made those turkey pictures, that I assume they still make, with brown cardboard bodies, and plumage made by traced fingers on bright construction paper. There is a lot of energy and excitement around this time of year. But at the heart of this harvest festival is an invitation to slow down and enter into gratitude. And how many other days of the year tell us to take the day off to be thankful?
The truth is, I know it because I live it, it can be easy to rush through life. It is easy for the mind to get busy on checklists for the day. It is easy to get caught up in the past, future, or fantasy and forget about the present moment. When life is good time seems to go too quickly. In the difficult times we can become overwhelmed by the pain that we miss everything else.
The other nine in today's story are not ungrateful, they are happy, they are so excited that they rush – it's not that they aren't thankful for what Jesus did they just want to go home.
Do you ever feel like life is rushing by, or that it is being filled with stuff, and you are missing something deeper? Do you find yourself so preoccupied with thoughts of the past, future, or fantasy, that you don't take in the full moment? If the answer is yes, don’t worry, you are not alone.
Our scripture today invites us to slow down, and enter into the sacred act of giving thanks to God. Meister Eckhart once wrote “if the only prayer you said in your life was, 'thank you,' that would be enough.” Our faith invites us to slow down, be present to the moment and all that it brings, and to give thanks. Now this doesn't mean being delusional and ignoring the problems, injustices, and pains of living. The difficulty of thanksgiving is that there are times where we may not feel like giving thanks – because life is messy and painful at times. By slowing down, focusing on the present moment, and giving thanks, in good times and bad, we are reconnected to the Sacred Source, to the blessings, beauty, and bounty of creation. From this sacred awareness we are then empowered and made bold to be the healing hands of Christ in this place. From this Holy empowerment we can delve into our pain and the aching of others and join in the God-given, communal, act of healing. Thanksgiving leads us in the path of hope and love.
This act of being present and offering thanksgiving is a holy art, a spiritual practice. And like all spiritual practices, it takes some work and diligence. Gratitude is like a muscle that we need to use in order for it to work fully. For some the art of thanksgiving is starting or ending each day by saying a thanksgiving prayer – it can be as simple pausing and saying the words “thank you.” For others it is saying grace at each meal. Some people have bells that go off in their house – a clock, or a watch, or a meditation timer – and each time they hear that sound they can take a couple of good breaths, look around, and say to God “thank you.” If you work at a computer all day you can use that moment of the computer booting up or shutting down. For others it may be lighting a special candle, meditating, a cup of coffee in the morning, or sharing a cup of tea and watching the sunset. Meister Eckhart knew well that the very simple act of thanksgiving opens us up to the all abundant presence of God. It is what turns the one healed person around, leads her to run up to Jesus and take the time to say “thank you” before she runs to the priest so she too can go home.
On this Thanksgiving Sunday, however this day finds us, let us make the sacred art of thanksgiving part of our lives – in whatever way works best for us. Let us make thanksgiving an act of prayer, praise, and commitment in our lives. May gratitude become a spiritual practice that opens us to God ever present and to the richness of life. And from this position of gratitude may we feel God’s love flowing through us empowering us to be part of the healing and life giving body of Christ in this time and in this place for we are part of the Sacred Story. Amen. Let it be so.