Year C, Proper 23, The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
October 9, 2022
Year C: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7; Psalm 66:1-11; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19
Faith is one of the themes of the last several weeks’ Gospels.
But I think there’s something else to look at in today’s readings. We hear in the Gospel, “Then, one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.”
Gratitude has become a hot topic among psychologists and even some Ivy League universities. For the first time, applicants to the University of Pennsylvania are being asked to write a thank you note to someone as part of their application and are encouraged to share that note with the recipient and reflect on it.
Perhaps Penn, a good research institution, looked at the research showing that gratitude is good for people. Gratitude has many positive benefits and correlates with higher well-being and health levels. In addition, grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, and optimism and lower levels of depression and stress—some pretty interesting stuff.
Being grateful does not mean one has to take what is sometimes known as a Pollyannish view of the world. Gratitude doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore complaints, burdens, and hassles. But when we look at our life as a whole, gratitude encourages us to identify some amount of goodness in our life – the many gifts, large and small, that have been given to us by others and by God.
Our gospel lesson for today has a story of gratitude found in an unlikely person in an unlikely place.
We hear that ten lepers were healed that day. In Jesus’ day, lepers were literally cut off from the community because of their physical illness. It was a condition that was met with fear and ignorance. Lepers were 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 clothes 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.”
Imagine the isolation, the desolation. But, out of the pains of their disease and their isolation, the ten lepers in today’s Gospel story cry out to Jesus to have mercy on them.
And he does. Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priest as the law requires when someone is healed. And as they go, they are made clean.
But only one turned back to give praise to God. Jesus notes the absence of the other nine. “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?”
The one who turned back is filled with gratitude.
I ask how we are filled with gratitude even amid uncertainty and pain, illness and isolation.
We are coming to a time of year when the clergy and people of our parish consider our financial stewardship. And this is a profoundly spiritual matter. I use the word spiritual because our stewardship of time, talent, and treasure are sacramental in nature. Our stewardship is an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace.
What we give, what we can afford to give, is between God and each of us. But stewardship in its totality, as time, time and treasure, is an indicator that God is alive and active as Lord of our lives. God is for us. God is doing mighty works in us, both as individual Christians and as a parish. So, I ask you, What has God done in your life? What is God doing now?
Think for a moment that today’s reading points to the movement of God in all things.
The four verses we heard today in Jeremiah are relatively calm by Jeremiah’s standards. “Build houses and live in them.” “Plant gardens and eat what they produce.” It sounds pretty lovely, doesn’t it?
If we read Jeremiah from the beginning, the harsh message seems relentless. Will there ever be relief from the terrible doom that lurks in the future and preoccupies Jeremiah’s mind? In Jeremiah, God seems angry; people are terrible sinners, and leaders are unable or unwilling to put the welfare of the people ahead of their personal gain.
But then we hear the hope offered in today’s version. Jeremiah calls upon his people to follow God’s vision, to go on with their lives, live productively, and raise families.
Sometimes life seems unbearable. Two weeks ago, Hurricane Ian devastated the state of Florida. People died; homes were lost. One friend told me that two older men committed suicide because their home had been destroyed, and they seemed to have no hope.
Ten years ago, Superstorm Sandy devasted New Jersey and New York. Imagine a storm surge from the Hudson River that went a mile inland and dumped 16 feet of water into the General Theological Seminary basement destroying its heating system.
At times like those, it’s often difficult to find faith or hope.
But Jeremiah’s message of hope was radically practical. Put down roots, and become productive. That central theme of hope is at the heart of Christ’s Gospel.
And we can’t forget Saint Paul’s letters – they are filled with gratitude to God and gratitude for his brothers and sisters, even when he’s writing from prison. Paul never fails to express his gratitude to the God who appeared to him, changing his life forever.
Gratitude is good. Let us open our hearts with gratitude, reminded of the love of Jesus, a love that makes no distinction of nationality or clan as he provides comfort and love to a hurting world.
We must prayerfully discern God’s actions in our lives and be thankful for all that God has done and will continue to do for us all the days of our life.
Who is God? What is God doing? What do we offer to God in response?
“One of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.”
We are most alive and connected to God when we join together and offer gratitude to God for all God has done, just as this man has done.
Generosity. Generosity in thanksgiving for all God has done and is doing in our lives.
Let us open our hearts with gratitude, reminded of the love of Jesus.