And Our Lives Would Be Thanksgiving

Luke 17:11-19 & 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15
(A shorter version was preached at school chapel)
Proper 23 C – 10/13/13
St. Paul’s Alexandria
The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales

If our love were but more faithful,
We should take him at his word;
And our life would be thanksgiving
For the goodness of the Lord.

Graduation season — that time of celebration in May and June — seems like a distant memory on this chill October morning. But for one young man I know, it dragged on until just a week or so ago. I say “dragged,” because he was weighed down by the burden of writing thank-you notes.

Now, I know this young man appreciated the gifts, the checks, and the electronic tools and toys he received that would help him begin his college career. But writing thank-you notes is such a drag! He might have procrastinated forever, but two voices would not let him – the voice of his own conscience, and — you guessed it— the voice of his mother  Finally, his mom told me, she wrote out a little “script” for him and gave him the task of copying it in his own handwriting —— three a day — until he was finished. He had to make the notes personal, mentioning the specific gift he was given and how much the giver meant to him. He had to say thank you.

The man in today’s gospel had to say thank you, too. Only he didn’t need any prompting — no reminders, no “script.” For he was not giving thanks for a gift he would outgrow or use up. He was thanking Jesus for his life.

The man — unnamed in today’s gospel, though I have my own theory — was a leper. That’s a word we don’t hear much outside of the Bible these days, but lepers were people with a terrible disease that forced them to live apart from everyone else, except other lepers. Bible scholars think the word “leprosy” covers a variety of skin diseases, but the most serious was an incurable eating-away of limbs and facial features that left people disfigured and disabled. Worst of all, was the isolation that people with leprosy endured in order to keep this terrible disease from infecting others.

So in today’s story, we hear of 10 lepers traveling together and “keeping their distance” as they called out, “Jesus! Master! Have mercy on us!” When he saw them, Jesus did not know their names, or nationalities, or religions. He did not know if they deserved to become well. He did not know if they would be properly thankful. All he knew was their NEED, and to that need he responded.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven
There is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment given . . .

We hear of that kindly judgment in our first lesson today, where God’s healing was also made available to a suffering soul without regard for name, nationality, or religion. And if Naaman, the commander of the king’s army, had had to prove he deserved healing, he would have been hard pressed to do so. Naaman is not calling out in humility and pain, like the lepers in our gospel. Rather, in his pride, he takes offense that the man of God, the prophet Elisha, sends a messenger to tell him to do something as simple as washing in a nearby river. Naaman does nothing to prove himself worthy of healing. And yet . . . God heals him.

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of the mind
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.

It’s most wonderfully kind when Jesus tells the 10 lepers to show themselves to the priests, because according to the law, it’s only when the disease has left them that lepers go to the priests. The book of Leviticus is clear on all the laws pertaining to leprosy (and there are many – read them sometime if you’re looking for the grossest parts of the Bible). That law states that people who recover from leprosy must show themselves to the priest and follow certain rituals before returning to society. So the ten, in hope and obedience, set out.

But before they get very far, one of them feels sensation returning to his numb limbs, senses a tingling, looks at his hands and finds that his skin has become as sweet and soft as a young boy’s. He has been made clean. Without a second thought, he turns and runs —dances, perhaps — back to throw himself at Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving. And he was a Samaritan, Luke tells us – not one of the chosen people, not one of Jesus’ tribe, but the outsider who recognized that
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea.

We don’t hear from Luke what happens next. But I have a theory. I think the thankfulness that propelled that man that day overflowed and kept on going. I think he lived a life of thanksgiving. Matthew and Mark tell the story of a dinner that takes place in Bethany, in the home of “Simon the leper.” And I can’t help wondering if it’s this man who hosts the meal at which a woman, herself filled with gratitude, anoints Jesus with costly ointment in her own extravagant gesture of love.

Thankfulness begets thankfulness. The grateful heart overflows with generosity, and generous acts — acts of hospitality, acts of love for God and neighbor — call forth more gratitude, more generosity, from those who receive them. In a world that sorely needs generosity, could YOUR overflowing heart show someone today the wideness in God’s mercy?

If our love were but more faithful,
We would take him at his word,
And our life would be thanksgiving,
For the goodness of the Lord.

Amen.

About threegreatdays

The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales is a Godly Play Trainer in the U.S.; an Episcopal Priest; Chaplain at St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Virginia; a Godly Play Practitioner since 1996; and a mother and grandmother. Every day I get to be with 400 children at school and on weekends when I'm lucky, with my four terrific grandsons and three lively granddaughters. As a Godly Play practitioner, I want to spread the word about this life-giving, Montessori-based way of nurturing children in the Christian story and life. Godly Play, the creation of the Rev. Dr. Jerome Berryman and his wife Thea, is used in many denominations and in many countries, and has been translated into at least seven languages. This blog is not an official publication of the Godly Play Foundation (see www.godlyplayfoundation.org) but seeks to be a clearinghouse for ideas and experiences of teachers, trainers, and parents. Join the conversation!

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