"Send out Your light and Your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling." Psalm 43:3

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sermon for Proper 23, year C

Preached at St. Martin of Tours Episcopal Church in Chattanooga, TN, on October 9, 2016.

Proper 23, Year C
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 + Psalm 66:1-11 + 2 Timothy 2:8-15 + Luke 17:11-19

In the Name of God, + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet, and thanked him.

In these two short verses, we have as accurate and succinct a summary of the Christian life as we may hope to find. It is a life made whole, turned to God in praise and adoration. And at its pinnacle is gratitude, thanksgiving, eucharist.

We who come together Sunday by Sunday to give thanks to God should be well prepared to live a life a gratitude--to live grounded with a spirit of thanksgiving--in a world that often seems to spin with a careless thanklessness. But it is, I think, too easy for all of us to get caught up in that busy forgetfulness.

I recently heard a story on the radio about a man who embarked on a fascinating endeavor. A.J. Jacobs has made a name for himself as a writer who dives into extreme projects (for example, reading The Encyclopedia Britannica in its entirety), and then chronicles the experience. In the story I heard, Jacobs was being interviewed about his book The Year of Living Biblically. For a full year, he made it his goal to follow every single rule in the Bible as literally as possible. For Jacobs, a secular Jew, the project resulted in any number of amusing situations. (For instance, he carried around in his pocket several small pebbles, so as to be prepared to stone an adulterer, should the need arise.) However, Jacobs also described the project as being transformative, more profoundly so than he had found to be true for any other of his previous projects.
Though still not, strictly speaking, religious, Jacobs now describes himself as a reverent agnostic. That sense of reverence is bound up with a life of thanksgiving.

"I feel I'm a lot more thankful," Jacobs said. "I think about the hundred little things that go right every day, instead of focusing on the three or four that go wrong."

As Christians, we believe that the world and all that is in it, is the gift of God.
God created, and continues to create, not out of necessity, but out of love.
The whole created order is pure gift.
The life that animates us, from conception to death,
and every heart beat and breath in between,
     is the very breath of God, given to us.

How does one respond to such a gift?
How can one respond with any adequacy?

In Psalm 116, the Psalmist ponders,
How shall I repay the LORD for all the good things he has done for me?
and then immediately vows
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the Name of the LORD . . .
I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving.

From the very earliest times, Christians have seen in this Psalm a foreshadowing of the Eucharist--the Church's great thanksgiving. "Eucharist," of course, is simply the Greek word for "thanksgiving."

Which is why a variant of that word appears in our Gospel this morning:
He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him.

Thus it is that this Samaritan leper, a double outcast, provides such a beautiful image of the Christian life in microcosm. Estranged and cut off, he comes to Jesus, crying out for mercy. In his compassion, Jesus heals him--fully.
     When, at the end of our Gospel, Jesus says, "your faith has made you well,"
     this is not only a reference to physical healing.
     This phrase could just as accurately be rendered, 
     "your faith has delivered you, has saved you."
     The effect is total healing, wholeness.

And the man's response to this healing?
He turns,
     he gives praise and glory to God,
          he falls on his face at the feet of Jesus, and gives thanks.

This morning, we gather here as the people of God. By the waters of baptism we entered the family of God that is the Church. Turning from sin, in those waters we died with Christ that we may now live with him. Estrangement and division were buried in those waters. And in gratitude we come together here, as God's people the world over gather every Sunday. We lift up our hearts, our inmost being, to God in praise. We give God glory. We adore the risen Lord.

And we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving
to God who created us,
who delivered us,
who sends us out into the world in perfect peace.


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