If you walk through Grauer Lounge on Sunday mornings at about 9:30 you will be enveloped into the warmest, most welcoming group to be found in this church. It’s the Family Sing time. Parents and kids sing fun songs with the leadership of Ted Smith and his guitar. As we sing and laugh more families filter in. It’s an easy group to find a place in. You can stand at the back, or sit on the stools in the center. Moms and Dads and grandmas like the chairs. No one cares if you are late, but if you are early you can help pick the songs. Miss Martha does tend to stop the wild runners, but there aren’t any other rules I can think of. We sing the old favorites that I bet most people here know, like Jesus Loves Me, this I Know – albeit with sign language, and Taize songs like Jesus, Remember Me, and I could go on and on. But a consistent request from the children is for Thank You Lord. Maybe you’ve heard it down the hallway – we can get loud. Thank you Lord for this fine day, Thank you Lord for this fine day, Thank you Lord for this fine day, right where we are. And then the children start shouting out thank yous to put into the verse and we sing verse after verse thanking God and Praising him for Dinosaurs, baseball, chemistry kits, pets…..Alleluia Praise the Lord
It echoes what the teachers hear during Prayer Time in the classroom. Children of all ages are naturally filled with gratitude. They have the instinct that life is a gift, and all the things that come with it are a gift. They are grateful.
The Samaritan Leper in the Gospel today had the same instinct – he was grateful to God for all the gifts of Life. He praised God with a loud voice. But how did he get to that part of the story?
This story is seems so simple on first glance, Jesus is walking down the road. The geography is a bit unclear, but we know they must be in the area near Samaria. Samaria was a place of outcasts, of Jewish descent, but were they really Jewish? They did things differently. They weren’t quite ok, they were despised even. That happened because in 722 BCE the Assyrians overran northern kingdom of Israel including Samaria. The people were deported to Assyria, and others settled in their place. Their worship became a mix of the Greek Assyrian gods and Jewish traditions. The southern Jews were horrified: the Samarians were blasphemous. A rift was there forever. All Jewish by some standard, but enemies at heart. I never understood why there was such enmity, but think of the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland. Then it begins to make sense.
Jesus is walking to Jerusalem near Samaria and a group of Lepers calls out to him “Hey, Jesus, we know of you - Have mercy on us” Jesus doesn’t say, OK you are healed, Or I heal you – or anything of the sort. He tells them to go see the Priests.
Leprosy wasn’t just what we know of today as Hansen’s disease, it was a compendium of any kind of ugly skin disease, deformity, infection, any thing that made you physically “different”. If you were a leper you were worse than outcast. Shunned, completely cut out from society. There was no way back in. This was a tribal society where people survived by banding together in family and tribal groups that made sure basic needs were met, - and you had no tribe. As a Leper, the worst kind of physical and emotional shunning a group in power could inflict was put upon you.
The only way to be accepted into society was to be cleared by the Priests. Jesus doesn’t talk about healing the lepers, even if he did, it didn’t count. All that mattered was what the Priests thought. So they head off to the priestly authorities, to get the all clear. They keep going.
It was the Samarian – the person of despised place and outcast from leprosy who turned around. He physically turned around back toward Jesus; he made a change in his life. He turned toward God. We know that as repentance. All the others continued on their way, but the despised one, the Samarian, stopped in gratitude with thanksgiving.
Jesus tells him the famous line, “your faith has made you well.” I was talking with my trainer and friend Todd about this bible story. He’s 35 and all guy. I asked him what it meant to him and he screwed up his face and said, “I don’t know. Sounds nutty.” We could ask any of the healers we find here for the answer. They know. We ask for healing, not for a cure. This is one of those places where the nuances of language are lost in translation. In the Bible concepts of wellness or salvation or wholeness are interchanged frequently. Try hearing: “ Your faith has made you whole. “ Todd got it then. The outcast Samaritan was healed, he was made whole. Throughout this story Jesus never refers to a physical healing, he is pointing to a healing internally, a healing that makes you well, whole, saved. We too, can have that kind of healing.
What of this will stay with me long after hearing the story today? Gratitude and Faith. They are inextricably linked. You don’t have one without the other. Because we have faith, we are thankful for the gifts of this life. We see and recognize these gifts, and can’t help but be thankful. Every time we come to this table we say “It is right to give God thanks and praise. We praise you and we bless you, holy and gracious God, source of life abundant.” It is instinctive to the human condition, that when confronted with the divine, to offer praise and gratitude. They feed each other. They are intertwined.
The Samaritan Leper saw the gifts of life and was filled with praise. Of all people, the most outcast, he was overcome with gratitude. And so he was filled with faith and healed. And in the Old Testament Lesson today from the book of Kings, Naman, a mighty warrior, was confronted by the gifts of God that gave him faith and praise. Can we see the gifts and respond likewise?
I have learned to live in a world of gratitude and faith. It has grown on me, a little at a time, so that now it permeates my way of being. Lets not be Pollyanna here. I certainly have my dark, bleak times when it seems not possible to see even a moment of grace. But I keep looking, and start with the small things, the things I take for granted. I keep turning around, keep redirecting myself. I say thank you for waking up in the morning. I say thank you for the first gulp of my morning coffee. I keep it small and direct. And it works. Sometimes I jot things down. Try it. Each day actually write down things you are grateful for. Start with the small things, like my cup of coffee. You will see, it grows. And from that gratitude flows an awareness of God who is present with us, called faith.
That practice of gratitude changes us individually, and will change our corporate life as a congregation. So, when you are by yourself sometime give it a try. What’s to lose? Just try singing Thank you Lord for this Fine Day.