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Gratitude as a Four-Letter Word
A sermon preached by the Rev. Kit Lonergan on October 13, 2013

Christ Church Andover
Year C, Proper 23
October 13, 2013

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Psalm 1112 Timothy 2:8-15Luke 17:11-19

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together be always acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer. AMEN.

A few years ago there was a musical shown in the West End of London called ‘Jerry Springer: The Opera’. Many hated it for various, and many plausible, reasons. I loved it. The premise, as concisely as I can make it, is that in the midst of a Jerry Springer show with its usual catalogue of interviews with strange people doing strange things, usually in the context of strange relationships, Jerry is shot by a guest on his show. As he lingers between life and death, his guests turn into theological figures and Jerry is made to mediate the conflict between God (played by one of his guests) and Satan (his producer) for the second half of the musical/ opera.

I hope that you are still with me. If not, don’t worry, you don’t have to look me in the eye until January after this.

In the midst of this insane plot, the guest who turns into God has a very short song: “It Ain’t Easy Being Me”. The lyrics are simple: “It ain’t easy, being me; oh it ain’t easy, being me; millions of voices making all the wrong choices, then turning round and blaming me. Oh it ain’t easy being me.” People always laughed when God sang that, but I found it to be a profound moment in the midst of total musical comedy chaos. Millions of voices making all the wrong choices, then turning round and blaming me. As I listened to those lyrics, I remembered all the times that I had secretly blamed God for the hiccups and challenges I had encountered in my life. I had attributed much to God, and most of it, the bad things. Maybe Jerry Springer’s God was right. Maybe God had a right to be a little disgruntled with all the one-sided relationships he had to maintain. Perhaps God SHOULD be on the Jerry Springer Show with all of us.

Our relationships with God can be so one-sided sometimes. Our gospel this morning tells of Jesus healing ten lepers, ten faithful men who wanted to be reconciled to the community and by the standards of the time, to God. They asked Jesus to heal them, they believed him even though he didn’t wave a magic wand or whisper ‘alohomora’ over them—a distinctive difference from the commander Naaman in our first reading who didn’t believe God’s grace could come so easily and without some sort of fanfare—and they went to present themselves to the priests to prove that they were indeed clean. They called Jesus ‘Master’. All absolutely right things to do. And it might have been enough. It probably was enough. Jesus didn’t call them back, he didn’t require anything from them in exchange for healing them. It was never a transaction with Jesus (no matter what we ourselves tend to think about our negotiations with God—I’ll do ‘x’ God, if you will do ‘y’…). They are cleansed, they have experienced the grace of God, and they have the chance to move on and experience and reclaim the rest of their lives, which they do with joy.

But we have one of the cleansed lepers, a Samaritan no less, return after being validated and reinstated to the community by the priests. He comes to Jesus by himself. He prostrates himself in thanksgiving and in humility. And he essentially says ‘thank you’ to God.

Even though our readings this morning speak of lepers and healing, and offer a vision especially of the outsider—neither Naaman nor the Samaritan were considered the right nationality for God’s salvific work—I wonder if our readings instead are also about something far deeper than that. I wonder if our readings this morning are about how we relate to God and God’s grace, which precedes and follows us, if we believe the words of our collect.

How do we relate to God and God’s grace on a regular basis? Is the God of Jerry Springer the Opera correct—do we just aim our dissatisfaction with life, with our current situation, with our own lacking at God? I wonder often if we are too much caught up in giving God grief for the things which are not pleasing, and forget to give God thanks for—well, for most of our day to day experiences; for our being; for the gift of the ordinary and the extraordinary that we all too often claim are from another source (mostly ourselves). Gratitude is sometimes not as immediately pleasing to indulge in as complaint or blame. In fact, it is downright hard to do at times. It requires us understanding that we are not gods ourselves. It requires us letting go of our own sense of control and order. It requires us to let others be more powerful (if that is even the right word for it), and to allow ourselves to be served, to be loved, to be gifted in ways that we cannot satisfactorily repay in any form of equal way. Gratitude, as we experience from that one Samaritan leper, demonstrates that we can still be surprised by the gifts given to us, and that there really is no such thing as an equal exchange or transaction with God. What we receive we cannot repay, and we cannot expect to deserve based on any of our actions other than God’s gracious movements towards us.

There are two separate words used in Greek in this morning’s gospel—one for ‘cleansing’, katharizo—and one for ‘healing’, sozo. At the end of the Samaritan’s return visit to Jesus, he wasn’t just clean—not just ‘fine to go about community matters’ as accorded with the standard of the law when it came to proving cured leprosy, but he was made whole. He was completed, he was healed. It had to be more than just a one-step process wherein cleansing was not the goal itself—restoration to God, to the essence of our being, an acknowledgement that wholeness of being somehow included the divine maker—was the final step.

Every time we come together as a community and acknowledge our needs, our wants, our worries, our joys and our concerns to God, we are asking for a cleansing. Through our prayers, through our confession, through the times we are silent or find ourselves singing, whatever we bring to this place usually comes with a request for cleansing and healing from one thing or another, physical, emotional, spiritual, mental or otherwise. We are not promised magic wands, but instead sent back out into the world to serve others, to preach grace, to be the hands and heart and feet of Jesus to those who are stuck in the ruts of despair and fear. But before we are sent back, we come to the table to give thanks. We come, just as the Samaritan did, to remind ourselves that in the midst of our talking at God, we are called to receive from God God’s own reminder of just how deeply and thoroughly God loves us. We are called to receive his Son, Jesus, through the reminders of bread and wine, broken and poured out, just as he was for us. The meal is here for us to be reminded that our relationship with God is not just about us being cleansed from sin, saved or healed; it is not a relationship that involves a savior who fixes things for us just as we want them so that we may go about our merry way. The meal reminds us that gratitude, that return to God, opens our eyes to see God’s work in the world around us— if a wafer and sip of wine can infer God’s grace, then how much more could a restored relationship demonstrate to us? A second glance at the miracles of nature, at both the stunning times of the year (such as right now), or even in the bleakness of late winter? The meal, this thanksgiving, this act of gratitude and sharing reminds us that we are called to be whole, not just cleansed, and that our relationship with God is always a two-way street, back and forth, back and forth, with our divine creator. We, WE, are the ways God’s glory is reflected back and known to others by the way we acknowledge it, and let it make us whole.

Our faith is made known by the ways we respond to God. It isn’t just all in our heads, what we believe and don’t believe; how we have been disappointed or blessed. It is in how we address the world as either a constant ploy to destroy our own version of happiness, or it is a place where innumerable graces might be found if we take the time to give the ordinary a second glance, much as our children do during a really good Easter egg hunt. And if we open ourselves up to the myriad ways that God is already at work and at hand in the world about us, we begin to see God not just as a fixer, but an artist, inviting us to be part of something much larger than we ordinarily might be in our smallish, focused lives. And we have a chance to feel both the weight of that gift and the lightness it holds for us at the same exact time.

As this is my last sermon for the next few months while I am on maternity leave, I am grateful to be preaching and praying on gratitude this week in this community. Never have I felt that something so ordinary as being pregnant (I mean, you all were born by someone and many of you birthed others or had some hand in it!), could be such an invitation to see God’s grace through others in such a profound way. Chris and I are so thankful to you, and to God, for this chance to see grace and humor and human frailty in such profound ways, including many that you might never know you all had a part in. As the Samaritan came back to Jesus to offer thanks to God, we have found ourselves giving thanks to God for you all, and for the gift of being here in this place at this time.


Last Published: October 23, 2013 5:12 PM