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I had this habit as a kid that drove my sister crazy. During the ritual opening of Christmas presents I would over emote about each gift. “An etch-a-sketch! That’s so great!”, “A cabbage patch doll! I’ve always WANTED a cabbage patch doll!”, “Blue socks? They’ll go great with my blue shoes!”, We found an old video recently from when I’m about eight years old, and my reactions are incredibly cloying. I actually profusely thanked Santa, who because of his busy Christmas morning schedule, was not in the room. And while I’m sure part of my enthusiasm was about me being a first born suck-up, I would argue that there was a core of genuine, spontaneous thanksgiving in my little performance.
Real gratitude is tricky when you live in a society where you are used to getting exactly what you want. As adults, my immediate family gives each other lists of Christmas presents we would like and then we receive those presents. It’s fantastic, and we’re grateful to each other, but the spontaneous joy of gratitude is missing.
That spontaneous thanksgiving is missing from much of my life. I don’t enthusiastically thank you all twice a month when I receive my paycheck. I don’t thank God every day for my amazing husband or my sweet dog. I don’t thank my parents weekly for the hard work that went in raising me or my sister for putting up with my annoying first-born habits.
Our gospel lesson today really challenges us and our attitudes about thanksgiving. In the story, Jesus heals ten lepers. He tells them to show themselves to the priest and off they go, getting cleansed from their leprosy in the meantime. Now, they are all obedient to Jesus. They all do exactly what he asks them to do. Well, all but one. One of the lepers is a Samaritan. He is an outsider. He’s unclean. He’s different. But that Samaritan is so excited he is cleansed, he runs back to Jesus, praises God and throws himself at Jesus’ feet thanking him. What a reaction! The other nine lepers were obedient, but the Samaritan leper had a genuine moment of intense gratitude that he can’t help but express.
We are a guarded, cautious people here at Trinity Church.. We aren’t prone to big emotional outbursts. We don’t clap when we sing. We don’t raise our arms and shout when Paul makes a good point in a sermon. We don’t stand up during announcements to praise God and share what God has done in our lives. But that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t reach out to us and heal us and work in our lives in such a way that we should be thankful. We don’t have to be loud to be thankful.
When I was a parishioner at St. James’, Richmond, during stewardship season they had a tradition of parishioners speaking each week about what stewardship meant to them. One Sunday, a young couple with small children stood up. They told us that during the previous year, as they got more involved with church and developed a closer relationship with God, they had a transformative moment together. They decided that since God had given them so many gifts, they wanted to give him a big gift in return. They decided that their pledge check to the church should be the biggest check they wrote every month. Bigger than their mortgage, bigger than car payments, bigger than tuition payments.
I remember my jaw dropping. The freedom and joy they felt was so manifest. Their money did not control them. Fear did not control them. They made a decision based purely out of the kind of wild-eyed gratitude that the tenth leper showed Jesus.
I’ll be honest with you, I’m not there yet. Our monthly pledge payments to the two churches we support are about a third of our monthly rent. And our rent is cheap! But whenever I think about stewardship, I think about that couple. I think about what it would mean to have such deep gratitude for God’s work in my life and deep confidence that God will provide for me, that I could just throw caution to the wind and give away a giant chunk of money every month.
Giving money to the church is a financial decision. You’ll sit down with Quicken or your budget and figure out just how much you’ll give. You’ll come to a rational choice. But the decision to give money to the church is also a spiritual one. Giving money back to God is an act of thanksgiving. As a person who is paid because of your generosity, of course I want you to give to the church! But what I really pray for is that God might grant you a tenth leper experience.
I pray that you have experiences of healing and God’s intervention in your life. I pray that you feel cleansed of anything that haunts you. I pray that God grants you such deep gratitude, that you feel compelled to throw yourself at the feet of Jesus. I pray that Jesus makes you well.
The text tells us that when the leper came back to Jesus in thanksgiving, that the leper was made well. The leper was cleansed from leprosy by Jesus’ healing, but something in his thankful response inspired Jesus to give him an even fuller healing. Jesus says that the leper’s faith made him well. The leper’s thanksgiving was more than gratitude, it was a statement of faith. We, too, can make a statement of faith by expressing our thanksgiving to God.
When we give to God through gifts to the Church, we claim the tenth leper’s thanksgiving as our own. We claim the tenth leper’s faith as our own. We claim the tenth leper’s healing as our own.
When we stand up for Stewardship, we claim our place in the line of saints who have been blessed by God and want to return the blessing.