Giving Thanks

Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, October 9, 2022
Luke 17:11-19

    Have you noticed people don’t say “You’re welcome,” like they used to?  A friend of mine brought this up recently, and now I can’t help but notice those situations when someone says, “Thank you,” people say a variety of things:  “Don’t worry about it.”  “It was nothing.”  “No problem!” instead of “You’re welcome.” And if you really think about it, how good are you at saying, “thank you,” writing thank you notes or receiving thank yous these days?  Some of the polite phrases we are taught to say as young children seem to be going by the wayside – I’m sorry, thank you, you’re welcome, please?! The gospel we read for today happens to be the gospel for the worship service for Thanksgiving Day.  As you may know, every year, our Syosset-Woodbury Interfaith Clergy Council has a Thanksgiving prayer service, and last year, my colleague Rabbi Rafi Rank pointed out that there’s no designated day for grumbling – we do that every day.  We need a special day to remember to give thanks and be thankful, because it seems, the default for many of us is ingratitude.  We forget to give thanks.
    In Jesus’ terms in today’s gospel, one out of ten, that’s ten percent of us, will remember to be thankful.  And Jesus asks us a good question – why? Why is it, when ten people receive something amazing; a miraculous healing in this case, does only one turn back and give praise and thanks to God?  Why is it so hard to say things like “Thank you,” or “You’re welcome?”  What rationalizations or excuses do we come up with to not give thanks?  Maybe we are not intentionally ungrateful or negative in our thinking, but maybe we simply forget because we’re so busy, or take what we have for granted without thinking much about it, or are even shy about being too forward or direct in thanking others.  In our relationship with God, we may not realize or recognize that what we have is not ours but comes from God; everything we have is God’s gift, God’s blessing.
    As we continue to focus on prayer during the month of October, today Jesus tells us about two more important aspects of prayer:  prayer for healing, and prayers of thanksgiving.  Author Anne Lamott recently wrote a book about prayer that is simply called Help, Thanks, Wow.  Many people feel that they can’t pray impressive-sounding, eloquent prayers to God out loud.  This book is for people to learn that simple, one-word prayers are more than enough:  Help, Thanks, Wow.  The Samaritan’s prayer life in relation to Jesus healing him in this story I think can be boiled down to those three words:  help, thanks, and wow!  Jesus points out that many of us can get stuck in the “help” portion of our prayer without moving on or beyond to thanking and praising God.  Unless we need help, we don’t pray much at all, if we’re honest.  We don’t need God until we REALLY need him.
    The ten lepers know they need help.  They use good words – they call Jesus “Master,” a title that a follower or disciple of someone would use.  They understand who Jesus is and the power he has.  They beg Jesus for mercy.  Their suffering goes beyond the physical ailment of leprosy, a skin disease.  Having a skin disease like leprosy at that time meant you were unclean and could not live with the rest of society.  Religiously-speaking, for faithful Jews, they could not enter the temple or worship regularly with others.  And then we learn that at least one of these lepers is a Samaritan, people estranged from their Jewish cousins and considered “less-than” in Jewish society.  Jesus even calls him a foreigner to highlight his outsider status for us who may not be able to fully imagine what it was like to live as a Samaritan leper in the region between Samaria and Galilee at that time.  We all know people who can bring others down because they seem to look at everything with a glass half-empty mentality; these lepers have good reason to be grumbling and miserable.  They know they need the Lord’s mercy and healing in more than one way.  They are isolated, ostracized, pariahs in need of several different kinds of healing in body and in spirit.
    So as we hear in the gospel for today, on their way to the priests, the ten lepers are healed.  Jesus gives them the mercy, the help, that they ask for.  Again, this doesn’t just mean healing from their physical disease, but that they can return to “normal” life – they can be with their families and friends again, a part of regular society, and that means they can become a part of religious life again as well.  But the majority of those of us who are able to live normal lives most of the time forget, once the crisis is over and the help is received, to give thanks.  Only one person, a Samaritan, turns back and praises God with a loud voice, throws himself down at Jesus’ feet and thanks him.  Help, thanks, wow.  This guy shows us how to pray.
    For those of us who struggle or sometimes forget to say thanks, you’re welcome, and even “wow,” to wonder in amazement at all God has done, today is as good a day as any to start saying “thank you” to God.  In a journal before you go to bed or first thing when you wake up in the morning, try listing bullet points of all the small and big moments during the past day where you were grateful to God.  Driving in traffic and arriving safely or even on time.  Finding $20 in a forgotten pocket or even a lucky penny on the sidewalk. Rain that nourishes our dry earth or sun that we can enjoy.  Good health or at least not terrible health. Good friends and family members.  Unique talents and abilities we have.  The list gets long pretty quickly.
    We are not that different from these lepers that Jesus heals.  We don’t have an outward skin disease, but we may be suffering from some kind of physical ailment. And if we don’t have a physical ailment, we have plenty of neuroses and worries to deal with, no matter how small.  We all need healing, and just like the folks in our gospel for today, Jesus promises that our faith will make us well – our faith will save us.  A simple prayer of help, thanks, and wow can put everything in perspective.  A few simple moments to remember and give thanks to God, the giver of all good things, can improve our attitudes and our relationships.  Gratitude helps us recognize Jesus as Lord and brings us to our knees in awe and wonder – wow! – of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, which is no less than offering us life, healing and salvation.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.