You can join this week’s worship service by visiting here.
Thank you to Stephen Spencer for sharing the gift of music with us. Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and Steve’s prayers for this week. In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
Scripture: Luke 17: 11-19
Music: Welcome Home; Called By Earth and Sky
Jesus is walking through Samaria when a group of ten lepers begs his mercy. Jesus tells them to go to the local priests and, once they do, they find themselves healed of their disease. Of the ten of them, however, only one returns to say thank you. Jesus doesn’t seem sad or even angry about the other nine, he just seems curious, perplexed maybe, that the other nine don’t also express their gratitude.
Luke says that the one who does say thank you, though, “turns around,” which is a scriptural way of saying that he “changed his life.” His return to thank Jesus is not just literal, but figurative; his healing is a turning point in his life. He has been changed. Jesus tells him, “Your faith has made you well”, or in other versions, “Your faith has made you whole”; restored to health, returned to community, renewed of life.
Perhaps you’ve already anticipated the shadow side of this story, and others like it; the interpretation that, for years, has been used as a weapon rather than a shield: that if your faith is strong enough, you can be healed, but if not, well…. How is it that some people who are faithful and prayerful are healed, and others are not?
One of the things I notice about this story is that Jesus means to heal all ten lepers, and all ten are healed. We know of no medical condition for which that is now the case, except perhaps the enjoyment of sausages. If you like sausages, you can cure yourself of that affliction simply by learning how they’re made. 100% guaranteed. I happen to love sausages, which is why I refuse to learn how they’re made.
My point is that the ten lepers are not asked to pray for their healing. They are simply healed. It’s a free gift – nothing required. Jesus doesn’t ask anything of them. He is, however, clearly surprised that nine of them express no thanks for their life-changing experience. He doesn’t condemn them, or reverse the healing, but he is careful to point out that it is the gratitude of the one who turns around that makes him whole. The healing is life-changing; the gratitude is life-sustaining.
As we hear in Deuteronomy, faith is not simply a set of beliefs or opinions or rules. Rather, faith is gratitude for what God has done, and trust that God will continue to provide. Religious obedience doesn’t earn us anything, but prayer, worship and spiritual practice help to place our concerns and grief within the context of our blessings and joy.
There’s a scene in the old movie, Shenandoah, which my family recounts each year around the Thanksgiving table. None of us has watched the movie in decades, but it’s become a part of the celebration. In the movie, a farmer’s wife insists that he give thanks and say grace before dinner. He begins, “Well, I plowed the field and scattered the seed, I tended the livestock and watered the fields, I harvested and stored the crops, but my wife says I have to say thank you. So, thank you. Amen.”
Farmers and fishers on these lands, both indigenous and settler, have long had practices of giving thanks not only for healthy crops and full nets, but for whatever sees them through another year. In a similar way, it never ceases to amaze me how so many people, no matter badly off they are, will say things like, “Well, it could be worse.” It’s more than a deflection; often it’s also a way of putting our trials in a larger context of thankfulness.
Something I’ve certainly discovered the hard way is that if my mind and heart are focused on what’s wrong, everything will seem to be wrong; and when I can turn my attention to what is good and going well, my blessings, a change in my frame of mind is close at hand.
For me, that is what worship has nearly always done for me. My love of worship is not merely professional, or obedient, or the force of habit; it is joyful memory and exuberant response. In worship, we take time to remember how we have been healed and made whole, how we have been cared for and supported. We recall strength we found in the midst of grief, love that found us when we felt most alone. We remember, and we give thanks.
And it is in that act of gratitude that we are made whole. Because as people of faith we know that the promises of God can only be found together. There is no justice or peace, no mercy or forgiveness, no healing or wholeness that happens outside of relationship.
For a while now, and probably for a while longer, we have had to redefine what it means to be gathered. It used to be that gathering as the community was something we presumed was done in person. We have had to learn the hard way that while a building helps us to be in one place at one time, the work of being one Body – a community of one heart – has to continue outside of the building.
That work is phone calls and distance visits, checking-in and finding out, asking, listening, and doing what we can. When we gather in worship – either virtually or physically – we are giving thanks for what God has done in our lives in the week that has passed, and finding the strength to turn again to the work of being the Body, for each other and for God’s world.
On this Thanksgiving Sunday, I am deeply grateful for you and for God’s love at work in you. Amen.
God of all blessings, on this day and in this season we offer our thanks for the gift of life: for breath that sustains us, for food that nurtures us, for the love of family and friends. We give you thanks for this part of the world and the relative safety we enjoy.
We thank you for the wonder of life: for the beauty of creation, the joy of relationships, the knowledge we hold and imagination that fuels creativity and new insights.
We thank you for communities: for families who nurture us, for friends who love us, for those who share our burdens and daily tasks, for people from other backgrounds who call us to grow in understanding. We give thanks for children who lighten our moments and for those of older generations who offer us perspective. Help us to see your love reflected in all people.
We thank you for this day: for life and one more day to love,
for opportunity and one more day to work for peace and justice, for your grace and the experience of your presence and for your promise: to be with us, in life, in death and in life beyond death.
As we count our blessings we know there are many in need of our prayers and support:
– For those working for reconciliation and healing with our First Nations,
– For those striving for peace with justice – especially to end racial and ethnic discrimination.
– For those working for human rights in places like Afghanistan and Palestine and Israel.
– For refugees who have fled in fear from war, turmoil, disease and abject poverty and those who are working to support them.
– We pray also for those facing natural disasters and especially those exacerbated by climate change.
May all of our hearts be transformed so we join together in working for peace with justice, for healing and compassion for all people.
For all who are in need in our own hearts we lift their names before you; those who are ill in body and in spirit. We pray for healing and wellness, courage and strength. God of Love, we pray for those who grieve. Bless your people with the comforting presence of your Spirit.
Be with all of us as we give you our thanks. We ask these things in the name of Jesus, who teaches us to pray, Our Father, who art in heaven….