In the dusk of the evening this past Friday, I drove over to Cooney Dam in the hope that I would be able to get some wonderful pictures with my camera. For the most part, I didn’t have much luck. I saw the usual suspects . . . lots and lots of deer and geese; but nothing spectacular. Having driven two-thirds of the way around the lake, I pulled into a camping area to turn around. Just as I was about to make a turn I saw a flash of white. It landed on a fence post.
Of course I stopped my car. I had to see what it was. It was a pretty bird that was gray, then black, then white. At first I thought it was a Clark’s Nutcracker . . . but, it was too small. So, I whipped out my camera and started taking pictures. Amazingly, it let me take quite a few pictures before it tired of me and flew off.
I didn’t know what it was, but I was certain I would figure it out when I got home. All I knew was that it was something I had never seen before and it was a strikingly beautiful bird. All I could utter at that moment was “thank you.” I had been blessed.
Well, it turns out that the bird was a Northern Shrike. The Northern Shrike is a bird that is uncommon and fairly rare in this area. It is a hunter that feeds itself on small birds and rodents. Upon learning this, once again, all I could say was, “Wow! Thanks!”
It was pretty nice to receive a blessing at the end of a tough couple of weeks. With my job at the university I have been on the road eight out of ten days . . . lots of miles . . . and, lots of kids . . . looking in their ears and testing their hearing. It was nice to receive an unexpected gift. And, it was nice to be able to acknowledge that gift.
We are entering into the season of Thanksgiving . . . a season when we are encouraged to be thankful. But, it is tough to be thankful when we are constantly worrying about life and the world around us. There seems to be plenty to worry about whether it is as a nation, state, community, or even family. We are living in some pretty worrisome times. We might do better with a little moaning, groaning, and complaining . . . good ol’ biblical lamenting, than lifting up thanks. But, we are called to giving thanks . . . thanksgiving.
It is something we should consider, especially in light of our scripture reading this morning.
As with many of the stories in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus encounters a group of outsiders . . . ten lepers. These ten individuals called out to Jesus to heal them of their leprosy. From a distance, Jesus heals them and tells them to go to the local priest to be declared healed. And, they went . . . except for one. One of the men, seeing that he was healed, returned to Jesus, threw himself at the feet of Jesus, and thanked him profusely.
Now, in this story, there are a couple of things taking place. First, there is the healing . . . Jesus said that they were healed and they were healed. By sending them to the local priest this would be confirmed . . . and, the ten did exactly what they were told to do. They did nothing wrong and they still received the blessing. But, it was only one who recognized the immensity of the blessings . . . only one who returned to give thanks for the blessing he had received. Now, remember, the other nine had done nothing wrong. They did exactly what they were told to do.
Second, the man who returns to give thanks . . . well, he is blessed a second time. True, like the other nine he was blessed with healing, but this time he receives something deeper . . . he receives wholeness . . . he is saved. He received the blessing that comes from recognizing blessing and giving thanks--the blessing, that is, of wholeness and salvation. This guy got the whole picture, and for getting the whole picture he discovers the wholeness and holiness that comes with complete intimacy with the Holy.
It is powerful to not only receive a blessing, but to also acknowledge it . . . to name it and give thanks for it. Think about those moments when you have felt that power.
Last Sunday, as I sat back and watched our choir and others sing and fellowship with the residents at two care facilities . . . to see the residents singing along, laughing, talking . . . I was blessed in a powerful moment of hospitality, and all I could do was to say, “Thank you.”
On Friday evening, as I drove around, the sun was setting on the mountains . . . the clouds were vibrant in color . . . and, soaring in the air, playing in the wind currents, was a solitary Bald Eagle . . . looping and playing in glorious sky. Again, I was blessed . . . and, all I could say was, “Thank you.”
At our first soup supper and discussion a few weeks ago, I sat there listening to conversations, enjoying the laughter, relishing the food . . . and just looking around at those who were gathered there . . . and, I was blessed. In that blessing, all I could utter was, “Thank you.”
According to one biblical commentator, “Thanksgiving is like that. It springs from perception--our ability to recognize blessing--and articulation--giving expression, no matter how inadequate it may seem at the time, or our gratitude for that blessing. And every time these two are combined--sight and word--giving thanks actually grants a second blessing.”
Gratitude--giving thanks--is huge. It draws us out of ourselves into something larger, bigger, and grander than we could imagine and joins us to the font of blessing itself . . . into the presence of God . . . into the Holy. It frees us from fear, releases us from anxiety, and emboldens us to do more and dare more than we’d ever imagine.
Which brings us back to that tenth leper . . . the one who came back. This was a man with many strikes against himself. Not only was he an outside because of his leprosy, he was also an outsider because he was a Samaritan. In his healing he realized that he was more than leper or a Samaritan . . . he realized that he had been acknowledge as a child of God, whole and accepted and beautiful just as he was. With his words, Jesus affirms this, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
The world is full of blessing and challenges . . . which will we focus on? True, there are times for lamenting . . . but, given the day and age we live in, maybe we need to remember the tenth leper.
The 14th century German theologian, Meister Eckhart reminds us, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” May we become a people of giving thanks . . . a people of wholeness and holiness. Amen.