It happened that as he made his way toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Taking a good look at them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”
They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”
Luke 17:11-19 The Message (MSG)
Today is a very personal reflection on thanksgiving. Quite understandably some are not interested in reading personal stories. I have no concern whatsoever, if having been cautioned, you wish to skip this week. Next week’s newsletter is on “assisted suicide.”
I often quote the above passage around this time of year and I remember using it quite obviously to give thanks. The implication being that if I give thanks I am the leper that came back not like “all those others.”
The truth is, in all our angst about carrying the message of Easter and Christmas through the whole year, we do no better carrying the message of thanksgiving much past the over-consumption of an unnecessary meal that some of us participate in. By the way, the financially self-interested Lottery Commission of BC (some might call it predacious given what it is selling) used to have the slogan “Know your limit, play within it.” They now use the more obscure, but equally useless, slogan “Know your game sense.” For you fidgety, linear types, this illustration has a point… When it comes to the under-exhorted sin of gluttony, we should plagiarize the Lottery Corporation for at least holiday celebrations. We should say to each other “know your limit, eat within it”, which, by the way, for the average non-gluttonous male is 2000 calories. My non-gluttonous female friends will have to look their own number up. It’s easy to Google.
The truth is, I am one of the lepers that got away; or more accurately, I am regularly leaving Jesus without thanking Him. I don’t practise thanksgiving well. It took me until last Sunday night, when my wife Kerry read me a children’s book that she had come across a while ago. It was narrated by a 9 year old child who was annoyed at the lack of material wealth of her family, only to be led through a discussion of putting a pretty heavy price tag on the richness of their family experiences from sunsets to oceanscapes to working outdoors. It’s just the kind of story I am usually able to detach myself from. I tried to detach, but I couldn’t and I began to explore my own thanklessness.
I like to think of myself as thankful. I can tell you lots of things that are on my list of gratitude; my faith, my spouse, my family, food and housing security, the calling that has become my vocation… many good and exciting things. Our new grandson has just begun to smile and is just on the other side of the ambiguous question as to whether that wee grin is a product of pleasure or gas (I will be deeply grieved if anyone who reads this letter suggests otherwise). I can give you lists of thanksgivings, but I don’t live my gratitude out. I am not someone who, like the single leper, returned full of gratitude; who was constantly reminded for the rest of their lives that Christ was the source of all good gifts. I am the forgetful one. I am the one who does not sit down to savour. Unlike Romans, when it comes to thanksgiving I am the one that likes to think of myself more highly than I ought: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3). I am the kind of person like Saturday Night Live’s Church Lady who is tempted to believe that I receive good things from God because I am special. I am not particularly special. I am just another ungrateful leper.
I am reminded of how fleeting my experiences of gratefulness are. I went hiking with my wife Kerry and another couple in Scotland this summer visiting Iona and Holy Island amongst many places. I also went to the BWA meetings in South Africa, and to Holy Trinity Brompton in London; gracious, good, overwhelming places that I am grateful for.
I wrote notes and then I started to re-create a chronology of the things that I had experienced. I can never quite get the chronology, journaling, or lists of gratitude done.
I had some incredibly profound, spiritually renewing experiences when I was away in Scotland, London, and South Africa this summer. It began on the plane taxiing down the runway in Vancouver, listening to the wonderfully contrasting music of Handel’s Messiah and the Keats Band. It continued (but was not limited to) a kind gentleman handing out scripture verses on slate from an old, renovated church roof. A verse which he gave to me, unbeknownst of my need of it; “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27). A gift from the older man, and from God, to me in my need.
I have rarely had a more renewing three week period in my life, but already 10 weeks out, the clarity of it is fading. The emotions are dulled and the context is getting fuzzier. I am not seizing upon the gifts I was given that should be food for me for a very long time. Maybe if I commit to sharing them with you in a newsletter I will finish the process, but the sad thing is my motive for thanksgiving should be from within as a response to God, not as an obligation or task to someone else.
You see for me, telling you the reader how thankful I am is often more about me feeling good about myself than it really is about being thankful. When Kerry read me the children’s book, I recalled how deep seeded my resentment, hurt, and anger is over being raised in a home where so much was scarce. There so many things were in short supply, and from a kids point of view, the reason why we were poorer than many of the others in the church is because it was people in the church who were the ones that paid my dad. I remember how it did not change until an American church offered my dad a job at double the money he was getting, and suddenly the church that he was at got convicted and offered him much more money than he was receiving. I started to let those resentful thoughts slip through my fingers like water that I couldn’t contain. They may have had a place in a child’s imagination, but their reality had nothing on my real experience: the love of my parents; the gift of faith at Gull Lake; the fun it was in being a volunteer labourer at Strathcona when the church was built when I was only 10 years old that still felt part of a larger body; the kindness of so many “uncles and aunts” in the church community that loved me not because of my parents but because God first loved them and we were family together; the youth groups that I got to be part of; the wide range of experiences that I have been able to have; the gift of ongoing new life in a journey with Christ, and so very, very much more. You see, it takes me a lot of work to not take the gifts of God and run… not reflecting, not giving thanks, not celebrating. Like the lepers that didn’t return thinking somehow I have come to deserve these things, when in fact every breath, every day, every relationship and opportunity is an ongoing gift from God.
So, may I continue to learn the gift of thanksgiving. Might the old resentments, injustices and unfairness’s, both very imagined and very real, slip away and might I, in this new season of thanksgiving, truly give thanks. May I stop being just another leper, but one who is thankful for the ongoing mending of God in my life. May I be found running back to Jesus to thank Him daily, keeping accounts of good things, not wrongs, and relearning everyday to be thankful by giving thanks to the author of all good things, the Christ, daily.