Why Should We Give Thanks?
Deuteronomy 8: 7-18; Luke 17: 11-19
Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes United, Oct 09, 2011
Thank you, God, source of all life and wholeness, for living among us, your people. May we rejoice in your grace, in which we live and move and have our being, with gratitude. Amen.
The provincial election is over. Whenever elections take place here, I am always reminded of what happened in my native country, South Korea, until the early nineties. There were no elections in any real sense. Typically, there was only one candidate, usually a military dictator, during Presidential elections. Supported by the United States, it was presented to the world as a democratic election. Throughout three decades, inspired and guided by many dedicated political activists, people took to the streets and finally ended the military dictatorships and elected a civilian President by a fair election process for the first time in their history in 1991. It was a costly endeavour; it claimed thousands and thousands of lives. So many political activists or opponents were brutally tortured and killed during this long movement toward democracy.
Because of that experience, I am always excited during elections, federal, provincial and municipal. To me, the election process itself is very important. I always rejoice in the opportunity for all citizens to be part of forming our governments ourselves, since governments have such an impact on our everyday lives. In my native country, I gave thanks to those who dedicated themselves to the democratic movement, especially those who offered their lives during the various political uprisings. Here in Canada, I do not know any specific group of people to whom I should give thanks for this well-developed electoral system.
According to today’s readings from both Deuteronomy and Luke, the people living in Palestine thousands of years ago, also wondered about to whom to give thanks. On this Thanksgiving Sunday, today’s passages express wonder and joy at the goodness and abundance of God’s creation. Yet, each reading also refers to the reality of our human tendency to forget or ignore the source of all this goodness and our failure to give thanks. Often we do not even fully recognize our abundance. We do not feel grateful and instead of sharing our blessings with others, we find ourselves clutching what we have and longing for more!
The whole book of Deuteronomy reflects the joy experienced by the Israelites as they discover the richness and beauty of the land of Canaan. Written centuries after the stories of Moses’ life and death, it shares, with all who listen, the wonder of what they had received in the past. It was theirs by the gift of God, not by their own strength or will. In today’s reading, the people are cautioned that when they reach the promised land they may feel inclined to believe that it was through their own skills that they had acquired all these blessings.
The Luke reading describes Jesus’ encounter as he journeys to Jerusalem with some people living with leprosy. People afflicted with leprosy or some similarly debilitating skin disease lived in isolated villages, segregated from others because of their illness, but close enough to receive charity. Interestingly, the band of ten outcasts who travelled together was made up of nine Jews and one Samaritan. Under different circumstances, the Jews would have had nothing to do with a Samaritan. But here they band together out of common need! Sometimes we learn through painful experience what our ignorance prevents us from discovering when all is going well!
The ten people with leprosy, keeping the appropriately prescribed distance, call out for Jesus to heal them. Jesus responds by telling them to go and show themselves to the priest, an official act to be performed when a person was healed of a skin disease. (Leviticus 13 & 14)
Although they are not yet healed, those with leprosy trust Jesus and hurry off to see the priests. On their way, the story records, they are healed! When the Samaritan realizes this, he returns to Jesus to express his gratitude. It appears that the other nine forgot to give thanks. Jesus blesses the Samaritan and says, “Your faith has made you well.” The others may have been cured of leprosy, but it was the outcast Samaritan who had been made whole. It may be helpful here to note that the Greek word for wholeness is often translated as salvation.
Ten were healed, but only one recognized the healing for what it was. When he saw the healing, the Samaritan did not just celebrate his good fortune; he returned to praise God and fall on his face before Jesus in the manner of profound gratitude. What about the other nine? One may wonder if the absence of the ability to be grateful reveals a self-centeredness or an attitude that one deserves more.
Last week, I read an insightful article in the latest ‘United Church Observer’ about giving thanks. In her article, titled, “Giving Thanks amid Uncertainty,” the Rev. Trisha Elliott says that thanking God is easy when things go right, but hardship can foster a more radical kind of gratitude. Quoting another writer, she says that there are many moving stories of people who have expressed gratitude in extremely difficult times: “Through their acts of gratitude, they did not let themselves be defined by death and destruction. Because of gratitude, death did not have dominion.”
I think the Rev. Elliott offers us an insight into the very reason why we should give thanks. We give thanks not because God wants to be thanked or Jesus calls us to do so, but because we will be empowered to shift our attention from the drone of negativity and despair within and around us to the bigger question of God’s claim on our life. By giving thanks, we find strength to transfer our focus from our brokenness to God’s embracing love for us. According to Elliott, giving thanks does not deny pain or grief. Giving thanks means that even while feeling all the pain or loss deeply, one chooses to rest in the gracious presence of God, “in life, in death, in life beyond death.” It is knowing that we are more than the sum of our pain.
Two Sundays from today, we are going to have a special Congregational Meeting to make a decision based on our Joint Needs Assessment Committee (JNAC)’s report and recommendations. Our JNAC deserves our deep thanks for their hard work. It took them months of painstaking commitment. They have met almost twenty times including conference calls since last June, even without any breaks during the summer. Recently they worked so long in the Barbara Christie Room, spending so many hours in each meeting, even to a whole day, to finalize their documents that they were thinking they needed to set up bunk beds there.
As you read the report, which will be available very soon, you will see that they have produced a well-crafted document about our ministry personnel needs. You will be impressed by their superb ability to describe eloquently who we are as a congregation and what we need in terms of the skills and gifts of the ordained minister we are seeking.
Following a list of our needs for ordained ministry, the position description ends like this:
Above all else, we need an experienced minister who recognizes and shares largesse of heart; who understands and accepts the many diverse ways in which we express our faith and love for our own community, and the larger community, and all of God's creation.
How does that sound to you? However, let us not miss the part about what you have gone through in terms of your relationship with previous ministers. You have experienced enormous challenges including the sense of profound loss since the retirement of your over-two-decade-long, dedicated and much loved minister and subsequently, the feeling of painful separation from your next minister as she left on long-term medical leave. Our JNAC invites you to acknowledge your pain and grief of the past with honesty and give thanks to those who have walked with you in such difficult times including your two previous supply ministers.
Today, we are invited to give thanks to all those who have journeyed with us, and to God, in order to be enabled and empowered to begin a journey anew with an incoming minister next year. Our JNAC declares: “We are a resilient congregation…. We have worked hard to be who we are - an open congregation, a loving congregation, a wise congregation, an Affirming congregation” and a living congregation. Thanks be to God. Amen.