October 11, 1998
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture - Luke 17: 11 - 19

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance,13 they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"14 When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean.15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.17 Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"19 Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

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What I want to draw from this passage today may not be the main message the author wished to communicate when it was included in the gospel. As it is written we have ten people infected with leprosy, ten people who are suffering and on top of their suffering are outcasts from their family, friends, and community. They are forced to live on the edge of society, outside the villages, and to keep their distance from all others. And so as Jesus approaches the village they cry out from a distance: "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"

Jesus does have mercy and tells them to "Go and show yourselves to the priests."

Now the reason Jesus sends them off to the priest can be found in Jewish law. In Leviticus 14: we read: The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: This shall be the ritual for the leprous person at the time of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest; the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall make an examination.

So Jesus sends them to the priest, and on the way they are cleansed of their disease. Out of the ten, one, realizing that he has been made well, turns around and goes back to Jesus to offer thanks. He goes "praising God with a loud voice." He throws himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan

This story appears only in the Gospel of Luke, and Luke is the only Gospel written, we think, by someone outside the Jewish community. So it may well be that right here we have the main point for the author - that it was the Samaritan, the foreigner, who came back to give thanks to Jesus.

And so Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

Now that last sentence is sometimes translated with a slight difference of English words, and some of those words may give a better sense of the text than the translation I’ve read today. Sometimes this sentence reads: Your faith has saved you. Sometimes it reads: Your faith has made you whole.

What interests me in this story for today is not the fact that the one who came back to give thanks to Jesus was a Samaritan, a foreigner, but rather that his returning to give thanks seems to have conferred upon him a blessing that was even greater than the miraculous healing from leprosy. And this leads me to ask three questions:

How can a relationship change when we say "Thank You?"

How can we be changed when we say "Thank You?"

How can we be changed when we say "Thank You" to God?

First, How can a relationship change when we say "Thank You?"

I have both very mundane and very profound experience with this question. I hesitate to tell you the first because if you realize how small minded I am you may not listen to anything else I have to say. But here goes. I approach the counter to check out at CVS. There are three lines and, naturally I am seeking the line which will be the quickest. It’s like a little game - I call it line lotto - and unfortunately I am not very good at it. Inevitably I will pick the slowest line. You know its going to be a slow line when the your checker calls over the intercom: Price check on the $1.99 wrapping paper.

You watch all the other lines move. People come into the store, get prescriptions filled and leave and you’re still waiting. A woman comes in pregnant and leaves with a two week old child and you’re still waiting! Finally, you get up to the counter and your items are rung up, bagged, and handed to you. What are you going to do with all that frustration. Are you going to take it with you out the door or do you remember to say "Thank You."

And in a nice way - not THANK YOU#@#$$#@!!

On a deeper level, there is in us, I think, a profound impulse to say "Thank You" to those important people in our lives who have raised us, who have loved us, who have supported us in good times and bad. Sometimes we are awfully close to those people and the intensity and scope of our emotions cloud over the bright sun of our appreciation and gratitude. I know that when my parents moved to New Milford and were in the nursing home, there was a lot to time to sort out these issues and yet there were still many day to day difficulties and frustrations that got in the way. We were fortunate. The situation evolved slowly and we did find the time to say "Thank You" to one another. I needed to say it and I needed to hear it. And in spite of many mistakes and shortcomings and missed opportunities, it was those two simple words that seemed to make the relationship whole.

The second question was: How can we be changed when we say "Thank You?"

When we say thank you, we experience gratitude, and gratitude is a powerful, powerful force that changes all who come close to it and are touched by it - the people expressing it and the people receiving it.

In his discussion of love, the evangelist John wrote: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;

We could say something similar about gratitude: gratitude casts out resentment, rancor, ill will, the suspicion of being cheated, all those bitter feelings that well up in the heart and sour us emotionally and wreak havoc with our relationships and with our peace of mind.

The nurturing of gratitude in our hearts is perhaps the single most important spiritual discipline that we can undertake in this life. Gratitude overcomes apathy; gratitude overcomes complacency; gratitude overcomes cynicism.

There is a story about a man named William Stidger, a professor at Boston University, who mentioned one day to a friend that he was very grateful to a high school teacher named Mrs. Wendt who had introduced him to the works of Tennyson. The friend asked Dr. Stidger if he had ever told Mrs. Wendt how much he appreciated her contribution to his life. When the professor said he had not, the friend suggested he write her. Dr. Stidger decided to do just that, and before long he had a return letter from Mrs. Wendt. She had written:

Dear Willie,

I can’t tell you how much your note meant to me. I am in my 80’s and living alone in a small room, cooking my own meals, lonely and like the last leaf of fall lingering behind. You will be interested to know that I taught school for 50 years, and yours is the first note of appreciation I have ever received. It came on a blue, cold morning and it cheered me as nothing has in years.

For a moment Dr. Stidger was not a plump balding professor rounding 50 years of age - he was Willie, a kid in High School, and fresh on the realization of his own power to make the world a better place with the simple act of remembering to say Thank You.

My third question was: "How can we be changed when we say "Thank You" to God?"

You can thank your teachers for gifts of learning and knowledge, but God is the only one you can thank for beauty and knowledge itself.

You can thank your parents for many gifts, but God is the only one you can thank for the gift of your parents.

You can thank lots of people for lots of things, but God is the only one you can thank for being who you are.

Do we have the confidence to thank God for who we are?

We have been taping the Oprah show the past couple of weeks. She’s had on as a guest John Gray who wrote: Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.

I can never get that straight - when couples come in for a pre-marital session, I have to ask them, "Now which one of you is from Mars?"

But, getting back to the point, I don’t watch a lot of Oprah, and it has come as something of a revelation to me how much discussion there is about prayer and God on the show. John Gray, in particular, talked about the importance of prayers of thanks to God for the gifts God has given us in our lives. Identifying our gifts, understanding what we want from life, seeking out opportunities to use our gifts and receive what we need in return, and then giving thanks to God for both the gifts we are able to give and the gifts we are blessed to receive - these are the steps to an abundant life. And remembering to say "Thank You" is what builds faith in God and confidence in ourselves.

There is a bit of a fine line here. We don’t want to turn confidence in ourselves into contempt for others. We don’t want to exalt ourselves at the expense of anyone else. What we are talking about here is a humble appreciation for the grace of God and the gifts God has given us to be of some use and do some good in this world. Remembering to say thank you to God is a gift of grace, and can be a transforming force in our lives.

Finally, giving thanks to God puts the universe in the right order. It is not simply a suggestion, not simply a good experience we can add to a list of important things we should do each day like brush, floss, eat bran and rotate our tires. Giving thanks to God is a commandment of scripture:

(1 Chronicles 16:8-11)

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,

make known his deeds among the peoples.

Sing to him, sing praises to him,

tell of all his wonderful works.

Glory in his holy name;

let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

Seek the Lord and his strength,

seek his presence continually.

Did I remember to say Thank you to you for listening to all this?

Did I remember to say Thank you to those I love for their support and encouragement?

Did I remember to say Thank you to those who have gone before for the wonderful gift of this place of worship, this heritage of freedom, this life of comfort and abundace?

Did I remember to say Thank you to God, Thank you for life itself, Thank you for the gift of new beginnings in Jesus Christ, Thank you for the hope of an eternity in which to feel the power of gratitude and appreciate the blessings of faith and hope and love.

O give thanks to the LORD, for God is good;

God’s steadfast love endures forever.

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Let us pray:

Holy God, in the quiet of this moment, call us by name, lift our spirits, deepen our faith and give us new eyes to see your blessings in our lives. For you are the giver of peace, the source of joy and a whisper of love in the stillness. Speak to our hearts as we open them before you in silence.

Holy One, mold our prayers with your tender hands so that the words of our mouths and the whispers of our hearts find their way to you. For our prayers are not only for ourselves, but for all we know who are in need of your comfort and strength.

O God, the refuge of the poor, the hope of the humble, the salvation of the needy; hear us as we pray for those who are worn by illness, for all who are wronged or oppressed, and for the weary and heavy laden, that they may be strengthened by your grace and healed by your consolations. Especially we pray for the families of our beloved departed: Bill Van Buskirk, Dorthea Weidner, Hortensia Roger, Ray Adams, Richard Gershman, Grace Eddy, Clarence Burden, Angie D’Aqulia.

We pray for the healing of Margie Buide, Kevin Lathrop, Barbara Holsten, Pastor Hank Lay, Betty Remmes, Elizabeth Wolff,

We ask your blessing to be with the families who receive the gifts of Baby Bundles, with those being confirmed today at Our Lady of the Lake Church and with Scott Flaton and Jennifer McAlley who were married here yesterday.

For those name in the quiet of our hearts:

Strengthen and direct us by your spirit, O God. In the week ahead help us to honestly make amends to any we have hurt, neglected, offended or oppressed. And give us a proper sense of appreciation for all those who love us and care for us. Open our eyes to the abundance of your blessings in our lives, so we may gain a spirit of generosity, compassion, and forgiveness, for this is the Spirit of Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray: Amen

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