Sermon for the WELCA Thankoffering Service:
Deuteronomy 8:7-18 Philippians 4:4-9 Luke 17:11-19
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ.
When I was a child, one of the days I did not look forward to was the day after Christmas. That was the designated day when I was supposed to write the thank you notes for all the presents I received from relatives out of town. My parents had a rule that you couldn’t play with anything until you wrote the notes. I am sure I would have procrastinated for a long time otherwise.
I hated writing anything out in long hand. I still avoid it. My handwriting has never been very good. It is quite laborious for me to sit down and write a note that someone can actually read.
But the handwritten part wasn’t the only thing I didn’t like about the thank you notes. It was hard to figure out what to say. It was, of course, easier if I liked the gift. “Dear Aunt Betty, Thanks for the cross stitch kit. It was so kind of you to remember how much I love both cats and needlework. I will enjoy stitching this picture of a kitty. Love, Carolyn.”
But if I didn’t like the gift, I still had to say something nice about it in the note. “Dear Uncle Sam, Thanks for the doll baby. I know you don’t see me very often, but I have grown a lot this year and now that I am in high school, I don’t really play with dolls much anymore.”
“Dear grandma, Thanks for the big sister dress you made for me that matches the one you made for my little sister. Ever since we have been old enough to dress ourselves, we have hated being dressed alike.”
Nope, those notes would not pass my mother’s inspection. I would need to say the doll had a pretty pink dress and compliment my grandmothers sewing or something like that. Can’t hurt their feelings by telling them I am not six anymore.
Saying thank you is more than just good manners though. We don’t do it just to be polite. It is part of the relationship we have with others.
Saying thank you is an important part of our relationship with God. It reminds us that all that we are and all that we have comes from God who heals and saves us.
All three of our lessons and our psalm today remind us of the importance of gratitude in our relationship with God. Paul tells us that we shouldn’t worry about anything, but we should pray about our concerns with thanksgiving.
Often our prayers can be like my childish thank you notes – procrastinated and not particularly grateful for what we have received.
It is much easier to remember to pray for what we think we need – than to pray a prayer of thanksgiving. If you ask any group of Christians for their prayer requests, you will hear a lot about what people need and how they are hurting. These prayers are certainly appropriate and good. But you will only get a few requests for prayers of thanksgiving.
I don’t know if this is partly a matter of humility or modesty. Perhaps we don’t want to sound like we are bragging that things are going well for us when they seeming to be going so badly for others.
I wonder if this is the case in our private prayers as well. In today’s gospel, only one of the ten lepers who was healed came back to say thank you to Jesus. It seems that many of us could use some help in expressing our gratitude.
Being thankful does not seem to come naturally to us. We need to learn it and practice it. I would like to suggest a couple of examples for us in expressing gratitude to God.
The first example is from the Jewish tradition, the religion of the Old Testament and of Jesus. This tradition has prayers for almost every occasion. Here are a few examples of ways and times to express our thanks to God.
On eating a seasonal fruit for the first time in its season
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.
On hearing thunder
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, whose strength and power fill the universe.
On seeing an exceptionally beautiful field, tree, or flower
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has this in the universe.
And even this one!
On seeing an exceptionally strange looking animal
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who makes the creatures different
Jesus grew up learning to say a prayer of thanksgiving in every circumstance. It seems it could be a good practice for us too.
Another way for us to learn gratitude is to follow the example of the poor. As unlikely as it seems, those who are poor are often the most grateful. Those of us who have enough, often take our daily bread for granted.
In his book Gracias! A Latin American Journal, Henri Nouwen tells us: “Gratitude is one of the most visible characteristics of the poor that I have come to know. I am always surrounded by words of thanks: ‘Thanks for your visit, your blessing, your sermon, your prayer, your gifts, your presence with us.’ Even the smallest and most necessary goods are a reason for gratitude. This all-pervading gratitude is the basis for celebration. Not only are the poor grateful for life, but they also celebrate life constantly. A visit, a reunion, a simple meeting are always like little celebrations. Every time a new gift is recognized, there are songs or toasts, words of congratulation, or something to eat and drink. And every gift is shared. ‘Have a drink, take some fruit, eat our bread’ is the response to every visit I make, and this is what I see people do for each other. All of life is a gift, a gift to be celebrated, a gift to be shared.”
Like the poor, we can thank God by sharing what God has given us. All of life is a gift to be celebrated and shared. This is what we are doing today with this thank offering service.
Today we are especially grateful for the gifts that God has given the Women of the ELCA here at St. Marks. We are thankful that God has blessed them with the joy of sharing with others. We are thankful that their gifts will go to help people in need both locally and globally.
But we are most thankful today for the gift of salvation that comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As he healed the ten lepers, he heals and saves us.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give God thanks and praise. Amen.