Summary: Part of our life of discipleship is expressing gratitude to God in every occasion, even (and especially) when gratitude feels difficult and God seems distant.
I imagine that most of us had that childhood experience where every request was followed by the question, “What do you say?” And then, once we received whatever it was we were seeking, our parents would follow-up with, “Now, what do you say?” Of course, this was our training in saying “Please” and “Thank you.” And if our parents were as successful as they probably wanted to be, the end result is that we now include “please” and “thank you” at all the appropriate times without even thinking about it. Yet, the problem with such rote practices is that the words can sort of lose their meaning because there is no true thought behind them. It’s almost as bad as if you just didn’t even say “thank you” at all.
Last week, we talked about the importance of practicing communion every day of our lives as a way of working towards the sort of unity with God and one another that God calls us to, and which is represented in the Lord’s Supper. I want to extend this idea this morning to include practicing communion as a way of living a life of gratitude. One of the names we have for communion in Eucharist, from the Greek, eukharistia, which means “thanksgiving.” To frame our consideration of thanksgiving and gratitude as an integral to our way of life, we have this healing story of the ten lepers from Luke’s gospel. I think this is one of the best stories in the gospels to show us the importance of gratitude in our lives. Ten lepers were healed from their skin disease, but only one, the Samaritan returned to give thanks to Christ. And when he did, true healing occurred, as Christ said, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.”
When I was in college, I received one of the greatest life lessons ever, though in a most unfortunate way. My college marching band practiced quite early every Saturday morning during marching season. On one of those Saturdays, the band director stopped on his way to campus and bought doughnuts and juice for the entire band. We all enjoyed the special treat that day, only to find out two days later that not a single person in the band had bothered to thank the band director for his generous gesture. This man had left his home early and spent what must’ve been a considerable amount of his own money in order to give us a special treat on an early Saturday morning. And out of the roughly 85 members of the band who enjoyed those doughnuts that morning, not a single one of us had bothered to say “thank you” to our teacher. When the band director pointed this out to us a couple of days later, we quickly rushed to offer our thanks, but the damage was already done. It was too late.
But here’s the thing that we have to consider today. How would our “thank yous” be different if our lives literally depended on what someone else did for us? In one respect, it’s so easy for us to just throw out “thank yous” here and there and everywhere as we go about our day-to-day lives. By the same token, it’s also quite easy for us to forget to say “thank you” from time to time when someone extends a nice gesture to us. But that changes quite a lot when our very life hangs in the balance and our well-being is in someone else’s hands. Or, at least, it should change. What we see in our scripture reading this morning, though, is that gratitude is one of the most important aspects of a life of faith.
Our reading from Luke tells the story of ten lepers who were healed by Jesus. But the thing is, the story isn’t really about the healing, that’s more of a sidebar to the actual story, which is about the one leper who came back to Jesus to say “thanks.” And even as we consider the gratitude expressed by this leper, what Jesus really wants to teach us is a lesson of faithful discipleship.
This healing story falls in Luke’s gospel in the midst of an extended lesson on discipleship. And what we are to understand here is that to “have faith” is to live it, and to live it is to give thanks. It is living a life of gratitude that constitutes living a life of faith, being a faithful disciple—this is the sort of grateful faith that has made this man from Samaria truly well. Indeed, Jesus wants us to see that “faith” and “gratitude” are really two words for the same thing: to practice gratitude is to practice faith. If faith is not something we have, but something we do, something we live, then in living we express our complete trust in God and offer all of our gratitude to God, the giver of all good things.