Lectionary Reflection, 21st Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
October 13, 2013
Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation. Psalm 111:1
Then 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? Luke 17:17-18
A parishioner in one of the congregations I’ve served always receives the bread and wine at communion by responding, “Thank you, Jesus!” The first time I heard him say these simple words, I was intrigued. It wasn’t so much the wording that struck me; it was the intent with which the words were spoken. A sense of real commitment and thankfulness is always present on his lips as his hands accept the bit of broken bread. His gratitude is conveyed regularly in word and deed–with a glad and thankful heart–because this man truly understands the unmerited grace and salvation that God has given to him in Christ Jesus.
Gratitude and thanksgiving are critical to faithful discipleship. And expressions of gratitude and thanksgiving are also frequently taken for granted or pushed to the sidelines in our hectic and overcommitted lives. So much is constantly coming at us that it is easy to forget what really matters, where our proverbial bread is buttered, and where our focus and energies need to be devoted. In short, what seems so easy on the surface is, in reality, hard to put into practice.
Think of Naaman in this week’s lesson from 2 Kings. A highly successful Syrian military leader, he was marginalized by a skin condition. His wife’s servant-girl paved the way for his healing, but Naaman had a hard time letting go of the idea that he needed to do more than follow the Prophet Elisha’s simple directions. He was offended, in fact, by the instruction to go wash in the muddy Jordan River. Really? That’s all there is to it? It took more of his servants to persuade him to listen, follow directions, and receive the promised healing. The lesson for us today? Why question God’s methods; listen, obey, and respond with a grateful heart. God is good. God is God; we are not. Enough said.
And then there’s Luke’s gospel, with its tale of ten men with a leprous skin condition that rendered them unclean and, therefore, on the outside of society. They seek healing, and Jesus gives it. Only one of them returns thanks to Jesus; the others are too busy getting back into their proper societal position. And who could blame them? After all, they were just following Jesus’ instructions, right? The one who returns is a real outsider–a Samaritan–who took a chance, who followed his heart and gave thanks to the one who really mattered. The lesson for us today? Sometimes you need to bend the rules and traditions to get it right. God works outside the box, so why shouldn’t we? A glad and generous heart may need to transcend the boundaries and redraw the margins. Like the Samaritan, let your faith make you well, move your heart, and inform your every breath and choice.
Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” If we begin there, with a simple thank you to God, then the rest will follow. Thanks first. Thanks always. Thanks in everything. One of the greatest gifts we can give to each other in Christian community is that of helping one another cultivate a spirit of gratitude. If we do this, the glad hearts and generous spirits will follow. After all, gratitude begets more gratitude, and the more gratitude you have the more abundance you see. Begin by saying “Thank you, Jesus.” That is enough. Really.
Before your weekly worship, seek volunteers who will be willing to identify one thing for which they are thankful. Invite them to write that one thing on a piece of card stock (For example, “Thank you God for eyes to see.”). Ask them to elaborate in just a few sentences about why they are thankful for this one thing (Example: “God, thank you for giving me eyes to see my spouse, my children, and your beautiful, broken, amazing world. I see you in everything, and I am filled with wonder and awe. Thank you.”). Record them holding their “one thing” sign and telling why they are thankful. If you have the ability to project video in worship, show these short clips. Post them to your website or YouTube channel. If you don’t have the ability to record and playback, invite your volunteers to stand up in front with their signs and share their stories live. The more we give thanks in community, the more thankful we become.
Psalm 111 is a wonderful one to use with youth. Here are some ideas for how to “unpack” this song of praise to God:
1. Use the final verse to talk about how we begin our journey to wisdom and mature discipleship. The NRSV translation of “The fear of the LORD” may not help youth grasp this important concept. How can you help them understand the nature of being in awe of the Creator of the Universe, or having an absolute reverence for the all-encompassing nature of God? What images, poems, and/or songs would resonate well?
2. Divide your youth into groups of two or three and assign each group one or more verses to illustrate in some way–using words, music, or image. Encourage them to find examples from the world and culture around them.
3. Together rewrite this psalm in your own words.
4. Examine verse one. Why is it important to give thanks in community? Why is community so important?
5. Write a thank you letter to God and post it somewhere in your congregational space for all to see.
Children are familiar with making lists of things they want–for birthday or Christmas, for example. Today, bring a list of things for which you want to express thanks to God. Then challenge the children to make their own “Thank You, God” list. Invite them to think of all the things for which they are thankful during the week and to write these things on a list to bring back next week. End with a “popcorn prayer” of thanksgiving, allowing each child to take a turn giving thanks.
Make a bulletin board of thanks from the children. Better yet, if you have the technology record them saying what they are thankful to God for and make a video or MP3 to play in worship or in a place where congregation members can watch or listen. If you do this, be certain to follow proper child protection procedures.