Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 10/10

          “There are two little magic words that can open any door with ease, one little word is thanks and the other little word is please.”  Please and thank you; from the time little kids are able to respond parents teach them the two little magic words.  For example, I remember after birthdays and Christmas, being made to write thank you notes to my grandparents and anyone else beyond the immediate family who had given me a present.  When little kids come to the door on Halloween, I notice that they either say thank you on their own or there is someone behind them reminding them, “What do you say?”  You can argue the merits of Halloween, but if nothing else it helps teach kids to say thank you. 

          It’s called manners and we do notice good manners, we notice the pleases and the thank yous along with other expressions and actions that help to keep life civil and we also notice the lack thereof.  Good manners can get carried to Eddie Haskell-ish extremes too which kind of make a mockery of them, but still, that’s better than the boorish lack of manners that is so prevalent in much of what passes for public discourse these days. 

          On the surface, the gospel story today is about manners; it’s been used that way as kind of an example story contrasting the one who returned to offer thanks to Jesus with the other nine who went on their way.  But as is usually the case with stories about Jesus, we can assume that there is more going on here.  Luke doesn’t include this story in his gospel so he can be an early version of Emily Post or Miss Manners.

          Theologically, giving thanks is more than good manners.  In fact, saying “thank you” may be the most characteristic way that people address God in the Bible.  It’s not the only way, not by a long shot, but much of the interaction between the people and God is to express joy and wonder and thanks for a gift or an action that has changed things, the understanding being that God is the one who has caused this change.  Sometimes it’s thanks for a gift already received, sometimes it’s in trust and anticipation concerning what God is going to do.  Usually such thanksgiving is done in a worship setting, hence today’s Psalm, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.  Great are your works, O Lord, pondered by all who delight in them.”

          The reason for giving thanks??  Because, “It is right to give our thanks and praise,” as we say in the communion liturgy.  It is right for us to give thanks, but that could just be good manners, being polite like it’s right to say thank you when you receive Halloween candy.  But this thanks to God isn’t just for the sake of being polite; it also gets to the heart of the divine/human relationship; it’s recognition of dependence on the one whose works are great, the one who gives the gifts and that’s important. 

This relationship into which we are invited is a real relationship in which we as humans can come to God with everything from praise to complaint; God has expectations of us but we have expectations of God too. Giving thanks is part of the package though, because it’s recognition that while we can come to God with whatever we’ve got, it is never an equal relationship; it’s the old God is God and we’re not.  Saying thank you then has the effect of strengthening the reality of that relationship.  It does something for both parties, but significantly it focuses on the dependence and need…and finally the gratitude of the one offering thanks.

          With that in mind, consider the story of the ten lepers.  On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples encounter these ten men.  These days the thinking is that the disease called leprosy in the Bible really wasn’t all that serious; but that doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that serious or not, this condition caused one to be an outcast, separated from family and the rest of the community and you could say separated from God as well, as proper worship would have been impossible because of being unclean.  Sometimes such people would band together in small misery loves company communities and that seems to be the case with the lepers in this story.

          Apparently they had heard about Jesus as the text says they approached him, but it also says that they kept their distance; they approached but they kept their distance because they knew they weren’t supposed to get too close, but they were close enough to cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”  Was this an expression of faith in Jesus or did they use similar words with every rabbi or holy man that happened to come by?  We can’t say for sure, but my guess would be the latter. 

          Curiously, upon their appeal to him, Jesus didn’t announce their healing.  There’s no physical contact with these lepers, Jesus didn’t really engage them at all; he just told them to go to the priest, the priests being the ones who, in such cases, decided whether or not one could be welcomed back into normal social relationships including proper worship.  The ten lepers obediently did what Jesus told them to do and as they went on their way they were healed!  Nine continued on, doing what they were told, and only one, a Samaritan, came back to find Jesus and worshipfully express his thanks. 

          Jesus was a little indignant about the other nine; “Where are they?” he asked, but note that they were just doing what he told them to do.  Jesus then ends this exchange by saying, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well,” and we wonder what he meant by that; your faith has made you well.  It’s a verse that gets misused or misinterpreted by people thinking that “If only my faith were stronger, then I’d get better or my prayers for others that they get better would be more effective,” and in such cases faith is most often thought be the absence of doubt in certain doctrinal propositions. 

          But that’s not what’s going on here.  Jesus is responding to the man’s act of giving thanks.  There’s no quiz on proper belief or on what his religious or moral values are.  The fact that he was a Samaritan would suggest that if such things were the criteria for faith, some of his beliefs would be the wrong ones; but Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well.”

          The other nine were made well too; they were made clean as they traveled to see the priest.  The only thing that separated the Samaritan from the others was the act of offering thanks to Jesus.  Was his healing different because of that act?  Does giving thanks have something to do with faith?  The answer to both of those questions is “Yes” as Jesus affirms the power of offering thanks as an act of faith that strengthens relationship.  He wasn’t just commending the Samaritan for good manners; this did have to do with faith.  Being grateful and saying thank you are at the heart of God’s hope for the human race, so giving thanks has to do with God’s intent for each of us.

          One definition of sin is that it is anything that distances or separates us from God.  The biblical witness tells us that giving thanks does the opposite; it brings us closer to God, closer to Jesus.  Rather than diminish the relationship as sin does, giving thanks strengthens the relationship and according to Jesus in this story, it strengthens faith.  We know too that spiritual well being and physical well being are inter-related and for those who care about such things, studies have been done that show that people who express gratitude have a health edge.  There is evidence that grateful people take better care of themselves and are more hopeful, there’s evidence that gratitude is a stress reducer and even that there are links between gratitude and the immune system.  All of which says that my parents were right to make me write those thank you notes!

          There is so much for which we have to give thanks to God.  It’s not that life is always great and when it’s not, again for those who care about such things, there is evidence that complaint is therapeutic.  It’s good to unload and to call on God, to even insist that God transform the situation.  That’s faith too, faith that doesn’t wallow in self-pity but which engages God and waits in expectation for a surprise, a gift that makes all things new and brings light out of darkness, life out of death and again creates that sense of thanksgiving in us.  It’s the Easter faith of resurrection that we celebrate all year long.

It is right to give our thanks and praise!  It is good manners; but it’s also much more than that.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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