Meg Peery McLaughlin
A Life that Says Thank You: Gratitude Changes Us
October 8, 2023
Luke 17: 11-19
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
This is the only place in all of scripture where someone thanks Jesus.
Jesus, our Good Shepherd, the Light that shines in the darkness,
the one who refuses to let anything pull us from God,
who forgives us more often than we deserve,
who welcomes us as we are, and calls us into our better selves,
only once does he hear, “Thank you .”
I’d say this was almost unbelievable to me,
except that too often I haven’t noticed gifts right in front of my eyes.
Jesus hears that “Thank you” in our reading today.
The story goes that, while Jesus is traveling, ten lepers come to him begging for help.
Ten men whose disease has driven them to the outskirts of society, ask for mercy.
And Jesus being Jesus, he heals them all.
“Go,” Jesus says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests,”
for in those days only a religious leader could confirm someone clean,
could say on behalf of an entire community,
“Come on in. Welcome home. You are one of us again.”
So of course the lepers do exactly as they are told.
Then one of them, a Samaritan, an outsider, notices something.
On the way he sees that he is clean,
and then turns on his heels to race back to the feet of Jesus.
He says “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
Jesus looks around, does the math, and asks about the other nine.
“Why are you the only one who returned?”
And then Jesus says.
“Rise up and go— your faith has made you well.”
Which is great, but…
he’s already been made well, hasn’t he?
Isn’t that what turns him around in the first place?
Skin that is free of disease, a life that is free of isolation?
Zoom in with me on the sequence of events in this story.
Because, if you aren’t careful, you might think that it is because of the man’s faith that he is cured of his leprosy. But, look again.
What did the lepers do to deserve such healing? Were they faithful? Did they know, or follow the law? Did they tithe their income? Did they pray hard ?
The scripture doesn’t give us any such information.
All we know is that ten men were healed simply because Jesus was merciful.
I point this out because I’ve stood with too many dear ones
who wonder if they are not good enough to be worthy of healing, or faithful enough
to receive an answer to whatever plea for mercy lies deepest within their heart.
Friends, that’s not how it works.
So what else is going on here?
When Jesus says “Go your faith has made you well” to the man is who is already well,
we have to poke around a bit.
In verse 15, when the leper is on his way to the priest and notices he is clean,
the verb Luke uses there refers to a physical healing.
In verse 19, when Jesus tells him he’s been made well,
It’s an entirely different verb – “sozo”—
and translating “sozo” as “made well” is a pretty weak translation.
It’s better and most often translated as “saved.”
Getting well from an illness is one thing.
But becoming completely well, whole, saved?
That’s another matter altogether.
And that is what this lone Samaritan experiences.
And the only difference between this one and the other nine is that he said thank you.
My sermon title indicates that Gratitude changes us,
But, if I understand the text, Luke’s gospel seems to take that up a notch.
Gratitude can actually save us.
Save us from self-centeredness,
from the vortex of consumption, the pull of greed,
save us from bitterness and envy,
from loneliness and depression
save us from the fear that the sky is actually falling
and nothing good is possible anymore.
Maybe I should say that’s what it does for me, what about you?
Does a moment of gratitude make you well—really, fully, completely well?
Two Decembers ago,
I heard a sermon on gratitude that stuck with me as some sermons do.
Our friend Bob Dunham preached it, not here, but in Chatham County.
Did you know that this congregation has started two other churches?
In the 60s, we launched The Church of Reconciliation.
And in 2005, The Chapel in the Pines.
Bob was preaching on this text as Chapel in the Pines was celebrating the 10th anniversary of their first worship service in that beautiful sanctuary tucked in among the trees.
As is his gift, he reminded us all that the fundamental truth of our lives which is that we are those who stand in grace. In love, God reaches out to help, heal, and restore us. God’s love is expansive, abundant, everywhere. That’s the good news. Yet, according to this story, the odds are that nine out of ten of us won’t get it.
Then, Bob posed two questions. Questions, it seems to me, are foundation for our Christian lives:
The world is full of gracious gifts, but will I notice?
If I notice, how then will I choose to live?
It’s the first question that haunts me most.
Will I notice?
Or am I too busy,
too blinded by screens,
too big for my britches,
too bogged down by the burdens of life.
Will I notice at all?
Will I notice enough to connect the gifts to the giver of all of gifts?
It makes me think of that old line from Alice Walker
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”
yes, the world is shuddering in pain-
Israel is at war, the House is a mess, the planet is warming
but the world is also shimmering with the presence of love.
Sometimes it is hard to find our bearings in that heady mix.
But you, church, you help me really pay attention, to really notice.
Take Friday as an example.
Here in this sanctuary we said goodbye to Nancy Pfaltzgraff.
We were all grieved at her death, and that she died in Norfolk away from our reach.
But I’ll tell you what–
Carolyn Falletta and Leslie Hicks and their Memorial Garden team made it possible for us to inter Nancy surrounded by beauty,
the Presbyterian women’s new hospitality suite over in Vance Barron Hall provided a secluded spot for the family to gather in those tender moments before it all begins,
you sang those hymns like you really trusted God was listening,
Melinda Evans made Nancy’s own recipe of Peanut Butter Rice Krispie bars for the reception after – and people cut the crusts of all the little sandwiches
Ryan Byrnes our newish Director of Operations made sure that Nancy’s grandson, in a wheelchair, knew just how to navigate everywhere he wanted to be included,
And one after another of you came up to remind Nancy’s family
of how you sewed pajama pants for the youth with her, or made her show off her matching shoes whenever she came into volunteer, or just loved her,
oh you loved her. And I noticed.
So I suppose this morning,
I want to say thank you.
If Jesus only heard it once,
let’s make sure his church hears it more.
Thank you not just for days like Friday.
But for coming Sunday after Sunday to wrestle with this Word:
the Word which will not relent in messing with us and calling us to life.
And from that foundation,
Thank you for talking about hard things—
like money and climate and race.
And thank you for naming that HOW we talk about these things is almost as important as the fact THAT we do talk about them.
Thank you for your commitment to our neighbors
here in Chapel Hill and across the globe,
and how that ethic comes from your discipleship.
Five years ago, when we were discerning whether to apply for this job,
you said in your Mission Study,
that your care for neighbor was connected to a inner spiritual life.
Like our breath—we breathe in to nurture our faith, and breathe out to share our faith with the world. It sure does seem like you meant that. Thank you for recognizing that your staff and even your boiler are part of that outreach. That all that we do here in this building is to launch us into ministry out there in our everyday lives of discipleship.
Thank you for letting children be wiggly and picking up their pipecleaner creations,
for working really hard at pronouns and asking about how it’s going post graduation
or mid recovery.
Thank you for not pretending that everything needs to be “fine” for you to be here,
for being vulnerable and honest and real about what it is to be human, to be you.
Thank you for making bridges between this place and that one across the street,
it’s not lost on me that that’s exactly why I’m here in this pulpit right now,
your commitment to students runs deep.
Thank you for laughing when Jarrett sings something
and recalling history
and taking risks
and singing songs you love… and those you wished we’d never sing again
and saying hello to new faces
and holding fast to what is good.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
It seems too simple.
But I think Jesus is right.
Saying thank you can save our lives.
Because the world comes alive,
and we do too,
when gratitude shapes us and directs our steps.
It opens our eyes and we see things that otherwise,
we might have missed.
Thank you for showing me that the kingdom of God is among us, right now.
And thanks be to the One from whom all good gifts flow.