“When We Say Grace” October 13, 2019
“When We Say Grace”
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
2 Timothy 2:8-15
So, how are you? (……) Come on now, it’s a question we get asked every day. So just for kicks, I’d like to ask you again and invite you all to speak out the way that you always do when someone asks, “How are you?” So, here goes: “How are you today?” (…..) Very good. See, it just comes natural. It’s about the easiest thing in the world to do, which is a good thing, because we do it every day all day long. “So how’re you doing?” someone will ask. “Fine, thank you,” we reply. It is the perfect exchange. Someone asks about your well-being, you give them a report and then thank them for asking. It’s perfect.
Now I bring this up mainly because of the today’s gospel text from Luke: the story of Jesus and the healing of 10 lepers. This story is unique to the gospel of Luke – it’s not told anywhere else – and right off the bat we sense that there is an important lesson to be learned. But like so much of the teachings of Christ, this lesson is as “plain as the nose on your face,” as they say. Is it about the horror of things like Hansen’s disease (leprosy) and how we should be grateful that we live in a time & place where it is under control? Well, yes you could say that. Or is it about the incredible compassion of Christ? I mean, think about it: to give aid and comfort to a beggar was one thing. We buy a meal, we donate to the Food Bank, we offer up money to homeless relief – these are things that we do willingly. But lepers were worse off than beggars. Lepers were done for – beyond hope – and worst of all, to approach them, to breathe the same air that they breathe, was putting yourself at risk of catching this horrible disease. It’s hard for us to imagine. It really is, but we need to try if are to hope to understand the depth of compassion that was in Christ. He was approached by not just one leper. (vs 12) And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” And I imagine that the first thing that Jesus said to them was not, “Hey, how’re you guys doing?” No, he sends them off to be certified by the priest because their prayers had been answered – they were healed.
So is the lesson to be learned here simply that no matter how desperate and grim our situation might be, we can rely on God’s mercy to pull us through? Well, yes, you could say that, too. But there’s more to the story than compassion and mercy and healing. Could it be that the lesson to be learned is all about the importance of giving thanks? (vs 14b) And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. (vs 17) Then Jesus answered, “Were not 10 cleansed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?”
Are we to understand that Jesus is upset that all 10 of these guys didn’t come running back to thank him? Not hardly. We are granted healing simply by the asking. That is how God’s grace works – whether we deserve it or not, we are shown mercy by the grace of God. What is upsetting is the condition of our heart. The other nine ran off to be blessed by the priest and I am sure they were grateful. That’s not the point. The point is that in the process of this miraculous healing of their bodies, they didn’t allow their hearts to be transformed as well. The key line is (vs 18) Then he said to him, “Get up. Be on your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.” Your faith has healed and saved you. Your faith in the power of God’s love has healed you of this terrible affliction, but more importantly, your faith has changed your heart. Your faith has saved you; it has led your heart to not only be thankful for small things, but to be thankful in all things. To live in a constant state of thankfulness to God is, as the Psalm reads, to know the joy of our salvation.
When we were kids, the one thing that was (hopefully) hammered into our heads was the need to say “Please” and “Thank You.” We did it out because we told, we did it because we were told again, and then we did it out of habit. It was only later in life that we (hopefully) that we figured out that this is a good way to do things. Being taught to say grace before meals works the same way. We say grace out of a sense of duty, then we say grace out of habit, and then before you know it, we’re not just saying grace – we’re living it.
I had a thought. What if by some weird twist we found ourselves unable to answer “How are you?” with the usual “Fine, thanks you.” What if instead, we couldn’t help ourselves and just blurted out the first thing on our minds. “How are you today” “Lousy. My back hurts and shouldn’t have ate those 2 corn dogs for lunch.” Now, you can see how this would not go well. After a while, we would quit asking altogether. We’d get to the point where we really don’t want to know. But what is the first thing on our mind was always the same? It was David Lose that talked about a colleague of his. “I’m grateful.” That was her response when she was asked the usual question of “How are you.” He writes, “It took me by surprise. Not just the first or second time, but almost every time. Eventually, of course, I wasn’t so much surprised, as I was struck by the simplicity and power of this statement. ‘I’m grateful’” he went on to say. “My colleague chose her words with care. She wanted to make a point. That gratitude is not only a response to good fortune but also a choice that we make.”
And so my challenge to you this day is let’s say grace. Let’s make a choice to be thankful. We can feel it in our hearts, we can mutter it under our breath, or we can say it out loud, but let’s get in the habit of saying grace. Because here’s the thing: I can’t speak for anyone else here, but it seems that God asks me 10-20 times a day, “How are you doing?” I’m not too proud of the answer that I spit out a lot of times. But if the first thought in my heart, the first words of my mouth were “I’m grateful,” there’s no telling the goodness and mercy that God has in store. So, again I say, “Let’s say grace.”
Amen & Shalom