Tag Archives: thanks

Thank you (Pentecost 21c, Proper 23c)

Why does saying “thank you” matter?  Is it anything more than manners (of the sort children have to do, and adults think they have grown out of)?  Perhaps so.  The story of 10 healed lepers, of whom only one returns to Jesus to offer thanks, is interesting.  (Luke 17:11-19).

It seems all 10 are healed, and stay healed – we have to assume the cure was “certified” by the priest, allowing them to return from isolation to normal life.  Perhaps it was the urgency of getting that official all clear that led them to hurry off.  But the tenth stops to give thanks, and we see how thanksgiving recognises a gift.  Recognising a gift means also recognising the giver.  Knowing that the most important things we have (life, health, intelligence, opportunity . .) are a gift from God is an understanding that changes our view of the universe.

Of course thanksgiving is a large part of worship – and making that a public statement is important in our witness to what God has done for us, that is our faith.  We don’t do a lot of thanksgiving or praise in our western culture.  Politicians, celebrities and others known to many are more likely to be gossiped about or criticised, to the extent that public thanks or praise sound strange, if not strained.

So, what benefit does this leper get from his return to thank Jesus?  He is reminded of, and acknowledges, the gift of healing.  He opens a relationship with the one who gave him his cure.  More than this, Jesus says “your faith has made you well” – not fit, or un-leprous, but well.  Being well covers far more.  We might imagine that some of the 9 healed lepers remain angry at their treatment, fearful of further illness, keen to settle old scores . .  To be well is to be freed of so much more than physical illness.

 

Harvest (Harvest c)

Harvest Thanksgiving!?  Deuteronomy 26:1-11 might seem strange: the farmer is to take some of the first of his produce, and publicly acknowledge it as God’s gift. Then he is to celebrate, sharing with others, including resident aliens. You might find that interesting, even quaint, but a little remote. We don’t farm, and too often we don’t give thanks, or recognise the gifts and goodness of God either.

Giving thanks is important. You don’t give thanks for what is your due, your earnings – though you might say thank you to someone who makes the effort to calculate and hand over your wages. And too often we imagine that what we have is our due, earned by hard work. Think a little harder. Yes, you may well have worked and saved. Where did the energy come from, the intelligence that made it possible, the life without which nothing would have happened? Natural processes – yes, certainly they are the means, but unless you believe it all to be chance without reason or purpose, then God’s providence is responsible.

For Christians, life is a gift, as is health, energy, intelligence. Work, though it can be mindless and dehumanising, should not be so and is what we are meant for. So we recognise that God is the giver of so many good things, and we give thanks. Sometimes thanksgiving is reduced to good manners, something to teach children – and reject as adults. That’s a mistake. Giving thanks is a reminder of gift. It establishes a relationship.

Thank you God, for food and shelter, often taken for granted or forgotten. Thank you for the goodness and generosity with which you give – not confining us to grey barrack block housing and endless tasteless porridge to keep us alive. Now – what was it you intended me to do with the life, energy, and intelligence you gave? How can I react to the danger in which we have placed the very environment of the whole earth? We could talk about the ecological crisis, and how we respond. We could talk about vocation – the “calling” of each Christian to find how their gifts and personality are meant to be used with others for the good of all. . .

You might think that I am building too much on an Old Testament harvest liturgy, but I would point you to Jesus words (John 6:25-35) as he debates with those who came to the feeding of the 5,000, and want more free lunches. What do they have to do? To trust the one God sent – Jesus.  Not to keep rules, but to learn from the bread of life, and live in relationship to him and in the way he lives in relationship – to God, creation, and other people.
Thanksgiving for harvest is old, and still important. Giving thanks reminds us of gifts received, and opens a relationship. We have to resist delusions of self-sufficiency, and learn proper dependance on God. Oh yes, and we have to celebrate, sharing with all sorts of people!

Being nice and the gospel (Pentecost 8c, Proper 10c)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan, well known, often quoted, easily misunderstood.  Luke 10:25-37 is another trick question, well answered by Jesus.  The questioner, who knows his scripture, seems to want a limit.  It is almost as if he asks, “Who can I tell to get lost, because they don’t qualify for my help?”

It is, of course, the wrong question.  But, like annoying children, we are good at asking the wrong questions – the ones with answers too complicated to understand, the ones which don’t fit our situation, or our need, or are more concerned with making us look good, or others look bad.  “Why is this happening to me?” may be a question like that, but there are plenty of others.

Jesus doesn’t sulk or get angry.  He may know that this question is meant to get him into trouble, but his answer will have grace, combining continued usefulness with a real attempt to let this questioner, and his listeners, understand.  We can imagine that the ordinary people in the crowd enjoyed the criticism of the priest and the Levite.  Of course, important people today are never too preoccupied, frightened, or lazy to offer appropriate help – are they?  A warning there, for those of us who think we might have important things to do.

What is the story really about?  No, it is not being nice to strangers.  No, it is not about race relations.  No, it is not about generosity, or the importance of first aid (not that I am against any of these things!)  What Jesus says is, “Life with God, the good life, the holy life, is never just about keeping within the behaviour not forbidden.  If you want to live for God, the question is not ‘What have I got to do to make the pass mark?’, but ‘What opportunities does God give me to reflect the love, grace, generosity and mercy that show God in action?’

The Samaritan doesn’t “do well enough to go to heaven” – none of us do – but he shows more of God than the religious professionals manage in this story.  Jesus invites us to live a new life, in the forgiveness and love of God, and in that life to look for opportunities to be like Him.

Proper 10, year c

Gerasene demoniac dialogue (Pentecost 5c)

Some years ago I developed the idea of scripted dialogue in place of a monologue sermon.  It has some advantages – a conversational style, encouraging the idea of talking about scripture and its application, emphasising the relevance of text to contemporary Christian life etc.  This is a dialogue, for two readers in place of a sermon, which I “translated” from a sermon written previously, on the gospel passage Luke 8:26-39.  Comments welcome:

A It’s been quite a week: an MP has been killed, apparently while doing her job and doing it well; at the same time we are looking forward to an important referendum next Thursday

B and there’s a football competition, too!

A Indeed. You might wonder if that reading about the man Jesus healed in the cemetery has any relevance.

B It seems to me typical of Jesus that he is concerned about somebody that everybody else has given up on. There is no suggestion that anyone is looking after this man, keeping an eye out for him, leaving him food or clothing, but Jesus doesn’t bypass him and go to the “important” people.

A Yes, and that links with the MP’s murder. Jesus is reminding us that everybody matters to God, and should to us. All the groups Jo Cox was involved with, including minorities and refugees, but also Thomas Mair, however sad or mad he may be. We have to think about caring for all, not just the ones like us, or the easy ones. Jesus wasn’t afraid of dealing with someone demon possessed.

B Now that’s a question! Was he mentally ill, or did he really have spirits in him?

A Christians would have different answers to that. There’s no doubt that mental illness is real, and thankfully we are learning how to treat it successfully. If you know people affected, encourage them to consult their doctor, take their advice – and then make sure you don’t avoid them. Mental illness will affect a fair proportion of this congregation at one time or another. For me, after some years leading a Diocesan Healing and Deliverance Team, I am also confident that demon possession is real – but it has been uncommon in this part of the world. The team that clergy can consult is there to help, and some will need that help.

B So you are saying that mental illness is real, and demon possession can be, too?

A Yes. But let’s go on. Jesus’ concern for this man is not the only point here. What about the reaction of the local people to the event?

B They don’t seem very happy to have a local “problem” solved. I suppose the drowning of the pigs has something to do with it, which doesn’t say much about their values. I wonder if they also found the whole thing – well, frightening. Too challenging to their assumptions, and the accepted order of things.

A I think you’re right, though it is sad. They actually ask Jesus to go away because they are afraid – afraid of someone who has just restored a man they had given up on! I don’t know if there is something there about the Referendum – and no, I am not going to tell you how to vote. But fear is a bad motivation (and seems to have been used on both sides). It is also bad to think that, as Christians, we are allowed to cut ourselves off from other people. How best to move forward, for the good of all, that is the question.

B and we can’t make up your minds how that works out. Think, pray, and vote carefully. So, we’ve talked about Jesus attitude to this man, and then about the community’s attitude to Jesus. What about the ending; doesn’t Jesus usually tell people not to talk about their healing?

A Yes. When he is among Jewish people, he worries that he will be seen as a revolutionary leader – a “Messiah” in political and military terms, leading an army against the Romans – but here he is among Gentiles. He wants this man to be a reminder of the power and love of God, a testimony if you like. He is to live in the community that told Jesus to leave, a reminder of what happened, and how life might be different.

B So he is to do the things we are being encouraged to do now – live as a follower of Jesus, imitating his attitudes and actions out of gratitude, and ready to explain when people asked things like “What happened?” and “Why have you changed?”. I suppose that would have been quite challenging for him, as it is for us, but it certainly gave him something to do!

A – and it gave the people of that community a second chance. With the man living there, and staying in his right mind, they were going to have time to think again

B about the relative value of people and pigs?

A and about what Jesus could do, or what God’s plan for them was. I’m sure they didn’t think they were bad people, but they missed out in a big way that day, and Jesus finds a way to leave them a signpost, if they wanted to look for a better road. It would be sad to think nobody did.

B even sadder than losing the football?

A much more. Some of us believe in life after football, after all!
B Well, that’s our dialogue sketch on this gospel. It’s a bit of an experiment, and its not going to replace sermons, but let us know after the service if you found it helpful as a different way to reflect from time to time – and perhaps even as something to start you talking about scripture and how to apply it.

Waiting (Easter 7c)

I wonder if it was uncomfortable being with the disciples for the ten days between Jesus’ Ascension and the Day of Pentecost?  Waiting is not my favourite activity, and I imagine other people also find it difficult.

Of course, when the waiting is over, it doesn’t always make everything easy.  Luke tells us of the need to wait by showing the power of the Holy Spirit in the adventures of the early Christians in the book of Acts.  They needed the help.  Clearly, this is not their own planning or ability displayed, but something more.

Acts 16:16-34, read this Sunday, tells of Paul’s ability to deal with spirit possession.  (This is not a denial of psychiatry – most “possession” in the western world is psychiatric illness, but evil spiritual power is also real, and telling the difference needs some care and training).  He gets no thanks, but the girl is freed – and so is a jailer and his family!  Remarkable events, catalysed by the different lives of the Christians, and their readiness to take the opportunities that occur.

Perhaps this is more relevant to today’s Church than we might like to think.  What are we waiting for?  Perhaps again the coming of the Holy Spirit to transform lives – quietly or dramatically, but in a real way.  That will help us understand how we are meant to serve our communities, be a blessing to individuals, and provoke questions from those who want to share the benefit.

I find it reassuring that Paul, like the other early Christians, is not pictured as an ideal or perfect person, simply as one through whom the Holy Spirit was able to do great things.  The challenge is that there is no reason why that shouldn’t happen to me – or to you.

Judas – Entrepreneur’s disease? (Lent 5c)

As Lent moves to think of Jesus’ death, we read John 12:1-8.  Jesus is having dinner with friends, and Mary anoints his feet in an expensive gesture.  Judas complains about the cost and “waste” of valuable perfume, though we are warned that as treasurer for the disciples, he was inclined to help himself, and his motives may be mixed.

I think I might have found Mary’s actions difficult, too.  It is a bit “over the top”, too much, too personal, embarrassing.  Of course, we can take the anointing as symbolic and prophetic of the cross to come.  Then Mary anticipates laying out the body with respect and love.  That is probably why we read this passage on Passion Sunday, looking at the Passion to come.  But that isn’t the point.  Mary is expressing love, thanks, – something perhaps too deep for words, and certainly beyond the evaluation of the group accountant.  For Mary, Jesus has done something deeply significant, of lasting importance.  She is different, she has found something beyond price, and she must express something of that.

Judas either doesn’t understand, or doesn’t want to.  He is a disciple, has had time to watch and hear Jesus, as well as talk to him in private and in small groups.  But somehow, his loyalty is limited to – to what?  To what he can understand, or perhaps even to what he can control?  His attachment to Jesus is conditional, and the conditions are about to fail as Jesus takes his own way to save the world.  I have some sympathy for Judas; I think I have often believed with an unstated condition, “I’ll follow, if . . “.  I wonder if the culture of our time, pricing everything, and always looking for “efficiency savings”, brings the same dangers Judas faced.  Would we now see him as an entrepreneur who withdrew his investment as he lost confidence in the management? – because that would not only be a mistake, but question the “business model”.  The problem is Judas relationship to Jesus.  It just isn’t up to Mary’s standard.

Passiontide, Jesus’ passion: they take us beyond calculation, beyond strategy and financial analysis.  If we are going to follow Jesus, a lifeplan will not be enough for long.  We have to share his concerns, his motivation, his love.

I’m afraid I would have found Mary a difficult person to get on with.  I am more “moderate”, planned, – in other words, calculating.  But there is a side of me which can get emotionally involved, and I must remember the importance of involving that with my faith.