>Thanksgiving Sermon — "No Thank You"

>Tim's green jello saladImage by unertlkm via FlickrText:  Luke 17:11-18
Title:  “No Thank You”

Our four year olds, because of the socialization they’ve gotten at Little Bears Playhouse Daycare, have learned to say “No Thank You.”  That’s something they do at Little Bears. 

Now, this phrase can be used a couple of different ways. 

The most common I think is when you’re offered something that you really don’t want but you want to recognize that you’re grateful to have been offered.  For instance, if the jello salad your dear friends bring to your house for Thanksgiving Dinner looks less than appetizing, when your dear friend offers it to you, you may politely say, “No, Thank You.”  In other words, thanks for the offer, dear friend, but I’d rather not.  They may assume you’re just full from the extra helping of turkey while all the time you’re just thankful to skip the green stuff with chunks in it.

My parents adapted this when growing up so that, whenever we were having large family gathering, like at Thanksgiving, and there would be food involved, we would be required to at least TRY everything.  So, for those items, like the aforementioned jello salad, we had to have a NO THANK YOU HELPING.  In other words, we said, “NO THANK YOU” but our parents said “You’ll try it anyway.”  That was whether we were thankful or not.

There is another way to use the phrase “No Thank You.”  I have heard it said at Little Bears when a child is behaving in a way that the teachers do not appreciate.  A child starts to write on a wall or throw a snowball or whatever it is, and the teacher will say, “No Thank You.”  Here the meaning is different.  The teacher is telling the child “No” and thanking them for the change in behavior that they expect to see.  In other words, “No Billy, don’t pull Sally’s hair…and thank you for stopping when I asked.”

Our daughters have picked up on this, but have adapted a third way of using this phrase.  It, like in the second instance, begins with one of them doing a behavior that the other doesn’t appreciate.  But involves a lot of running around the house screaming… “NO THANK YOU.  NO THANK YOU.  NO THANK YOU.   NO THANK YOU.”  There is no thanks when it’s used in this way.

We live in a culture that struggles with a lack of thanks as well.   I think part of it is our freedoms, our material goods, our preponderance of entertainment alternatives.  While some of us have more and some of us have less, those who have less often still have more than those in many parts of the world.  It is hard to be thankful for food when you are never hungry.  It is hard to be thankful for friends when your social calendar is full.  It is hard to be thankful for material things when we drive home in our nice cars to a full house with a full fridge and have the world at our fingertips.  Is a fish thankful for the water it swims in?  Maybe not.  It’s all that it knows.  But remove it from the water and put it on land for a few minutes and maybe it will be thankful when you put it back.

Thank You!photo © 2009 Iain Farrell | more info (via: Wylio)
In my family growing up it was mandatory that my sister and I write our Thank You notes very soon after Christmas…very soon…like within the first couple of days.  So it was with some embarrassment, a few years ago that I found out, through my mother that my sister was upset with us because my kids hadn’t thanked them for the gifts they had received.  I think the word I got was, “She doesn’t even know if they (the gifts) have arrived!”  Well, maybe, but I did come face to face with the harsh reality that I’ve not done a very good job instilling in my kids the good sense to thank those that bless them and to be thankful for what they have.  And, I probably don’t do it very well myself. In fact, I know I don’t do it very well myself.  I’m just as big a culprit.

Take a look at the scripture passage we read today, which is really a passage about offering thanks–or rather, NOT offering thanks. 

Here’s how it goes…

There were ten lepers, nine of them Jews and one of them a Samaritan, who are afflicted with leprosy, a horrible skin disease.  The lepers cry out to Jesus for mercy, saying, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.”  Jesus doesn’t have to do much.  He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests and they were cleansed on the way.  They were healed and now they are not unclean anymore.  That’s why the priests would have been involved.  They are the ones who declare folks clean and welcome them back into community.

This was, of course, no minor thing.  And, since we have a God who loves us no matter what, one might think that going back and thanking Jesus, the very son of God, for this gift of healing would be superfluous.  But, apparently not.  Our story says that just one of them comes back and offers any word.  He goes all out.  That one, now healed, leper comes back and praises God with a loud voice and throws himself at Jesus’ feet.  And, wouldn’t you know it, he’s the Samaritan fellow.

So, just one out ten?  Really?  Why?

You know, perhaps, like we sometimes struggle with, those ninety percent came from a culture of entitlement.  Maybe they just thought they were getting what should really have been coming their way.   Perhaps they had places to be.  Or, perhaps, as often seems the case in my own life, other things just seemed more important at the time.

But that lack of gratitude kept the others farther away from Jesus.  Look at what they missed out on!  All of them were healed.  All of them were clean, but only the one who came back got close to Jesus, even going so far as to throw himself at Jesus’ feet in verse 16.  The mere fact that he came back puts him closer to Jesus.  Without a spirit of thanksgiving, we’re missing out on part of the gift.   And that’s the way it works with our own gifts from God.  If we’re not thankful, then we shortchanging our experience for we don’t fully appreciate what it is we’ve been given.  It is only when we offer our thanks that we the blessing we’ve received comes full circle.  It is here that we recognize the gift that’s been given.

Meister Eckhart, a 14th Century German mystic once said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”  That’s a great quote.  If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.  For that is a prayer that really gets at the heart of what God has given us.

Author and seminary professor Bruce Epperly says:

Thanksgiving is the virtue of interdependence, the recognition that our achievements are not fully our own, but emerge from a network of relationships that sustain and shape us, giving us the materials from which we create our experiences moment by moment. Thanksgiving as a spiritual practice reminds us that all our gifts are communal as well individual. Our creativity and freedom, our ability to choose the good and noble, have their origins in forces larger than ourselves — God, this good earth, and persons who have guided, protected, inspired, and nurtured us.

In Thanksgiving, we’re truly able to look beyond ourselves.

I know that this week is Thanksgiving Day week.  It’s Thursday. And in many people’s homes, there will be a lot of food.  There may be a lot of football.  Some persons will get out on the slopes on our second day of skiing around here.  And, for us, it’s a time for our nation to remember pilgrims and Mayflower, and Indians and wintertime and to gather together and be thankful for what we have. And it’s a good reminder to us.

I confess to you that this has been a rough few weeks, with the deaths of S_______ and D_______.  I had a rough time this week and while I know that I have a beautiful family and I have a great church and live in a great place and I have lots of stuff, I was finding it challenging to be very thankful.  You know.  I had several people check in with me this week, asking how I was doing.  I’m humbled by that.  I’m not the one who lost a son or a husband or a father.  But I think persons recognized that I’m allowed to feel the loss of both of these men rather deeply.  I’m allowed to do that…even as I try to be caregiver.

On Wednesday of this week, I think it was, I posted a blog entitled, “I’M NOT OK.”  And I wanted to express the truth of what I was feeling.   I wasn’t OK although I admitted that I would be OK in a week or so.  It takes a person, even a pastor, some time to recover from the loss of persons he cares about.  It’s OK not to be OK.  And, frankly, in the midst of pain or loss or whatever it is that we have going on, it’s OK to struggle with being able to say thank you to God.

But being able to thank is a step in bringing us closer to God once again.  To be able to be thankful for the life that was shared.  To be thankful for the comfort offered through friendships.  To be thankful for family or those who care about us.

And, once we’ve move into thankfulness, we’re able to see beyond ourselves to how much of our lives and faith and well-being is interconnected.

I feel that I’ve traveled a million miles over the last three weeks and that’s nothing compared to some folks.  But I’m now in a place where I can offer praise to God for what he has done in me and around me.  So, for all that God does and is and is to do, I offer my thanks today.

If the only prayer you ever prayed in life was thank you, then it is enough. 

Saying thanks today is about all I can muster.  I’m thankful it’s enough.

Can you be moved to heartfelt thanksgiving this week?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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