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Thanksgiving Sermon: From Solitude to Gratitude. November 26, 2020

November 26, 2020

Today’s Dispatch is my sermon for Thanksgiving. You can watch worship here. Greta just now asked me, “Do people actually read your sermons?” I said, “Yes, I think so.” She asked, “Why?” Anyway, have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving. Be well, friends. You are loved. That table is calling my name…

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace this day in the name of God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. It was once more difficult to imagine. Their ingratitude, that is. Why didn’t they turn back to Jesus, these nine? Why not take a moment, one moment, to thank him for his healing mercy? Then again, it was once more difficult to imagine. A disease so dreadful that those who were sick had to be separated from the healthy lest the infection spread. A disease so fierce that the healthy were not even allowed in the presence of their loved ones who were sick or dying. A sickness so scary that the sick would be alone, suffer alone, die alone, except perhaps in the presence of others so infected. This was once more difficult to imagine. It’s easier to understand now. While biblical leprosy and the novel coronavirus are by no means the same illness, the one helps us understand the other. We’ve been living with this dread disease for nine months now. While we have not been shunned, forced to the margins of society, we have been sequestered, cloistered away from one another. With such disconnection, perhaps there is no center these days. It feels like we’re all at the margins. So, if we saw Jesus walking by today and we called out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” and he did, I wouldn’t blame anyone for running as fast as they could to reconnect with loved ones. To run just as fast as we could to the heavy-laden Thanksgiving tables at which our family and friends are gathered.
  2. Jesus doesn’t take away the healing from the nine, and there’s no need to shame or suggest what they should’ve done. I can imagine the joy they felt as they ran with anticipation and then sank deeply into the embrace of child or parent, spouse or friend. Should they have stopped to thank Jesus? Well, sure. Of course, they should have. But telling someone to say thank you is hardly the best way to cultivate gratitude. So, we won’t scold or “should” them this morning. Nevertheless, the one who turns back receives something the other nine miss. Praising God with a loud voice, prostrate at Jesus’ feet, his gratitude draws him into a relationship with Jesus. His faith, Jesus tells him, has made him well. It is a wellness beyond the physical, a holy wholeness that comes only from Christ.
  3. And why does this one turn back? Well, presumably he has nowhere else to go. This leper, the Samaritan, is doubly outcast. The other nine can go to the priests, but the priests wouldn’t see a Samaritan. The other nine are closer to home, but the Samaritan seems cut off, alone. Having nowhere else to go, he goes to Jesus. Out of grace springs gratitude, and faith is born.
  4. With nowhere else to go, he connects to Jesus who is on a very purposeful journey. He most certainly has somewhere to go. Jesus, Luke tells us, is on his way to Jerusalem. And Jesus knows what awaits him there, the passion and death that will lead to forgiveness and life for those who trust in him. We, like the Samaritan leper, have nowhere else to turn today. We, who continue to live without the embrace of loved ones, who yearn to hold our grandchildren or see our aging parents or enjoy the simple fellowship shared between friends, we turn today to Christ. In him, we see that our journey moves us from solitude to gratitude. In our family, we’ve tried to name the blessings hidden within this challenging year, like learning new board games or finally having time to clean out the basement. Perhaps the blessing of a quieter, simpler solitary Thanksgiving is the opportunity to spend time in gratitude at the feet of Christ. For he is not absent from you, not on this day. Not ever. Whatever else we have lost this year, whoever we are missing today, our hope in Christ is sure. With nowhere else to go, we find ourselves right where we need to be, in the presence of Jesus, our healer and our hope.
  5. In the presence of Christ, gratitude is the most natural response. As the towering twentieth-century theologian Karl Barth wrote, “What else can we say to what God gives us but to stammer praise?” And if you’ve read Barth, you know he’s not usually lost for words! There is little else to say, but much more to do. Centered in Christ, we can focus not on what we lack, but on what we have. Today, as we sit at simpler but still full tables and eat our fill, let us not only be grateful for our fullness but mindful of those who are hungry. I read this morning that by the end of this year, there could be over 50 million Americans living with food insecurity. That’s one in six people in this land of plenty who will be living in want. And if you’re a child, it’s even more likely that you’ll be hungry, as that number worsens to one in four. As God spoke to the Israelites, so God speaks to us. This land of abundance is a gift meant to supply the needs of everyone, an ongoing sign of God’s care for all people. Paul urges us to sow bountifully so that bounty may be reaped; to give cheerfully and generously to the glory of God. Today, as we give thanks, may we thankfully give so that others would receive. Caught up in the journey with Jesus, what else would we do? Oh, and I don’t mean this theoretically. I’m really encouraging you to give, whether with food items or financial gifts. Whether it’s to Beyond Hunger or Harmony or somewhere else, give a gift if you’re able.
  6. Someday again, soon we pray, we’ll be able to follow Christ’s command to “Get up and go on your way.” We’ll reconnect with one another, sit again at one another’s tables, and fill this room with song and praise, loud and abundant. But even now, your faith has made you well, for it has brought you to Jesus’ feet. Today, even in solitude, is the invitation to gratitude. Even apart, we are not alone. Connected in Christ, we are forgiven and healed. With nowhere else to go, we find ourselves exactly where we need to be. In hope we proclaim, Thanks be to God! Amen.

And now may the peace that passes all human understanding keep you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

From → COVID-19, Sermons

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