The summer after my senior year of high school, I had a job working for a family as their nanny. Now, this family was by no means a small family – they had six children. The youngest, Morgan, was just shy of two years old in that summer of 1996 and the oldest was Peter, a rising fifth grader.
One particular afternoon we were at the park. Morgan decided to play on a jungle gym. This particle one she chose was like a five-foot wide ladder, but shaped in a semi-circle or rainbow formation, whereas both ends were touching the ground. At the peak, the jungle gym came up to about my chest. Being the attentive child-care provider that I am, I was with Morgan standing right next to the jungle gym while she proceeded to climb it with her little legs and arms. However, I was also talking to another person standing there. As Morgan neared the peak of the jungle gym, she found herself in precarious predicament. Both of her hands were on the same ladder rung and her feet on the rung below. For some unknown reason, she decided to place both feet on the same rung as her hands, and for a brief second, she looked like a little bird on its perch. But as gravity took its toll on Morgan, she started leaning and falling forward and as her hands lost their grip on the rung, she found herself in a free fall heading towards the ground head-first. Luckily, I caught it all out of the corner of my eye, reached through the gap between the top rungs and somehow found her little arm and grabbed on. Her Olympic quality head-first dive turned into a harmless summersault as she righted herself in mid-air, her feet hit the ground, and I have to say – she stuck the landing perfectly. Immediately, Morgan took off running to the next piece of playground equipment, got halfway there, stopped dead in her tracks, turned back suddenly towards me, looked at the jungle gym, then looked at me, and let out a load, “Whoooaaa!”
I’ve often wondered what was going through her mind as it all happened. Two-year-olds are famous for not considering the situation they find themselves in, not contemplating the what-could-have-beens nor appreciating the what-has-happened-nows. But that day, Morgan did, even if it was only for a brief and fleeting second. In that “Whoooaaa” statement she understood what almost just happened to her, and by looking back at me, it was her way of saying of acknowledging that and saying, “Thank you.”
In the passage from Luke that we read this morning, Jesus finds himself feeling … well I don’t know … maybe disappointed, frustrated, downright angry, or maybe like it’s just par for the course with these humans – or perhaps he felt all of these emotions at once. Ten lepers had just asked Jesus to heal them. Now we know from earlier teachings that requests and prayers of petition are only answered by God if we have faith in Him that we will answer us. There is no disputing that each of these ten lepers had faith because each went out as Jesus instructed them to go and see the priests, and they were healed.
It is important to note that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to ultimately face his crucifixion, and all the horrible events surrounding it – and Jesus knew this. Yet, He set aside his needs and allowed compassion and empathy to take a front row seat in this situation. And you’d think a small “Thank you” from each of the ten would have been appropriate.
However, only one returned to acknowledge the predicament he had found himself in with leprosy – just like Morgan’s predicament of finding herself on that top rung of the jungle gym perched like a bird with no where to go but down – and this man returned to thank Jesus for healing him. And Jesus’ response: “Rise and go; your faith has made you clean.” You see, this particular former leper was a Samaritan – an unclean, outcast because he wasn’t a pure member of the Jewish society. He wasn’t supposed to receive God’s mercy or compassion. But his faith made him a child of God that day.
So, at this point, I’m sure you’re all asking, “What does the action of being thankful really have to do with faith?” And it begs the age-old question, which is more important to have faith or actions – in this case actions being thankfulness. The answer is both, you can’t have one without the other. The action of the lone leper to return to Jesus after he was healed to say, “Thank you” is the culmination and proof of his faith. He acknowledges that he was a sinful leper but now washed clean by the grace of God. And in turn, this humble and thankful spirit is what allows each of us to go out into the world to “let our light shine to all people, so that they may see our good works and glorify the Lord.”
How often do each of us attribute our successes, awards, good grades, big salaries, nice houses, and in my case, good looks to our own hard work and achievements. To often, we look for others to praise and to notice how wonderful we are and all too quickly we forget that it is God, and only God, who provides for us, who blesses us, and ultimately has grace on us. Or maybe it’s the other side of the coin – where too often we focus on what we don’t have and what we still want – and even claim we deserve to have – and approach God with a spirit of ungratefulness and forget to look back and see what God has provided for us. Do we remember often enough to thank the Lord and praise him?
As we approach this Holiday season and season of being thankful, maybe today will be the day, like Morgan, that we all stop and look back and say, “Whoooaaa!”
Sermon by John Streszoff, a lay person from Saint Michael.