Praise and Thanksgiving
A sermon by Lay Preacher, Ginnie Glassman
Today, we have two readings dealing with leprosy, which is mentioned often in the Bible. Realizing that I didn’t know much about leprosy, I did some research. Leprosy has an incubation period of up to five years and can persist for up to thirty years. It is a painful disease characterized by ulcers, flat white skin patches, skin lesions and eye damage. It then advances to large ulcerations, loss of fingers and toes or even limbs, facial disfigurement, nerve damage and neuritis. Untreated, there is irreversible damage to skin, limbs, nerves and eyes. It is contagious, passed on by contact with droplets from the nose or mouth of an infected person.
Leprosy is not just a Biblical disease as we know from Mother Teresa’s work. There are 208,000 cases in the world today. They are primarily in African and Asian countries but the most in India where she did her work. Today, it can be treated with antibiotics but the damage it does to the body in its course cannot be reversed.
In Biblical times, there was no cure and it was dreaded. Those who contracted the disease were immediately banned from the community, from worship and from their families. Sufferers were made to live in leper colonies on the outskirts of town. They were forbidden to have contact with anyone who was not also a leper. The laws required them to wear torn clothing, leave their hair uncombed, cover the lower part of their face and ring a bell, shouting “unclean” if anyone approached them. In addition, any disease was seen as a curse from God which increased the shame and the rejection.
In our first reading, Naaman, a commander of the king’s army, suffered from the disease and was seeking a cure. The servant girl tells him the prophet in Samaria (Elisha) can help him. Naaman goes to his king who, in turn, sends him to the King of Israel laden with money and gifts. When Naaman arrives, he presents his king’s letter and offerings to the King of Israel. The king becomes upset, tears his clothes and shouts “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?” Even with his kingly powers and the extravagant gifts, the king cannot do the work of God.
Elisha hears of this and tells the king to send Naaman to him. When Naaman arrives, Elisha sends one of his servants out to tell Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan River to be cured. Naaman goes into a rage, expecting that a man of his importance would see Elisha in person and be cured on the spot with some flourish. Besides that, Elisha is sending him to the Jordan River in Israel, a foreign country 125 miles away. Naaman is incensed that he cannot wash in the rivers in his own country. When his servants finally convince him to do as Elisha said and he bathes in the Jordan seven times, he is completely cured. Naaman returns to Elisha to offer gifts of thanks but Elisha will have none of it. Naaman’s gratitude shows in his vow to worship only the Lord. He returns home with sacks of earth from Israel upon which he will offer sacrifices to the God of Israel.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus meets ten lepers on his way to Jerusalem. Calling from the required distance, they ask Jesus to have mercy on them. Jesus tells them to go to the priests and be examined. The priests served as a sort of health officials in determining whether a person had leprosy. Chapters 13 and 14 in Leviticus describe the lengthy examinations and tests to be performed. If leprosy was suspected, the person had to isolate for seven days at a time, before being re-examined. If it was not leprosy or they got better, a ritual purification was done over the course of two weeks, before they would be allowed back into the community. If their condition worsened, they were sent to leper colonies and completely isolated from the community.
The lepers who approach Jesus ask for mercy but they are not cured on the spot. Jesus tells them to show themselves to the priests. They have enough trust and faith in Jesus to follow his directions and go at once. While they are on their way, they are cured. Can you imagine their excitement and joy? After much shouting and rejoicing, they hurry on to the priests to be declared clean and able to return to their families. Only one, a Samaritan, praises God loudly, returns to Jesus, falls at his feet and thanks him. Jesus accepts his thanks but questions that ten were cured, where are the other nine? Were they in a hurry to get to the priests to be pronounced clean? Were they rushing to get back to their families? Were they in disbelief that they were really cured? Were they thinking it was something they had done or deserved? Did they forget to be thankful in all their excitement? Would they think of it later?
Imagine cancer patients at Smilow suddenly being completely cured. I wonder if their first reaction would be to thank God? Or would they first seek medical proof that the cancer was really gone? Would they try to determine which treatment had made the difference? Would they complain to God about all the suffering they had been through and not appreciate the miracle? Would they only think of it later… or at all?
The Samaritan is told by Jesus “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Jesus had cured him of his disease thereby restoring the life he had known. But Jesus meant more than physical healing. The word he uses means “saved” in that this man’s faith and recognition of God’s miracle had healed him spiritually as well.
God wants us to be grateful, to worship him. Is it for his benefit or ours? What does a prayer of thanks or praise do for us? It reminds us where our gifts come from. It keeps us aware that God is daily involved in our lives. We remember that he has a plan for our lives. Our Rite I service reminds us that “All things come of Thee, O Lord and of Thine own have we given Thee.” Everything we have is a gift from God. We give back to him what he has already given us. What God cannot provide for himself is thanks and praise. Only we can create and offer that gift to him as our own.
Even when things are not going well, prayers of praise and thanks allow us to remember all that God has given us, how he has been there at other difficult times and that he sees what is happening. This faith will guide us to follow his lead and stay the course. How can we know the answer is from God if we don’t have faith and trust in him?
The psalms are full of complaints, frustrations, sickness and struggles but they almost always include a note of praise and thanksgiving. The psalmist remembers what the Lord has done in the past and expects that he will be there for them again. Psalm 106 begins and ends with praise for God.
Praise the Lord!
Give thanks to the Lord, because he is good; his love is eternal.
Who can tell all the great things he has done?
Who can praise him enough?…
Praise the Lord, the God of Israel;
Praise him now and forever! (Psalm 106: 1-2, 48 Good News Bible)
There is a story about a woman who dies and goes to heaven. St. Peter is showing her around. They come to an area with three rooms. The woman looks into the first room. It is busy with angels hurrying around with computers continually beeping with new messages coming in. She asks “What is going on?” St. Peter answers “Those are the prayer requests coming in.” She looks into the second room which is even busier. St Peter tells her “Those are the prayers being answered.” The third room has just one angel who is quietly sitting at her desk with one message on the screen in front of her. The woman asks what goes on in this room. St. Peter answers “She is taking the incoming thank yous for answered prayers.”
We can adopt an attitude of gratitude. We can look for things in our lives to be grateful for. Keeping a journal of at least three things each day that we are grateful for can help us to see God’s hand in our lives and remember his goodness. They can be simple, small things but remembering them can color our days.
This week, let’s keep the angel in the third room busy with our thanksgivings. I challenge you this week to end each day by thinking of three things in your day for which you are grateful. Then thank God for those moments. See if it changes your perspective.
Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart. (Psalm 111)
Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, `Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”
1 Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the deeds of the Lord! * they are studied by all who delight in them.
3 His work is full of majesty and splendor, * and his righteousness endures for ever.
4 He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.
5 He gives food to those who fear him; * he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works *
in giving them the lands of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; * all his commandments are sure.
8 They stand fast for ever and ever, * because they are done in truth and equity.
9 He sent redemption to his people; he commanded his covenant for ever; *
holy and awesome is his Name.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; *
those who act accordingly have a good understanding; his praise endures for ever.
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David– that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful–
for he cannot deny himself.
Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”