November 24, 2019

“Saying Thank You”

 

Luke 17:11-19

 

At a church sandwich luncheon, a very long time ago, when our daughter Abigail was only about three years old, she asked me for a peanut butter sandwich. I got her a sandwich and placed it on her plate. The person next to Abby said, “What do you say?” expecting to hear the “magic words”, “Thank you.” Instead, she looked the person sitting next to her right in the eye and said, “Go get me a straw.” Sometimes, saying “Thanks” is something we just don’t remember to do. That is what today’s story with Jesus is all about.

 

The story of the ten lepers is a story about human beings’ tendency to take things for granted, to expect much without being grateful in return. Ten lepers were on the side of the road as Jesus and the disciples were on their way to Jerusalem. They begged Jesus to heal them. Now the leprosy they had was not likely Hansen’s disease, which we know as modern-day leprosy. Leprosy was defined as all sorts of things in those days- any skin ailment, or household mildew or mildew on clothes, also mold. Leviticus 13:45-46 says, “The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry, ‘Unclean, Unclean!’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp.” By reading through the passages that describe leprosy, I found out that indeed our family has leprosy- In our cheese and meat drawer in our fridge, we have a couple of different kinds of blue cheese, which we purchased recently at the Rogue Creamery. We chose to go get the leprous cheese after they won the world cheese award, and I have had several chunks of that moldy, smelly goo. I do not, however, plan on covering my upper lip or shouting “unclean!” as you walk by- And please, no shunning of me or Paula after worship today.

 

Whatever malady they had, Jesus instructed them to go to the priests and show themselves, which was in keeping with Jewish ritual law. Once cured of leprosy, one had to go to the temple to receive a clean bill of health from the temple priests. Then, once you had a “thumbs up” from the priests, you could be reinstated with the community. On their way, Jesus cured the 10 lepers of their disease. Nine went their own way rejoicing in their healing. Yet one was compelled to return to Jesus. An anti-hero, often used by Jesus in stories, A Samaritan, the hated enemy of the Jews wanted to say “Thank you.” This story once again reminds Jesus’ audience that Samaritans are people too, and at times, those we see as enemies can be more holy, more faithful than God’s chosen. But, more importantly, this story is an illustration about having gratitude and giving thanks.

 

In this story from Luke, all ten lepers realize that they were healed, but only one of them returned to say thanks to Jesus. Consequently, he was doubly blessed, for he was not only healed but was also given the gift of salvation by Jesus. We don’t know what happened to this man after his healing, but I would bet he lived a life full of gratitude, a life recognizing God’s blessings upon him, a life saying “thanks” to others around him for both big and small contributions to his daily living. For Jesus, his act of healing, which was for him a simple act, changed this man’s life forever.

 

 

Rev. William J. Bausch shares a story about gratitude called, "The Gift That Lives." This story illustrates how far simple acts of kindness can extend and what an ocean of gratitude they can create. Teddy Stallard was a "nobody" in Miss Thompson's fifth-grade class. His appearance and personality made him "just plain hard to like." Even Miss Thompson found it hard to like him. His records noted that he had a poor home situation, his mother died while he was in third grade, and he was a very slow learner.

At Christmas time, the boys and girls brought their gifts for Miss Thompson and piled them on her desk. Teddy's gift stood out because it was wrapped in brown paper with Scotch tape. When Miss Thompson opened Teddy's present, "out fell a gaudy, rhinestone bracelet with half the stones missing, and a bottle of cheap perfume." Teddy's classmates began to make fun of his present until Miss Thompson put the bracelet on her wrist, put on some of the perfume, and proudly held up her wrist saying, "Doesn't it smell lovely?"

At the end of the school day, Teddy bashfully stayed around so he could tell Miss Thompson how glad he was that she liked his present, for both the bracelet and perfume had been his mother's. He was glad she smelled like his mother and thought his mother's bracelet looked really nice on her. That night Miss Thompson asked God to forgive her for misjudging Teddy and not helping him more. From then on she was a new teacher committed to loving all her students and "doing things for them that would live on after her." She helped especially slow students, such as Teddy Stallard. By the end of the school year, Teddy improved so much that he even surpassed some of his classmates in academic performance.

Some years later, Miss Thompson received a note from Teddy, saying that he wanted her to be the first to know that he was graduating second in his high school class. Signed: "Love, Teddy Stallard." Four years later, another note came from Teddy announcing that he was graduating first in his university class, and again he wanted her to be the first to know. Signed: “Love, Teddy Stallard.” Another four years passed, and still another note came: "As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. I wanted you to be the first to know I am getting married next month. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now. Dad died last year. Love, Teddy Stallard." Simple acts of kindness can change the path of someone, and create an ocean of gratitude. That gratitude can change our hearts, and change the way we ourselves live.

 

What are the signs of a life of gratitude, a life of thanks? - The former leper gives us a clue- We say thanks to those around us. We are grateful for their contributions to our lives.

Rev. Carroll Stuhlmueller, in her book, Bible Meditations for Ordinary Time, dwells on a few characteristics of grateful people. She says, “They usually are the ones who do not take anything for granted and notice what others do for them. For example, they appreciate all the preparations made for a banquet, the planning committees make for church bazaars and the dedicated work that goes into keeping a church clean and inviting. Grateful people are usually optimistic people. They discover the potential in other people and then draw that good out of them. Finally, grateful people have a good memory for recalling God's wonderful gifts in the past. This strengthens their hopes to anticipate even greater blessings from God in the present.”

 

 

Charlie (pop) Caperilla who owned a small tire shop in Orlando Florida, was one of those who discovered the potential in others and drew good out of those around him. He who was grateful for his station in life as a successful small business owner. Charlie took many underprivileged kids under his wing and gave them a job. One of those young struggling kids was Darryl Dawkins. Dawkins went straight from a high school in Orlando to play professional basketball in the late 1970s for the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA. He quickly became famous for his Godzilla approach to basketball. With his 6'11" frame and 265 pounds of muscle, Dawkins developed a patented "Gorilla Dunk" that sometimes shattered the glass backboard in arenas; he was affectionately called "Chocolate Thunder."

Even though Dawkins became a millionaire, he would sometimes go back to Orlando during the summer to work at Pop Caperilla's tire shop. Why would a wealthy professional athlete work eight hours a day changing, stacking and delivering tires for $2.50 an hour? "It's because of Pop," Dawkins said. "I work at the shop because I owe a lot to Pop. When I was in high school, when I was financially beat, Mr. Caperilla did things for me that people never knew about. My family never had a car, so Pop let me use his on weekends. And he got me a job here when I needed one." Dawkins' father had left home 15 years before. "The job Pop gave me helped my family survive when I was in high school. Now, I wanna help out Pop."

As big as his body was, Dawkins' heart was even bigger because it was filled with gratitude for all that Pop Caperilla had done for him. If thankfulness is anything, it is remembering how God and people have cared about us, and then expressing our appreciation for what they have provided for us.

 

Authentic thankfulness, then, is a deep feeling that impels us to share what we have with others.

In 1999, I had the privilege of helping build homes in Moore, Oklahoma with Habitat for Humanity. It was my first experience working to build a home on a Habitat site. Our church traveled to Oklahoma after hearing of a devastating F5 tornado that tore through much of the homes just outside of Oklahoma City. The people of the church understood that the motivation to go on these mission trips was to help those in need, but it was also a way to express our gratitude for what God had done for us in Jesus Christ. We wanted to share hope with those who had lost so much. We spent the better part of a week in the hot humid sun, working in one area - We put in foundations, raised walls, built roofs, working alongside families who were hoping to have a place to call home once again. At the end of the week, we all had the honor of taking part in a groundbreaking ceremony for another family in need. The mother of the family was so overcome. She told us she was so grateful, and that she wanted to give us something in return. She began to sing “Amazing Grace”- first timidly, but then her voice began to swell, and we all were bathed in the glory of her voice, singing in gratitude for what God had done for her. We were there in part to say thanks to God- thanks for our faith, thanks for our lives, and thanks for an opportunity to share hope with those in need. And in the end, we were thanked so deeply by this woman. It is a gift I will long remember, and in good part, her gift is one big reason I work on Habitat sites and sit on the Apostle’s Build group of Habitat Rogue Valley today. That’s what gratitude from others can do- It spurs us to give to others and becomes infectious.

 

 

The grateful, cured leper is our example today. He didn’t take for granted his miraculous cure, but instead came back to Jesus and said: “Thank you.” If we but open our eyes, we too can live a life of gratitude. We can praise God for the times we have found healing. We can praise God for the dawn after dark, spring after winter, sunshine after rain, rest after work, for hugs from our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, for healing after hurt, and for eternal life after earthly life. The late theologian Henri Nouwen said, “Gratitude flows from the recognition that all that is, is a divine gift born out of love and freely given to us so that we may offer thanks and share it with others." May we go from this place today, holding onto the example of the grateful leper, so that we to can thank God for all of life, that we can thank others and do simple acts of kindness for them, creating an ocean of gratitude. Alleluia. Amen.

Contents © 2019 First Presbyterian Church of Ashland, Oregon | Church Website Builder by mychurchwebsite.net | Privacy Policy