Sermon for St John’s Adel Trinity 17…on thanksgiving and faith…
When I was a young – and I’m afraid – rather earnest Christian, I had a great liking for what I thought were profound little phrases or prayers. I used to collect them in this file…sad I know…
For a while my favourite was ‘Faith is watching the sunset and knowing who to thank.’ Now, I wonder if it’s just rather smug…and whether it ought to be ‘whom’? But it’s clearly stayed with me – because it popped into my head when I read today’s gospel…a story of thanking.
Here are 10 lepers, 10 people with a terrible skin disease that means they’re cast out from their homes, families, society. They’re objects of fear and revulsion.
Despite this, stories of Jesus the healer seem to have reached them – and they’ve dared to hope he can heal even lepers. Jesus just says, “go and show yourselves to the priests” (only priests could pronounce someone free of disease and safe to re-enter society)…and on the way they find they’re healed – ‘made clean’.
I’m pretty sure they all knew whom to thank…after all they approached Jesus, they followed his instructions…and their disease went. They all knew whom to thank – but only one actually turned round and did the thanking.
We could read this just as a story about gratitude, but carrying it round with me this week, it seemed also to be about faith. When that one leper returns Jesus says, “your faith has made you well”. Odd – since all 10 were already made clean, so he can’t be saying the disease went because man had faith.
No – Jesus seems to be talking of something other than the physical cure. The disease was already gone – but turning round, worshipping at Jesus’ feet and thanking him is apparently what really changes the man.
This is a picture often found in our scriptures. It’s the ‘turning round’ that matters, the reorientation of a life towards God. In recognising that Jesus should be thanked – the man admitted his need of God. He realised Christ offered not just freedom from disease, but a healing and saving relationship that would change his whole life…that would truly ‘make him well’. And he reckoned that relationship was something worth pursuing.
Many of you, like me, will have seen prayers for healing apparently not answered. That’s hard and I certainly don’t believe it’s to do with not having enough faith. But I have found that a relationship with Christ brings life in unexpected and different ways.
So that rather glib phrase from my teenage years…‘watching the sunset and knowing who to thank’…is just the beginning. What matters is doing the thanking…real faith is not something we have – but something we do. Thanking is important; because exploring what we have to be thankful for and spending time thanking deepens our relationship with God.
Our prayer book – Common Worship – contains a prayer called ‘A General Thanksgiving’. It’s adapted from our ancient prayer book – the Book of Common Prayer. It’s beautiful – and illustrates how ‘thank you’ is for the Christian not a matter of good manners, but a way of life. I’d like to read it now…
Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we your unworthy servants give you most humble and hearty thanks
for all your goodness and loving kindness.
We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ,
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And give us, we pray, such a sense of all your mercies
that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful,
and that we show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up ourselves to your service,
and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
‘Give us such a sense of your mercies that we show forth your praise not only with our lips but in our lives’…stopping to remember what God gives us through Jesus should feed into our everyday lives…should help our faith grow and change us.
‘Watching the sunset and knowing who to thank’ says there might be something to this God-stuff…but faith is much more than a one off decision to believe in God. It’s entering into a life-giving relationship with the one who gives us life.
Knowing whom to thank is just the beginning of a journey, an adventure involving every aspect of our lives, an adventure of a deepening relationship with God. Hopefully that happens, at least sometimes, on a Sunday, but even our Sunday or Wednesday worship, vital and wonderful though it is, is just part of our journey of faith.
I’m sure many of you have found things to help your faith journey. Bible notes…one of the apps now available…I know the members of our home group find that a challenging and exciting way to bring their faith into their everyday lives. If you’ve found something…share it!
I’d like to offer something that’s nurtured my faith over the last three years –Morning and Evening Prayer from Common Worship. It’s 20-25 minutes of set and individual prayers, psalms and readings. It’s a daily encounter with God.
I’ll be in church saying Morning Prayer at 8am, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; and Evening prayer at 5pm, Monday to Thursday. The door will be open – it would be lovely to have some company. You can join in, or just sit and listen.
Those times will be no good for many of you, I know and it’s available online if you want to fit it into your day. There is, though, something beautiful about praying together, so if you’re free come along and give it a try.
Sometimes I concentrate better than others – but I always leave feeling closer to God in some way. It frames my day, reminds me to thank God, and in thanking let my faith into every aspect of the day.