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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors
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Were Not Ten Made Clean?

Were Not Ten Made Clean?
                                                                                                        
                                                                                 Luke 17:11-19
 
 
I remember the occasion of our daughter’s fourth birthday. She had been asking for a Playschool kitchen set. When the day arrived we placed a rather large box in front of her and her joy at what she saw was priceless. She began pounding on the box, jumping up and down, squealing with delight. Of course she wanted the box opened immediately and could hardly wait for the whole thing to be readied for play.
 
And there was the following Christmas. She had wanted a "Chatty Cathy" type doll. We got her up, dressed her in her new Christmas dress, packed her in the car and drove her to her uncle's house where she eagerly waited for Santa. She could hardly wait and kept peeking out the window. Finally, the moment arrived and Santa walked through the door. She waited in anticipation as Santa handed out gifts to all the adults. Finally her turn came and she shyly sat on Santa,s lap and a package was placed in her lap. She hastily tore open the wrappings and beheld her heart’s desire, an almost life size talking doll. Again her reaction was one of overabundant joy. With help she got the doll out of the box and hugged it with her whole heart.
 
Both of these incidents had a few things in common. First they were punctuated with extreme joy and delight. But something else happened in both cases. When she had expressed her joy and delight over her new toys her next reaction was one of thanksgiving. She left both toys and came over to her father and me and said "thank you" and gave us a big hug.
 
Jesus had heard the lepers’ request for mercy. What that meant to each of them is a puzzle. Note that they did not ask for healing, only for mercy. It was after they left Jesus and were on their way that they were healed. Imagine the feelings that must have entered into each one of them. What would we feel? Joy, sense of “did this really happen?”, wonder, uncertainty, excitement. Being healed of leprosy was huge. The Samaritans could now rejoin society, be fully part of society, not have to proclaim aloud they were lepers and stay clear of people. However, only one seemed to recognize who was responsible for this wonderful gift and give the appropriate response. Only one came back to Jesus, praising God to all who could hear. His voice of “Unclean, Unclean” was forever changed to “Praise God!” And he prostrated himself before Jesus in utter and complete gratitude. He realized fully what gift he had been given and who had given it.
 
We get big surprises in life, radical gifts that literally change our lives, blessings that create in us the desire to show gratitude and thanksgiving for what has been given. When someone says “yes” to a marriage proposal, our first response is “thank you.” When the bank gives us the loan for a house we say “Thank you.” We shake hands in gratitude that a deal has been made for a major purchase. Gratitude and thanksgiving is an instinctive reaction to the joy of obtaining what it is we have desired.  Think about how many times during the day we hear someone giving someone else a “Thank you.”
 
Many of us engage in the practice of giving thanks to God when good things happen to us. When we receive major blessings, we recognize that God has played a part in our lives in very good ways. In those moments prayers of thanksgiving are easy to remember. “Thank you God for making this amazing thing possible!” “Thank you God for giving me this opportunity!” “Thank you God for responding to my prayer!”
 
What is not so easy is recognizing and remembering the day to day “blessings” that seem to pass our way throughout the day. At the end of the day, when we say our prayers, or during church when we pray with one another, it is easy to give God thanks in a general kind of way. We “summon up” our blessings in a general phrase, “Thank you God for being with me this day.” “Thank you God for all you have given me!” “Thank you God for your kindness and mercy, for your love and grace.” And those are things that are appropriate to thank God for.
 
But what about the specifics in our lives? How often do we think to give God thanks when we arrive home safely from a trip to the grocery store? How often do we give God thanks for being able to type to give a message? How often do we give God thanks for the smile we just received as we passed someone walking? How often do we give God thanks for a sudden cool breeze when we are hot? How often do we give God thanks for a bee that is busy collecting nectar and pollinating plants? How often do we give God thanks for the salmon running up the river, or the ability to cast a line to snare it? How often do we give God thanks for being able to get in or out of a car? Or eating a piece of toast, or drinking a cup of refreshing liquid? 
 
Any occasion, event, ability, movement is an opportunity to give God thanks. But do we do that? Do we give God thanks every moment of the day, every breath we take? No, we don’t. Is it even possible to do that? Even a monk, living in absolute silence, living a life of meditation has distractions from doing just that. Thanking God all the time, every second of our lives is not what God intended for us. Spending all our time in prayer is not humanly feasible. We have to eat, drink, take care of bodily needs, interact with those around us, and serve God in ways that reach out to others. 
 
So what is required of us in living out our lives with our creator? When we begin to thank God for the little things in our lives, we are well on our way to being who God created us to be. That means that we begin to sense that God that permeates our actions. When we begin to sense that God is not just an entity out there, but truly and deeply within us, we are more in tune with what is right and good in this world. When Jesus walked this earth, he was in tune with God, constantly talking with God, constantly doing the will of God. God was what drove him! It was the strength he got from God that kept him going through hot, noisy crowds, teaching and healing where he could. He lived with the Spirit of God within him. He knew God intimately!
 
And because of the gift of the Spirit, we can come to know God intimately. We can be so tuned into God that our actions, and words and deeds come from that source of our being. We get so caught up in the small stuff of our lives, things that upset us, things that cause us worry and frenzy, and unrest. I wonder what would happen if we got caught up in the small stuff of God, awareness of the little blessings that really matter. I wonder what would happen if we lived in tune with the Spirit that has been given us! I wonder what would happen if we began to sweat the small stuff of God! How much clearer would our thinking be? How much more peace would we find? How much better would we be able to deal with the difficult stuff? How much easier would it be to ride the storms of life?
 
The practice of finding small blessings in each day leads us to greater awareness of our connectedness with God’s creation. We begin to see the orderliness of creation. We begin to see from God’s perspective, not just our own. We begin to see hope beyond the darkness of tragedy. Ah! And we begin to see that there is healing and wholeness for our souls. Our bodies may weaken, but we may experience what the tenth Samaritan experienced, a sense of wholeness that brought him back to Jesus in thanksgiving, in knowing that his whole life was in Jesus’ hands. 
 
What can we give God thanks for? Certainly the bigger blessings! But it is in the small blessings that we find wholeness. It is in the acknowledgment that God blesses us with the small stuff that we find a greater wholeness with our creator. The tenth leper had it right! Go directly to the source of blessing with the response of gratitude. Can we even imagine what the former leper received in that moment, the peace that was given to him as he prostrated himself before Jesus. Can we even imagine what we receive when we acknowledge God in the little things in life?   

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