Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
9th Oct 2016
Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity Year C
Holy Cross Church Cromer Street
Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so. Anna Warner, c.1860.
The old Sunday school hymn reminds us that our knowledge of the love of Christ has been revealed to us not only in the Gospels but through the entire Bible. The Old and the New Testament complement one another, speak to one another, and together they allow us to understand something very important. It is this: that though Jesus was born and lived in ‘New Testament Time’, the meaning of his teaching can only be completely understood in relation to the centuries of Faith (Old, or former Testament) shown by the people of Israel who preceded Him. And so we find in St Luke’s Gospel (17.11-19) an account of the healing of a group of lepers which finds echoes in the healing of Naaman the leper in the Second Book of the Kings (5.14-17). Jesus knows how important it is to look back in order to look forward. This provides the contact and the perspective of his salvation teaching.
The two healing stories, of Naaman and the Samaritan leper, belong to one another. Both speak of the love of God as inexhaustible and healing. Our proper response to God’s ‘graces freely given’ is surely to be one of gratitude and thankfulness. Like many words, ‘gratitude’ is one which has lapsed, perhaps owing to an attitude of subservience ‘ever so grateful’. But grateful, like the Spanish word ‘gracias’ comes from the word grace and is spoken as the happy acknowledgement of a gift that has been given. The importance of the leper who returned to Jesus is his realisation of the infinite love of God which he has found not on his way to Jerusalem, but which in Jesus Christ, has been the love of God walking at his side all the time. It is in the person of Jesus himself, as the giver of divine healing, which marks the new departure in God’s provision of healing for his world. This is a distinct and personal movement.
Both Naaman and for the unnamed Samaritan leper who returned to thank Jesus have one thing in common. They both seek to express their deep thanksgiving for what they have received at God’s hands. Thanksgiving for Christians is the prerequisite for spiritual openness. It speaks of a care and an honouring of the divine Giver and shows a spiritual attentiveness, a respect and a humility. Thankfulness in this respect may be both a gift and a source of healing at one and the same time.
We can experience this grace ourselves. There is a prayer of thanksgiving which we can practice day by day. This is not a prayer written down in a long form of words. It offers itself instead as a habit-forming prayer which finds us quieting ourselves on a daily basis and making a slow mental list of those things for which we wish to give thanks. We may go back in the day that has been hour by hour and take note and reflect upon those things for which we wish to give thanks. This is a prayer which raises our consciousness and allows us to practice what St Ignatius Loyola called ‘the examen of consciousness’. This kind of praying makes us aware that to know God is also to be in receipt of the gifts of his Holy Spirit; of love and joy and peace. These gifts are certainly gifts which we may actually experience. Practising the ‘examen of conscious thanks’ is surely much to be preferred than excusing our unheeding forgetfulness. We may soon find that the list of things for which we give God thanks just grows and grows. This brings joy. Importantly, it puts us in a place of thanksgiving, and allows us to inhabit it. It gets us used to being thanksgiving persons. I remember the seemingly quaint prayer from my childhood memory which yet which speaks of the basic need to be thankful and which, as it were, teaches it:
Thank you for the world so sweet
Thank you for the food we eat
Thank you for the birds that sing
Thank you God for everything Amen.
And then the more basic,
For what we are about to receive
May the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.
We place ourselves before God as joyful recipients of his divine giving. In turn, we receive the joy of knowing the God who is a giver; the God who is our provider. We respond to the grace and generosity of God which is freely given to us, and which heals us and helps us to be reconciled to our worlds. So many people complain about their lot, in oh so many ways; ways which are either obviously manifest or barely concealed. This complaining comes from an inability to practice the mindful acknowledgement of the gifts that have been given and consequently the lack of a graceful experience of thanksgiving that might emerge out of its receipt. The practice of the presence of God, the ‘examen of consciousness’ is calling us.
In the Gospel account Jesus does not promise instant healing for the ten lepers, but merely orders them ‘to show themselves to the priests’. The fact that they are healed ‘along the way’ tells us that Christ’s healing gift is given freely and whenever he chooses in time and space. It is also given in this both cases to foreigners, outsiders, to Naaman the Syrian and to the Samaritan leper and even to persons like you and me. God’s choosing may be unexpected or even unconventional but it is never haphazard. It is directed at us and we must be awakened to this fact. We may be just able to communicate our thanksgiving. For when we speak of God as the ultimate Provider we also speak of a relationship with Him which is exercised in freedom and without duress. It is the life we have been looking for, the living of life in trust from its truest source, God Himself. Let’s not take too much for granted. Let’s not spoil ourselves in our forgetful ingratitude and in the postponement of our thankfulness. We live only because God lives in us as gift and as Grace in His Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
‘It is by grace that you have been saved; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God, not by anything you have done. We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it’. Ephesians 2.10