Saying Thank You
Our sister church Concordia Lutheran in Manchester focused on gratitude
in their stewardship campaign a few years ago.
In order to look at this in a new way, they put the names of all the parishioners in a hat and drew them out, one by one, noting the order of the names.
The idea was to give thanks for each member of the community, so first person drawn out of the hat wrote a personalized thank you note to the second name drawn;
the second wrote a note to the third person whose name was drawn, and so on.
Once the first note was written, the members could write to whomever they wanted and say thank you. At first a few people thought it was a little too touchy feely.
Most people do what they do at church because they want to serve, not because they want to be thanked! But as they wrote the notes, an unexpected thing began to happen.
People began to see themselves and other in new ways. The woman who always made sure the coffee was going realized how a simple hot beverage provided the opportunity for people to form bonds after worship. The family whose autistic son sometimes made noise in church heard that several members loved seeing their son participate because it reminded them of God’s love for everyone.
An elderly man learned that he was a role model for the council president and a little girl found out that her knack for passing the peace with the whole church made people’s day.
Seemingly small things that would have gone unnoticed were lifted up and a cause for thanksgiving. I think about Concordia’s experience as I hear the Gospel lesson for today.
Ten lepers were healed of their disease. This was no small thing. Leprosy was so contagious that those infected with this flesh withering disease had to be isolated.
They could not live with their families, only in settlements far away from human society.
Cure was rare. Those who were healed were restored not only to physical health, but also to human community. They could go home and hug their children for the first time in years.
They could work again, love again, have a life again. With this kind of gift, I have no doubt that all ten lepers were grateful. In fact, it seems they were so grateful and relieved and overjoyed, that they rushed back to the families and lives they left behind. But one leper turned back to actually say thank you to Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but I think I am often like the nine—
I have so many blessings every day: a job I Iove, a healthy family, the beauty of the sun shining on a fall leaf.
I take them in, and off I go, moving on to the next thing.
I don’t stop to actually say, Thank you, God.
And though I enjoy my work, my family, the beauty of that leaf, I miss something by not saying thank you.
I think there is a difference between being grateful and saying thank you –
it’s like the difference between enjoying your meal and savoring each bite.
The second entails a little more time and conscious appreciation.
Saying thank you makes you conscious of the gift you have received.
And as the members of Concordia found, actually saying thank you changes your experience.
The more you say thank you, the more you appreciate life around you.
The more grateful and peaceful you become.
I learned this lesson from an unexpected source- from the man I used to live across the street from, Roy. He was a talented craftsman, and he had a generous heart;
He called my son “poppy” and bought him ice cream. But Roy suffered from addiction, mental illness and illiteracy, and he struggled to hold down a job.
His sons had little respect for him; his wife used him as a verbal punching bag.
One summer evening talking with Roy on my front porch, he told me about his habit of waking up at 5 every morning and coming outside.
“It’s nice and quiet,” he said, “nobody up yet. I look at the sky and the trees, and I breathe in and say, “thank you, God, for giving me this day.”” His words brought tears to my eyes.
Here he was, a man who lived in a house where someone was always yelling,
a man who slept on the couch because his wife thought he was a no good bum,
giving thanks to God.
And here I was, the church professional, a role model of the faith,
a woman with a beautiful home and a fulfilling career and loving family
suddenly realizing that I blipped right by the things I was grateful for.
Roy’s gratitude was deeply humbling to me. When the lone leper turned around, he not only said thank you to Jesus. He also bowed down before Jesus’ feet, and praised God.
He worshipped God, humbly and truly. And as a Samaritan, he was the last person you would have expected to do that.
Saying thank you is a spiritual practice, a form of worshipping God. In this stewardship season I want invite you to tie your giving of time, talent and financial resources
to that practice of saying thank you. In the OT, there was something actually called a ‘thank offering’—bringing a gift of your resources was considered a way of saying thank you.
We have that opportunity when we recognize the gifts we have from God
And return a portion of those gifts as a way to say thank you to God for what you are grateful for.
So, what do you want to say thank you for?
I invite you to say that word of gratitude to God right now.
As we do so, we worship Jesus, humbly and truly.