Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
Ten lepers stand before Jesus, and ask for mercy. Ten lepers then head off to show themselves to the priest, but one turns aside…turns back…
When you stand before God …what’s the first thing that comes up…
Fear and Trembling? Awe and wonder? Not being worthy? Maybe being judged?
What about gratitude?
Karl Barth, the eminent 20th century Swiss, protestant theologian used to say that the basic human response to God is …gratitude. Think about that…the basic human response to God is not fear and trembling, not shame and judgement…but gratitude…(Feasting on the Word, Year C, V4, p. 165).
Ten lepers stand before God, but only one turns aside to express gratitude…thanks and praise…It is the basic human response to God, but I know from my own experience, and I suspect this is true more generally, that praise, and gratitude…is not typically where we start. Oh, we give a good deal of lip service to it…we sing about it…and gather around the altar for The Great Thanksgiving every week…that’s what Eucharist means, remember…it’s Greek for “gratitude…thanksgiving”… We do that every week…there’s a whole industry of feel-good, motivational cat posters out there dedicated to gratitude…and yet…I know from my own experience…that gratitude is a place we eventually get to…that second gaze (as I suggested last week), not the place from which we typically start. We need to be reminded (most of us) to start there.
You know that not every Episcopal church does things in the exact same way…There are different places to put the announcements: after the peace and before Communion—during “half-time” as some call it. We do it right as we are getting ready to go out into the world, as a reminder of ways to be engaged in ministry in the coming week…and some even do it at the beginning of the service, sort of like they do at the theatre…”welcome to today’s service, we’re so glad you’re here…here’s some announcements…”
I know this might be controversial but, there is no “proper” place for the announcements …Of all of those options, I like having them at the beginning the least…because the liturgy is structured so that the first thing out of our mouths are words of thanks and praise…”Blessed be the one holy and living God…” It’s important to begin that way, because we need reminders that gratitude and praise is where we start…that our basic human response to God is…“thank you!” For all of it…for the goodness and for the challenges…the blessings (and yes, even) the woes. It’s hard to stay grateful once you walk out those doors, but gratitude…for everything…is where we have to start…and with practice it becomes a more natural beginning.
Several months ago, I was at the Brookline Interfaith clergy gathering. This is a monthly meeting of great colleagues, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian. Each meeting one of us shares a brief spiritual practice, and this particular time one of the Rabbi’s shared a practice from the Musar Movement that her spiritual advisor instructed her to do. Every day for a month she was to write down 100 things that she was grateful for. That’s it. One month…every day…100 things she was grateful for. Oh, there was one other thing…no repetitions. We did an abbreviated version. We sat for five minutes and wrote down all of the things we could think of that we were grateful for—with no repeats—so I started and got through my family, and the sun and the sky and the green trees, and the sidewalk, and the pen, and the paper, and…the warmth of the coffee in the morning, and the lunch I had…and I noticed was that the more I wrote, the more I discovered that I was grateful for. And not repeating things meant that I began to look more carefully at things…I’m grateful for this particular shade of green, and this specific texture of the wood…the deep brown, the individual pattern of the wood grain. And what you notice…as you engage with this practice over time, is that…you are drawn deeper and deeper into the reality of the present, and your senses are opened more and more to the reality of the gift that God offers us.
If you are looking for a way to be more fully engaged with your own spiritual life…I commend this practice to you.
What if we all committed to this…every day between now and November 3…between now and All Saints…what if every day you wrote down at least ten things that you were grateful for that day. No repeats. And then, on the evening of Nov. 2 or the morning of Nov. 3 you took some time, got quiet, sat in God’s presence, took out that list, and looked through it. You’d have at least 200 different things that you were grateful for…And after sitting with God and that list for a few minutes…then…take out your pledge card and write down a number that represents your gratitude for God, for this place, for all of it… (H/T). Could we all commit to that? I offer it as an invitation to you.
In a poem titled, The Bright Field, Welsh Poet and priest, R. S. Thomas writes:
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
Life is not hurrying on to a receding future…it is the turning aside to the miracle of the present…
Ten lepers approach Jesus, stand before him, and then go on their way. Only one turns aside to offer thanks and praise. Make no mistake, all are healed…but this one turns aside…and gives voice to the most basic…the primary human response to God…the place where we all start…if we only remember it…gratitude. Not the cat poster kind of gratitude, but the kind of gratitude that sees the blazing, fiery brightness of God’s love, the kind of gratitude that sees fully and truthfully…sees the self, the other and God with the eyes of compassion. Ten are healed, and one turned aside…This one must have been practicing, because gratitude wells up inside them and they do not hurry on to a receding future, but turn aside to see the brightness of salvation…and give thanks for it…May we have the grace, and the courage, to do the same…Amen.