November 19th, 2017

          Remember when you were a child, and someone would give you a present, or say something nice, and your mom or dad would elbow you and whisper, “Say Thank you!”.  ‘Please, thank you, and you’re welcome’ were drilled into us back then.  Being courteous and having good manners was important.  And we learned how to be polite and say ‘Thank you’ - even when we didn’t mean it.   Remember Ralphie in the movie “A Christmas Story”? 

His mother insisted he put on the pink bunny pajamas he received from Aunt Clara as a Christmas present, even though it was probably the last thing on earth he wanted to do.  When he came down the stairs wearing them, his father said he looked like a deranged Easter Bunny.  His brother laughed at him.  Finally his mother promised he only had to wear them when Aunt Clara came over. 

          Now maybe Ralphie’s mom could lie and tell Aunt Clara that Ralphie really loved those pajamas, and maybe Aunt Clara would actually believe that lie.  But if we say ‘thank you’ to God and not truly mean it, we are better off not saying it at all, because there is no way He won’t know that we are lying.  Thankfulness has to come from the heart. 

          Why do you think the other nine lepers in our last Scripture reading didn’t return to thank Jesus?  Do you think they would rather have remained lepers?  Probably not.  Who would want to remain a leper, an outcast whose skin was wasting away?  They why didn’t they return to give thanks? 

          Perhaps they thought it was the least that God could do for them since they had to suffer for so long with the disease.  Perhaps they figured God owed it to them somehow.  How often in life do we struggle, perhaps with illness, perhaps with unemployment, perhaps with relationship problems, or any other number of personal difficulties.  When we finally get a breakthrough of some sort, instead of being thankful, we think to ourselves, “it’s about time I caught a break!” 

          The Bible notes that the one leper that returned to give thanks was a Samaritan.  That would lead us to assume that the other nine were Jews, God’s chosen people.  Being a Samaritan, he more than likely felt God didn’t owe him anything, because He wasn’t among the chosen.  Sometimes we think that if we attend church regularly, put our offering in the plate, and do our share of good deeds, we should be exempt from suffering, and God owes us the blessings that He bestows upon us.  Instead of having a heart filled with thanksgiving, we have a heart filled with pride.  Maybe the nine Jews even wondered why Jesus healed the Samaritan.  After all, he wasn’t ‘one of them’. 

          Or maybe the nine were so eager to show themselves to the priest and be accepted back into society that they didn’t want to waste a minute’s time to go back and thank Jesus.  In today’s fast-paced society, how often do we not want to waste a Sunday morning thanking God in church, when we could be doing something else?  Or even waste 5 minutes in prayer thanking God for his blessings of the day because our favorite show is coming on, or we have a special project to work on, or any other number of things that take precedent?  And if you think about it, it isn’t even about the time itself.  Because we somehow always manage to find the time to do the things that are really important to us, don’t we? 

          Now I know there are those of you who do a great deal for the Lord.  And I would hope that it is because you sincerely love Him.  But I am only human and I can’t read minds or look into hearts.  Hopefully I can’t be fooled as easily as Ralphie’s Aunt Clara might be, but it’s possible.  However, God can’t be fooled.  Not by anyone no matter how good of an act they put on.  He saw into the hearts of the Pharisees who pretended to be the most righteous people on the face of the earth.  But Jesus called their bluff.  He saw into their hearts.  Did he see thankfulness?  Nope.  Not one shred of it.  All He saw was hypocrisy, pride, and self-righteous arrogance.  The Pharisees thank Jesus?  Not on your life.  They thought they were better than Him.  After all, Jesus ate with sinners, and didn’t wash His hands before a meal.  So what if He healed some people or fed thousands with a meager portion of bread and fish.  Miracles meant nothing if don’t follow their rules.  At least that’s how their line of thinking went.  God’s love wasn’t a gift to be thankful for, it was a prize to be earned by being better than everyone else.  Oh, poor Pharisees, you were so deceived by your father the devil!  And you misled so many poor souls who carried the burdens you strapped to them. 

          It is my prayer that all of you have received the free gift of God’s grace, His undeserved love, which none of us could ever earn.   I pray that your hearts are overflowing with gratitude for the salvation God has provided through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.  I pray that no matter the trials you are called to face, or the sorrows that you must bear, you thank God for the promise of eternal life to come in which you will be richly rewarded for your faith, never more to suffer pain or loss, never more to be plagued with worry or doubt or fear.  I pray that you count your blessings each and every day, and that the more you do, the more you realize just how abundantly God has blessed you.  And I pray that while you enjoy the temporal blessings God gives you, that they never become more important to you than the One who blessed you with them.  Amen.