September 20th 2020

Readings: Luke 17:11-19 & 2 Kings5:1-3, 7-15

Many of us, as children, faced the dreaded battle over thank you letters. As adults of course, we understand how important these letters are. As children however, our appreciation was often somewhat less obviously forthcoming, especially if the gift we received was rather dull, or disliked, or even broken by the end of the first day! Whatever our feelings on the matter however, we were still, quite rightly, expected to sit down and right those letters at the first opportunity.

Thank you letters are still very much appreciated today. They not only let the person know we received the gift, but that whatever our feelings really are about the present in question, we are truly grateful for being remembered and thought of in such a generous fashion.

As children, saying thank you was something we often needed to be reminded about, and if truth be told, we often felt it was more of a duty than a natural response to another’s generosity. Many times, we just didn’t think about it, and our parents gently, and sometimes perhaps not so gently, reminded us that it was only polite to show gratitude. We all understand however, that true gratitude is about much more than this. It is not about a sense of guilt, but about inspiring us to improve our relationship with the giver of the gift.

Gifts are in fact sacramental – a visible sign of an invisible reality, because gifts represent our relationship with someone. I’m sure we have all received gifts we don’t like or need, but I’m equally sure than none of us would ever let the giver know how we felt. And the reason we would never tell them is because we respect the person more than the present we don’t know what to do with. In other words, the relationship is infinitely more valuable than mere material bits and pieces.

We spend both time and money in choosing and buying gifts for people, especially those closest to us, but there can also sometimes be that awkward moment at Christmas when there appears to be a bit of a mismatching of gifts – you know ... that feeling you get when you think, “aagh... I’ve given them a cheap box of chocolates, and they’ve bought me an expensive ornament or jumper or something!

For the ten lepers, the healing they received at the hands of Jesus gave them something they could only have dreamt of otherwise. The gift they received was the ability to return to normal society, to live as an ordinary human being free from fear of exclusion and the rejection that had been part and parcel of their suffering with leprosy.

However, only one of the lepers seems to have been aware of how valuable that gift was, for only one took the time to return to the giver to reveal his gratitude. The Samaritan, the outsider in the group of outsiders, was the only one who appeared to understand the importance of what he had received and the significance of the person from whom the gift had come. All the Samaritan had to give in return was his gratitude, and he gladly ran back to Jesus to given him that. This might not seem like much, but the cost to him was the delay in his return to society, however briefly, so his gift to Jesus was precious indeed.

Thinking about people to whom we feel gratitude can inspire us to become more generous ourselves. The ‘pay it forward’ concept, dating back to Benjamin Franklin in the eighteenth century, is one that tells us that we can’t pay back all that we have received, but that we can ‘pay it forward’ to others.

For example, parents give such concentrated love and care to their children and that is then passed on in turn by those children to their children, and on it goes. Another example can be found in those who have struggled in life, people who have really struggled but have received help and in response to this go on to give all that they can of their time and efforts in trying to help other people who find themselves in a difficult place. Paying it forward is an important concept and one which describes very well how we can express our gratitude to God for all he has done for us in Christ Jesus.

The story of Elisha’s healing of Naaman is set in the context of tension, sometimes outright war, between Naaman’s country Aram, and Israel. There are several issues in the story: first, the hostility between the two countries, second, the leprosy itself, and thirdly, Naaman’s pride, which prevented him from accepting the healing ritual. God’s grace functions in the story to overcome all three problems, and to open up the possibility that foreigners, not just born Israelites, might opt to affiliate themselves to Israel’s God.

After Naaman was healed, he wanted to give Elisha money which was refused. Elisha realised however, that Naaman was trying to discharge a debt, or to buy the healing. What Elisha wanted Naaman to realise was that his healing was a gift from God, and that no payment was necessary. And what Naaman learnt was that his expression of gratitude to God could be shown in other ways, chiefly in a willingness to recognise the Lord as God and to worship him accordingly.

Our church life is all about gifts – God’s gift in Christ, expressed in so many ways through our worship – the gift of God’s love, the gift of Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. We feel, rightly, that the gifts of God should inspire us to be more giving ourselves. Giving our all to Jesus is what counts. Showing our gratitude is not about how much money we give or even about how much time we spend doing good works. What matters is what lies deep in our hearts – the reason we give of our money and our time and efforts. What matters to God is that we recognise him and all that he has done for us. And so saying thank you becomes more than a dutiful pleasantry, it is a straightforward and simple response in faith to all Jesus did and continues to do for us.

It may be encouraging for us to remember that the things we do in faith, the acts of kindness, the service we offer, the worship we share in it many and varied forms, are all ways in which we give thanks to God. But more importantly, that in giving thanks to him, our relationship grows and deepens. Our understanding of God’s truly wide mercy increases but at the same time confounds us, for in humility we cannot understand why he went to such amazing lengths for us. Ours is not to wonder why however, but to praise the fact that he did, that he chose us and continues to bless us in ways far beyond our imagining.

Please click on the link to listen to Chain Breaker sung by Zach Williams

Chain Breaker