Thanksgiving as a Spiritual Discipline October 13

Thanksgiving as a Spiritual Discipline

2nd Kings 5:1-15, Psalm 111, 2nd timothy 2:8-15, Lk 17:11-19

One of the things I have thought about as a father that I rarely if ever thought about before Toby came into the world is how there are things that need to be taught that we wished would come natural. One of the obvious ones being gratefulness, beginning with the simple act of saying thank you.  Being thankful for gifts we are given and the good that is done for us is something we would all like to think just happened in our upbringing, but like the young people in our midst we needed it to be taught and modeled to us. And unfortunately some adults may never get it, it can be hard to say thank you.

Today’s readings make this human tendency to struggle with thanksgiving clear. In our Old Testament lesson, Naming has an opportunity to rid his body of Leprosy. Although he comes around by the end of the narrative and confesses how wonderful our God is. His initial response is one of angst, “what I need to wash in that river to receive a miraculous healing? Who does God think he is” It takes the words of a lowly servant to remind God how small of a price it was to pay for such a life-changing miracle. How many times do we fail to recognize God’s blessings because they don’t happen the way we expect or wish.  You may recall these lyrics penned by Garth Brooks.

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers 
Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs 
That just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care 
Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers 

Just over 3 years ago I was packing my bags for a new call in PA. It was a thriving congregation with a solidly biblical and confessional foundation. I was excited, I prayed to God that he would allow this to be the place I minister for a long time and that Heather and I raise Toby. Obviously that was a prayer that God didn’t answer, and I’m glad he didn’t. About 2 years into the call at GR I was approached by a pastor nearing retirement. He had received permission from both his congregation and his bishop to talk to me about being his successor when he retired. There were inklings that finances at CHULC would not allow them to continue to support two ordained pastors and I had also began to realize that I craved more leadership than an associate pastor position allowed.  Discernment started and my prayer changed, I was going to Maryland. And then it happened, it was obvious that my timeline and this congregation’s timeline weren’t going to line up and God was calling me to another place, an unknown place, this was not my plan. I told God that I wasn’t happy with him. Instead of being thankful that he set me down a path to prepare me for what was going on at Christ Hamilton, for I can’t imagine how the financial conversation would have gone if I hadn’t already opened myself up for call, instead  I was indignant that I wasn’t going to Maryland. I know how Namaan felt, and like Namaan I was called to a river and my life has been blessed ever since. I am Glad that God knows what He is doing but there will be times in our lives that we forget that He knows what he is doing. In those times thankfulness is hard. Brothers and sisters God knows so much better than you or me what God’s business is… and that in itself is a blessing.

In today’s gospel lesson we meet 10 more lepers, they leave there encounter with Jesus transformed in a radical miraculous way, yet only one comes back to say thank you to the messiah who gave him his life back. We don’t know anything about the other 9 so any guess on why they failed to say thanks for this amazing gift is just that, a guess. I think that perhaps they knew that in their life as lepers they missed out on so much that they were in a hurry to catch up. In their rush they forgot to stop to give God thanks. I know that has happened to me, in such a hurry to the next big thing I fail to stop and even offer a small thank you to God.

That is where Psalm 111 comes in. This kind of thankful prayer needs to be a part of our repertoire. Not for God’s sake, God won’t stop being God because of our faithlessness and failed disciple moments. Brothers and sisters God doesn’t need us we need God.  And God continuously offers what we need, forgiveness eternal life, a community that loves and supports us. The list goes on and on. As is always the case the psalms offers us a prayer that we can pray because we often won’t pray thanksgiving without it. Sometimes God and his deeds are taking for granted by those who have grown up hearing these stories and singing these same hymns. Both Namaan and the one thankful leper from the gospel lesson were outsiders and foreigners. New recipients of God’s grace. Perhaps in our prayer lives we need to lift up God’s activity so it is constantly in front of us and doesn’t become just the backdrop of our lives which we no longer notice.

St. Ignatius, writing less than a century before Martin Luther, in his spiritual exercises had a special kind of prayer for the people under his charge. It was called the examen, it consisted of two questions that were to be reflected upon. I have seen various translations or revisions to make the questions more modern but the main questions are “In what ways has God been especially present for you today?” and “How has the Devil attacked you today?” Both those questions in different ways lead to thankfulness. The first question leads to thankfulness because as we list the ways that God has blessed us we can’t help but be thankful. The second question makes us thankful because it reminds us we are His and the enemy cannot touch us no matter how hard he tries.

You see the psalmist and Ignatius both knew that this kind of prayer needs to be rehearsed.  We force ourselves to be thankful until thanksgiving become second nature. Before we know it we will be able to see God working on even the toughest days and those blessings and miracles in our lives will point us and others to the God who has given his very life for us. My challenge to you this week is to spend even more time in prayer than usual. And be even more specific about the things you are thankful for than you are about your wants and needs. Please pray with me.