HARVEST THANKSGIVING – Cibavit eos
Introit: (Ps 81) He fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey from the rock hath he satisfied them. Ps. Sing we merrily unto God our strength: make a cheerful noise unto the God of Jacob. Glory be … He fed them …
Collect: O Almighty and everlasting God, who crownest the year with thy goodness, and hast given unto us the fruits of the earth in their season: Give us grateful hearts, that we may unfeignedly thank thee for all thy loving-kindness, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Trinity xix) O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee: Mercifully grant, that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: Thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to fear him. For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass. When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgements, and his statutes, which I command thee this day;lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end; and thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day. (Deuteronomy 8.6-18)
Gradual: (Ps 145) The eyes of all wait upon thee, O Lord: and thou givest them their meat in due season. V. Thou openest thine hand: and fillest all things living with plenteousness.
Epistle: Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creation. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion isvain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (St James 1.16-27)
Alleluia. O praise the Lord, for it is a good thing to sing praises unto our God; yea, a joyful and pleasant thing it is to be thankful. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: As Jesus went on his way to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath saved thee. (St Luke 17.11-19)
“Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?”
The Hebrew word translated “leprosy” covers a broad range of skin ailments, and not only that which today is called Hansen’s disease. It could come in mild or serious form. Mild consisted in any number of conditions involving red or white blotches on the skin; serious, or true leprosy, eventually progressed to the disfigurement of the face, and degeneration of toes and fingers. But any kind was feared in the ancient world because it produced such terrible results, was thought to be highly contagious, and could not be cured. For all those reasons, Leviticus 13-14 gives special instructions concerning the diagnosis and treatment of leprosy. It essentially says that any rash or skin infection must be immediately presented to the priest for his inspection. The person would then be quarantined for seven days. If, at the end of the seven days, the infection had disappeared, the person could be readmitted to society. If not, then the person diagnosed as having leprosy was banished from society, separated from families and friends, and lived in a leper colony for the duration of his infection (which usually meant the rest of his life). He could not come within twelve feet of another living being. He was untouchable. Leprosy was THE dreaded disease (one might say, the COVID-19) of Jesus’ time. Leviticus 13.45-46 states: The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ’Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.
In today’s Gospel, just such a group of ten lepers were in a small leper colony outside Jerusalem, in no-man’s-land between the Jews and the Samaritans. Three days earlier, Jesus had healed a man of leprosy and the news had spread, so these lepers were hoping that He would come by and perhaps they, too, might be healed. Well, Jesus did come by, so they began shouting: “Have mercy upon us! Have mercy upon us!” Now it was certainly within His power to heal them right then and there, but instead, Jesus said something that might sound rather strange to us: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” At first blush, one might think He was simply putting them off, that He had no intention of healing them at all. But as a matter of fact, Jesus not only fully intended to heal them, but (and this is critical) to do so in keeping with the demands of the Law of Moses. Leviticus 14 clearly stipulates that the priest must authenticate any purported “cure” from leprosy. If Jesus had not sent the lepers to the priest, no one would have believed that the miracle had really taken place. But that is not the whole story. The latter part of verse 14 says that“as they went, they were cleansed.” This means that when they left to go to the priest, they still had leprosy. How do you suppose they felt when Jesus said, “Go show yourselves to the priests”? Show what to the priests? They were still lepers. What’s the use? But, off they go, to see the priest. They take one step … and nothing is different. They take another step … and another, and … something wonderful, something they never dreamed possible, began to happen. Miraculously, all ten of them were healed. Not before, but in the act of going, they were healed. The obedience to our Lord’s command was the act of faith that brought about their healing.
Understandably, they were elated. Off they ran as fast as they could go, to see the wife, son or daughter, father or mother they thought they would never see again. They were so happy to be well after all this time! So all ten lepers were healed. It is a marvellous miracle, but it is not the end of the story. In fact, that is not even the heart of the story. Another miracle is about to happen.“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.”One remembered – only one – and returned, fell at Jesus’ feet, and thanked Him. Ten were healed, but only one came back to give thanks. For so many years he had been a pariah, living in this remote area, separated from his family, forgotten by his friends, cut off from his own people. Suddenly the disease vanishes and with it the disfigurement, the scars, the atrophied muscles. In less time than it takes to tell the story, the disease is gone from his body, leaving not a trace behind. He is whole again, healthy again, no longer an outcast. No wonder he shouted. But when St Luke adds, “He was a Samaritan,” the shock is such that we ought to read it: “Imagine it! A Samaritan!” That statement, “he was a Samaritan,” is why this story is in the Bible.Luke does not say so directly, but the implication is that the other nine were Jews. So what this story really means is that those who should have been most grateful were not, and the one man who should not have come back did. Where are the other nine? Can it be that healing the human heart of ingratitude is a greater miracle than healing the scourge of leprosy?
“Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this foreigner.” We can hear surprise, shock and, most of all, sadness in our Lord’s words. The others, where are they? Were they not healed? Why did they not come back and say thank-you? Perhaps they just assumed Jesus knew how grateful they were. And after all, He hadn’t made a formal expression of gratitude part of the bargain. But the ultimate tragedy is that the other nine lepers got the healing, but not the Healer; they received the gift, but did not come to know and love the Giver. Like the child at Christmas, so busy playing with his new train that he is oblivious to Grandma and Grandpa who came to see him and spend time with him and love him, so we, as human beings, can become so busy playing with our little trains of life that we forget the God who has come to visit us, and be with us, and love us. That is the real tragedy of the nine: they missed the true blessing.
Among the many things this healing accomplished was the breaching of a formidable boundary and the movement from painful isolation to grateful fellowship. Maybe that is why the Samaritan came back: not simply because he felt obliged to give thanks, but out of a yearning for intimacy with God, a sense that faith does not mean simply the performance of rituals and practices, but an actual relationship with our Lord that is personal, humbling, even dependent … and healing. Part of the illness of modern life, and part of what leads to the sense of isolation so many feel, is a deeply ingrained sense of entitlement – the notion that I somehow ‘deserve’ certain things, that I owe nothing to anyone and have no responsibility to anyone but myself. It is a deep self-centredness that assumes everything is my right, my due – an attitude that replaces concern for the community with a preoccupation with my own wants and needs, enabling me to maintain my distance in the illusion of absolute independence. Healed of illness, we wander off blithely like the nine because, after all, we’re entitled to health, aren’t we?
“But one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back.” He turned back from going his own way, from independence, from entitlement, from self-justification, and came and knelt at Jesus’ feet. And there he proclaimed his ultimate dependence upon God. We cannot live at a distance and be truly healed at the same time. In short, gratitude is an expression of our need for others, of our need for God. We are not really entitled to anything. It is more than just a lack of civility and good manners that diminishes life today; it is the failure to realise that we live in a profoundly interdependent world, that the strength of our communities and the health of our souls comes not as entitlement or right, but as gift. The biblical view of thanksgiving is not so much about feeling grateful for particular material blessings, but rather is a way of life in which God is at the centre of all that we are and all that we do. It is about the most essential relationship in our lives – a relationship that changes our perspective on everything else. True thanksgiving reminds us that we depend upon God for all that we have, and all that we are. This living thanksgiving shows that God is not just some ‘add-on’ to our lives, but is the essential part of who we are.
This past Monday we celebrated the feast of St Francis of Assisi. One of the most beautiful stories about St Francis is his sermon to the birds. One day, while Francis was travelling with some of his friars, they came upon a place in the road where flocks of birds filled the trees on either side. Francis told his companions to “wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds.” The birds surrounded him, intrigued by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away till he was done and had blessed them. And the substance of the sermon was this:
“My little sisters, much bounden are ye unto God, your Creator, and always in every place ought ye to praise Him, for that He hath given you liberty to fly about into all places; … still more are ye beholden to Him for the element of the air which He hath appointed for you; beyond all this, ye sow not, neither do ye reap; and God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink, the mountains and valleys for your refuge, and the high trees wherein to make your nests; and though ye neither spin nor sew, God clotheth you … wherefore your Creator loveth you much, seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God.”
Beware the sin of ingratitude. St Francis’ words speak to us all. Gratitude is the highest duty of the believer, the fountain from which all other blessings flow. Ingratitude is the leprosy of the soul. It eats away on the inside, destroys our happiness, cripples our joy, shrivels our compassion, paralyzes our praise, and renders us numb to all the manifold blessings of God.When finally we understand that every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of Lights, when finally we see that life itself comes gift-wrapped from on high, when we come to believe and know that all of life is a grace, then do we begin to praise, to give, to tell, to serve. We begin to enter into the abundant life Christ offers, and things begin to change … what was duty is now privilege; what was Law is now Grace; what was demanded is now volunteered; what was drudgery is now joy; what was taken for granted is now offered up in praise to God.
Offering a prayer before meals acknowledges that my life depends on God’s bounty and on the host of people who planted, tended, harvested, processed, distributed, prepared, and even served the food that gives me nourishment and enjoyment. A prayer by a hospital bed admits that my health rests in God’s love as well as the skills of physicians and nurses, scientists and technicians. Even sending a thank-you note is far more than social convention, but an awareness that the best gifts are not things we can give ourselves, but come from beyond us, as an expression of love, even an invitation to love. Each thank-you becomes a way to practise gratitude so that, little by little, our lives are weaned away from the myth of entitlement and the arrogance and isolation of independence, and more and more come to be shaped by the truth of our belonging to others, and ultimately to Christ. Jesus tells the Samaritan, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” To be truly well requires the embrace of heartfelt gratitude with the grace of Christ’s infinite love. The healthiest people are those whose lives express a deep gratitude for everything and everyone that has touched their lives.
This week-end people all across Canada will celebrate Thanksgiving. Surrounded by decorative gourds, multi-coloured leaves, corn, grapevines, and other produce, families will sit down to sumptuous feasts of turkey and pumpkin pie. We may even remember the less fortunate, helping with dinners at homeless shelters, or donating to the food banks. And that is good – it is right that we should feast and celebrate and share the bounty of the harvest. But it might also be bad, depending on our overall attitude and approach to life and to what God has done and continues to do for us. Our Scripture Lessons speak profoundly of what we all know somewhere in our hearts, but often seem to forget in our actions and attitudes – that everything we have is a gift from God. After telling the Israelites how they will prosper in the promised land, how, after so many years of slavery and wandering in the wilderness, they will now eat their fill, have fine houses and large herds, and that their silver and gold will multiply, Moses warns: “Do not say to yourself, ‘my power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.” (Dt 8.17)
The Gospel makes the important point that the one who came back with a heart of gratitude was not part of the religious establishment; he was an outsider to the faith. So often, within the Church, we can become used to God’s blessing; we begin to take God for granted; and we begin to expect His blessings as our God-given rights. When we become very familiar with someone, we often start to take that someone for granted. So it is really no surprise that it was the Samaritan, the outsider, who was the only one to come back to thank Jesus. The other nine expected God’s blessings. Ten men were healed that day. On the outside they all appear identical. Yet only one returned. Nine went on. One was grateful. Nine were not. One found grace. Nine did not. Are you with the nine or with the one? A thankful heart is a choice. No one is forced into bitterness. The key to a thankful life is the conscious choice not to forget what God has done for you.
The greatest miracle is not one’s being healed of leprosy (or any other disease); the greatest miracle is when the human heart is healed of ingratitude and filled with continual thanksgiving – to God and others – for the countless gifts of love. May God heal our hearts, teach us to practise thanksgiving in our daily lives, forgive us every form of self-centredness that assumes we are entitled to what we have, and make us mindful of every good gift as well as of the Giver. Thus, may we experience the joy of God’s presence that makes us truly whole.
“When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God.”
Collect: O Lord, we pray thee, sow the seed of thy word in our hearts, and send down upon us the showers of thy grace, that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit, and at the great day of harvest may be gathered by the holy angels into thy heavenly garner; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.