The Rev. Wilbert S. Miller’s Sermon
“Saying, ‘Thank You.’”
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity-Manhattan
Luke 17: 11-19
October 9, 2016 (Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost)
“The Baby Center” website offers this insight for parents teaching their children to say “thank you”: “Some children as young as twelve months will try to copy your ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ for example, ‘peees’ and ‘ta, ta.’”
I imagine your parents drilled these words into your pintsize noggins: “What do you say to Mrs. Brown?” “Did you thank Mr. Little?”
Even when your noggins grew to adult sizes, your parents did not relent in their mannerly instruction: “I don’t mean to nag but did you send Mr. and Mrs. Johnson a thank you note for the lovely silver fondue set they gave you for your wedding?”
As “The Baby Center” website reminds us: “Learning to say thank you can take years of training and encouragement.”
The need for continual training and encouragement is nowhere clearer than in the case of the ten lepers. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. Ten lepers saw him and begged for healing: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” One of the ten was a double loser: not only did he have the dreaded skin disease, worse yet, he was a detested Samaritan, a reviled religious outsider.
They all knew who could deliver the goods; maybe they knew too well. Perhaps they took Jesus’ healing power for granted.
You know how the story goes. They were all losers and yet only one celebrated the wonder of the miraculous healing. Like a Mexican immigrant who gets a job cleaning rooms at Motel 6, the tenth leper took nothing for granted: he was an outsider and constantly ridiculed. He was the only one who remembered to do as his parents had taught him; he returned to Jesus and said, “Thank you.”
Whether we care to admit it or not, we who gather here Sunday after Sunday are losers as well—doubly, triply, some more so. We stand here this morning before the humdrum stuff of bread and wine. Like the other nine, we can take it all for granted, wondering whether anything special really happens here. Is this trifling wafer really the body of Christ?
When I was a seminarian working at the Masonic Home and Hospital in Wallingford, Connecticut, I offered an elderly, confused woman a similar wafer with identical words, “The body of Christ given for you.” She angrily looked at me and said, “I am not going to eat a piece of cardboard!”
We are in constant need of a revival of wonder. We need eyes to see that something special happens here, the miracle of God’s presence in our lives.
Sometimes, when we arrive at worship on Sunday morning, rather than seeking to behold the wonder of God’s grace, we get caught up in the dreary game of looking for things to complain about—do you do that? how is the temperature, can I hear the readings, how boring is the sermon, are the prayers too long, do I know the hymns? Rather than being artists, poets, and musicians exploring divine wonder, we end up like Olympic diving officials on the side of the pool, `holding up cards to rate the ecclesiastical goings-on. So gloomy, so absent of thanksgiving.
David Brooks, in his book “The Road to Character,” writes that public language has become demoralized. He notes that in the twentieth century, the use of the word “gratitude” is down forty-nine percent.”
When we forget to be grateful, we risk become morose dullards rather than people of wonder. The moment we enter the doors here, every, single Sunday, let us always remember we are in the presence of the Lord and let us seek ways to offer our constant gratitude to God.
We call this meal a host of names: Mass, Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper. It is also called Holy Eucharist which means “thanksgiving,” as in “thank you God for feeding me with this bread of heaven.” What can possibly be more exciting than receiving this wondrous bread in the palm of our hands?
My favorite writer Annie Dillard writes about similar wonder as she buys communion wine for her little church: “How can I buy the communion wine? Who am I to buy the communion wine? Someone has to buy the communion wine. Having wine instead of grape juice was my idea, and of course I offered to buy it. Shouldn’t I be wearing robes and, especially, a mask? Shouldn’t I make the communion wine? Are there holy grapes, is there holy ground, is anything here holy? There are no holy grapes, there is no holy ground, nor is there anyone but us.” After she buys the wine where she can also purchase eggs, sandpaper, broccoli, wood screws, and milk, she goes on, “I’m out on the road again walking, and toting a backload of God.”
A backload of God…Ten were healed and only one realized he was toting a backload of God.
Musicians and artists, writers and poets, teach us to pay attention and to say “thank you.” Are we amazed at the music-making that occurs in this place? Last Sunday as I listened to our choir singing the Psalm, I was stunned: I had never heard anything like it. Everywhere I have lived, someone has eventually said, “You must hear the music at Holy Trinity in New York City.” My dear friends, angels have been sent into our midst. Let us thank God for the heavenly music that is ours like in few other places in the world.
Mary Oliver is a poet who teaches us to be a people of gratitude. In her poem, “When Death Comes,” writes:
When death comes…I want to say:
all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom,
taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up
simply having visited this world.
We have been invited here this morning as brides married to amazement and bridegrooms taking the world into our arms. Right here, we are married to God through the simple gifts of bread and wine.
Pay attention, be amazed, and, by all means, give thanks: you will soon be bearing a backload of God.