This week I have been reflecting on how we respond to those who have treated us with care, loving and grace as we journey through life. Having lamented what, we have done to creation last week my thoughts turned to gratitude for the gift we have in creation and comes from reading Luke 17:11-19 from this week’s lectionary. Then I was reminded of the following little story I once heard and was struck by:
Her name was Edna Miller and she was about as plain as her name implied except when she was inside the walls of a classroom with chalk in hand. She stood barely five-foot tall yet could look eyeball to eyeball with the biggest bully in the school and stare him into repentant submission. And could she teach. Man, could she teach! She began teaching in 1922 and taught until she was compelled to turn in her chalk at the age of 65. She taught through the Depression, making fullness in the emptiness around her. She taught through World War II and was with the children as the telegrams, "we are sorry to inform you," began to arrive with the notice of their brothers' or fathers' death.
Through the years a middle aged woman with a parade of children and a husband would stop by her frame house and say, "you don't remember me, but you taught me in 7th grade and I just want to thank you for the difference you made in my life." Letters would appear around Christmas - "you probably don't remember me but you taught me in high school and believed in me until I could believe in myself....I have a good job now and a loving family and I just want to thank you." At the 50th class reunion of 1945, there was a huge celebration in her honour. And shortly after that, at the age of 95, Miss Edna Miller quietly slipped into the arms of God. But she died with joy. She had been thanked and remembered with gratitude.
As I reflected on this I was also reminded of a teacher I knew in Townsville that finally retired in her 70’s and I wondered what all those students who began their schooling with her over the years would say about the loving grounding in life she sought to give them which was based on her Christian faith. It also reminds me that we need to ask the question: Do we remember God, do we thank our God, and do we turn back with joy and gratitude? Do we remember that "we are the Lord's and not we ourselves" and pause to remember that it is God who protects us, feeds us with honey from the rock, cares for and nourishes us?
Returning to Luke’s story for this week we have with the returning grateful healed leper even more blessing because of his attitude of gratitude. Jesus said to the leper, "Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well." There is healing within the act of thanksgiving. The medieval Flemish mystic, John Ruysbroeck, says, "Those who do not praise God here on earth remain silent in eternity." Praise affects us - forever.
We live in a materialistic, individualistic, opulent society. And we forget the one to whom we owe all that we have - the God in whom we live and move and have our being. All too easily we think we did it all ourselves and glory in our rugged individualism. We cast in gold the bootstraps by which we believe we pulled ourselves up. Those who do not need God cannot know God. Dependency and thanksgiving hold hands when we acknowledge with gratitude the gifts of our Creator.
One of those with the disease leprosy that had been cured turned back - and fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. We are called to allow these proud hearts of ours to declare at the feet of Jesus that we love our God, need our God and thank our God. Praise and thanksgiving come from the same word in Hebrew. They can be interchanged, one word for the other. When we thank God, we are praising God. And when we praise God, we are thanking God. The word "yadaw" in Hebrew for praise and thanksgiving means literally "to hold out one's hands." It is both a physical attitude of supplication and of receptive thanksgiving.
It is the posture we see on Sunday’s when the celebrant celebrates Eucharist with us, hands lifted as the prayers are said. At the liturgy we pray, "Lift up your hearts...we lift them to the Lord." And at these words I can’t help but lift my hands in thanks which some of my congregation may find a bit puzzling. Then there are the words, "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God... It is right to give him thanks and praise." And indeed, it is right and good that we should praise and thank our God with our hearts, our lives, our very being.
Eucharist means literally "thanksgiving". Thanksgiving is the central act of worship, through the Eucharist, for gathered Christians. It is the heart of our worship together. God gives to us all that we are and to God we return it with thankful hearts. Thankfulness is the key to all true spirituality. Above all Christian’s remember the love Jesus Christ had for us one Friday afternoon upon a cross. "Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice."