2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Luke 17:11-19: On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Dear Lord, make us thankful this day, and all the days to come. That our hearts may be suitable places for you kingdom come. AMEN
Happy Thanksgiving! Today is a glorious day of thanksgiving for all that we have been given. A day to celebrate the gifts of God’s earth and to pray for the kingdom come. Many say the first American Thanksgiving was in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621 shared among European colonists and American Indians. Others argue the actual first Thanksgiving was celebrated here in Virginia, on what is now Berkeley Plantation, 2 years earlier, in 1619. At that spot on the Charles River, a group of British settlers are said to have knelt in prayer and pledged to God “Thanksgiving” for their healthy arrival on their promised land after a long voyage across the Atlantic.
But in truth, I would say that both those celebrations only followed in the spirit of the first Thanksgiving held a much longer time ago. That Thanksgiving was when, by grace alone, for the very first time, a person recognized the true source of their life’s blessings and they turned towards God and said “Thank you Lord, Thank you”. As Deuteronomy says “You shall…bless the LORD your God for the good land that he has given you” (Deut 8:10). No doubt, whoever that first thankful individual was, they believed they had been granted a piece of the promised land.
The promised land. It is a hoped- for place, a hoped-for experience that human beings have searched for since the beginning of time. Think of the Israelites. Since escaping the painful slavery of Egypt, they wandered the wilderness for decades, searching for their promised land. It was a place of freedom from all the suffering they knew: slavery, hunger, and want. The land they were looking for is described in today’s text from Deuteronomy as one with “waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing” (Deut 8).
One of my favorite “promised land” fantasies is described in the film “O Brother Where Art Thou’s” song The Big Rock Candy Mountain:
“In the Big Rock Candy Mountains all the cops have wooden legs, the bulldogs all have rubber teeth and the hens lay soft boiled eggs. The farmer’s trees are full of fruit and the barns are full of hay. In the Big Rock Candy Mountains you never change your socks. And the little streams of alcohol come a-trickling down the rocks. There’s a lake of stew and of whiskey too; you can paddle all around ’em in a big canoe. In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.”
Yes, the contours of our promised lands may be varied, but our innate search for them is always compelling. Look around you. Practically every one of us can trace our roots to not-so-distant ancestors who came to America because they saw this as their promised land. America, a country filled with an expanse of land and opportunity that can be found nowhere else. Where opportunities for education, work, land ownership and prosperity abound. Where the founding document of statehood promises its people “the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence). And its leaders have honored the sacrifices made for this, our promised land. As Lincoln said at Gettysburg “these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Yes, each of us carries with us an image of a promised land, whether or not we have outlined it as clearly as those of Deuteronomy, the Declaration of Independence or even The Big Rock Candy Mountain, everyone has a dream of a promised land.
Indeed that is what the lepers in this morning’s gospel are looking for. Banished to a life of isolation in the wilderness between desert towns, lepers in ancient Israel were forced to beg for alms; most of the time they were simply scorned or ignored, the absolute embodiment of filth. As Jesus, approaches they beg mercy of him. They want to be treated with mercy, that is all. They don’t dare ask for more. Jesus hears their appeals for mercy and he knows: they need healing. Unless they are free of their leprosy they will always have to beg, all they will ever have is suffering and isolation and disease. So he is merciful beyond imagination. He sends them to the temple and the 10 are healed of their painful disease. How they must have felt as they discovered their own promised land in their healing! Extraordinary.
But there is an added twist in the story, one of the 10 who has been healed turns around, compelled to say thank you to Jesus. And it is in that thanksgiving that something extraordinary happens, that man is healed….Now it is at that point in our reading of this lesson that we should cock our heads in confusion. Even before that leper said thank you, he was healed, along with the others. So how can he be healed AGAIN? Because Jesus has an addition KIND of healing to offer, a deeper healing. The kind of healing that needs gratitude in order for it to be received. That healing is spiritual, it is eternal, it is beyond the promised land…it is the kingdom.
Do you remember in the gospel of John, the story of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well? The woman Jesus meets at the well has to travels long distances for water. Every day, she is consumed with the labor of fetching water. So naturally, when Jesus offers her “living water”, she is really excited. She says, “give me this water, so that I will never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” But the living water that Jesus is offering is not that kind of water. It is something much deeper. He wishes to quench a deeper spiritual thirst within that woman. He is offering her the kingdom (John 4).
And so it is in this morning’s gospel, what Jesus has to offer is something even greater than any of the 10 men could have imagined in their wildest dreams. The kingdom of God is even greater than any promised land we can hope for because it is impossible to conceive of…it’s depth, beauty, healing and absolute joy is impossible to imagine…that is until it is fully received.
Jesus offers the truly thankful the kind of healing that is greater than the promised land of our dreams, Jesus is offering the kingdom itself.
You have begun this Thanksgiving day with the very posture of the 1 in the gospel who returned to offer thanks. Like him, you have come before God, with thankfulness in your heart. Knowing from whom your blessings have come, and to whom you should be thankful. Moreover, you have shown your gratitude with an enormous and plentiful offering of food and supplies for our neighbors here in Richmond. This offering with God’s blessing, will feed many people this holiday season. People who will experience the goodness of God through your offerings.
May you, may all of us, with such thankful hearts, be granted a place in God’s kingdom, the promised land of our eternal souls.
Thanks be to God,