We give thanks to God for giving us the opportunity to be charitable

Thanksgiving Day
Gospel of Luke 17:11-19 

In today’s Gospel proclamation we heard about the miraculous healing of 10 persons afflicted with leprosy. We are told that Jesus, as he traveled from Samaria to Jerusalem, came upon these 10 individuals who “raised their voices” prayerfully asking for mercy. 10 individuals who were ostracized from their families and their communities. 10 individuals who had no viable option for help or a cure. 10 individuals who were in desperate need of healing.

It is reasonable to assume that the New Testament diagnosis of leprosy does not accurately reflect the modern-day medical diagnosis of this disease. However, there is little in doubt regarding the personal, spiritual, and social consequences associated with this 1st century diagnosis. At that time and in that place in human history an individual diagnosed with leprosy was assured of the following; 1) the disease could be painful and sometimes fatal, (2) Jewish Law required lepers to be separated from all of Israelite society, and (3) lepers were ritually unclean and thus unable to participate in worship. In short, a diagnosis of leprosy, unless cured, resulted in the total and complete discontinuation of participation in society. A person diagnosed with leprosy was prevented from associating with their family and their community, and their family and their community were prevented from associating with them. At worst leprosy was a diagnosis of death and at best a lifetime of isolation and torment.

Yet, in the mercy of God and in the healing power of Jesus, these 10 individuals found the physical, social, and spiritual healing they so desperately needed. The grace of God, freely given in disregard to the social and religious norms of the day, allowed life and opportunity to these 10 individuals; and, yet, only 1 responded to this grace with gratitude and praise. This recorded encounter is not so much about the miracle as it is the response to the miracle.

Today is Thanksgiving, a unique American holiday. Today we, as a nation, repose from our labors and take opportunity to ponder our wealth, our prosperity, our fortune, and give thanks. We give thanks for what we have, and we are encouraged to be generous to those who have not. Of course, we are encouraged to do this by shopping. Like I said, a truly unique American holiday.

According to recent studies 12.8% of Idahoans live in poverty, making the state of Idaho 25th in nation. The poverty threshold for a family of 4 in the state of Idaho is $24,860 in annual income. Yet, as state’s unemployment rate hovers just below 3%, a 2016 United Way study discovered that nearly 40% of Idaho households could not afford basic needs such as housing, child care, food, health care, and transportation.

1 in 8 Idahoans are food insecure, meaning “without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.” In other words, 1 in 8 Idahoans are unsure when they will next have their meal. When adults are removed from the equation the number of children in the state of Idaho who are affected by food insecurity increases to 1 in 6.

Idaho is consistently among the states with the highest suicide rates. In 2016 Idaho had the nation’s 8th highest suicide rate. A rate that is 57% higher than the national average.

It is not my intent to discourage or depress your Thanksgiving Day celebrations. I share these sobering statistics only to highlight the ongoing need for the continued outpouring of charity and support to those in our midst who continue to struggle and suffer. As Jesus stated, “the poor you will always have with you” and it is our responsibility, as his followers, to alleviate their suffering and to raise our voices with theirs in asking for mercy and justice.

As the lone Samaritan, who had been healed and returned to honor his savior, so should we give thanks and praise to the God of mercy, for his mercy is given without measure or merit. Today, we give thanks to the God of mercy and justice. We do this not by our acts of charity, rather we give thanks to God for giving us the opportunity to be charitable.

There was time in my life when I thought I was done.

5th Sunday of Lent
Gospel of John 12:20-30

There was time in my life when I thought I was done. To be honest, there have a few moments and experiences in my span of 48 years when I felt like it was over. Moments when I was convinced that everything I had worked for, hoped for, and believed in were about to be wiped away, erased from the record, amounting for nothing. Fortunately for me, and for those of you who have also experienced similar such moments, those moments are just that… a moment. A period of time, some more brief than others, that pass away and move on into the past.

Here we are just a few weeks away from the end of our Lenten journey, and it is in today’s Gospel that we find Jesus having a similar moment. This moment when all that he had worked for, and all that he had hoped for, and all that he believed in was being put to the test. We read his words “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say, ‘Father save me from this hour?’ But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.”

Jesus, in his hour, the hour for which he came, spoke to his followers about a single grain of wheat. In a single grain of wheat there is exponentially more, however, that potential cannot be achieved unless it first dies. I read one biblical scholar who describe this reality in this way, “A grain of wheat is ineffective and unfruitful as long as it is preserved.”

For those of us who know the end of this story, we modern day Christians, understand that when Jesus was talking about a single grain of wheat he was also talking about himself. Those who were standing next to Jesus at that moment and time lacked the perspective of history. They could not have understood that Jesus was describing the necessity of his passion, death, and resurrection for their salvation. But we do. We have the ability to look back, with the perspective of history, and read his words, trace his steps, and hear the accounts of others knowing that Jesus was speaking about his own manner of death and subsequent resurrection.

That part we get. (This is the part when all of God’s people say, ‘amen’!) What we often time fail to hear, or at least obey, in these words of Jesus is that we too must give our lives so that we too may have eternal life.

The words I quoted a moment before, “A grain of wheat is ineffective and unfruitful as long as it is preserved” take on a new meaning and intent when we apply them to ourselves. Jesus was not just referencing himself in this example, he was also setting a standard for those of who follow him. We must give of ourselves in order that we too may become effective and fruitful.

This Lenten season you have been asked to seek God through prayer, serve God by serving others, and find our dependence upon God through self-sacrifice. All of these spiritual disciplines, exercises if you will, are designed to teach us and assist us in “giving up” our life in order that we may be used by God for his greater glory.

During those time in life… those dark times. Those moments when if feels as if the doors are being shut and hope is all but extinguished. It is those moments, when life is raw, unfiltered, and unrelenting when faith is but a thread. It is those moments when we must place our hope in God, just as Jesus did when he said, “Father, glorify your name.” Our example and model, Jesus, has asked us to place our lives, our hopes, and eternal salvation into the very hands of God.

The dark moments in life have come and will come again. We will not be exempted from those, but what we will be exempted from is despair. For just as Jesus was tested, so shall we. Just as Jesus came up against doubt and fear, so shall we. Just as Jesus surrendered his will to the Father, so should we. And, just as Jesus was glorified so shall we.