Psalm 40:1-10; Luke 17:11-19
I wasn’t interested in the Psalms for a long time. When I first began to pay attention to what the Psalms said, I noticed that no matter how bad things were in most of the psalm, by the end, the author praised God. Always. The Psalms are full of emotion: anger, sadness, fear, and pain; and trust, joy, delight, and thanksgiving. They are about our real lives.
Today’s Psalm 40 is seen as a Psalm of thanksgiving. In the early verses, the Psalmist writes about an experience of deep pain. He was “In the Pits” as we say today to mean there was a serious problem, or a deep depression. And God lifted him up, onto a high cliff, the opposite of a pit. In response, he sang a new song, a song of praise to God. This song is so filled with joy and praise that others are led to trust in the Lord. He is so thankful, he shares his joy in God with others.
In the Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus encounters ten men with skin conditions who ask him for healing. Jesus tells them to show themselves to the priests, which is standard procedure with the healing of skin diseases. Only one turns around to say thanks. Luke makes a point of saying that the one who gave thanks by praising God was a foreigner, a Samaritan, and in many ways an enemy of the Jews.
I assume the other nine men were doing to the priest to be declared clean. They were so focused on observing the proper ritual they were not thinking about expressing their thanksgiving for the healing. Or, just as possibly, they were taking their healing for granted.
It’s easy to take each other for granted. It’s easy to pay for our groceries or our tools and walk out the door without paying any attention to the cashier or bagger. But how simple it is to see the person behind the counter, notice their name if they are wearing a name badge, and at least say thank you as they hand you your package.
Just as it is easy for us to take other people for granted, it is easy for us to take God for granted. Yes, God is always present, but we forget to pay attention, until something bad happens. Then, we want God to be there and to take whatever direction we say: give us money, heal our loved one, stop our addiction, make peace in the world a reality.
Monks and those who follow their pattern of praying several times a day find it easier to remember God is an active presence in their lives. Others get up, go through the day, and go to bed without giving God a thought. I think most people who believe in God are somewhere in between. We know we should pray more often than we do, but the day slips away without an intentional prayer. For many people, the Lord’s Prayer is a set of words we memorize but don’t pay attention to as we pray it.
So. Let’s learn from the Psalmist and the cleansed person with a skin disease. Let’s take time to say thanks. I suggest that if we say thanks to God more often, other prayers will come more naturally as well.
Greet God in the morning, saying thanks for waking me up.
Say thanks for the meals you get to eat, even in public.
Say thanks for family, whether they are near or far.
Say thanks for your friends.
Say thanks for the store clerks and restaurant servers and cooks and lawn care people.
Say thanks for the driver who lets you change lanes.
Say thanks for a roof over your head and a bed to lie on.
Say thanks for healing, for yourself or a loved one.
Say thanks for meaningful things to do, or for a time to do nothing and rest.
Say thanks for St Matthew’s Lutheran Church and its people and its ministries.
Say thanks for the hard times, which remind you how strong you are, and how much stronger God is.
Say thanks for the easy times, because we all need a respite from trouble.
Say thanks to God at the end of the day, for all the blessings you have received.
In other words, take time all day to say thanks. When we remember to say thanks to God often, we are more likely to remember God is present all the time. We are less likely to take God and people for granted.
I’m going to add another sheet of paper to the windows in Benson Hall. I encourage you to take a moment and write a thank you. It can be for anything – for something or someone in the past, or for something or someone in the present.
For example, I am thankful for all the faithful people who have been here. I am thankful for pastors and deacons, lay leaders, and lay followers who for almost 60 years have been doing God’s work here.
The Psalmist gave thanks to God for rescuing him from the pit, and he discovered he had a new song to sing. For what do you give thanks? What new song do you sing?
For what do we give thanks at St Matthew’s? What new song is God leading us to sing?