Scripture Readings: 2 Timothy 2.8-15

Luke 17.11-19

I almost forgot to say ‘Thank you’

Every so often, I get a tune stuck in my head, something catchy which I can’t shift all day. It happened this week, as I was pondering our Gospel story for today. It’s a story is about gratitude, and I was thinking of the one man who came back to say thank you to Jesus, when a song- which I must have heard when I was a child, in Sunday school or a school assembly- sprung into my head. I didn’t have the sheet music (so you’re not getting to sing it today), but I found the words, and goes something like this:

          I nearly forgot to say: Thank you!
For flowers and thrushes and things,
For daisies that dapple the meadow,
And patterns on butterfly wings,
For stars that shine, for winds that blow,
The sun that melts the ice and snow;
I nearly forgot to say: Thank You!
For rainbows that follow the rain;
But really I want to say: Thank you!
Again and again, and again.[1]

Does anyone recognise that? It comes from a Christian musical of the 1970s: here’s a recording.

‘I nearly forgot to say thank you’ is what I imagine the one man who came back had to say to Jesus.

Last Sunday, we had our Harvest Thanksgiving, but every Sunday we include prayers of thanksgiving in our service. Because for Christians, gratitude is an attitude. We shouldn’t forget to say thank you.

Luke the Gospel writer tells the story of the leper’s gratitude so well, in a few words. Ten men, with that dreaded skin disease of leprosy, stand at a distance. Some are Jews, some Samaritans- but all of them are ostracised by their communities. So Jesus sends them off to a priest, to confirm that they have now been made ‘clean’- for somehow that is what is happens to them on the way. We never hear of nine of them again. Only one man comes back to say ‘I almost forgot to say thank you’. He’s praising God, he falls at Jesus’ feet. Our letter from Timothy speaks of ‘obtain[ing] the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ’. Well, salvation has come to this man. He has been saved from a terrible, incurable disease, saved from being a feared outcast, he’s been saved and is ready to take his rightful place in the community once again.

And Jesus says him, ‘Your faith has made you well’. But we can easily misunderstand that phrase. It is not that the man had faith and God made him better because of his faith. A lot of harm is done by people who claim that faith makes you healthy. After all, what happens if you have lots of faith, and you don’t get well? It’s a total misunderstanding to imagine that God only cures people if they have faith, as if our own efforts to create faith can cause miracles.

In fact, Jesus’ words ‘your faith has made you well’ are perhaps better translated as ‘your faith has made you whole’. For this is not just a medical issue. Jesus didn’t just cure the lepers- he gave them back their lives, allowing them to return to society, giving them self-respect and happiness again. It is not their faith that has cured him. Their healing is a free gift from God, and act of divine grace. But the man who returns to say ‘thank you’ has understood something more. It is when he comes back to say thank you, because the penny has dropped that God has done something wonderful, that he becomes truly whole.

For the nearest we ever come to knowing completeness in this life, true wholeness, is when we realise our utter dependence on God, and we are grateful. The harvest hymn says that ‘all good gifts around us, are sent from heaven above’. It’s when we remember to say thank you to our loving, creator God that we really realise what life is about: ‘Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord, for all his love’ should be our song every day in life.

It must have been horrible for those who recently had their holidays cut short, or cancelled, due to the collapse of the Thomas Cook travel firm. It would have been easy for disappointed customers to vent their anger at the staff in hotels and airports and travel agencies. But those same staff weren’t just losing money or holidays- they were facing losing their jobs. There was a nice story in the news about how, on a Thomas Cook flight back to Glasgow, the crew told the passengers that the company had just announced it was going bankrupt. The passengers responded with a whip round for the aircraft crew who were about to lose their jobs. In an age of complaining and selfishness, we need more of that kind of gratitude- signs that we appreciate and value those who provide us with services we so often take for granted. Try not forget to say thank you, to those who do good things for you. May your gratitude to God be reflected in your being grateful for your neighbours.

At our Harvest celebration at St Stephen’s last Saturday, it was lovely to welcome into the hall- and the church sanctuary- many people, of all ages. Many of them were there because we had ensured we had got the invitation out to people. They were there with children who were in groups who used the hall, or because they had a leaflet through their door, because someone told them about it, or even because they saw the sign outside. All that reminds me that if we make an invitation, people will often respond.

And on the day, those of us there from the church had some interesting conversations among themselves. Wasn’t it great to see so many people- from elderly folk enjoying a coffee, down to toddlers dancing to the ukulele band. We should to more of this sort of thing, to bring them in and make them welcome. But if there was a religious aspect to it- would they come. How come we can get folk to come for coffee mornings and concerts, but not for church services? And in those conversations, my friends, we were asking all the right questions. Questions that are being asked by Christians everywhere.

Did you see the news reports during this year about some of the interesting ways some cathedrals are bringing people in? A huge model of the moon has been touring cathedrals this year (it appeared at St Giles’ in Edinburgh in January[2]). At Rochester Cathedral, they installed a crazy golf course during the school summer holidays, prompting a 100% increase in visitors[3].

(Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images)

At Norwich Cathedral, they installed a helter-skelter as part of a project called ‘Seeing It Differently’- apart from anything else, it gave visitors a close up view of an amazing mediaeval roof. The Revd Andy Bryant, Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care at Norwich, said:

A cathedral may not be the natural home of a helter-skelter but that is precisely part of the draw. We will be doing what cathedrals have always done: helping people see things differently and make connections with the things of God.[4]

That’s a good idea, getting people to look at things differently. For many people have fixed ideas about what church is about. Very often, they are very negative ideas. We have to get people to look at Christianity differently.

Today our Gospel reading tells us that Jesus came to bring wholeness of life. But too often, people have experienced only part of life in church- gloom, sadness, doom- and not much in the way of fun. Maybe Highland religion is especially bad that way. Canon Bryant of Norwich Cathedral told the BBC that he often who often conducts funerals in the building:

I often do things that are very serious, sombre and even heartbreaking in the cathedral. But surely we also need to celebrate the whole of ourselves; we were also made for love, laughter and fun.[5]

Oh, gosh, I think I can identify Canon Bryant. This week I led a memorial service for a young man in one of our buildings, and a wedding in the other. For church should be a places where we can mark all of life- the joys and the tragedies of life.

I think when we hold concerts in our buildings, I think when we open our sanctuaries to children to dance in, we are reminding ourselves of something which Jesus said about himself in the Gospel of John. In John chapter 10, Jesus talks about himself as a shepherd, protecting his friends as a shepherd protects the flock from the wolves who are out to bring death and destruction. And he says,

I have come in order that you might have life- life in all its fullness[6].

Life in all its fullness is what he offered those lepers. The possibility of fullness of life, of true wholeness, is what Jesus offered each person he met. So if we are truly trying to do the work of Jesus, then we will strive to help folk understand life in all its fullness. We will strive to celebrate life in all its messy, joyful, tragic fullness. For a full life, as the Canon told the BBC, includes ‘love, laughter and fun’.

The letter to Timothy which we read reminds us that ‘the word of God is not in chains’. God is at work in our world, bringing wholeness and fullness of life today. And so, for all those reasons, I’m excited by our Kirk Session’s decision to employ a mission development worker. And I think you will like Deacon Dot Getliffe when you meet her. As I see it, her role will be twofold.

Firstly, she will help us find new ways to take the love of God into our community, helping people to find the wholeness which comes from encountering Christ. We know that the world has changed, and that the eternal Christian message has to be framed in new ways. And we live in incredibly diverse communities. For too long, we imagined that ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to church activities. Dot, I hope, will enable us to experiment with new ideas for taking the wholeness which Christ offers into our parish.

But she is not just going to be about converting other people. I hope she might convert you, and me, and this congregation, so that we become much more active in our parish, and excited about sharing God’s love in our communities. I know that we are all worried about our finances, and the future of our buildings, and we can’t not discuss these things and make hard decisions about them. But beyond the walls of our churches, most people couldn’t care less about some of the controversies and problems we have. The letter to Timothy reminds us not to ‘fight over words’- which, as the writer knows, does nobody any good.

So our mission worker will, I hope, remind us that we are not to just circle the wagons. We are to share the fullness of life which Christ has brought to us. For the primary function of the Church is to do just that- share the Good News of God’s love with the world.

Mission is a funny old word. For lots of people, it still means Billy Graham type rallies and biblical fundamentalism. But I can’t think of another word to use (although perhaps we ought to try and find one). But I think it is reminding us that it’s about sharing the message that there is a God, and that God loves the world. And that God is there in our times of love, laughter and fun, as well as in our times of grief and struggle.

And how do we do it? Maybe we should look at how Jesus did it. How did he bring the Good News of G0d’s kingdom to people? He sent the lepers to the priest, and they were all healed. Not all of them realised just quite what had happened, but when one did- and he proclaimed how grateful to God he was- Jesus was delighted.

Quite often when we try to do things for people beyond the church, we get miffed because they don’t seem to show much gratitude. Where are the people who came to the fun day when it comes to Sunday? Why will people come to concerts in our churches, but not to worship in our churches? Where are the people we marry, and the children we baptise? And we feel they haven’t been grateful, and get disheartened.

Well, Jesus asked those sort of questions, too: ‘Where are the other nine?’ And yet, he does not complain because only one man remembered to say ‘thank you’. No! He rejoices about that one man. He rejoices at a life made whole, he rejoices that the Kingdom promise of health and healing and fullness of life has changed even just one life!

So let us rejoice that we already do make an impact on our parish. And let us rejoice that there are people who take an interest in what we do, who respond to our invitations, and that a few- even if it is only a few- decide to join us in exploring life in all its fullness. And let us always remember what God has done for us, always not forget to say thank you!

Ascription of Praise

To God be honour and eternal dominion! Amen.

1 Timothy 6.16 (GNB)

Biblical references from the Good News Bible, unless otherwise stated

© 2019 Peter W Nimmo

Notes

[1] John Gowans (1934-2012) © Salvationist Publishing and Supplies Ltd/Admin. by Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, East Sussex, TN22 1QG, UK. info@songsolutions.org Used by permission. CCL Licence No. 1395328 Copied from HymnQuest: Copyright Licence Users’ Edition HymnQuest ID: 55071 CCLI#: 3915761

[2] https://www.inlingua-edinburgh.co.uk/the-moon-like-you-have-never-seen-it-before-at-st-giles-cathedral/

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-49349348

[4] https://www.cathedral.org.uk/about/news/detail/2018/12/14/helter-skelter-project-announced-for-2019

[5] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-49715499

[6] John 10.10