In many parts of Africa, when people meet, there is a particular greeting that is exchanged.
The first person says “God is good, all the time”
And the second responds, “All the time, God is good”
It’s a beautiful way of greeting one another. And isn’t it curious that this beautiful way of greeting one another comes from a part of the world that has faced more than its share of challenges?
There was an Ethiopian man who used to come to St. Albans, and each time we met he would greet me with “God is good, all the time” and I would respond with “All the time, God is good”. Ethiopia is a country which has been plagued by famine and war. This man’s life was a difficult life. And yet he always greeted me this way. And I would respond. And we would smile.
Because this was more than just a greeting. It was a choice. It was about a way of seeing and shaping the world. And it was about faith. Learning to see and trust in God.
It is easy to turn today’s gospel into a lesson about giving thanks. Ten men were healed. One took the time to turn back and say thank you. The moral of the story: don’t forget to say thank you!
But is it okay if we dig a little deeper? Because while this story begins with thanks, it finishes with faith. Because gratitude is a choice, and that choice has consequences.
Whether we choose to give thanks to God or not has surprisingly little to do with the circumstances of our lives. You might think that people who have more in life would be more grateful but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The first reading from Deuteronomy warns the people of Israel that when they reach the promised land, and are able to eat their fill and live in fine houses, it is precisely at that moment that they are likely to forget God, and forget that God is good, and forget to thank God, and instead fall into the trap of thinking that their good fortune is a result of their own power and might and hard work and education and good planning and well, you know how it goes.
Whether or not we choose to give thanks depends much more on how we see the world and God’s presence in the world than our own objective circumstance. In the story of the ten lepers, the difference between the one and the nine is in what they see. Nine lepers see that they are healed. But only one man sees that God has healed him. It is a different way of seeing. It is a way of seeing that looks beyond our material reality, that sees more than just the facts on the ground. It is a way of seeing that sees God’s story in the story of our own lives, a way of seeing that sees God’s story in the story of the universe.
When you look at the world, when you look at your own life, what do you see? Do you see life as a series of random events which push and pull you around, sometimes good, sometimes bad, often overpowering and beyond anyone’s control? Do you see the universe as hostile or at best indifferent, a material reality with little meaning beyond that which we invent for ourselves?
Or, do you see a world infused with the spirit and the presence of God? A world which God created and declared to be good, a world in which God has blessed us with so many good things, a world in which God forgives us and loves us. A world in which God is actively working to redeem those parts of our lives and our circumstances that harm us and challenge us. Do you see a universe which is overflowing with purpose and meaning, a world which was created by God in the beginning, and will be redeemed and glorified by God in the end? Do you see yourself as a child of God, loved and redeemed by God, as someone unique and special who has been called and invited to play a part in this epic adventure of creation, healing and redemption?
When good things happen in our lives, we have a natural response of gratefulness. What a wonderful, God-given opportunity that is to open our eyes to this new way of seeing. When good things happen, say thank you! And do what the Samaritan did in today’s story.
For when the Samaritan saw that God had healed him, he turned back. He didn’t just carry on his way like the others. He didn’t continue with the pursuit of his own agenda. He wasn’t deterred by ethnic boundaries he wasn’t too busy. He didn’t just shout out thank you over his shoulder as he continued on his way. No the first thing he did is he turned back.
Every act of thanks is an opportunity to return to God. To see God and to act.
The Samaritan healed from his leprosy does five things:
He returns to Jesus.
He praises God.
He worships Jesus, prostrating himself at Jesus’ feet.
And he thanks him.
And in response Jesus sends him off, telling him “get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Has it ever occurred to you that one of the things we do here on a Sunday morning is practice this sequence of actions?
Life happens. We see stuff. Sometimes we see good stuff, sometimes bad. Sometimes we see random stuff, sometimes we glimpse God. We get enough of a glimpse of God that we return, we come here on a Sunday morning or evening. We turn aside from our own agendas or whatever else might be in front of us to return to Jesus. We gather in this place and we praise God, in loud voices. We sing. We worship. We may not prostrate ourselves, but we assume postures of prayer, and we pray. And we thank God, with prayers of thanks and with our great thanksgiving, the Eucharistic prayer in which we remember all that God has done for us. And then having been nourished, forgiven and restored, we are sent out, we are told to “get up and go on your way.” And we do, knowing that our faith, our trust in God, has made us well. And out we go into the world, and a new week begins.
See. Return. Praise. Worship. Thank God. Get up and Go.
We do this every week, not because church is the only place where we can praise and worship God, but because it’s one place where we intentionally choose and practice this rhythm in our lives.
Because not only is this sequence of actions in our lives a choice, but it is a choice that requires practice. The more we practice, the better we will see. The better we see, the more joy we have in returning to God. The more we return to God, the more we praise, and worship. The more we praise and worship, the more we will learn to thank God, not just in good times, but also in difficult times. And the more we thank God, the more we will be ready to rise up and go out into the world as God’s children in this epic adventure from creation to redemption that we call the journey of faith.
So, when good stuff happens in your life, see the goodness of God and say, “Thank you.” When difficult things happen in your life, see the presence and redemptive power of God even in the midst of tragedy, and say “Thank you.”
Expressing gratitude may well be one the most powerful thing you can do to shape your reality and the reality of those around you. University researchers have already discovered that expressing gratitude leads to increased levels of happiness. But there is much, much more. The very act of thanksgiving is like opening up a portal that leads us into a new world, a world in which we start to see God’s story being played out in the story of our own lives. It’s a new way of seeing. It’s good.
God is good, all the time.
All the time, God is good.
Homily: Thanksgiving Oct 9 2016 St. Albans
Readings: Deuteronomy 8.7-18; Psalm 65; 2 Cor 9.6-15; Luke 17.11-19
Image by Geoff Greenham www.geoffgreenham.net Creative Commons