The Archbishop of York mentioned recently that a Sunday school teacher once said to him, “Have you ever noticed that children’s prayers always begin with the words “thank you” and adult prayers mostly begin with the word “please”.
For when children come into the presence of God the first thing on their lips is “thanksgiving”. But when most adults come into God’s presence, we do so with a list of things we need.
Our Gospel reflects this understanding. As Jesus enters a village, ten lepers plead with him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us!”. Yet only one becomes a true child of the Kingdom and returns into the presence of God to say, “Thank you”. I am sure that thanksgiving continued for many years at least.
Today is Harvest Thanksgiving and our readings might reflect if we choose to read them with a particular mindset, that there is a direct relationship between what we do and what we get.
Yet, the 9 lepers who were healed we presume remained in a state of wellbeing, even though there was no thanksgiving on their lips. So there is a distorted relationship between the blessings which fall upon the good, and the thankful, and that which falls upon those who are less mindful of their need for gratitude.
As the psalmist writes, the Sun rises upon the good and the wicked.
Our text from Deuteronomy suggests a naïve approach to our receiving blessings. Being obedient to the things of God of which you know and have been told, you will be set high above all the nations of the earth and blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock. If you obey the Lord your God, the Lord will cause your enemies to be defeated before you and the Lord will establish you as a holy people.
Now forgive me, but we know in our own lives that though obedience to loving God brings joy, and satisfaction and wonder into our thinking… it doesn’t necessarily save us from harms way, neither does it always provide for an abundant harvest or let the good times roll.
We are reminded of this by Mason who is only 5 years old and comes to church with his mum, who has thought about the life of an individual who we can celebrate and remember in our thanksgiving today.
His sentence is on the front of our Order of Service. “Harriet Tubman was brave, she helped other slaves”.
I don’t think we need to stop there! For Harriet born around the 1820’s was devoutly religious, faithful to God, obedient to his word. Born to equally faithful Methodist parents – yet they were all born into slavery, into a life which did not reflect the blessings even notionally which are so often reflected in our scriptures which are apparently consistent with lives faithful to God.
Yet, in this woman there is no selfish “please” but as a child of God in her story we are reminded that there is thanksgiving on her lips and in her heart. For once she had escaped the shackles of slavery – she didn’t run to the hills mindful that she had got what she wanted to put distance between her liberation and mindful service of her sisters and brothers.
She returned to the place where she had been captured and with thanksgiving began to liberate others from slavery and from the oppression they had known for generations.
Please go and read Harriet’s story for yourself.
Perhaps what is important in this story is what we hear read for us in our Gospel. One person went back to the place which would have reminded him of his sickness. He traced his steps back to the place where he had been imprisoned with leprosy to offer thanks. He trusted that good for him was the intention of God. It doesn’t mean the others contradicted this understanding, but that one inhabited the knowledge that Good and God are related and revealed in Jesus.
Good is the intention of God, the flourishing of creation, the liberation of all people, equality, justice… these are where God desires us to be, so that we no longer need to plead… but simply be thankful.
We have been born into a place of limitation in our world but into a tradition and faith which remind us that the resources and hopes of God are limitless. We just need to be liberated from our selfishness, from our fears, and from our shackles.
We have many years and decades set before us to truly understand the hardship and injustice races have imposed upon those who are made in the image of God. But somehow, right now we need to be liberated with one another, not being a people who need to plead for good, but who in the presence of God can simply be thankful that we share in the life and in the hope of God’s Kingdom. We have plenty to eat, plenty to share… but why is there an inequality, and unfairness still in our world which limits and demeans others, if not also yourselves who are equally faithful to God? God’s hope is for our good… what is yours?