Giving thanks is the key.

Homily 290 – 27th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
December 10 2017

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

We are all lepers. Let me repeat that. We are all lepers.

Our soul, our nature, our humanity is stained with the disease that keeps us away from communion with God, away from one another even.

We exile ourselves. Our leprosy is selfishness. And all of us have it.

Sounds like a desperate situation – but it isn’t.

God has healed all of us – every single one of us – all of humanity. He has broken the bondage of this incurable highly infectious disease. All of humanity is now cured.

So why, if we are cured, do we still struggle with this illness?

And, if all humanity is cured, why are some unwilling or unable to follow Christ and shake this affliction?

The answer is found, if we look closely and carefully, in this morning’s account of the ten lepers who were cleansed.

Ten were cleansed. Nine of them took that cleansing and did as they were instructed – showed themselves to the priests, and returned, presumably, to normal life in society.

But one – a Samaritan, no less – one returned. And one gave thanks to God. And one was told, “your faith has made you whole.”

Is that not what we all seek? To be made whole?

The affliction of selfishness is a foretaste of death itself. It separates us and isolates us. So we learn that death is an isolation, a separation.

And God gives life. Having tasted of death, why do we return to it time after time?

The answer is found in the actions of the Samaritan. He came back. And he gave thanks.

Brothers and sisters, that is the key. Everything follows from giving thanks. Our salvation itself, our healing, our humanity – everything comes from giving thanks.

As Orthodox Christians, we beg for mercy. A lot. Like the ten who begged our Lord for his mercy.

The Divine Liturgy throughout is a cry for mercy. And yet that most sacred part of the Liturgy, that reception of Christ Himself, body and blood, is called Eucharist.

Eucharist – a Greek word meaning “Thanksgiving.”

In the prayers after communion, the first words are “I thank you, O my God, …”

The travelers on the Road to Emmaus recognized that they had been traveling and conversing with Jesus when He gave thanks.

We often hear that we ask God for mercy, focusing on who we are. But I would argue that in asking for mercy we are focusing on who we were. Who we used to be.

We are forgiven. We are healed. We are made whole. If we give thanks.

The evil one tells us “You are not healed. You are still a sinner.”

And we have to acknowledge that fact. It is true. But it is incomplete.

Because while we are sinners, Christ died for us. And while we are sinners, we are also already forgiven – even before we do something. We are forgiven.

And we are forgiven so that we can be free to repent – to return to the path forward, to rejoin humanity – and we can offer thanks!

We think that surely there is more. Surely giving thanks is not enough by itself.

But it is. It truly is. Giving thanks changes us. When we give thanks, the other elements of our healing become manifest.

We become a little less selfish every day. We become a bit more appreciative of what we have, and less concerned about what we don’t have and want.

We become a little more concerned with the situation of others, because we are more content with ourselves.

We learn to be compassionate. We learn to be generous. We learn to be content. We learn to love. And we learn how to be loved.

In giving thanks, we begin to learn to value relationships above all. Family, friends, neighbors, and ultimately even strangers.

God said it – it is not good for man, that is humanity, to be alone. He gave us to each other.

And St. Paul wrote it, in his first letter to the Thessalonians. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God.

It all starts with giving thanks.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.