Thankfulness, redux.

Homily 525 – 25 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
December 4, 2022
Epistle:  (224) Ephesians 4:1-6
Gospel:  (85) Luke 17:12-19

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

Are we thankful?  We just celebrated thanksgiving, but does being thankful end there?

Today we find 10 lepers that begged Christ for mercy.  All of them received the healing from that physical and socially isolating disease.  Let’s remember that lepers were so contagious that they had to remain a distance from everyone else in society – everyone.

Remember how during the pandemic, we had to isolate from one another?  Well, the lepers spent their lives in isolation, and in suffering.

You know, the most cruel form of punishment we can come up with as humans is exile.  Being sent away – isolated.  Even over and above death.  Even over and above life in prison.

Humanity can’t truly exist in isolation.  We need others to be truly human.  And so, these lepers were not considered human, but were isolated.

When Jesus sent the lepers to the priests, what He did was to send them to be returned to society – no more isolation.  It wasn’t just the suffering that ended.  The exile ended too!

And only one turned around to offer thanks to the one who healed them.  Only one – not even a Jew – but a foreigner – turned to say thank you.

The other nine went obediently on their way – following the command Jesus gave – but not giving thanks.

The nine were healed, physically, but their spiritual selves, their essence, their separation from God remained in place.  They had been freed from human isolation, but were still isolated from God.

Don’t we frequently feel isolated from God?  Like, we come to those points in our lives where we cry out, “God, where are you?”  We think of ourselves suffering as Christ suffered on the Cross, crying out “Eli, eli, lama sabathani?”  “My God, my God, why have You left me without You?”

But if we are honest, most of the time, we are nowhere near the martyrs we like to think ourselves to be.  We are in fact pretty lukewarm about God’s presence.  We neither acknowledge His presence – nor recognize His absence.  We are so preoccupied with the world that God is neither present nor absent in our lives.

How sad for us – the reason we exist – is to commune with God – to be recipients of His Love and His Grace.  And all we do is refuse to recognize His presence.

Look at what God has to allow to get our attention – tragedy, pain, suffering.  The further we run from God, the deeper the experiences have to be to get our attention.  Everyone experiences it.  We all experience it.  We are all lepers.

What is happening?  Why?  These things cause hurt – yet St. Paul says all things work for the good of those that love God!

God is wanting our attention.  Our attention begins with giving thanks.  Not just when the difficulty passes – but in the midst of the challenge or trial we face.

We experience our own leprosy, and we turn away from God.  But if we turn back to God in thanksgiving, we fulfill our life’s meaning.  We fulfill that objective we were created to achieve – communion with God.

That doesn’t always mean that we will find physical healing.  The body is fallen, and we are promised that we will be redeemed in the resurrection.  It is the spiritual healing we find in thanksgiving.

It is the union with God that allows us to bear whatever circumstance or physical ailment or deformity we encounter with the confidence that God loves us and is present with us.

And with the confidence that in God’s time, we will be healed.  Which brings up the second side of this issue – expectations.

What do we expect from God?  Because whatever it is, it isn’t what God plans to do.  That sounds awful, doesn’t it?  It’s true, though.  Regardless of what we’re expecting, it will be different most of the time.

Expectations lead to disappointment.  Expectations lead to frustration.  Expectations lead to anger.  We’re better off living without them.  To be clear – I’m speaking of the unspoken expectations.  The ones that the other person has no idea exist or should exist and hasn’t agreed to follow.  If someone agrees, then fails us – our anger, frustration, and disappointment are perhaps justified.

If we have expectations of God – those are simply not ours to hold.  That’s not part of the deal.  The testament, the promises, are one-way:  from God to us.  That’s all we can expect.  We don’t know how, and we don’t know when.  But those promises will come to pass.

Once we remind ourselves when we are disappointed or frustrated or angry that the cause is not what someone else did, but our expectations of what they should do, the negative emotions begin to diminish.  It becomes less their fault, and more a recognition of our own thoughts, and we begin to realize that we don’t have the right to expect anything from them.

That’s not to say that expectations, like in parenting or in supervision of others, don’t have their place.  But as was said, those expectations must be clearly communicated!

God has clearly communicated expectations of us, certainly.  And we, like everyone, disappoint Him.  Yet as we learn in the Prodigal Son, He stands longing for us to return.  Waiting for us to simply desire His company.  Waiting for us in His love for us.  Which is how we wait for those who disappoint us to return.  In our love for them.

We need to approach everything with thanksgiving.  At the beginning, we may not even mean it.  So we train ourselves to say – God, I have no idea why this is happening, but I know you mean it for my good – thank you.

Do that often enough and at some point you will begin to mean it. And spiritual growth will be demonstrated.

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