Thank You. (a sermon)

2013-10-13 nbw HFASS sermon 2 <—–click here to listen along.

This week one of you apologetically mentioned that you have been meaning to write me a thank-you note about something  – and given our Gospel reading about the grateful leper who came back and thanked Jesus, I began thinking about what a terrible thank-you note writer I am. Not for lack of trying on my mom’s part, I mean, Peggy did everything she could. And like every other kid who received a 10 dollar bill in their birthday card, I was expected to send a thank you note to Grandma. But it never felt like a natural outpouring of my gratitude.  It felt like an obligation. An obligation I sometimes would gladly give $10 to get out of.

The very worst thank you note writing experience I ever had was when Matthew’s church gave us a baby shower when I was pregnant with Harper and we received a large hardback book – some kind of comprehensive guide to Christian parenting published by Focus on the Family. 12 different people pitched in for this.  Which, you guessed it…meant 12 thank you notes for a Focus on the Family book.  Just shoot me.

So yeah, there have been times in my life I’ve not been so grateful that it naturally flowed into a note to someone.

But our text for today tells of a leper who Jesus heal returning to praise God and give thanks to Jesus.

And this week as I thought about the grateful Leper I began to realize that perhaps I do not praise God as I should.  I realized how much easier is was for me to talk last week about lamenting and complaining to God and how much trickier it feels to cut loose and praise God.

It is so much easier for me to long for what I want, to resent what I have lost than it is for me to be thankful for what I have. I’m not alone. I mean when is the last time you heard a newscaster say “not a single school shooting in America this week. Praise God.”  Or “the Nation is grateful this week for all the successful cancer treatments that have left thousands of people with a clean bill of health” We generally don’t find a lack of trauma to be worthy of comment, much less to be worthy of gratitude.

I wrote page upon page this week about what praise is and what it is not.  How praising God it isn’t just stroking God’s ego, sycophantically telling God how awesome God is – as though God has low self-esteem and created us for just this purpose. How thankfulness is not an obligation like the thank-you note to Grandma was – but is an act of freedom that doubles the joy of what was received.

I mean, seriously, I had pages and pages of exposition on praise and thanksgiving. And not a single word of actual praise and thanksgiving and that felt telling to me somehow.

So rather than talk about praise, I thought that what I really needed this week on a spiritual level was to actually praise God. But you are totally free to listen in.

11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.

That you O God, are one who comes to us in the regions between – the un-categorizable spaces that we often fail to notice or we fear altogether. I thank you. Thank you for those who bring water in the desert danger of border-crossing. Thank you for the space between my wakefulness and sleep where what I foolishly call intuition kicks in.  Thank you for the fluidity of gender and sexuality. Thank you for being in the regions between we try to pretend are not there.

12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

For your approachability in Jesus, O God, I give you thanks. Thank you for coming to us in the most vulnerable way possible – contained in human skin. Thank you for revealing your glory in the person of Jesus Christ whom lepers approach.

 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”

That you see me O God, I give you thanks. Thank you for seeing that which I try to hide. Thank you for seeing my hurt and my fear. Thank you for seeing my heart and my humor.  Thank you for seeing that I am stronger than I think and that I am also not nearly as strong as I think. Thank you for seeing this broken-ass world in all it’s beauty and most especially thank you for seeing all of these things and then responding in nothing but completely mad love.

Thank you for how you have sent these your people to show themselves to me and– in sending the gay kids and babies and retired folks and suburban moms and depressives and corporate guys and social workers and students that you have shown yourself to me. Knowing as you do that without the stories, gifts and scars of each of these people I would never see enough of you.

And as they went, they were made clean.

That healing happens in community O God, I praise you. Thank you for the way in which you bring your people together to be healed. For the ways in which we harm each other instead, forgive us.

 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.

Praise you God for the ones who turn back. Thank you for all the people in my life who speak your name, who bravely point to you as the source and ground of all goodness, who dare to recognize you as God and who remind me that you are real and you are actively redeeming me and them and all of creation.

16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Blessed be God the Word who came to his own and his own received him not for in this way, God glorifies the stranger. Thank you for revealing yourself in the foreigner. I think.  I mean, it’s one of the less comfortable aspects of following you, Jesus. But thank you for loving me too much to allow me to stay comfortable for too long.  Thank you for interrupting my pride and refusing to leave me as is.  It’s uncomfortable as hell but in your faithfulness you always lead me through death to more abundant life.

19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

For all the things that in going on my way I have failed to even notice I give you thanks today. Thank you for this community.  Thank you for the chaos of children. Thank you for that tree up my block that suddenly this week became 8 different colors all at once as though it was showing off. Thank you for friends who text me back. Thank you for coffee.  Thank you for the person in my 12 step meeting who reminded me that when in doubt just say Thy Will be Done because I totally had forgotten about that part.  Thank you for clean water and safe roads and electricity and garbage pick-up. Thank you for 21 years of sobriety. Thank you for the babies. Thank you for never leaving me. Thank you for that lunch I got to share with my teenager this week.  Thank you for all the people who manage to make me laugh. Thank you for creating us to sing.  Thank you for the fact that I didn’t have to get on an airplane this week.  Thank you for my dog. Thank you for Tracy’s new job and the baby growing inside Duffy that already feels like it belongs to us and the 30 people at the welcome brunch yesterday and for Jennifer who teaches our children about you, and for Jamie’s voice and for Seiji’s ability to cook us delicious food.  Thank you for the way in which I am fed at your table of grace and for allowing me to speak behind it and tell the story of the night you were betrayed. Thank you for this bread and wine which we are about to receive.  Thank you for giving me one more day to sing your praise. And for every other gift I am too blind to see that totally comes from you -Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Amen.

About Nadia Bolz Weber

I am the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. We are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more at www.houseforall.org

  • PAULA K. SCHMIDT

    Nice. Very nice (sorry I skimmed. it’s probably better than nice.) Lately for me praise has been underwhelming, as if praise itself were not enough for a God as big as mine…..:-D

  • carolb12

    I will read the rest of your post, I promise, but cannot get past the ” some kind of comprehensive guide to Christian parenting published by Focus on the Family. 12 different people pitched in for this. Which, you guessed it…meant 12 thank you notes for a Focus on the Family book. Just shoot me. ROLLING IN THE FLOOR LAUGHING!!!! Ohhhh how I needed that today!!!! That’s HIALRIOUS!!!!

  • ResoluteMag

    Amen!

  • Ginger Doege Metcalf

    Thank you Nadia for reminding me to say “Thank you” and to mean it. I sometimes thank God for my blessings in a way that is less than thankful. I strive to do better and sometimes I succeed and sometimes I do not. I enjoy reading your sermons so please keep posting.

  • carolb12

    WOW!!! I will read over this several times!! Powerful!! tyou!

  • greg huguley

    Thanks for blocking me from commenting on your facebook. I don’t suppose it was a gimmick;-)

    • SarcasticLutheran

      My Facebook page is just that- MY Facebook page. If you want to insult me on your own Facebook page or your own blog then please feel free. But I have too much respect for myself to allow that kind of thing on my own page, just as I would not allow it in my own home or my own car ….

      • greg huguley

        I really didn’t mean it as an insult–just an observation; though many interpret the continual gratuitous use of the “F” word as a “respect” issue too;-) And I do seriously apologize for any disrespect in my comments. We can both agree that such does not honor Christ. Blessings

        • SarcasticLutheran

          Thank you for that. Blessings to you too. NBW

  • Tom Quinn

    Hello and may God continue to bless you and your ministry. I do believe in thanks as an expression of appreciation of God’s work through and by others. Frankly, however, I have struggled through my techno-idiocy to find a means to share my thoughts about another idea you expressed with Krista Tippett and in Pastrix. That is, the idea that God tears out one’s heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. I have found that, usually, my heart of stone vanishes by erosion rather than by divine transplant. As a 57 year old man, I have experienced decades of erosion of my heart of stone as I have been, first, shocked by the ways that people are different and then, by a slow process of acceptance, achieved a feeling of oneness with people who at first seemed like aliens. I remember seeing a black person for the first time, a Southeast Asian in junior high, two men kissing (at the ballet in San Francisco in 1977…but what did I know?). Then when I started law school it seemed odd to me that almost 50% of the class were women. Just last Sunday, at Outfest in Philadelphia, a trannie in full regalia came into a shop where I was watching football and asked for the phone number of the LBGTQ club nearby. It seemed almost unremarkable, except that I noticed, about myself, that the experience seemed unremarkable and I just looked up the number and gave it to her.

    Perhaps not as dramatic as your experience–which I understand was demanded by the urgency of the moment for you–but I am SO glad to have had my own version of growth.

  • Margaret Watson

    I heard such a negative sermon on this topic this week – it is amazing what can be got out of this passage. The young priest was going on about there are hierarchies in society, but said that could be a good thing as long as those at the top of the pile cared for those lower down. He then moved on to describe the lepers as unclean and therefore unable to take part in the religious life of their community.
    On my way out I could not help but comment that by denying women the opportunity to act out their vocations they were declaring them unclean too.

  • Gerardo Noriega

    Thank you, dear Nadia, God bless you. I wish I belonged to your community. Greetings from Mexico!

  • http://practicingresurrection.wordpress.com/ Bill

    I love how you end the prayer: “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” Sometimes (maybe most times) that seems to me to be prayer enough.

    • Sandra Orrick

      Words fail. Thank you. Amen.

  • Cynthia J Warren

    This past winter, my pastor e-mailed me a video of you speaking. Because of my previous life in the throes of alcohol and drug addiction, he thought that I would enjoy your words, whichI did. I just received my first issue of Luther Seminary, and saw a picture of you. I decided to look you up. Oct.15th sermon on the leper and being thankful appeared. I appreciated your words immensely. We don’t think about or offer words of thanks often enough today. Thankful for everything is not accepted by most, only thankfulness for the good things. I believe that we are living prayers, and by living in service to God and our fellow man, and thankful for every breath that we take, we honor God, our neighbors and ourselves. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Yours in Service, Cynthia J Warren

  • 5DRW5

    Just reading your praise inspired me incredibly. Maybe that’s a dry Eucharist!

  • Deb G

    F on F book – Hahahaha!!

    I heard a comic say this, and I’m still waiting too: For a football player who just made the stupidest play that clearly cost his team the game- to look and point up to God, thereby giving God the ‘glory.’

  • joeyj1220

    As a Christian atheist… I’m grateful I have discovered your work. Thank you :-)


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