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United Church of Christ

533 Route 28, Harwich Port, MA 02646 | Phone: 508-432-1668

Remembering to Say Thanks

Luke 17:11-19

Remembering to Say Thanks

Sunday November 13, 2016

Rev. Dr. Susan E. Cartmell

Pilgrim Congregational Church, Harwich Port


This November our worship theme is Thanksgiving. Here at Pilgrim Church we believe that thanksgiving is not just a one-day feast, but it is more like a spiritual discipline. Thanksgiving is more than food and football. It is even more than family. It is a holiday that is deeply spiritual.

Here at Pilgrim Church thanksgiving will be our theme for the month and I hope that by reading the Bible stories on gratitude together it may change the way we celebrate this holiday. It may ground our celebrations in a more deeply spiritual way. By examining what the Bible says about Thanksgiving this will be more than a day of feasting.

Now many of us have heard the story of the Ten lepers before. When we hear this parable in Luke’s gospel it is hard not to feel defensive. It sounds like Jesus is chastising us. It sounds like he is rebuking us for our lack of gratitude. It sounds like Jesus is depicted like a nagging parent. Don’t forget to say thank you. One 10 percent of people remember to give thanks. But I think the story is much more nuanced, and the only way to really hear it is to hear from the leper himself. So let’s meet Daniel – the man who thanked Jesus so long ago:


I was born in Samaria to the north of Galilee and my wife was too but we moved down by the Sea of Galilee after we were married. The village we chose was full of people from Samaria and we felt at home. We knew we would be in a minority but our religion is so similar to the Jews that we fit in and over the years we made our life together and were happy.

My wife is a good cook and I worked hard to build my cheese business. We started with a modest number of goats, but my wife and I developed a unique method for seasoning the cheese with homegrown herbs and people liked it. So our business began to thrive. Avigail was a good wife and she had children easily it seemed. Before long we had three boys and a girl. Watching them grow was my greatest pleasure. Our days were long but we shared our dreams and built a happy home. Before long the children could help some. Our oldest boy, Aaron was always by my side. He was there the day I noticed something on my arm one day. It was sore and I assumed I had had scraped it so I put olive oil on it and forgot about it. But it did not go away and more sores came so I did the only thing I knew to do; I tried the oil again. Before long I realized that the spots were everywhere on my arms so I pulled my cloak close when I was selling cheese but someone must have noticed. It was a month later when the priest from the village told me to leave. My son looked frightened and I tried to re-assure him but I was sure I had the leprosy. My wife had seen it too and she wept when I left the children to go out to live with the other lepers outside the gates of the city.

It was such a hard time for Avigail because she had so much work and the children suddenly had to grow up fast and work long days with her.  I felt so lonely even though I was living with people. We all knew we were outcasts. Whenever anyone came near we were required to call out “unclean, unclean”. Do that for a few weeks and pretty soon the sense of being dirty affects more than your skin. The look of repulsion makes you feel repulsive. I knew I would do almost anything to return to my home and see my kids again.

It was a day like any other when we were begging by the road that I heard the murmur of anticipation. Someone important was coming to the town. The watchman tried to clear us out, telling us that a famous rabbi was arriving with his disciples. I asked who it was and he replied Jesus of Nazareth, not that it matters to you. Most of my friends had become too depressed to follow the local news but that name rang a bell for me. I knew I had heard it, and then I realized this Jesus was more than a rabbi. He was a healer. He had earned a reputation for his healing.

When I put it all together in my head I told my friends that we should try to get his attention. They were skeptical and had been kicked aside by life too many times to get their hopes up. They did not want to draw attention to us. But I started to yell out to Jesus. They told me to shut up, but I thought it might be worth it. Maybe this was one of those times when my stubbornness paid off because I kept yelling they started to join me. When we all cried out we did not have much hope but at least we were not so passive. So we were shocked when Jesus stopped and called out to us to go show ourselves to the priest.

I was not even sure I understood what he meant. But with nothing left to lose we got up and started to head to the place of prayer. My fried Ari asked me where it was and I glanced at his dirty face beside me and was that shocked to see his skin was clean. I hardly dared to look at my arms, pitted and oozing that morning, but I stood in disbelief pulling up the rags of my shirt to find my skin was clean as well. I could not believe my prayers were answered that day. Now I could go home to see my little girl. The day I left she had been so grateful when I helped her with her chores. I will never forget the look of gratitude in her eyes.

Then I realized I never thanked Jesus. I never told him he had changed my life. I told Ari I wanted to go thank the rabbi, but he was not sure what to do, and he did not want to stop in case it was a strange magic that could reverse as quickly as it had worked. But I knew I needed to go back so I ran back as fast as my new legs would take me and bowed down low before this man and thanked him. He seemed to appreciate my gratitude just like I had so treasured my daughter’s thanks.

When I arrived at the priest’s I was the last one and alone again but nothing could ruin this day. By mid day I was entering the cheese shop. The children saw me first, and when my wife felt the energy all around her change she glanced up to see me. Tears of joy and sorrow all fell at once as we embraced. The days are sweeter and I never complain about the work. But my son, the eldest boy is a serious child and he still seems worried. I asked him one day about it and finally he confessed that he is worried it won’t last. So each morning I show him my arms. The first time he said, “Thank you Jesus, and I said Thank you YHWH.” Now we say that together every morning.

Jesus told a lot of stories about foreigners who were kind, and lepers who had faith. He told stories about widows who were generous and shepherds who saw angels. In every case his stories defied the stereotypes of these people. In every case Christ’s stories humanized folks that most people saw as “others”. Throughout the gospels, indeed throughout the whole Bible the arc of all the stories always bends toward inclusivity. The Bible is told toward the perspective of underdogs, Hebrew slaves, a race of people who created the Jewish religion while they were refugees. The arc of their stories always bends towards justice- towards humanizing the least or the lost, the poor or the outcast. The arc of these stories always bends toward bringing the outsider in, and seeing the stranger as a human being. Again and again our faith challenges us to see the people we view as “others” as children of the same God we love and worship ourselves.

We have had a week in our country and there are forces now in play that would push us to divide up into us and them. It will be tempting after this recent national election to stay divided – Democrat and Republican, Black and white, gay and straight, East coast and rust belt, college educated and less educated, creatively employed and desperate for a job. This week those fissures in our society were exposed.  We all have ideas about who the “other” is for us. But Jesus’ message is for us today. Let us never forget that he had this remarkable way of including everyone, especially the outsider, and drawing the circle so that everyone is in it. As people of faith we will need to be vigilant in our own way these days to be sure we don’t fall prey to the temptations to see divisions where Jesus only saw children of God.


Pastoral Prayer

Holy God your look is long. Your vision focused, forever forward.

Your hope holds even in desperate times, and anchors us in times of uncertainty.

You are passionate for the vulnerable.

You weep when people suffer. You offer peace with angel songs

War breaks out, and tyrants rule in various lands, refugees search for home. You see it all with a love boundless and contagious you seek us.

In the quiet of this moment we pray

            For healing in our nation

            For peace among all people.

            For generous hearts to welcome strangers.

            For a sense of hope that is wiser than despair.         

We pray for all newly elected leaders in our country, our commonwealth and our community.

We pray for the President and the President Elect, the Congress and the Court system, that God you will guide them all that they may bring their best selves to this moment in history.

Give them wisdom in their new duties to protect our nation, but promote world peace;

Now we pray for those who face special challenges this day:

Merciful God, we pray that love might have its way in the world and that we may open ourselves to the possibility that your healing power might bring us the peace we seek. Amen.

Posted: Sunday November 13, 2016