Trinity 17: Giving Thanks


2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

The weekend, the second in October, is one of my favourites of the year. It is Canadian Thanksgiving! Tomorrow is a national holiday in Canada; we don’t watch football or go shopping like our neighbours to the south. It tends to be more of a family time, the weather is generally nice so time can be spent outdoors before indulging in large turkey dinners and pumpkin-based desserts.

My family will all be gathering to do just this today and tomorrow. We have the tradition of going around the table (at the insistence of my Mother) so each person can say what they are thankful for. I think that there is something around this time of year, around harvest, that reminds us again of the need to be thankful. To reflect on the words ‘thank you’ whether that is to God or to those around us who may need to know of our thankfulness to them. There is certainly no shortage!

We have two responses to giving and receiving thanks this morning in the OT and the Gospel readings.

The story of Naaman in 2nd Kings is fascinating. There is a lot going on in it. Naaman is a commander of the Aramean army, he was a great man and in high favour with the king. He also suffered from leprosy. Leprosy would have been seen as a sign of God’s judgement in the days before medical microbiology and understanding of bacterial infections. It was a source of great shame and uncleanness. However Namaan was not shunned or made to live apart from society, let alone hold a high position. Maybe because he was deemed to be more important than other people?

He does, however, need help. The help that Naaman needs comes from an unlikely source; a young girl taken captive to serve his wife. Was she thanked for what she did? She likely took a big risk in speaking up in the first place; seeking to help the very person who had taken her into captivity. Maybe Naaman and his wife were a really lovely couple who showed kindness to this girl to the point that she felt comfortable speaking up. She was obviously convincing as her suggestion was taken seriously. Potentially out of desperation yet acted upon.

Sometimes help comes from the unlikeliest people. Are we aware of where our help comes from? Yes, it comes from God; thinking of Psalm 121.
However, God more often than not uses unlikely people to bring the help that we need. They, along with God, need to be thanked!

In the Gospel story of the 10 lepers, are we to be surprised by the one who returns to say thank you or the nine who don’t.

Which surprises you more?

The 10 lepers are clearly the outcasts of society. They kept their distance when Jesus came near to them as they had to call out to get the attention of Jesus. These ten had to live within the rules that had been imposed on them. On the surface they don’t have much to be thankful for. As a group they would have been instantly recognisable. Independently they would have been even more isolated and in greater danger. Maybe living the life they did had worn them down, made them suspicious, lacking trust and had given up on anyone caring about them.

Then they encounter Jesus and call out for mercy. There is no indication of how physically close Jesus came to them or if he even touched them. In fact, Jesus sent them away. They had to go and show themselves to the local priest to be declared clean. It was as they went away that they were made clean. I cannot begin to imagine the shock, the excitement, the overwhelming emotion that must have occurred when the ten realised they had been healed.

Maybe the nine didn’t go back because they were so eager to be declared clean and go home to their families that they simply did not think to go back and look for Jesus. But one did. Perhaps he had a greater need for gratitude. Luke doesn’t say that the other 9 were any less cured, but he is suggesting that they were less grateful. There is a message here for all of us who fail to thank God ‘always and for everything’ as Paul puts it. We can know with our heads, if we have any Christian faith at all, that it is God who gives us everything.

Every mouthful of food, every breath of air, glass of water or wine, every smile on every face and a billion other things. This runs counter in the world where too many people assume that they have an absolute right to health, happiness and every comfort imaginable. When we think like this, we easily lose any sense of thanks as it is replaced with entitlement. What is the antidote? Being thankful.

Naaman and the 10 lepers were given new life. The word for ‘get up’ used by Jesus at the end of the reading has to do with resurrection. The man who came back ‘was dead and is alive again’. New life had come through Jesus. Naaman recognised that he had been healed and he returned to Elisha to offer thanks and gratitude to God.

We also need to remember to thank the vehicles, the vessels, the flawed but beautiful people who He uses to help and assist us. Let’s also not forget that God uses us to help and heal the people around us. We need to accept thanks with grace and gladness and then return it to The One who gives us a new life.

The temptation can be to become very self-effacing; no need to thank me, etc. Actually accept it. God graciously receives our thanksgiving; we should be able to accept the thanksgiving of others. It is right to be mindful of our attitudes and motivations (doing something solely to be thanked isn’t great). If we have done something that another person feels is worthy of thanks and offers it; then we should accept it graciously.

The giving and receiving of thanksgiving all comes from God. We are kidding only ourselves if we think it does not. He is the one who we need to thank and keep on thanking for every good and perfect gift that comes from above.

Harvest Sunday: Jesus the Bread of Life


Deuteronomy 26:1-11
John 6:25-35

Happy Harvest Sunday!

There is no more fooling ourselves – the season is changing! Anyone else got the heating on? Have you noticed more yellow, red and orange leaves than you might want to? The children are back at school and hopefully settled in. I think that there is more change in the autumn season than at New Year. This is the time of year when most changes happen; new things/activities start. The party might be better when the calendar changes, but the change is less. Now is the time to make resolutions!

It may feel difficult to ‘celebrate’ given these recent events but also after the summer we have had. The heat waves and lack of rain that damaged our crops locally, nationally and internationally. The anticipated lack of food in many parts of the world from the war in Ukraine and floods in Pakistan. The impact of this can feel very close to home and worlds away. Harvest this year feels somehow more poignant; there is a maybe a deeper need to be thankful for what we have.

We remember the farmers at this time of harvest and think about where our food comes from. We remember those who do not have as much as we do. We support both One Can Trust and Community Matters with donations of needed items or financially.

Remembrance, thanksgiving and action are very much part of harvest; they are also very much part of any season of change. There is a theme of change running through the readings this morning.

In the final section of Deuteronomy, Moses is preparing the Israelites for their move into the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey by giving them some guidelines for life there. The Israelites were to remember what God had done for them when he freed them from Egypt. In return they were to give some of the first fruits of the ground, the harvest and give them back to God. They were his anyway!

Change was coming for Israel; the big move was ahead of them. They were not to forget about God. It’s so easy to do that isn’t it? When a lot of change comes all at once, we can forget that God doesn’t change and is always with us. God brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
When we are faced with change, we should be thankful, remember who knows what that change will bring. Even if we can’t see it or understand it – God does.

We know that the Gospel changes things! When people know the Good News of Jesus, lives change, families change and most importantly eternities are changed. The Gospel will bring change.

We are transplanted this week out of Luke and back into John; right into the middle of an interesting chapter too. John 6 starts with the feeding of the 5000 by the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish brought by a small boy. Later that same day Jesus walked on the water and calmed the wind.

Our reading this morning happened the next day; Jesus and the disciples are being stalked by the crowds who want more from them. The crowd that was following Jesus that day had different ideas about who Jesus was. This was likely the crowd of 5000 that were fed the day before with loaves and fishes. They are back today for more. Jesus knows why they are following him, and he calls them out, ‘Hey guys – you are not following me because of the signs but because your bellies were filled yesterday!’ They clearly saw the sign; the loaves & fishes multiplied but they missed what it signified. The Kingdom of God, Jesus the bread of life.

Jesus came to change people’s minds. He is starting by trying to change the crowd’s understanding of who He is and what He does. Jesus came to give us a different perspective, to see beyond what is right in front of us. Jesus then tells them ‘do not work for the food that spoils, perishes – but the food that lasts for eternal life – which the Son of Man will give you.’

The crowd does not quite get it again. They ask Jesus what they have to do: what work, activity does God require in exchange for more bread? Tell us and we will do it. Jesus’ answer startles them, and it should startle us a bit too or at least remind us. ‘This is the work of God – that you believe in him whom he has sent.’

The crowd, sticking to its original demand, still wants another sign! They are bringing up the past, their ancestors who ate the manna in the wilderness. Jesus corrects their history; it wasn’t Moses who gave them the bread; it was God. They want physical feeding and Jesus is offering them spiritual food, the bread of heaven that gives life to the world – that is Jesus himself. This is better bread!

Jesus is saying that he is the bread of life. Those that come to him will never be hungry and never be thirsty. What do we think about when Jesus says, ‘I am the bread of life’?

Is Jesus the bread of our life?

The crowd still think they will be physically fed. This is not what Jesus means. Of course, they needed physical food as we all do. I think what Jesus is talking about here is our priorities. Do we need to be eating different bread? We can be distracted by many different types of bread.

The next time you are in a grocery store, take a slow walk down the bread aisle as a metaphorical exercise. Marvel at the sheer variety of bread that is available; shapes, sizes, thin, medium or thick cut, white, whole wheat, rye, seeds, nuts, grains. Danish, French, Italian. It was really quite overwhelming!

I also found some fun bread facts:

*According to the Flour Advisory Board Approximately 12 million loaves are bought everyday in the UK.
*99% of households buy bread.
*Men eat more bread than women.
*44% of men eat bread twice a day – only 25% of women do.
*White bread accounts for 76% of all bread sold in the UK.
*About 200 different types of bread are made here
*Sandwiches account for about 50% of bread consumption
*People in the UK spend about £3.6 billion pounds/year on bakery items, mostly bread

However, there is really only one bread that we need. Jesus the bread of life. He will take away the core emptiness that we all have. We will need to feed on him, be dependent on Him for everything we need. We need to go to Him daily, hourly – sometimes minute by minute. If we harvest from Him by learning from him, receiving from him, hearing and seeing Him. Taking up what is offered to us we will not be hungry.

How is the harvest looking today? Are we harvesting the right things? Eating the right bread or is it mouldy? Sometimes we can be harvesting in the wrong fields! Collecting rotten produce? Maybe we are trying to harvest in a field that is barren?

Are we celebrating a harvest that does not last? Working for bread that cannot and will not satisfy? As we celebrate harvest today it is right to give thanks for the material goods that we have; for food, clothes, homes, beds, clean water, gas, electricity and the means to pay for it all.

In this season of change, there is much to be thankful for. Even if you can’t see it or understand it. Let Jesus guide you in the changes of this life. He is the real bread, feed on him. If you want the real harvest then let Jesus be the bread of your life.