Monday, October 6, 2014

A Story About Sight (Thanksgiving, Oct 12 2014)

Homily:  Thanksgiving, Oct 12 2014, St. Albans
Readings:  Deut 8.7-18; Ps 65, 2 Cor 9.6-15; Lk 17.11-19                                        

“A Story about Sight”

Creative Commons - Photo by TheStolpskott
Today’s gospel is the story of a healing.  It’s the story of ten lepers, ten people who had been forced out of society because they suffered from a dreaded, contagious disease of the skin.  When Jesus arrives at the outskirts of their village, they call out to him from a distance, “Jesus, have compassion on us.”  And when Jesus sees them, he has compassion, and he tells them to go and show themselves to the priests, because that’s what the law said they had to do to rejoin society.  And as they went on their way, the sores disappeared and pus on their skin vanished, and they were healed.

Now if this is where the reading had stopped, and I was to ask you what the story was about, you probably would say that it was about the healing of ten lepers, that is to say, a story about skin.

But the text doesn’t stop here.  As we continue reading, we’re told that one man, seeing that he was healed, turns back and in so doing he takes our story in a whole new direction.  Because for ten men, this is a story about skin.  But for one man, it is a story about sight.

What is it that the one man sees that the others don’t?  Surely all ten could see that their skin was healed, that the sores had disappeared.  But the one man sees something more, something that makes him stop dead in his tracks, separate himself from the group and turn back toward Jesus.  He sees something, so he changes direction.  He sees something, and he praises God.  He sees something, and so he prostrates himself at Jesus feet and thanks him.

What did he see?  Ten men saw the gift, the healed skin.  One man sees the Giver. 
Today we celebrate Thanksgiving.  It is the time of year when we deliberately direct our attention towards the many gifts that we receive, all the good things that we enjoy.  It is therefore an opportunity for us to learn to see, to see not just the gift, but also the Giver.  

Are we like so many, who receiving a gift, think to themselves “Boy am I ever lucky!” or are we like the one man who is able to see the active presence of God working in and through all the events of our lives, and, as a result, is truly able to say “Thank you”.

I don’t think it’s surprising that nine out of the ten people in today’s text were unable to see God in their own healing.  As our first reading from Deuteronomy reminds us, we have a tendency to forget God, to lose sight of the divine in the day to day happenings of our lives.  Our vision tends to narrow over time.  We become near-sighted.  We become complacent.  We no longer belong to a culture that sees God’s hand in the events of our lives.  We belong to a much more skeptical age, a empirical world that places its emphasis on what we can measure and on what can be experienced with our five senses.  Most of us after all, at some point in our lives, have been taught that “seeing is believing.”

But what if we’re wrong about that.  What if we’ve got it backwards.

There’s a man named Dewitt Jones who’s a photographer for the National Geographic.  You know, the yellow magazines with all those amazing pictures that, back in the days before Google, many of us used to collect and use for school projects.  Over the past thirty years, Dewitt Jones has learned a thing or two about vision.  His insights originate with his photography, but I think they speak to us too.  Here’s what he says:

“I started out in life, as most of us do, holding the maxim “I won’t believe it till I see it”.  Yet the more I worked for the Geographic, the more I realized I had it backwards.  The way it really works is “I won’t see it till I believe it”.  That’s the way life really works.”

“They sent me out to places I’d never been.  I believed there would be beautiful landscapes – and they were there.  I believed there would be interesting people to photograph – and I’d find them.

“Perception controls our reality.  If we don’t believe it, we won’t see it.”

How open are we to seeing the divine in the midst of our lives, to seeing the active presence of God in our world?

In the midst of the chaos of our lives are we aware of the divine spark within that urges us to live lives of meaning and purpose?

In the midst of the conflicts and injustice of our world, do we hear God speaking in those voices throughout history that have urged us to do justice and to love our neighbour as ourselves?

When we consider the air that we breathe and the water that we drink, do we think of these as fortunate outcomes of random processes, or do we have a vision of an awesome, evolving creation which is life-giving and is a reflection of its Creator.

When we suffer, when we are in pain, are we aware of a subtle force which suffers with us and brings a transformative energy to bear on our situation.

If we believe it, we’ll see it. 

But sometimes we have trouble seeing.  Sometimes our sight gets clouded.  When life gets hard, when we or those we love encounter difficulty, our vision loses its clarity.  When we encounter skepticism or doubt, our field of vision narrows.  Even, or perhaps especially, when times are good, our vision becomes complacent and near-sighted.

When our vision fails us, what are we to do?  It’s at these times that we need to come together, to tell each other our stories, to hear the stories of those who have gone before us, to celebrate in praise and in song the presence of the divine in our midst, to be reminded of what we once saw and to be encouraged in our belief that we will once more see the active presence of God in our lives and in our world.

That’s what we’re doing here this morning.  Some call it worship, others just say they’re going to church.  Someone on the Internet that I read this week says he likes to think of going to church as weekly cataract surgery.  We may come in with our sight clouded, but if the surgery is successful we go out with a clear vision of God at work.

And on this Thanksgiving Sunday, on this day when we pay particular attention to the good things of our lives, we want to learn to see not just the gifts, but also the Giver, and when we do, we respond by praising God and saying Thank you.

Giving thanks is good and right, and to top it off it’s also good for us.  But is there more that we should be doing? 

Yes there is.  Because once we’ve learned to see the Giver in the gifts, we then should realize that each one of us is called to participate in the giving.

That’s what Paul is trying to explain to the Corinthians in the second lesson that we heard this morning. 

Paul was doing something quite remarkable, something which was actually unprecedented.  He was organizing the world’s first foreign aid project.  Corinth, you see, was a prosperous Greek city of the Roman Empire, a sea port which benefited from trade and commerce.  Jerusalem, however was exactly the opposite, a poor, remote city under Roman Military occupation, oppressed by the Roman military because of its rebellious past.  And so Paul has organized that a collection be taken up in the prosperous Greek cities, including Corinth, so that the money can be given to the poor in Jerusalem.

And apparently his project was meeting some resistance among the Corinthians.  Why should we give our money to those no-good foreigners? they complained.  “We worked hard for our money.  Why should we give it away?”

And so Paul writes them a letter, part of which we heard read today.  Why should we be generous?  Why should we give?

We give because that’s what Jesus did.  Jesus gave his life for us.

We give because all that we have, all of our wealth is a gift from God, and the purpose of wealth is to do good for others.

We give to others because that is how we express our thanks to God for what we’ve been given.  As Paul writes, “Generosity produces thanksgiving to God, for the rendering of this ministry of giving and generosity not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.”

As we gather here this morning, we have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.  We live in a land of plenty, we are loved by friends and family, we have our health and our lives and so much more.  May we learn to see God at work in all the blessings of this life, and seeing, may we also realize that each of us is called to participate in God’s work, to be generous and giving towards others, for this is how we offer thanks.


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