Monday, November 4, 2019


Something happened before 
     our Gospel story of the 10 lepers 
     --  a long time before 
– thousands of years before.

A stone age man or woman had a spark of insight, 
a flash of awareness.
She didn’t have words for it 
     because language was just beginning.
Besides, it was too primal, too basic for words. 

That Paleolithic primate noticed reality,
     that there is something instead of nothing,
     that this something has no known origin,
                 is wonderful, miraculous, alive, mysterious. 
She saw that her own existence
     was part of that wonder, miracle, life, and mystery. 

She had neither designed nor crafted it.
But there it was. 
Our life, the world into which we are born,
     the passion, the meaning, 
and the beauty flowing through it are all a gift 
bestowed by an infinitely mysterious Giver. 

We call that early primate homo sapiens, wise person,
     because she attained unto wisdom.
Once she discovered that it’s all gift,
     she felt the primal gratitude and it opened her heart
     to be surprised by everything and to appreciate it.
That’s the moment when human life acquired flavor.
For without gratitude, we miss the wonder and the joy
and everything feels functional, flat, and flavorless.

Flash forward to 30 A.D. and the 10 lepers.
They had three problems 
– physical: leprosy was a bodily disease
--  social: lepers were ostracized from the community--  and spiritual: lepers lived in misery and resentment. 

So these 10 lepers called to Jesus, Have mercy on us. 
 Jesus healed them physically by his grace.
He sent them to the priest to declare them clean,
     and restore their place in society. 
Check the boxes for the physical and social problems.
But one leper returned to say thank you.

He’s the only one who got the spiritual piece.  
Jesus said to him, Your faith has made you whole.
Jesus had made him healthy and clean.
But becoming whole depended on his response.

Without gratitude, we are not yet whole. 
Something is missing,  something fundamental. 
Elie Wiesel said,
     When a person doesn’t have gratitude,
     something is missing in his or her humanity.
John Milton told us what was missing. He said,
 Gratitude . . . allow(s) us to encounter
everyday epiphanies,. . . transcendent moments of awe
     that change forever how we experience
     life and the world. 

Brothers and sisters, 
if we want transcendent moments of awe,
     if we want our lives changed forever,
     the starting point is gratitude. 
The spiritual teacher Brother David Stendle Rast said,
     Gratefulness is the key to a happy life . . . because 
if we are not grateful, no matter how much we have, 
we will not be happy. 

Such gratitude is a habit of the heart,
a disposition of the mind
we acquire through practice.
A personal example:
My prayer life has gone through some phases and stages.
For years, it was all intercession.
I gave God a lot of good advice
     on what people needed.

For me, praying was an exercise in sacred
     because, in my family of origin, 
the way we showed love for someone
     was to worry about them. 
Then I noticed two things. 
One, worrying about people
sent them a dark message. 
It said there was something wrong with them.
Two, there was no room in my prayer
     for gratitude.
So I shifted to interceding for people
     in broad terms – let God work out the details – 
then thanking God for having these people in my life.            

The simplest and richest prayer I know is
     Thank you, Jesus.
Brother David said,
     We are never more than one grateful thought
                 away from a peaceful heart. 
We have (he said) a thousand opportunities every day
                 to be grateful: . . . good weather,
                 to have slept well . . . , to be able to get up,
                 good health, to have enough to eat . . . .
            There’s opportunity upon opportunity to be grateful. 

Friends, if we directed our attention 
        to something good in the world
and said, Thank you Jesus, just three times a day,
we would be well on the way to wholeness.

As we said last week, the Church is a gymnasium 
where we develop the strengths to live well,
        a studio to practice the art of life.
So naturally the heart of our practice together
     is gratitude.

The root of Eucharist is charis,
     which is Greek for a free gift.
In worship, we notice have been given something 
-- perhaps I should say everything.
Eu-charist means a thank you gift, 
a free gift back to the Giver 
to acknowledge what we have received
and express our gratitude.
It’s a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

The sacramental life is a perpetual gift exchange.
It works this way:
God has given us something, rather everything. 
We respond by giving back God, 
          what we’ve got -- ourselves.
In his classic Prayer of Oblation, 
St. Ignatius of Loyola prayed,
        Accept O God my memory, my will, 
        my understanding, my imagination.
        All that I am and all that I have, 
        you have given me.
        I give it all back to be disposed of 
        according to your good pleasure.

       Grant me only the comfort of your presence
              and the joy of your love.
        With these I shall be more than rich,
                and will ask for nothing more. 
God gives us the very earth under our feet,
the air we breathe,
all things bright and beautiful 
the song says.
In appreciation, we give ourselves back to God.
God in turn fills us with God’s own self, 
     and gives us back as human sacraments
to each other.

In a few minutes, at this altar rail
     we will give ourselves to God
     and be filled with God 
                 so that we can bear God’s grace           
                 to a spiritually starving world.

The offertory is the nucleus, the nuclear act,
     if you will, in our ritual.
We may give money to support various causes 
       we approve,
and hopefully we support the Church’s mission
to share Christ’s love in the world.
But our gift to the Church is different 
from our other donations.

It has a different symbolism, a different meaning,
and a different effect on our hearts. 
We give a fraction of our money
     to acknowledge that all we have belongs to God 
and has been entrusted to us
     for God’s mission in this world. 

Just so, a pledge campaign isn’t the same 
as fundraising for a secular non-profit.
It’s a spiritual thing.
It isn’t just about the Church’s budget.
It’s about our souls.
It’s about practicing the gratitude  
that opens our hearts 
to transcendent moments of awe
         that . . . change our . . . (lives) forever.

It’s about practicing the generosity 
     that flows from faith
and grows our faith to make us whole.