Sermon: The Root of Thanks

A painting set in Africa. Several men are leaving at the top, while one is on his knees in joy to a man at lower left.

October 13, 2019
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 17:11-19

by Eric Anderson

It’s probably impossible to avoid a little condemnation of the nine people who had been healed, and who had failed to come back and give thanks. It’s probably impossible to avoid a little self-righteousness about it. If it had been you or me (particularly me, because I’m a Good Person… with… unmatched wisdom?), we’re sure we would have come back. It was, after all, so easy to do.

I wonder if it was quite so easy in the moment.

They’d taken the risk of approaching the traveling party they hoped included the rumored healer, Jesus. I wonder how many people they’d called to that day, or that week, hoping he’d be there. I wonder also how many other people with a reputation for healing they’d called to over the years, hopeful and pleading, and received no help.

This time, Jesus was there. He told them to go see the priest – not that the priest would cure them, but to certify them as healthy. In ancient Israel and in first century Judea, one of the functions of the priesthood was to act as public health officers around a collection of skin conditions they described as leprosy. Leviticus 13 spelled it out. There you’ll find the symptoms to look for, the tests to apply if the appearances aren’t clear, the remedy to apply if the patient’s condition matches the description.

The remedy was exile.

The priest did not have the role of physician to patient, but of public health examiner. It was the community’s health that took precedence. They greatly feared transmission of these conditions; nearly every culture on Earth has. To prevent it, they sent these sick people away.

But they could come back. If the skin no longer showed the described appearance, they could be examined by the priest, receive a proclamation of health, and return to their homes and families and friends. The first step was healing. The second step was certification. The third step was… home. The fourth step, laid down in the law found in Leviticus 14, was giving thanks to God with a particular set of sacrificial offerings.

So when Jesus told them to go see the priest, and they realized on the way that they were healed, they kept going. Until the priest certified their health, they couldn’t return home. Until the priest certified their health, they weren’t fully healed. Until the priest certified their health, they couldn’t make the sacrifices. Until the priest certified their health, they couldn’t give thanks the way they were supposed to.

As Kathryn Matthews writes at, “They hurry to do what lepers are supposed to do when they’re healed: go show themselves to the priest, as Jesus instructed them, and get him to stamp the certificate that says they’re safe to re-enter society, a double experience of healing. (They have to make sure their paperwork is in order, and they’re properly documented.)”

One turned back.

To be honest, I don’t know why he did and the others didn’t. If he said anything to Jesus, it hasn’t been remembered. Some scholars speculate that, as a Samaritan, he had different procedures to follow to be declared healthy enough for society. As descendants of the ancient people of Israel, they worshiped the same God and maintained a priesthood of their own. Maybe his priest was further away, so he felt he had time to thank Jesus before beginning a long journey. Or maybe his priest was closer by, so the delay was more acceptable to him than to the others with a longer trek.

See? There’s too many things we don’t know to make anything more than a guess.

What we do know is that he was aware that he was healed.

Karoline Lewis writes at Working Preacher, “Gratitude starts with awareness and attentiveness. The Samaritan leper sees that he has been healed and acknowledges that healing. Once healed, it is often far too easy to move on; to offer that automatic ‘thanks,’ isn’t it? But this story in Luke tells us that seeing is more than sight – it is seeing through God’s eyes, through the lens of Jesus’ first sermon in Nazareth. It is to see that you are whom God has seen, whom God has regarded. Just like Elizabeth. Just like Mary. Just like the widow of Nain.”

You are whom God has seen, whom God has regarded.

Awareness is a challenging thing. First, it must be said, awareness can be painful. I don’t always feel good, and sometimes all I want to do is keep the pain at bay – emotional, physical, spiritual pain, it’s all the same – I just don’t want to be aware of it. Any counselor, any physician, and any spiritual guide will tell you, however, that the deepest hurts demand awareness and attention before healing can begin.

Awareness of good things has its risks. It can be overwhelming. Human beings have developed a reflex that reduces the impact of the familiar. Without it, we might find ourselves simply wandering about the world lost in wonder. The touch of air moving across our skin. The embrace of a friend or loved one. The scent of plumeria. The sweetness of lychee. The soothing taste of tea, and the energizing bitterness of coffee. The dawn chorus of birdsong. The creaking of tree limbs on a breeze. The sight of water sinking into sand at the height of its climb up the beach. The sight, scent, and feel of salt spray leaping from a wave-pounded rock. A rainbow in the sky or in a waterfall. The craggy peak of Mauna Kea rising over Hilo Bay. Hilo Bay stretching toward the ocean viewed from Waianuenue Avenue.

I include that last because I had determined when I moved here that I would never descend that slope, see that sight, and ignore it. I haven’t quite kept that vow. Other things claim my attention from wonder.

They have to. Who could function otherwise?

The root of thanks, however, is awareness. Awareness of what is new and different and miraculous. Awareness of what is old and familiar and… miraculous.

David Lose writes at Working Preacher, “All the lepers were healed; one, however, saw, noticed, let what happened sink in…and it made all the difference.

  • Because he sees what has happened, the leper recognizes Jesus, his reign and his power.
  • Because he sees what has happened, the leper has something for which to be thankful, praising God with a loud voice.
  • Because he sees what has happened, the leper changes direction, veering from his course toward a priest to first return to Jesus.”

The root of thanks is awareness.

Start by giving yourself some awareness time this week. Perhaps consider making it a daily practice. Let yourself be aware of the wonders around and within you. Feel the air moving in and out of your lungs. Feel the blood getting a little warm in your cheeks. Feel cloth moving gently over your skin.

Breathe in, and sort the scents: grass and green things, wood, sweat, fruit, flowers. Taste something, and let yourself experience the complexity of the simplest flavors. Be amazed by chocolate. Close your eyes and listen to the wind, or to the birds, or to the cars, or to the voices that surround you. Open your eyes to the sun, or the swirling clouds, or the silvery rain. Linger over the shape of a flower petal.

The root of thanks is awareness.

A. A. Milne wrote in Winnie the Pooh, “Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”

(A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh (London, Methuen and Company), 1926)

Let your awareness settle deep into your heart, and fill that pool of gratitude to overflowing.

Be aware, and be thankful.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

The Root of Thanks

The text above has had material added not found in what was prepared for preaching. Not everything has been edited to match what was preached, however, so text and audio will still vary.

The image is The Healing of the Ten Lepers by Jesus Mafa, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. Used under Creative Commons license CC-BY-NC-SA. [retrieved October 11, 2019]. Original source: (contact page:

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on October 13, 2019

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