"Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice."
Her name was Edna Miller and she was about as plain as her name implied except when she was inside the walls of a classroom with chalk in hand. She stood barely five-foot tall yet could look eyeball to eyeball with the biggest bully in the school and stare him into repentant submission. And could she teach. Man, could she teach! She began teaching in 1922 and taught until she was compelled to turn in her chalk at the age of 65. She taught through the Depression, making fullness in the emptiness around her. She taught through World War II and was with the children as the telegrams, "we are sorry to inform you," began to arrive with the notice of their brothers' or fathers' death. Through the years a middle aged woman with a parade of children and a husband would stop by her frame house and say, "you don't remember me, but you taught me in 7th grade and I just want to thank you for the difference you made in my life." Letters would appear around Christmas - "you probably don't remember me but you taught me in high school and believed in me until I could believe in myself....I have a good job now and a loving family and I just want to thank you." At the 50th class reunion of 1945, there was a huge celebration in her honor. And shortly after that, at the age of 95, Miss Edna Miller quietly slipped into the arms of God. But she died with joy. She had been thanked and remembered with gratitude.
Do we remember God, do we thank him, and do we turn back with joy and gratitude? Do we remember that "we are the Lord's and not we ourselves" and pause to remember that it is God who protects us, feeds us with honey from the rock, cares for and nourishes us?
With the returning grateful healed leper, there was even more blessing for the attitude of gratitude. Jesus said to the leper, "Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well." There is healing within the act of thanksgiving. The medieval Flemish mystic, John Ruysbroeck, says, "Those who do not praise God here on earth remain silent in eternity." Praise effects us - forever.
We live in a materialistic, individualistic, opulent society. And we forget the one to whom we owe all that we have - the God in whom we live and move and have our being. All too easily we think we did it all ourselves and glory in our rugged individualism. We cast in gold the bootstraps by which we believe we pulled ourselves up. Those who do not need God cannot know God. Dependency and thanksgiving hold hands when we acknowledge with gratitude the gifts of our Creator.
One turned back - and fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. To fall at the feet of Jesus is to worship. We must allow these proud hearts of ours to fall at the feet of Jesus and worship. To fall at the feet of Jesus and declare, "I love you, I need you, I thank you."
Praise and thanksgiving come from the same word in Hebrew. They can be interchanged, one word for the other. When we thank God, we are praising God. And when we praise God, we are thanking God. The word "yadaw" in Hebrew for praise and thanksgiving means literally "to hold out one's hands." It is both a physical attitude of supplication and of receptive thanksgiving. It is the posture we see each Sunday when the priest celebrates Eucharist with us, hands lifted as the prayers are said.
At the liturgy we pray, "Lift up your hearts...we lift them to the Lord." "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God... It is right to give him thanks and praise." And indeed it is right and good that we should praise and thank the Lord with our hearts, our lives, our very being.
Eucharist means literally "thanksgiving". Thanksgiving is the central act of worship, through the Eucharist, for gathered Christians. It is the heart of our worship together. The Sabbath itself is an act of thanksgiving, one you are keeping by being here today. Seven days a week God gives to us, and we return one day as a sign of our thankfulness. We pray, "we give thanks to you, O God, for the goodness and love which you have made known to us..." Our praise and thanksgiving is the sacrifice we make to God - as we pray, "we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to you, O Lord of all, presenting to you, from your creation, this bread and wine." God gives to us all that we are and to God we return it with thankful hearts. Thankfulness is the key to all true spirituality. Above all we remember the love Jesus Christ had for us one Friday afternoon upon a cross.
"Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice." There is a "metanoia" here, a turning around to God. Let us return to God today. Let us turn our lives around and return to God who is our Lord, our friend, our maker and redeemer."
To close, please turn in your Prayer Books to page 836 for the Litany of Thanksgiving:
Let us give thanks to God our Father for all his gifts so freely bestowed upon us.
For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea, We thank you, Lord.
For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ, We thank you, Lord.
For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends, We thank you, Lord.
For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve, We thank you, Lord.
For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play, We thank you, Lord.
For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity, We thank you, Lord.
For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice, We thank you, Lord.
For the communion of saints, in all times and places, We thank you, Lord.
Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord,
To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.