I don’t know if this bothers you, but I am becoming increasingly tired of the constant use of the phrase “Thank You” in our culture. It’s not, mind you, that I feel there’s too much genuine gratitude around. It’s rather that in everyday commerce people seem to have come to rely on “Thank You” to express every possible emotion or idea. Just as 50 is the new 40, so “Thank You” is the new “No Problem”. There IS a problem, though: by saying thanks so often and so routinely we lose the possibility of any expression of genuine gratitude.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone else, and I’m thinking here about interchanges in the supermarket. When I pay the checker says, “Thank you.” When I receive my change I say, “Thank you.” When the checker hands me the receipt, she says “Thank you for shopping at Krogers and when I take the receipt, instead of saying, “You’re welcome,” I too say the fourth “Thank You” in the interchange. Do we really mean even one of these rote expressions of gratitude?
What brings this all to mind, of course, is the Gospel for today, Luke’s account of the ten lepers cleansed. Some of Jesus’s teachings are hard to figure out, and some of them are crystal clear, like this one. Ten lepers yell out to Jesus, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” He heals them and then commands them to go show themselves to the priests. Nine of them go on their way; only the tenth, and a Samaritan at that, has the grace to turn back to Jesus and say “thanks.” “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” In this respect, first century Palestine was no different than 21st century America. Do someone a good turn, and they can’t even say a rote, reflexive “Thank You.”
Jesus healed ten people in this morning’s Gospel. Nine of them went on their way, one turned back to say thanks. Here’s the question this story poses: Are you going to be one of the nine, or are you going to be the one who expresses gratitude? And if you want to be the one who says thank you, how does God want you to do that?
Now this is Stewardship season, and I don’t want to suggest that giving to the church is the only way you can say “Thank you.” But it is a primary way, and our readings this morning point us in the direction of how to think about it. Jesus has already spoken for the importance of acknowledging God in the Gospel. But it’s our Old Testament reading, from Jeremiah, that opens us up to how God would have us live.
These last several weeks we have been reading through the book of Jeremiah the prophet. Week after week we have heard his dire message of judgment, and in this morning’s reading we hear that it has come to pass. Jerusalem has been laid waste, the people have been deported to exile in Babylon, and now they are asked to sing the Lord’s song on an alien soil.
Now what is wonderful about this morning’s reading is the surprising advice that Jeremiah, the grumpy prophet of doom, gives to the captive Israelites in Babylonian exile. Here is what he says:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. . . . [S]eek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. [Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7]
“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Here is Jeremiah, prophet of doom, giving gentle, pastoral advice to God’s people. He tells them: the best way to get along in new and trying and confusing circumstances is to root yourself down where you are. Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Don’t waste your energy lamenting what you have lost. Be present to the life and the community God has given you to live in and to love.
Jesus tells the cleansed lepers to say “Thank you” by showing themselves to the priest. Jeremiah tells the exiles to say “Thank you” by seeking the welfare of the city into which God has sent them—“for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” And so for you and me: we are called to say “Thank you” both by worship and by action. As a praying community, we focus our corporate life on giving God praise and thanks. But how do we seek the welfare of the place where God has put us? In answer to that, I have two thoughts.
First, we seek the welfare of this place by transformative ministry for those near to us. Christ Church has always placed major emphasis not only on worship but on pastoral care. All of the clergy here do pastoral care as part of our ministry. We have one full-time priest, Joyce Matthews, whose ministry is devoted almost entirely to the pastoral care of the sick, the dying, the shut-in, and those who are suffering bereavement, depression, and loss. As part of her ministry, Joyce supervises the wonderful group of lay pastoral and Eucharistic visitors who share in this ministry. The primary focus of this pastoral care goes to our older members who have done so much for all of us and to whom we are so deeply grateful. So one way we seek the welfare of this place is to minister to our own adult members in pastoral and transformative ways, striving to embody God’s embracing love in a myriad variety of actions of care and grace.
But seeking the welfare of the city means caring not only for our adult members but for all those in our community and all those around us. It is the Vestry’s and my conviction that God is calling Christ Church Cranbrook to reclaim its longtime vision of ministry in two vital areas: children’s and youth ministry and outreach.
If you think this is a hard world to live in as an adult, just think of the stress of being a teenager. Middle and High School life have become overscheduled to the point of insanity. Competition both in school and for college admissions is intense. There are all kinds of beguiling bad influences and wrong ideas abroad in the culture. If we are seriously going to care for our teenagers and children, we as a church community need to make them absolutely central to our parish life. We need to develop compelling and engaging educational, fellowship, and service programs. We need to make this church a place where children and teenagers are nurtured, accepted, challenged, and loved. We need to give young people the faith resources to make their way in an ever more challenging world.
So we are committed to expanded, deepened ministries for children and youth. Our other missional focus is outreach. Again, Christ Church does a lot now, but we live in a metropolitan area whose need for healing can hardly be imagined or expressed. There is so much generosity and good will in this parish, but frankly to be effective they need to be focused. We need to develop a vision and a strategy for how we, as one parish faith community, can engage the human needs of our wider community in ways that involve not just our dollars but also our hands and our hearts in ministry and service. If we are going to say “Thank you” to God, the best way to do that is, in Jeremiah’s words, to “seek the welfare of the city.” We in parish leadership believe the best ways to do that are in serving our youth and children here and in reaching out in service to the broken lives and families of our metropolitan area.
And that is why we have brought Beth Taylor to our staff. Just as Joyce has primary responsibility for organizing our pastoral care, Beth now has primary responsibility for organizing our youth ministry and developing our focused parish outreach ministry. She cannot do these tasks alone, of course, and so she will gather around her a group of energetic and committed parishioners as colleagues in this work. I am deeply grateful that God has called and brought both Joyce and Beth here to be my colleagues in ministry, along with John Repulski and Christopher Reynolds in music, Peggy Dahlberg and Jessica Neeper in parish programs and education, Kathy Doyle in administration, Dave Kueber and Rich Waldbott as our Sextons, Pat Hirvonen in the Rector’s Office, Jeanne Bolewitz in Communications, and everyone else on the parish staff who do so much to serve God and God’s people. Together we can continue to make Christ Church Cranbrook both a nourishing and a witnessing community.
Serving our children, our adult members, and the world; worshiping God with beauty and dignity; connecting all ages with the depth and resources of the Christian tradition. These are the elements of the expansive ministry to which God has called us. We seek to be agents of God’s love, blessing, and hope. To be that as an institution requires a staff, and a staff needs to be paid, and that takes money. The founders of Christ Church Cranbrook generously left us with an endowment that provides for much of the upkeep of our beautiful campus. But ministry is almost entirely funded by your giving. We ask for your generous support because that vision, that mission, is the best way for you to express your own gratitude for the blessings God has bestowed upon you. Seek the welfare of the city by giving generously to the faith community that does ministry right here in God’s name.
God has given so much to each and all of us. Our first job as God’s people is to say, in both language and action, “Thank you” to the God who is the author of all this. And our next job is to hear what God says to us in response. Though God is deeply grateful for all you do and give, our God is not a God who will thoughtlessly answer “Thank you” back as they do at the supermarket. Our God is a God who will say, as we should when we give, “You’re welcome.” You are welcome to God’s abundant gifts. God gives you so much because God loves you. God gives you so much because you are worth everything to God. You are precious. You are unique. You are welcome to all the myriad wonders of God’s creation. They are here for you and your care and enjoyment. All you need to do as you receive them is to say thanks and to let God tell you that you are welcome to them all. God will take what you give and use it joyfully for the blessing and transformation of your life, your family’s life, the community, and the world. If that is not a cause for joyous giving and thanksgiving, I surely don’t know what is. Amen.