There. I found something positive in the lessons this morning that fits a Thanksgiving celebration.
Our Lutheran sisters and brothers say that every sermon must preach both Law and Gospel, but our lectionary seems to have given us four “bad news” bits of scripture: All Law, no Gospel:
- The Old Testament lesson is one that the zealots of the Plymouth colony used to justify their genocide of the first-nations peoples (and we shouldn’t forget that since they couldn’t get along with our Anglican forebears was the reason they went to Massachusetts rather than Virginia).
- The psalm is one of the proper psalms for a funeral mass. Fortunately, Gary chose the happier bits for this morning’s mass
- Paul is on a tear with the Corinthian church because they haven’t paid up their pledges for relief of the Jerusalem church and is determined to shame them into making good.
- And in the gospel, Jesus gave a group of lepers an order to get ritually purified before he’ll talk to them. And then he grumps like a certain president with a twitter account because only one of the lepers comes back to thank him before doing the right thing of getting a check-up first.
Like I said, all law and precious little "good news."
Now, I don’t think there is any way for us to find any gospel if we take these four lessons as a whole, because they don’t really tell a story as a whole. Our lectionary compilers have taken these lessons out of context and by putting them together have created a new context that isn’t quite right.
It’s the context of “God as accountant.” A fifteenth century Franciscan friar, Luca Pacioli, codified double-entry bookkeeping, as an exercise in expressing his theology, and that theology upended the way we westerners see go. That theology fits this morning’s lessons. Pacioli’s god keeps strict books—“liabilities in the left hand drawer, assets in the right.” This god “uses the scales of justice to represent the symmetry of his world.” For every failing, every evil act, there must be a corresponding good act to balance out our sinfulness or a payment must be extracted. This god of balanced transactions was the god of the “pilgrims” of the Massachusetts Colony.
At first blush, this “god of balanced transactions,” this god of the capitalist exchange, is what our readings present. That isn’t the God of the whole of scripture, either Jewish or Christian; that God isn’t the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The God of our Lord Jesus Christ is a God of gift, not a god of exchange. God gives freely, without asking questions first, without taking account, and without demanding a return. God creates us, redeems us, and restores us to friendship.
No subordinate clauses.
Paul writes “God is able to make all gifts overflow for you, so that you … may abound in every good work.” Gift calls out gift. Because we have been gifted, we can give thanks to God by giving back to God—and to the world. Paul’s irritation at his Corinthian children is based on the reality that in order for the world of gift to keep on turning, giving must continue. Holding onto a gift changes a gift to into a mere possession.
The “rule” is that gifts are given only inside a community, but in reality gift makes and changes community. The ten lepers in the gospel formed a community—not much of a community, but a community, none the less. Within that community Judean and Samaritan no longer mattered; it only mattered that they were “unclean.” The gift of healing destroyed that little community which existed only to support its brokenness.
The nine continued, on their way to be incorporated back into their community of origin. But the man who was “born differently,” the Samaritan, had to make the choice: the community of this itinerant Galilean or back to the Samaria which had rejected him? Back he goes, to Jesus, and he offers the only gift he has in return: himself.
That gift tests Jesus. That’s the way all true gifts function. Exchanges balance liabilities and assets (maybe with a little interest on the side), but true gifts return more. Look at the sequence of gift-giving in the gospel this morning:
- Gift 1: Jesus walks through a village.
- Gift 2: The lepers recognize who Jesus is.
- Gift 3: Jesus pulls off a cure for leprosy.
- Gift 4: One leper offers himself and his thanks to Jesus. Jesus is tested by the gift. The translation of the story that I just read doesn’t quite get it right. Luke doesn’t write “Jesus asked,” but rather Luke paints a court scene with a single word: “Jesus answered.” Jesus is the defendant in the dock and must reply to the question that fourth gift poses. He must choose and he must answer. Will he continue the giving of gift or will he send this non-Jew on his way?
- Gift 5: Jesus gives the leper back himself, but whole, complete, and ready to live a new life.
The story continues with us. In the Great Thanksgiving in Rite I we pray, “And we earnestly desire thy fatherly goodness to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, whereby we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies.” This Eucharist, this thanksgiving, is the true thanksgiving dinner; the one with the turkey is but a pale imitation.
God can’t leave a gift alone. Our gift is given back to us “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven” in the Body and Blood of Christ, by which we become the Body of Christ. This is the true thanksgiving feast, where grace is never exhausted, and we receive grace upon grace. Put yourselves on the Table, for it is your own mystery, given back, which you receive. Be what you see and receive what you are. Thanksgiving dinner is just about ready. Come and eat (Augustine, Sermon 272)