It has been a full and wonderful morning here.
The week ahead is filled with the busyness and delight that comes with travel and welcome and feasting and many activities.
So I simply want to share a story and reflect on it for a few minutes.
A while ago I was standing in line at a store that had made a wonderful marketing move. They put a freezer with ice cream bars right at the cash register. I was behind a mother whose young daughter was riding in the shopping cart. Looking down at all those frozen treats, the girl began to say, “I want those! I want those!”
The mother, who seemed like a wise and patient woman, calmly replied, “You can’t always have everything you want.”
Sound advice. Good reasoning. Something many of us have probably said at one time or another—whether calmly or in exasperation.
And it seemed to work.
The girl was silent for about three beats as she took in those words. “You can’t always have everything you want.”
One. Two. Three. And then she cried out: “I need these! I need these!”
What do you need?
Perhaps the list starts with some physical objects:
What do you need?
Perhaps your list begins with more intangible things:
Someone who understands you;
Friends that can laugh and cry with you;
What do you need?
This morning we heard a story about ten people who know, without a doubt, what they need.
Listen to them.
They stand back as Jesus approaches and cry out in their need: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
Mercy in scripture is not some vague “spiritual” concept. Mercy is a concrete act that involves us in healing, forgiving, and restoring what is broken.
According to Luke, Jesus meets their need for mercy, for healing. They go as they are told and discover on their way that they are healed.
That’s a pretty good story.
As we listen to this story, perhaps we remember that we do have housing and clothes and food and work and money. Many times our needs for understanding and friendship and faith have been filled. We, too, have stood by the side of the road, crying out in our brokenness. And our cries were heard.
That is to say, more often than we might acknowledge, we get more than we can ask or imagine and it comes to us as a gift.
We receive. But have our needs really been met?
The problem is this: we usually think of satisfaction in terms of what we receive. When we get something—health, housing, faith, food—then we say that our needs have been met.
This is not surprising, living in a consumer society in which we are constantly told that we need more and more and that those needs can be satisfied by what we purchase, what we get. As a result, it’s said, at each income level, Americans seem to want about 25% more than they have.
That sounds about right, doesn’t it?
Still, there’s something missing.
What we have is not the problem. Remember that the Promised Land was described to the Hebrew people as “a good land, a land with flowing streams, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing.”
It is right to receive all the good that God provides, to enjoy the fruits of our labor, and to be prosperous people.
The danger of prosperity, however—and you know this—the danger of prosperity is forgetfulness.
All too quickly, we can move from the position of faith in God that says “all I have, I have received from God” to the faith in ourselves that claims: “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.”
In 1863, at a time when people in this country were bitterly divided, Abraham Lincoln told the people:
“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years …; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.
“But,” he added, “we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us.”
As I’ve said before, I’m from Illinois, so the words of Lincoln are close to scripture for me.
The danger of forgetfulness always lurks amidst prosperity.
The solution is remembrance and thanksgiving: “Remember the Lord your God, for it is God who give you power to get wealth.” In your prosperity, look around. Begin by giving thanks, not for what you have, but for the God who gave you the ability to get the wealth you enjoy.
Remember that it is a gift. It is, all of it, a gift.
Maybe we’re confused about our needs.
In all that we receive, there is a need created that God can in no way meet—our need to give thanks. Only we can fill that need.
Saying thank-you is an action central to the human condition. It is a natural response, a way of expressing gratitude when someone helps in ways large or small.
Even more, giving thanks is a way of being in partnership with the giver. It allows us to take an active part in the transaction. When I thank you for your gift, I involve myself in the giving. I am no longer simply a passive receiver.
So too, when we thank God for the many gifts we have received, we are involving ourselves in God’s great gift of life in the days that we are given.
When we say “yes” through acts of thanksgiving, then our relationship with the Creator deepens in the same way that our relationships with friends are made more fulfilling if they consist of mutual give and take.
This is the power in this morning’s gospel lesson. With open eyes we see that we need more than to receive things. We need to come back with thanksgiving.
So for one day we stop the buying and the selling—for the most part. We stop the family bickering—for the most part. We remember that we are the heirs of a glorious and troubled past, living in a troubled and sometimes fearful present. And we give thanks that we have come this far by grace, sheer grace.
We give thanks that when we are empty, God fills us. When we are strangers, God welcomes us. And with some slight echo of gratitude in our hearts we might go forward with some modicum of compassion for refugees, for the homeless, for the hungry.
That is to say, that in giving thanks we might become people of grace, people who, once healed and restored, return and say thank-you.
Maybe we can come back with a few words of thanksgiving of our own.
On Thursday we will gather in homes, in restaurants, in cities and in the countryside. We will gather with family and friends, however close, however strained, however tense. Let us do so rejoicing. Let us come to these places with gratitude in our hearts for all the good that we have received—not from our own strength, not from the strength of our hands or the vast knowledge of our minds but from the good and generous hand and loving heart of God.
And let us go from those places and that day seeking to be a little more like the One whom we choose to follow: welcoming, receiving, healing, even astonished by the gratitude that we discover in others.
Let us recognize in one another our common humanity, that we all bear the image of our Creator and live in gratitude for that. In doing so, may we rise from our tables as better people with more open hearts to take on the challenges that are now before us.
What do you need? We have, all of us, received so much.
What do you need?
Perhaps more than anything else, we need to give thanks with all that we have and all that we are.