Today’s Word from Pastor Dennis Hanson…
Random Thought One: THANKSGIVING
When the church celebrates the secular, national holiday of Thanksgiving, the text used is often of the ten lepers who beg Jesus to be healed. Leprosy was a serious disease. If our pandemic isolation is confining, lepers were not only isolated, but had no one interested in taking care of them. Except, of course, that priest in Hawaii who set up a colony on an isolated, out of the tourist way, island called Molokai. Lepers went there to die, and in the end, so did Father Damian.
In Jesus’ day, lepers wandered about and begged and tried to survive as best they could. Naturally when word got out about Jesus and his miracles, they sought him out and begged for mercy. Jesus sent them to the priests. Now that’s odd; the priests would not have been helpful except IF – as Luke writes, “…as they went, they were cleansed.” Ah, then it was the priests’ job to “certify” a leper was clean and could return to normal life. So, the theory. We don’t know if that worked out because the story takes a turn here; one of the ten “sees” he’s healed/cleansed, and beats a retreat back to Jesus to thank him! And then another little twist in the story – Jesus asks “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?” And then another twist, “Was no one to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Aha! A Samaritan, not a Jew, gives thanks. Oh my. The more one digs into this story, the deeper it gets, and the more questions are raised. But I’ll leave it there for now with this thought: Thankfulness isn’t automatic even when something fantastic happens to us. And when it comes, it is often surprising who brings it.
Random Thought Two: CHRISTMAS
Matthew’s Christmas story tells of the coming of the Magi – Wise Men from the East. No shepherds here, no angel chorus here. You read about that in Luke. When the Magi come to Bethlehem following the star, the Holy Family is in a house – no stable; that’s Luke again. The Magi don’t come empty handed; their worship was sealed with an offering of gold, frankincense and myrrh. One practical gift, two interesting gifts. Then they leave.
Back in the day when I was in Sunday School, we were taught this story as a basis for our Christmas custom of gift giving. As the Wise Men gave, so we give. To illustrate that, we wrote our names on a bit of paper and dropped it in a basket. The superintendent went around with the basket and we drew out a name. This would be the person we would bring a gift for, to be opened after the program. I drew my cousin’s name. We were the same age, about ten, and she was a month or two older than me. I told my mother whose name I had. She said she would think of something. She did, and wrapped it up before I even saw it. I just brought it and placed it under the tree with all the rest: to Doris from Dennis.
The night of the Christmas program, after we had dramatized the story of Christmas, (the Luke version), and sang, “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” to include Matthew’s version, we would hand out the gifts. I got a jack knife from someone. My cousin opened her gift: a pair of nice white underpants. My practical mother had “thought of something.” She would have brought the gold, something they could use.
When Matthew tells the Jesus story, he refers to Jesus as The Child – nine times in a row in chapter two. The Child grows and Matthew finally tells us of people condemning him and killing him. It’s not the end of the story though. God raised Him from the dead. He meets with those who had left Him. He comes as the Gift of Life eternal. And so it is now.
Jesus, The Child, the Christmas Gift, comes back again and again. “This is my body and my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins”….your forgetfulness…thanklessness.
Matthew closes his Gospel with the Giver of Life saying, “I am with you ’til the end of the ages…you are stuck with me, I will not let you go. Never…”
And so it goes year after year. The Crucified One giving a meal of forgiveness. The Rejected One giving the gift of grace and love in the face of thanklessness. Until one day, the forgetful, forgiven sinner, after the ventilator is shut off, when everything has been done to no avail and the word is said “gone,” and everybody goes home; the forgiven one, the one who is dead – in another dimension wakes, and the first word he/she hears is, “Come inherit the Kingdom prepared for you. (Matthew 25). I told you I would be with you always.”