Sermon by Pastor Joel Crouse
Sunday October 8, 2023
Early this week, the Nobel Prize for Medicine was given to two researchers for their long-term research that led to the development of the MRNA COVID vaccine, which has saved innumerable people around the world and restored our lives after long years of lockdowns and limitations.
One of the winners was Katalin Kariko, a Hungarian-American biochemist. A year earlier, she had given a speech while accepting the Gairdner science award in Toronto. She gave a speech of thanks. She thanked her parents, a butcher and a bookkeeper in Hungary who had taught her the value of hard work. The teachers who had fostered her curiosity for science. The mentors who had inspired her to keep going. Her family who loved her. But along the way, she explained, it wasn’t easy: and not just when her experiments failed. She worked in a male-dominated field; she was demoted, fired from faculty positions, and passed over for promotion. And yet she said, “It may surprise you, but I also thank all the people who tried to make my life miserable.” Without them, she said, she would not be there.
I thought of her speech this week, because it seemed like a fitting lesson in gratitude, offered by a woman to whom we all have so much to be thankful. Gratitude is not just an act of saying thanks. It should not be just appreciation for what we have. It is also a choice: to find strength even in hard times, and to be grateful for that strength.
The gospel tells us the famous story of the ten lepers whom Jesus heals. And yet only one returns to give thanks. The healed man who comes back is a foreigner. “Where are the rest? “ Jesus asks. But then he says to the one man who has returned: “Get up and go on our way: your faith has made you well.”
Is it significant that the man who returned was a foreigner, out of place? Perhaps, we might imagine that the other nine ran home to their families to celebrate the gift of new life, to be accepted back into their own lives. In their joy and relief, they forgot Jesus entirely. They claimed their gift and ran. But the outsider valued the gift and recognized the worth of the person who had bestowed it. How often do we, in a moment of success or victory or good fortune, fail to acknowledge the people that led us to that place? How often do we act as if our fate were entirely of our own making? What does that mean when we fail – do we fail all alone as well? Often it is the people who are best at giving thanks who are also the most comfortable accepting help when they need it. Surely that’s a balance for happiness.
And then Jesus says to the man: “Your faith has made you well.” That is an interesting line. Technically, the man has already been made well: he has been healed of a terrible disease. We never hear that the other men who forgot to give thanks are suddenly made ill again.
So what can Jesus mean? The only thing, as far as we can see, that sets this man apart is his act of gratitude. Isn’t Jesus saying that the act of giving thanks, of recognizing generosity, or being able to humble yourself before another person, is an act of healing? It requires intention and risk: in this case the Samaritan risked returning and saying thank you to a leader in society who might mistreat him.. He might have thought Jesus had accidentally healed him; drawing attention had a clear risk. When we make ourselves vulnerable to others, when we say thank you, we are also acknowledging that we need other people, that we can’t go it alone. That’s an attitude that often works against our individualistic society that takes pride in self. Jesus, however, says that recognizing and honouring the role of others is healing for the self. Giving thanks is not a phrase to smooth social interactions. It is a bond that reminds us how we are connected.
Let me end by saying “Thank you” to Dr. Kariko. Not only for changing all of our lives, but for the lesson of gratitude that she passes on.
I hope, this Thanksgiving, that we give wide and honest thanks for the gifts we have, and also for the strength found in our burdens.
May we not be one of the nine lepers who started living again without first pausing to recognize the true value of the gift of that life they’d been given.
May we, instead, be like the Samaritan who returned to Jesus, with humility, and was thus made more whole by being connected to something greater than and beyond themselves. Amen.