A reflection from the moderator, the Rev. Amanda Currie

Thanksgiving Faith Formation Activities for Families

As we move towards Thanksgiving weekend in this ongoing pandemic, I admit that I’m not feeling as thankful as I usually do at this time of year. The world is struggling with a global health crisis, political strife, fires burning out of control, racism and violence. Some recent tragic deaths in the Canadian Presbyterian community have impacted many of us as well. Aware that I was not feeling very grateful as I began to prepare for Thanksgiving, I remembered a really hard Thanksgiving weekend some years ago. It was the year that my cat died, and I was trying to write a Thanksgiving sermon in the midst of my grief.

The text was Luke 17:11–19—the one in which Jesus heals ten people from leprosy, and only one of them returns to thank Jesus. Sometimes this story is told as if it’s just a lesson in being polite. If someone does something nice for you, Miss Manners would say you should write them a thank you card. But it seems to me that saying thank you to God is more than just a matter of manners. I think that saying thank you actually changes us. Being thankful actually makes us well.

“Boost your health with a dose of gratitude” was the title of a web launch by a medical group. The essay cited thousands of years of philosophic and religious teaching urging gratitude and then cited new evidence that grateful people, for whom gratitude is a permanent trait, have a health edge. Commenting on this website, preacher John Buchanan writes,

It may be that grateful people take better care of themselves, but there is evidence that gratitude alone is a stress reducer, that grateful people are more hopeful, and that there are links between gratitude and the immune system. So your mother was right when she made you call your grandmother and thank her for the birthday card.

C.S. Lewis, observing the connection between gratitude and personal well-being wrote: “I noticed how the humblest and at the same time most balanced minds praised most; while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least. Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.”

Do you remember what happened in the gospel story? Jesus was approached by ten sick people who wanted his help. They had leprosy, and they wanted to be healed. Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests, and as they went, they found themselves healed.

Now, they were ALL healed. Did you notice that? Not just the Jewish ones. Not just righteous ones. Not just the ones who would remember to say thank you. Not just the ones who had faith. But only one of the former lepers turned back to praise God and thank Jesus. All we really know about him is that he recognized a gift when he saw it and experienced it, that he returned to say, “thank you,” and that Jesus said to him, “Your faith has made you well.”

Remember, ALL of the former lepers were made CLEAN. They would all show themselves to the priests and be restored to the community. But only the one who came back to praise God and thank Jesus was made WELL. Another possible translation of the Greek phrase in this story could be: “Your faith has saved you.”

I don’t think that Jesus was just talking about the fact that the man’s skin was clear again. He was talking about wellness, about salvation, about the kind of wholeness of life that comes from an attitude of praise and gratitude to God for every sign of God’s grace and mercy.

In a pastoral reflection, Kimberly Bracken Long explains our gospel story in this way:

Jesus is teaching about the nature of faith. In short, to “have faith” is to live it, and to live it is to give thanks. It is living a life of gratitude that constitutes living a life of faith—THIS is the grateful sort of faith that has made this man from Samaria truly and deeply well.

As I struggled through that difficult week after my cat died, my role as the preacher forced me to practice gratitude in spite of the circumstances and how I felt. I intentionally gave thanks for my cat’s life, for the peace, comfort and fun he brought to my life, and for the people who listened and cared for me as I was grieving. By the end of the week, my pain and grief had not disappeared, but my heart was beginning to heal. And it became clear to me that thanksgiving is not just an activity for those whose lives are going well in every respect. Instead, no matter what our circumstances, we are blessed when we praise God and give thanks.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Philippian Christians from his jail cell in Rome, encouraged them to “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

He said, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Christian writer, Anne Lamott, explains that her two favourite prayers are quite simple. In the morning she prays, “Help me, help me, help me.” And in the evening she prays, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

No matter what our circumstances are today or tomorrow, may we join in these prayers, and by God’s grace may we be made truly and deeply well.