Sermon for Thanksgiving Sunday

Deuteronomy 8:7-18
Psalm 65
II Corinthians 9:6-15
Luke 17:11-19

So about a week ago, I was having a typical evening at home.  On such typical evenings, we have dinner somewhat together as a family, and right after it is this mad rush to get the kids all bathed and ready for bed.  And typically, I would sit in boys’ room and wait for them to fall asleep as Winnie would try to get Kaylie to sleep.  And as usual, I was casually playing games on my phone, and responding to a few messages here and there, because really it takes forever for them to fall asleep.  This is my “me” time.  Everything was very typical.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  It just a usual evening for our family.

But then my phone buzzed with a notification of a new message.  My buddy posted up in a group chat, “holy crap, lots of shooting in Vegas.  Supposedly terrorists, but news is kind of fuzzy.”  And I did what I typically and usually do now when I hear about another shooting in the States, I just ignored it, shrugged it off.  Moments later another member of the group posted up an article with video and he said that it’s crazy and you can hear the machine gun fire in the video.  But still, that wasn’t enough to catch my attention.  I was busy playing a game, remember?  And really, how is a shooting in the States in this day and age news or interesting or even surprising?

And that kind of bugs me.  When I first heard of the news, I honestly just didn’t care.  I didn’t think that news about a shooting was enough to even stop my game, a video of gunfire wasn’t shocking enough for me to even click the link, and the thought of multiple families losing a loved one wasn’t enough to disrupt my very typical evening on a very usual day of my very normal and uneventful life.  Like I said, it was nothing new, it wasn’t shocking, I just thought “again?” and carried on.

And it is sad that it has come to this.

It is sad that mass shootings are now just a part of everyday life.  It is sad that I find myself more interested in reading the latest car news than terrorist attacks.  It is sad that I would rather watch movie trailers than news reports about those who died senselessly at the hands of insanity and evil.  And I’m not even talking about newly released movie trailers either, I like watching the classic trailers too, because nostalgia.

Comedian Jimmy Kimmel took advantage of his platform as a talk show host to give a heartfelt monologue about this event, one that hits close to his heart as he is originally from Las Vegas.  He talked a lot about the seriousness of the event, and what he said was quite touching.

See, right in the feels.  He’s right though, it’s like this world has become a window to hell and it is just normal now, and people don’t care.  Especially today in this Thanksgiving weekend, when we are intentionally thinking about things that we are thankful for, things like this shooting and so many other things that plague our lives and the world, might get subconsciously pushed out of our heads because really it doesn’t directly affect us so we don’t want to stress about it.  We’d rather be happy and move on with our lives.

This kind of subconscious blind eye to pain isn’t exactly new.  I mean in the gospel story we have today we hear of these lepers that are effectively and necessarily outcasted because of their highly contagious and, quite frankly, aesthetically disturbing condition.  I don’t know if you’ve ever seen pictures of a leper before, but it isn’t in any way pleasant.  Being in close vicinity would be uncomfortable, almost scary, because it would be likely worse than anything you’ve ever seen, and you would wish you could un-see it.  And while by law the lepers must yell out “unclean” in order to warn anyone from getting too close, I would imagine that having this disease is so hugely isolating and cripplingly lonely that it would be absolutely impossible not to feel invisible.  No one sees you, no one cares, no one wants to interact with you in any way, not even to help you with what you are going through.

So it isn’t unlike the victims of last week’s shooting or any of the other plethora of shootings in the past number of years.  We might say, “aw that’s sad” and even feel bothered by it.  We might be affected because we know a person who knows a person who is related to a victim.  But honestly? When we are removed as we usually are, it is so easy to just chalk it up to “nothing to do with me” and just move on.  We might want to do something, but we feel like there is nothing we can do.  We don’t have super powers, we don’t have political influence, most of us aren’t even citizens of that country.  So while we cognitively know that there is a problem, the victims of that problem remain to us largely invisible.

I mean, if we were to see a group of lepers walking down the street, what would we do?  What can we do?  What would come naturally, at least for me, is to turn my head and pretend that I didn’t see them.  That protects me from feeling their pain, having sympathy, and allows me to carry on with my usual and very typical life.  I need them to be invisible so my life will be uninterrupted and undisturbed because I can barely handle my own pain, I don’t need to bear the weight of the world as well.

But this isn’t the case for Jesus.  Thank God it isn’t.  Because when the shoe is on the other foot, when we are the ones who are outcasted and alone and feel so invisible, when we have been directly affected by some awful tragedy that all we can do is cry out to God and ask for mercy, we can trust that God sees us just as Jesus saw the lepers.  We can have faith that God will feel our pain and surround us with a community of support just as Jesus had sympathy on the sick.  We can believe that God can heal us from our hurt, free us from our pain, and show us a love that we might have thought had been lost from us forever.

And while the story tells us that only one came back to thank Jesus, we are reminded that it isn’t our reaction to the healing that gives us healing.  It isn’t our ability to show our appreciation that puts us higher up on the “seen by Jesus” list.  It isn’t anything that we have done, are doing, or ever could do that would get God to love and care for us more.  No, all of that has already been taken care of by God.  What Jesus meant to that lone leper giving thanks is that his faith has allowed him to also see.  His body was healed, yes, but his eyes were opened.  The other nine didn’t do anything wrong and their healing was a gracious gift, but this one saw and recognized not just the healing, but the calling of God in his life, the welcome back into community, and the universal acceptance of God into God’s kingdom.  And for that, he gave thanks.  In the midst of his despair, his being invisible, the darkness that enveloped him and kept him away from the world, Jesus spoke life and light, restoring his hope, increasing his faith, and showing him a love and peace that surpasses all understanding.

And with us and those affected by the horrors of death and terrorism, in the midst of all the pain and suffering around the world, in the feeling of being invisible to all the people around us, we can trust that are seen by God, held tight in the Spirit of sympathy and care, and brought into healing and wholeness by the teachings of Jesus, the living Word given to us by God. God calls us by name, welcomes us into God’s kingdom, connects us with each other through the sacraments of baptism and communion, and calls us sons and daughters, joint heirs with Christ, and brought into life eternal with all the saints in God’s holy community forever.

Today we celebrate God’s action in our lives through baptism.  As we welcome Angie today into our community by rite of baptism, may we remember how we are all connected by God’s love, forgiven by God’s grace, and seen by and brought into God’s compassion and care.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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