Sermon for Sunday 9 October 2022
Trinity 17 Year C
II Kings 5.14-17; 2 Tim 2.8-13; Luke 17.11-19
“Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?”
I remember once having a conversation with a builder in a former parish of mine. He was about to begin work on a huge restoration project repairing the roof. We had spent years raising a quarter of a million pounds to fix it and everyone was so pleased and relieved to see the work begin.
I can remember the conversation as if it was yesterday. I was saying just how excited we all were to see him and his men arrive.
He turned round and said to me, “Oh we’re just as excited to be here, too.”
“Really,” I said. “Why is that? This must just be an ordinary job just like any other.”
“Oh no,” he replied. “We always like working for churches.”
I probed further and asked why that was. He said churches tended to be more grateful and excited about their building work. They were more responsive, and flexible, and easier to work with. Church people, he said, went the extra mile to accommodate his builder’s needs, were eager to help with endless cups of tea, and were easier to deal with when he made mistakes.
He told me it was good as a London building firm every once in a while to work with a community which didn’t have as its ultimate priority the bottom line of making money. To him, communities of faith often seemed to be more thankful and grateful for his builders’ work.
I have to confess I was quite surprised by his words. They really struck me forcefully. They made me realise, that, yes, one of the basic things that ought to characterise a Christian Community is this: it should be a group of people who are thankful.
We hear in our gospel today an incident which shows us clearly the importance of thankfulness. Of the ten lepers who were healed, only the Samaritan, the outsider, returned to thank Jesus. It is the Samaritan’s thankfulness which shows he is close to the Kingdom of heaven. “Your faith has saved you,” Jesus tells him. We show our faith by being thankful.
How should we express our thankfulness? There are many ways to show it, but the most important is what we are doing now – celebrating the Mass. For the Mass is our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. It is the greatest act of thanksgiving a human being can give to God.
In the Eucharist we offer back to God what he has given to us. We take bread and wine, and give thanks for all the good things God has done.
But as we do that a wonderful exchange takes place. For we ask God’s Holy Spirit to transform our meagre gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. We give to God in thanksgiving bread and wine, and we receive back his life-giving Body and his saving Blood. As we receive those precious gifts we are caught up in that offering and become part of it ourselves.
Christ, present in those transformed gifts of bread and wine, offers himself to the Father, and we offer ourselves in him. We become a sacrifice too. Our whole lives become one long offering of thanksgiving. We offer the Mass here in this building, but we leave this place and offer our lives as a living sacrifice, a willing giving of ourselves to our neighbour, grateful for all that God has given us.
The rediscovery of this great mystery is one of the most important gifts this parish has given to the wider Church of England. At the heart of the C19th Catholic Revival was the restoration of sacramental worship as a daily reality in the lives of ordinary Anglicans.
Since the very beginning of this parish’s life, we have proclaimed that the regular celebration of the Eucharist is a necessary part of what it means to be a Christian community. In the face of C19th Protestant opposition, that regular celebration of the Mass continued; in the face of falling bombs and national crisis, it continued; in the midst of social change and secularisation, it has continued – the daily offering of Christ’s life-giving Body and Blood – the source and summit of all we are and all we do as a parish.
I suppose God’s message to us all this morning is quite simple. Don’t take the gift of the Mass for granted. Like the leper in today’s gospel, don’t forget to return to God to give him thanks for all he has given you. Come to the Mass and make this daily offering of thanks part of your life of faith.
A community which has at its heart the offering of the Eucharist is a community which is deeply learning to be more thankful day by day. It draws us into nothing less than the eternal offering of Jesus to the Father, and in that offering, we find life, and joy and hope.
Fr Peter Anthony