Sermon for the 17th Sunday after Trinity: Gratitude – preached at the Eucharist, Sherborne Abbey, on Sunday, 9 October 2022 by Canon Charles Mitchell-Innes.  (2 Timothy Ch 2: v 8 – 15; Luke Ch 17: v 11 – 19)

“I will always give thanks unto the Lord: his praise shall ever be in my mouth.” So speaks the Psalmist from the well of gratitude in his heart; and, not content with that, he urges everyone else to join him: “O praise the Lord with me: and let us magnify his name together” (Psalm 34: v 1, 3). The delight is contagious and irresistible – delight in God as provider of all blessings, our nurturer and protector. The psalm continues, “O taste and see how gracious the Lord is: blessed is the man that trusteth in him” (v 8). It is easy to see why Vaughan Williams set that felicitous verse to music for the most solemn moment of the late Queen’s coronation in 1953; we may hope that it is still there in our new King’s coronation, 70 years later. Our choir are going to sing it shortly.

The story of the cleansing of the ten lepers by Jesus is about gratitude – the spontaneous gratefulness of the one who returned to give thanks to Jesus, and through him to God, for the miracle. It is also about faith, the faith of all ten, who trusted Jesus’ word that they would be cleansed as they made their way to the priests to have their cure certified, as they were bidden. But I spoke to you about faith last time, so I had better not repeat myself – except to say a couple of things. In our story, Jesus realised what a lively and powerful faith the Samaritan, the one who returned, had. His last comment, “Your faith has made you well,” is not translated accurately: the Greek says, “Your faith has saved you” – it leads not only to health but also to salvation. The other point to stress again is that faith is not some vague, generalized hope that God exists and that there is some sort of afterlife. It is a well-focused and well-supported belief in God’s saving power for each of us.

Those of you who know Bath Abbey will be aware of the large number of memorial tablets that adorn the walls. In the south quire aisle there is, amongst many others, a tablet from the 18th century to a local dignitary which attempts a splendid statement of faith in the life hereafter, but owing to a slip of the chisel (perhaps Freudian) claims that the gentleman memorialized is “now enjoying a blessed immorality.” A triumph of hope over informed expectation, perhaps!

But let us return to gratitude. In the mnemonic ACTS, illustrating the various aspects of prayer, A is for Adoration, C for Confession and T for Thanksgiving; only at the end do we come to S for Supplication (prayer of asking). To spend some time considering our blessings and giving God thanks for them is far better than charging straight in with a list of requests. It also encourages us to nurture the habit and practice of gratitude, to look on life with a positive eye and approach others with charity and appreciation.

One of Aesop’s stories tells how he was one day walking away from Athens when he met a man coming from Argos in the opposite direction. “You are coming from Athens,” said the man. “Tell me, what sort of people are they there?”

“Tell me first,” replied Aesop, “what the people of Argos are like.”

“Oh, very disagreeable – mean and selfish and quarrelsome.”

“I am sorry to tell you,” said Aesop, “that you will find the Athenians just the same.”

As he continued to walk, Aesop met another man, also coming from Argos, who asked him the same question.

“Tell me first,” said Aesop again, “what the people of Argos are like.”

“They are very friendly people,” said the second man, “kind and pleasant and good neighbours.”

“I am happy to tell you,” said Aesop, “that you will find the Athenians just the same.”

Jesus said: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure …. will be put into your lap” (Luke Ch 6: v 37 – 38).

About the ten lepers, Jesus might have asked – as he did concerning the man who fell among thieves: “Which of these, do you think, proved neighbour and walked more closely with God? And the answer: “The one who returned to give praise to God.” And he was a Samaritan.

In the words of George Herbert:

“Seven whole days, not one in seven,

I will praise thee.

In my heart, though not in heaven,

I can raise thee.

Thou grew’st soft and moist with tears,

Thou relentedst:

And when Justice called for fears,

Thou dissentedst.

Small it is in this poor sort

To enrol thee:

Ev’n eternity is too short

To extol thee.”

(Herbert: King of Glory)