A Sermon Preached on 20th Sunday after Trinity by Canon Simon Butler
9th October 2016
Cinderella was now 75 years old. After a fulfilling life with the now dead Prince, she happily sat upon her rocking chair, watching the world go by from her front porch, with a cat called Alan for companionship.
One sunny afternoon, out of nowhere, appeared the Fairy Godmother. Cinderella said “Fairy Godmother, what are you doing here after all these years?”
The Fairy Godmother replied, “Well, Cinderella, since you have lived a good, wholesome life since we last met, I have decided to grant you three wishes. Is there anything for which your heart still yearns?”
Cinderella is overjoyed, and after some thoughtful consideration and almost under her breath she uttered her first wish:
“I wish I was wealthy beyond comprehension.” Instantly, her rocking chair was turned into solid gold. Cinderella was stunned. Alan, her old faithful cat, jumped off her lap and scampered to the edge of the porch, quivering with fear.
Cinderella said, “Oh thank you, Fairy Godmother!” The Fairy Godmother replied, “It’s the least I can do. What does your heart wish for your second wish?”
Cinderella looked down at her frail body, and said, “I wish I were young and full of the beauty of youth again.” At once, her wish became reality, and her beautiful youthful visage returned.
Cinderella felt stirrings inside her that had been dormant for years and long forgotten vigour and vitality began to course through her very soul.
Then the Fairy Godmother again spoke. “You have one more wish, what will you have?” Cinderella looked over to the frightened cat in the corner and said, “I wish you to transform Alan my old cat into a beautiful and handsome young man.”
Magically, Alan suddenly underwent so fundamental change in his biological make-up, that when complete he stood before her, a boy, so beautiful the likes of which she nor the world had ever seen, so fair indeed that birds began to fall from the sky at his feet.
The Fairy Godmother again spoke. “Congratulations, Cinderella. Enjoy your new life!” And, with a blazing shock of bright blue electricity, she was gone.
For a few eerie moments, Alan and Cinderella looked into each other’s eyes. Cinderella sat, breathless, gazing at the most stunningly perfect boy she had ever seen.
Then Alan walked over to Cinderella, who sat transfixed in her rocking chair, and held her close in his young, muscular arms. He leaned in close to her ear, whispered, blowing her golden hair with his warm breath, “I bet you regret having me neutered now, don’t you?”
All of us have wishes, dreams and ambitions. All of us want something more in our lives. We lie to ourselves if we do not.
Of course, there are no fairy godmothers in the real world, no magic wands and no three wishes. But still we long for something more.
Our gospel reading offers us the remedy to the longing. Jesus heals ten lepers. The disease we now know as Hansen’s disease – leprosy – was a passport to social exclusion in the ancient world. So when Jesus heals ten people of the condition, something big was going down. However, while these ten were healed not only of their medical condition but their exclusion from society, only one returns to give thanks to Jesus. The others are too busy getting back on in society. And the one who returns to give thanks is a Samaritan – the one who is not only excluded by this illness but also by his race for Jews and Samaritans were to be separate. Boundaries of illness, race and religion are crossed. Healing comes, but only the real outsider returns to say thank you.
The secret of a contented life, the secret of learning to get beyond the wanting more is gratitude, saying ‘thank you’. When I look at my life there are plenty of good reasons to avoid the saying of thanks. I am terrible at writing thank you letters. And, in the spirit of the nine lepers who didn’t give thanks here are nine reasons I have used to avoid it,
I would have thanked you but:
- my dinner was on table
- there was something pressing on at home
- my diary didn’t permit it
- I didn’t have any note cards
- I didn’t want to embarrass you
- I thought you knew
- I was tired
- I was so excited
- I forgot
But, stop for a moment and think. Think for a moment what these three sets of parents must have been in the moment of the birth of their child. For one very special moment, all that was there for them was gratitude. Responsibility, of course, followed. But gratitude came first.
Christian faith is all about gift and gratitude. It speaks of a God who gives the gift of life – in us, but also in Amelia, Cordelia and Evelyn. What can we do but be thankful for them? It speaks of a God who gives us faith – itself a gift that we cannot work ourselves up into, but simply receive. As St Paul says elsewhere, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” What can we do but be thankful for the gift of Jesus Christ? And Christian faith speaks of a God who give us one another. In this baptism service, we proudly affirm that “we” means more than “I”, that these children/we are given the gift of community and a spiritual family that goes beyond the amazing love that even their parents and godparents can give them. They/we are part of us. What can we do but be thankful for our own part in the church universal?
But cultivating the discipline of thankfulness takes a bit of effort in our culture when we take so much for granted. Even in Jesus’ day only one leper – the most marginalised – returned in thankfulness. The others simply took their healing for granted and got on with their lives. For us, if we wish to take seriously the gift of faith that is given to us, learning to be thankful takes some effort, because we are so conditioned to focus on the three wishes, the magic wand and the visible, so-called ‘real world’.
The German mystic Meister Eckhart says this ““If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” If we begin there, with a simple thank you to God, then the rest will follow. Thanks first. Thanks always. Thanks in everything. One of the greatest gifts we can give to each other in Christian community is that of helping one another cultivate a spirit of gratitude. If we do this, the glad hearts and generous spirits will follow. After all, gratitude begets more gratitude, and the more gratitude you have the more abundance you see. Begin by saying “Thank you, Jesus.”
There is no better moment than a baptism to remind ourselves of the simple gift of being able to say thank you. We are reminded in this moment that life itself is precious and special; and we are also reminded that the created life we have is but a part of the greater life to which we are called, life with God in Jesus. This is the path that these three children have been placed on by their parents. We pray for them that they may live thankful, blessed lives. But more than this, we Let us appreciate and pray that we may learn to be thankful for what we have. So this week, whether you are like the Samaritan true outsider, or whether you are tempted to be one of the 90% who simply take goodness for granted, take some time to be thankful. Appreciate what you normally take for granted. And remember who it is who is the source of all that there is in life to be thankful for. Amen.