While searching through a stack of sermons by Rod Romney, I came across one that he delivered here at Lakeshore on November 26, 1978. The date caught my attention because Karen and I were married on November 25, 1978. Knowing that a thing or two has changed in the last thirty-nine years, I began to read. It immediately became apparent that one thing that has not changed is that pain, grief and crisis abound in our world.
On that Sunday after Thanksgiving in 1978, the mass suicide by the followers of Jim Jones (and the slaying of Congressman Leo Ryan and members of his delegation) in Jonestown, Guyana a week earlier was much on the minds of the members of the congregation. Rod spoke to their pain, “Against the backdrop of this sorrow and slaughter we come again to seek a word from God and to find the resources to offer our thanks.” How many times in the last thirty-nine years has the Lakeshore preacher found it necessary to speak similar words upon stepping into the pulpit?
Rod’s text, that long ago Sunday, was Luke 17:11-19, the healing of ten lepers. This is how he began his reflections on that narrative:
There are a number of important elements to this this story. First, take note of the fact that among that group of lepers was one Samaritan. There would have been no lepers among a group of Jews but for the common misery. Since lepers were social outcasts, racial and creedal prejudice were forgotten. Differences seem to die in common disaster, and perhaps that is one of the values of suffering. We are too stubborn to learn that essentially we are all one, no matter what our race or belief, and it often takes a disaster or some form of suffering before we learn that.
After making some further points about Jesus’ interchange with the lepers, Rod turned to the fact that after being healed only one of them, the Samaritan, returned to gives thanks. He said:
Yes, there are a number of excuses we might offer for their not returning to thank Jesus, but perhaps the clearest reason of all is that ingratitude is also a part of that shadowy side of our nature, and that once we get what we want, we do not bother to return to our source until we have another need.
Rod left the text with this observation:
As I see it, there is a higher self and a lower self in each of us. The higher self is that which God has made and which is essentially and forever what we are. The lower self is what we have allowed ourselves to become through extensions of our ego. Ingratitude does swell in the lower self. But the goal of Christianity is to bring forth the higher self, the God self. In the higher self gratitude is native, it is an inseparable part of what we truly are.
As we enter the 2017 Thanksgiving season, there is enduring grace in Rod’s words. There is grace in acknowledging that pain is a constant in our lives. There is grace in acknowledging that the community of the suffering is a truly inclusive community. There is grace in acknowledging that both gratitude and ingratitude reside within us. There is grace in acknowledging that gratitude is part of the self that God bids us to bring forth.
With gratitude for our life together,