October 13, 2019
The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
(2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19)
Leaf peepers are a fairly recent invention by the tourist industry and small businesses located in picturesque locales which are particularly dependent upon the dollars of seasonal visitors. Festivals, parades, harvest-themed fairs are all timed to coincide with nature's annual blaze into the rich, warm colors of autumn's turning leaves.
But the beauty of fall is fragile; it only takes a single hard frost and a cold rain to drop all that brilliant foliage to the forest floor, creating a colorful, if soggy, carpet underfoot. What was the focus of all eyes and cameras one day becomes an annoying mess under our feet the next. What was enjoyed as ethereally beautiful is now cursed for the work of raking, piling, scooping and bagging it represents. When fall leaves are still on the trees, they are treasured. Above our heads they are sacred; under our feet they are profane. When they fall to the ground, they are dirt.
Alas, it seems that in postmodern culture, dirt is the order of the day! Everywhere we see evidence that there is a gluttonous desire for more and more grease, more and more grime, more and more gossip.
How many tabloid trash magazines dish the dirt in our faces as we stand in the check-out line?
How many entertainment/celebrity gossip shows fill our TV screens each day?
How many new Web sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., appear online with electronic immediacy to offer the "real" story behind still breaking headlines?
How many careers have been started and ended by an individual's infamy in gossip?
How many Wall Street fortunes have been made and lost on the dirt of rumor and innuendo?
We are so inundated by this kind of self-pollution that we require far more grace than poet Dorothy Parker's self-deprecating epitaph at her death: "Excuse my dust." What a few years ago we would never have even said in polite conversations has today become the vernacular. This new explicitness is making us all into Beavises and Buttheads.
The Christian tradition provides us with a phrase and prayer that is much needed to protect us from all this sludgy seep of profanity into every nook and cranny of our lives. The Latin phrase Asperges me, Domine ("Wash me, Lord") was common in Jesus' day because the highway was very dirty, making constant foot-washing a necessity. Postmodern culture has brought us back to the first century. It, too, is extremely dirty. Our sandaled feet spirits need this prayer: Asperges me, Domine.
Each one of you has flaking skin that needs washing off. Scientists estimate that the human body is made up of around 10 trillion cells in total. Your skin makes up about 16 percent of your body weight, which means you have roughly 1.6 trillion skin cells. Of course, this estimate can vary tremendously according to a person's size. The important thing is that you have a lot of skin cells. Of those billions of skin cells, between 30,000 and 40,000 of them fall off every hour. Over a 24-hour period, you lose almost a million skin cells. In one year, you'll shed more than 8 pounds of dead skin. But more than that, we accumulate from the highway of life many more pounds of crud and dirt on our souls that need cleansing if we are to be whole and well and alive to God.
But as the morning's reading has taught us, our "quest" for cleansing, our rituals of washing, are incomplete without that return to the source of our healing for a final, cleansing exercise: giving thanks. Without the integration of gratitude into our lives, there can be no lasting wholeness or wellness, health or holiness. From a biblical perspective, to say Asperges Me, Domine is incomplete without celebrating those who made our newness and wellness possible.
Viktor Frankl, the eminent psychologist and founder of the so-called Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy (Logotherapy), provides a revealing example of what it means to express gratitude for wholeness and wellness. Frankl, who died in 1997 at the age of 91, was a prisoner in the concentration camps during World War II. Dr. Gordon Allport, in his preface to Frankl's significant work, Man's Search for Meaning, says that "there he found himself stripped to a literally naked existence. His father, mother, brother and his wife died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens, so that except for his sister, his entire family perished in these camps. How could he -- every possession lost, every value destroyed, suffering from hunger, cold and brutality, hourly expecting extermination -- how could he find life worth preserving? A psychiatrist who personally has faced such extremity is a psychiatrist worth listening to."
Frankl answers Allport's question when he recounts his experience immediately following his liberation from the camps:
"One day, a few days after the liberation, I walked through the country, past flowering meadows, for miles and miles, toward the market town near the camp. Larks rose to the sky and I could hear their joyous song. There was no one to be seen for miles around; there was nothing but the wide earth and sky and the larks' jubilation and the freedom of space. I stopped, looked around and up to the sky -- and then I went down on my knees. At that moment there was very little I knew of myself or of the world -- I had but one sentence in mind -- always the same: "I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and he answered me in the freedom of space."
"How long I knelt there and repeated this sentence, memory can no longer recall. But I know that on that day, in that hour, my new life started. Step for step I progressed until I again became a human being."
Frankl, released from arguably the most "leprous" episode in the history of humankind, could do nothing but kneel before his Creator in a posture of overwhelming gratitude. From that point of thanksgiving, he marked his renewal as a human being. Likewise, our wellness, our wholeness, our very healing and health, our becoming wholly human depend on our being able to celebrate and give thanks for the "freedom of space," for the liberation and cleansing God has brought to us, often mediated by influential people we love and the people who love us.
When Jesus touches and cleanses us, releasing us from the prisons of grease, grime and gossip, how does he do it? Through people. Through relationships which have changed us. Unfortunately, we often forget to go back and offer our gratitude to these God-inspired and enabled persons who have changed our lives.
Sue Bender, in her book Everyday Sacred, describes how she began to develop an attitude of gratitude. It had, she says, something to do with an exploding turkey:
Last month my husband Richard and I decided, at age 60 and 63, it was finally time to be grown-up and responsible. Neither of us is practical about business or financial matters. We went to a lawyer and started the process of making a will and a living trust for our sons.
"What would you like to do in case there's an 'exploding turkey?'" the lawyer asked.
"Exploding turkey?" I asked.
"What if the whole family was together at Thanksgiving and the turkey exploded?" he asked. "If the four of you were killed at that moment, who would you want to have your worldly goods?"
That turned out to be a terrific assignment. A chance to think about the people in our lives, a chance to be grateful and express our gratitude.
I decided to create a new ritual. I would stop at the end of the day, even a particularly difficult day, and make a list: a gratitude list. Who or what do I have to be grateful for today.
Like Frankl and Bender, we too should find something or someone to be thankful for. As we go about our upcoming week, let us all think of something that brings thanks. Maybe with some practice and repetition, we can be more thankful people by Thanksgiving next month.
Let us pray.
Jesus reminds us of the importance of gratitude and so we thank the Father who gives us life, the Son for his great love and example, and the Holy Spirit for the wisdom and enlightenment bestowed on us in our daily lives. We pray to the Lord.
We thank God, Our Father, for the greatest gift which he has bestowed on us, his own Son, Jesus Christ, in the Eucharist. We pray that we, like the cured leper, will never take this great gift for granted and never cease to thank him for his enormous generosity. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace to begin again: that we may grasp the opportunities to start anew when God opens new doors and opportunities in our lives. We pray to the Lord.
That the Supreme Court in the cases they took up this week will rule in favor of those who have lost employment due to being transgendered and/or their sexual orientation. We pray to the Lord.
For doctors, nurses, paramedics, and all who help to heal our injuries and illnesses, that they may know the gratitude of the people they touch. We pray to the Lord.
For Native Americans and other indigenous peoples, that they may be treated with respect and dignity. We pray to the Lord.
That during this Respect Life Month our hope in Christ’s resurrection will strengthen us in protecting the gift of human life. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
God of love and power, we come to you for healing and reconciliation. Where relationships are full of stress and unkind words shatter the spirit, grant reconciliation and renewal. When the load seems too heavy and our backs are tight with pressure, place on us your yoke, which is easy, and your burden, which is light. In wounded places of our hearts, our faith and our globe, God, heal as you know how; lead your people as they seek reconciliation, healing, justice and peace. God of love and power, you are the healer who came to us in Jesus Christ. We know you are near when people are healed and the poor hear good news. Be known among us in healing power, for we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who was and is, and is to come. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA