Give Thanks, Get Up and Go!

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Readings for the Twentieth First Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 29:1,4-7

Psalm 66:1-11

2 Timothy 2:8-15

Luke 17:11-19

This sermon was preached at Episcopal Church of the Nativity on October 13, 2013.

There are two invitations in the Gospel that I want to share and explore with you this morning. The first is the simple yet potentially life-transforming invitation to give thanks to the Lord. And the second is the invitation to be moved and commissioned by the Lord, who responds to our gratitude with the words “Get up and go!”

First of all, the most frequent command in all of Scripture, given at least 250 times, (given a couple times in this morning’s psalm) is “Praise the Lord.”[1] And a major part of praising the Lord is giving thanks. The Bible frequently reminds us to do that because we easily forget to count the many ways in which we are blessed. We forget to thank and praise God for the thousands of little things that go right every day. There is a Sufi proverb, “Abundance can be had by simply receiving what already has been given.” Every time we forget to praise and thank God we forfeit an opportunity to experience abundance right now.

My former youth pastor, Shawn Wallace (who is here today), introduced me to a particular spiritual discipline, which I hope to practice with the Marin Episcopal Youth Group sometime and which I invite us all to practice regularly. It is the spiritual practice of praying without asking for anything, but simply giving thanks; resisting the tendency to petition the Lord and instead, offering praise and thanksgiving for all the blessings that God has already bestowed. It is a wonderful way to enter into abundance, simply receiving what already has been given.

The leper in today’s Gospel entered into this abundance when he returned to give thanks to Jesus for his healing: “He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” In the Greek, the word for “thanked” is euchariston, which is where we get the word Eucharist, which means “thanksgiving.” Every Sunday morning, we enter into that abundance by celebrating the Eucharist, when we lift up our hearts and say, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God…for it is right and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks.”

In the Gospel, Jesus responds to the healed leper’s gratitude by saying, “Get up and go; your faith has made you well.” St. Athanasius, the great father of orthodoxy, said, “this [healed leper] was given much more than the rest. Besides being healed of his leprosy, he was told by the Lord, ‘Stand up and go your way. Your faith has saved you.’” Athanasius and commentators since have seen these words of Jesus as a blessing and affirmation of the healed man, acknowledging and honoring his gratitude. I agree, but I also see in Jesus’ words a commission to go and share the good news of the Kingdom of God.

In Greek, the word for “get up” is “anastas” (Ἀναστὰς). The author of Matthew’s Gospel uses this word “anastas” twice. The author of Mark uses it six times. The author of John does not use the word at all. And Luke uses it 27 times and most of the time the word is used it is in reference to mission, specifically mission to foreigners. In the book of Acts, which is Luke’s sequel to his Gospel, Philip the deacon is told by the Holy Spirit to “Get up and go” share the Gospel with an Ethiopian eunuch. Peter is told to “Get up and go” baptize the Gentiles. And Paul is told several times to “Get up and go” here or there throughout the Mediterranean world to spread the Gospel. Luke loves using that phrase “Get up and go” (anastas) to talk about mission and about spreading the Gospel to foreigners. His use of that phrase was likely inspired by the book of Jonah, about that great missionary-prophet of the Old Testament, who is told by God to “get up and go” (in the Septuagint: anastas) tell those horrible Ninevites about God’s mercy.

So Jesus responds to the healed leper’s gratitude not only with a blessing and affirmation, but with a commission to get up and go share your story, tell others about how the kingdom of God has been made manifest in your life, in your body, on your skin! Tell others about your faith, which has made you well. And this is how Christ responds to our gratitude and our celebration of the Eucharist. After we have given thanks for God’s immeasurable love, which is revealed to us in the Paschal mystery and fed to us in the bread and wine (so that we can physically taste his love), after that, we are essentially being told by the Holy Spirit to now “Get up and go” which is why we pray in our post-Communion prayer, “Send us now into the world in peace and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you.” And in one of our Eucharistic prayers, we pray, “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.” In other words, “Help us to not just give thanks. Help us to give thanks and then get up and go!” And as deacon, I get to drive home this point every Sunday at the dismissal when I say “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” When I say, “OK now, get up and go!” Go and share the Gospel with the world! Go evangelize!

Now what does that evangelism and mission look like? That I don’t know for sure. I’m still trying to figure that out. I used to hand out tracts with my brother in upstate New York that tried to explain the Gospel in accessible ways. I don’t do that anymore. I used to get into arguments about theology and apologetics, wrangling over words, trying to prove how logical it is to be a Christian. I don’t do that anymore. I used to actually have a lot of anxiety about sharing the Gospel, worried that I would be personally responsible for the damnation of those people I failed to save. I don’t have that anxiety anymore. But I still believe that Jesus tells me (and us) to “get up and go.” Maybe that looks like serving food to people in transition at the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy. Maybe sometimes mission and evangelism are less about words and more about relationships, service, love and sacrifice. St. Francis said, “Preach the Gospel always and use words only when you really have to.”

I was baptized in a denomination called Christian and Missionary Alliance, which is an evangelical denomination deeply involved with missions and church planting. On their website they say, “Rather than just a denomination intent on building its own kingdom, we are people who ‘go.’” And the Wallace family are living proof of that. They have responded to the call to “Get up and go” and are literally getting up and going to Africa to serve God’s kingdom.

I am no longer part of that denomination. Obviously, I am very much an Episcopalian.  Although the Episcopal Church and the Christian and Missionary Alliance are quite different theologically and perhaps politically, we both uphold mission as essential and we both take seriously the call to “get up and go.” In fact, the full legal name of the Episcopal Church is the “Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.” The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society! And many of the great missionaries of the 18th and 19th century were Anglican clergy, including Roland Allen (missionary to China) and Henry Martyn (missionary to India and Persia). And an organization called the Church Missionary Society was founded and led by (evangelical) Anglicans like William Wilberforce (the great slavery abolitionist) and John Newton (priest and author of “Amazing Grace”). This same Church Missionary Society established the Episcopal Church of Sudan, which is the church that the Wallaces will be serving and nourishing.

St. Philip the Evangelist (whose feast day was celebrated two days ago) was told to “get up and go” share the Gospel with an Ethiopian eunuch whom he met on the road. Because of this, some consider St. Philip to be one of the first (if not the first) Christian missionaries to Africa. Anglicans have followed in Philip’s footsteps by planting churches in Africa and raising up leaders among the indigenous people. And now the Wallaces are entering into that wonderful story of saints who have given thanks and then been told to “get up and go.” We can certainly learn a lot from the Wallaces about what it means to “get up and go” and we can play an important part in their ministry through our support.  And one way we can support is through our prayer.

So let us pray for the Wallaces together: “O God, we give you thanks and praise for your beloved servants, the Wallaces, who have responded to your call to “Get up and Go!”[2] You have laid the burden of South Sudan on their hearts.[3] Bring them to their destination and may it be a place of refreshment for them so that they may refresh others.[4] Guide them as they seek the welfare of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, especially the diocese of Mundri, for in its welfare they will find welfare.[5] Remind them to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.[6] And ensure them that they are approved by God and that they have no reason to ever be ashamed.[7] Give them wisdom to explain rightly the word of truth.[8] And increase their faith, which heals and saves.[9] And whenever they feel tired, or disappointed, or hopeless, or faithless, ensure them that ‘if we are faithless, you remain faithful’[10] and great is your faithfulness. We pray this in the Name of the One who heals us, blesses and commissions us,[11] Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

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[1] Most people say it is the command “Do not fear” or “Fear not”, which is given about 115 times.

[2] This prayer was inspired by the lectionary readings. Luke 17:19

[3] Psalm 66:10

[4] Psalm 66:11

[5] Jeremiah 29:7

[6] 2 Timothy 2:14

[7] 2 Timothy 2:15

[8] 2 Timothy 2:15

[9] Luke 17:19

[10] 2 Timothy 2:13

[11] Luke 17:11-19

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