November 23, 2014
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Luke 17: 11-19
“Are You Grateful?”
Our scripture lesson today puts Jesus in a village where there were ten very sick people, and one of the ten was known to be a Samaritan, our scripture leaves us assuming the other nine were Galileans. The ten of them, they were suffering from leprosy, they all approach him and ask for his mercy. Leprosy was and is a horrible illness. There has been a social stigma connected throughout history with this awful disease. Some of you may even remember my speaking of this illness last year when I first preached for you on October 13th. “Leprosy is a chronic and infectious disease. It produces skin lesions and if left untreated can cause permanent damage to skin, nerves, limbs and eyes.” For a man of Jesus’ status in society, a Rabbi, a Jewish teacher such as the likes of Jesus, would not normally even associate with people from Samaria, and certainly would not welcome the approach of ten Lepers begging for help. But, our Jesus did not turn them away – rather he greeted them.
This miraculous healing that is highlighted in these short verses of scripture, once again speak to the identity of Jesus. So much so that as he simply heals them, with seemingly no effort, he tells them to “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” We could ponder why Jesus sends them to the priests, yet, that is only a side point to this miracle account. What stands out is that one of the Lepers, the Samaritan, turns back to Jesus and praises Him. “16. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.”
Jesus makes a loud point that only one in ten give thanks for being healed, and Jesus points out that it was the Samaritan, who was considered to be a social outcast, a foreigner. Once again Jesus uses every opportunity to teach to those who would listen.
Such a short passage yet we have three major themes that we can lift up and discuss: the identity of Jesus, a discussion surrounding social justice, and giving thanks and being grateful! Each is too important to overlook and together they each build upon one another.
First, we need to put ourselves into the reality of the scene we find ourselves in. Jesus and his disciples were traveling toward Jerusalem and in so doing they would pass through Samaria and Galilee. They were traveling by foot. It is important to note this because we must recognize that they were subject to all of the harsh realities of their environment. The ten lepers that approached could have been bandits with ill intent. But as we know from our reading they were simply sick and seeking help. We can assume that they must have heard of Jesus and the miracles he was performing. So when word of his being in the region spread they sought him out. Since Jesus and his fellow travelers were on foot it was easy to intercept their path.
Even as they approach, they kept their distance. Being lepers they most certainly had been rebuked many times when they approached anyone. So their ‘keeping their distance’ would have been a normal gesture of respect. They called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” What is curious at this point is the manner in which Jesus responds. He does not send them down to the river Jordon to wash seven times as the prophet Elisha did when King Naaman came to him looking for a cure to his Leprosy. No, Jesus simply says to the ten “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And our scripture goes on to tell us “and as they went, they were made clean.” I mean wow! Nothing fancy, Jesus just told them to go, and tell the priests. No game, no gimmick no flashy display nor even any real request for them to do anything special other than to show themselves, then puff, they were healed. The Gospel of Matthew chapter 11, verse 5 tells us that John the Baptist asked from prison, that is, he sent word to Jesus asking if he was the Messiah. The response from Jesus was “tell him that the blind receive their sight, the lamb walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised.” Indeed, this healing of the lepers again points to Jesus’ divinity, surely he is the Holy One sent by God!
Jesus has done more than display his identity in today’s reading. He does more than a miraculous healing. Jesus sets in place a lesson for the ages. Jesus has clearly displayed the need for his followers to set aside the social norms, the social laws that marginalize people one from another, based on their culture, their race, and even the creeds that they attest to. And surely, he has knocked down the walls of ignorance through his example and reached across the social stigma of those afflicted with disease, reaching out to them in love, compassion and mercy to heal them, without regard to the believed danger in taking such an action. These social barriers still haunt human kind to this very day as the world responds to the plight of West Africans affected with the spread of the Ebola virus. We as Christians, armed with new knowledge, can help raise societies’ awareness of those in need. As people of faith we can help lead the cry for help. As a community we can seek to move into action the resources and the agencies that are needed in this time of crisis for areas of the world, like West Africa. Today’s lesson clearly illustrate Jesus’ willingness to reach across the barriers of social systems and reach beyond ignorance and fear, knocking down the walls that marginalize people in our own communities and across the continents of the world. We are called to reach out to the hopeless and the banished because Jesus first set the example of how we ought to respond and put forth the appropriate effort.
In our gospel lessen this morning only one of the ten lepers that were healed that day by Jesus, return to say thank you. “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.” /Luke 17: 15 &16/ Again it is pointed out that the socially marginalized Leper, the Samaritan, was the one who came back to give thanks and praise to Jesus! He knew that Jesus had not only healed him, Jesus had healed him knowing he was a Samaritan! In gratitude he thanked Jesus in every way he knew how! It must have been a real shock to the religious leaders and the Priests, of that time period, that this man Jesus had not only healed the ten lepers but he had also received thanks and praise from the one that was a Samaritan!
What a backdrop this lesson sets for us as we prepare ourselves for our annual Thanksgiving holiday, followed so quickly by the beginning of the four weeks of Advent and then Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day! As Christians we shall relive and celebrate the holy accounting of how the Son of God is born into the realm of humankind. So, so much to give thanks for this week!
Have you wondered what happened to the nine lepers that didn’t come back and say thank you? At the very least let’s be sure that we are counted as the ‘one’ who came back and said thank you.
Clearly Jesus was making a point that he greatly appreciate it. Jesus appreciated the one who came back and said thank you. We, you and I, we need to ask ourselves: where are you, where are we in this story? Are we the ones or the one that came back and said thank you, with gratitude, for all that God has done for us? Or are we part of the majority; are we one of the nine of these lepers who did not come back? Are we counted among the ungrateful ones that did not say thank you? I often wonder how the ungrateful manage through life. Personally I find it very important to work hard at staying humble and having a grateful heart and be willing to say thank you. Thanking our God needs to come sincerely and directly from the heart.
Today we mix Christmas with Thanksgiving. Today, In gratitude, many of you will use the talents that you have; the energy that you have; the flexibility that you have; and the willingness that you have, to help decorate this church. We call it ‘the hanging of the greens.’ We are all invited to stay, right after church today, to decorate this sanctuary and prepare for next Sunday. You see, next Sunday will be the first Sunday in Advent, which shall mark the beginning of our journey toward Christmas Eve and Christmas. Let your gratitude for Gods love, gratitude for the divinity of Jesus, the Son of God; gratitude for the mercy and salvation that Jesus offers; and Gratitude for the power of example that Jesus left for each one of us within these ancient scriptures that we lift up; let your gratitude move, move us to prepare to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus as we give thanks for the fullness of the harvest and bounty of our lives.
As we leave this sanctuary today, we will, primarily, have thoughts of Thanksgiving in our hearts and on our minds. The celebration of Thanksgiving, that first celebration of the harvest, shall be renewed within us. We will, each one of us, we shall each celebrate this Thanksgiving differently, and yet the same. Some of us will eat ham, some of us will eat turkey, and some of us might choose something quite different. Many will celebrate with their families and friends; others will eat alone, perhaps forgotten by their neighbors, and forgotten by their families and friends. What about us? Will we remember those that are alone at Thanksgiving? Will we remember to reach out to them and say happy Thanksgiving? Or will we stop by with a simple something, or maybe a little bit more than a simple something; especially if we know they have the need on such a festive day, this day that we celebrate?
Let our actions show the gratitude in our hearts; let us be grateful for the love of God; our God whom sent Jesus to live amongst us; as we know the story, the traditions of our faith; as we prepare ourselves to enter into the time of Advent, the preparation for our Christmas celebration.
Let us now hear and receive the words of Jesus, found in these verses of scripture, from the Gospel According to Luke, chapter seventeen verses 11 thru 19.
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Allow that God may bless your hearing and your understanding of these ancient and holy words of scripture.