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September 14, 2014 - The Grateful Keep Moving - Luke 17:11-19

posted Sep 23, 2014, 5:32 AM by Grant Garber
Due to technical difficulties, this sermon was not recorded.  This is a transcript of the message.

Our text today begins by telling us that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is where important things happen, where wonderful and holy things happen, and where people went in search of their drams. All of us start out life on the way to Jerusalem in pursuit of the life of our dreams. But along the way, things occur that interrupt the dream. Sometimes the interruption is about the loss of a job, or the loss of your health, or the loss of a loved one. And sometimes it is through the interruption that we meet Jesus Christ.

While Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem, He encountered ten people with leprosy. It was the most dreaded disease of the first century. One of the functions of the village priest in that day was to watch for an outbreak of leprosy. Typically, it would begin by eating away a person’s toes and fingertips and would continue its destructive path until it reached the vital organs. The disease was deadly and so highly contagious that it could wipe out an entire village. So if the priest saw someone suddenly wearing gloves, he would insist on inspecting the person’s fingers. If he found any sign of leprosy, the priest would expel the person from the village. I’m so glad that we have now found other things for the clergy to do.

We don’t know a thing about those ten lepers who encountered Jesus along the way. We don’t know if they had academic degrees. We don’t know who among them used to be wealthy or who came from a wonderful family. We don’t even know their names. It is as if the disease has completely taken over their identities. They are forever known simply as the ten lepers.

We do know they were men and at least one of them was Samaritan. That is striking since the Jews and Samaritans had nothing to do with each other and had long nurtured old arguments about their ethnic differences. But here they are mixed together. That’s because when you have been interrupted on your way to your dreams and you are in crisis, you don’t care much about the old arguments that once distinguished your group from the others. Now you belong to a new group, and that group is called the outsiders. 

We have members of our congregation who go to work every morning and have for years, and we have members who come to the pastor’s office looking for help with the rent. We have people in our church who are part of large extended families in Richmond, and we have people who are pretty much alone in the city. Some of us are very involved in the center rings of the church’s leadership, and there are others who just sit in a piece of the pew on Sunday and anonymously worship. But as your pastor, I discovered a long time ago that sooner or later, we all feel like an outsider. Ironically, it is what we all have in common. Even if we have an esteemed or visible place in the community, we all keep the gloves on to avoid careful inspection of our life.

Maybe there has been something eating at you for a while. It could be a private hurt, a disappointment, or a fear that you cannot shake. It could be a daily battle with depression. The others here don’t even know how hard it is for you to get to church on Sundays. Of, maybe you struggle with a current form of leprosy called cancer, and you have found that if you talk about it, people get awkward and keep their distance --- as if you were contagious. Maybe you struggle with your doubts about Christianity. When you look around on Sunday morning, everyone else appears to be doing just fine. They stand to sing the hymns and listen to the sermons so easily, but you struggle to believe. If you feel like an outsider for any of these or any other reason, you may be tempted to drift away from church.

Graham Greene’s novel, A Burnt-Out Case, tells the story of a very successful architect named Querry who built cathedrals even though he didn't believe in God. That seemed absurd to him so he built a city hall, but found that he believed in politics even less than religion. In spite of all his success, Querry felt like he didn't belong in a world of believers. Inside, he believed nothing. So he went to what he considered the last place on earth --- a leper colony in the Congo. Upon his arrival, he announced his leprosy of the soul. After Querry had been there a while, one night he went in search of a leper who was lost in the jungle. By the time he finds him, it is too dark in the cold night to make their way back to the colony. To stay warm, Querry embraces the leper who holds him with fingerless hands. And in that embrace, the embrace of a community of outsiders, Querry finds the answer to his search. He then builds the colony a simple four-walled chapel, and he considers it his life’s masterpiece because it was the first time he built something he believed in.

The ten lepers in our text are a small community who believe only that they should cry to Jesus for pity or mercy. They don’t even ask for healing. They’re too far gone for that. Like them, we have so much fear that we don’t even know what salvation looks like anymore. So we just ask for mercy. It is the last lament of those who know that only God can save us and it is the only way anyone in the church community ever knows how to approach Jesus Christ. This is why we confess our sins. It’s the confession that makes you an insider in the community of faith.

The Gospel writer Luke makes a point of telling us that Jesus saw the lepers. Everyone else had learned to divert their eyes at such an obvious display of failure and brokenness. That is not just because they couldn't stand the sight of the lepers, but also because they didn't want to be reminded that it could happen to them or that in some way the disease of their own soul had already begun. That’s why people kept the lepers at a distance. But not Jesus. Jesus sees the truth about you --- not to judge you, but to heal you. Jesus sees you, and He is the only One who needs to see you.

Seeing the lepers, Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priests. The only reason a leper would do that is to be declared healed by the priests and restored to the community. But Jesus hasn't healed them yet. Instead, He tells them to start walking toward the declaration that they are restored. It is as if He is saying, “Don’t keep acting like a victim. Don’t allow this problem to define your life. Don’t settle into this. Start walking like a man or a woman who has encountered a Savior.” And then the text says, “And as they went, they were cleansed.” 

You have a role in the healing of whatever is broken in your life, whether it is a broken heart, broken health, or a broken spirit. That role is to get up and get moving again. Return to work and go back to the community. Return to life, believing that Jesus’ healing will come along the way. Go back to the grocery store, go back to paying your bills, and go back to wiping runny little noses. Go back to the library and study for one more exam. Pick up the phone at the office, and try to make one more deal. Go back to see one more doctor.

Sometimes the salvation of Christ in our lives occurs in a blinding moment of glory. Sometimes. But most of the time, God’s intervening grace comes along the way, quietly, as we just keep moving and wondering how this is going to work out. This is what faith looks like. In the end, faith is not a matter of how much theology you know. It has little to do with your feelings or mystical experiences. In the end, faith is a choice to get moving again.

When one of the lepers, a Samaritan, saw that he was healed he, “...came back, praising God in a loud voice.” Then he threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him. This isn't a bad definition of worship --- turning back to throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus with gratitude.

It is significant that all ten of the lepers were healed, but only the Samaritan, the outsider, throws himself at Jesus’ feet. Gratitude is the only way to be a true insider in the community of faith. Ingratitude doesn’t prevent us from receiving Jesus’ mercy. Ingratitude prevents us from receiving Jesus. The point of this story is not to get healed. The point is to get back to the Savior who is with us along the way. All of those lepers eventually got sick again and died, possibly even from leprosy. Eventually we all lose our jobs, our health, and life itself. We lose everything except the love of God and that alone carries us all the way home. So the grateful among us are not necessarily those who have had their dreams restored. The grateful ones are those who have turned around to see that a Savior is on the journey with them. Seeing that, they can handle anything that comes along the road of life.

Then Jesus said to the man, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Notice that Jesus didn't say, “Get up, and go to seminary”, “Get up, and follow me to Jerusalem”, or “Get up, and do something heroic while life lasts.” He just said, “Get up, and go on your way.” He was telling you to return to whatever way of life you have been given. Return to the ordinary. But anyone who lives in the ordinary with gratitude, lives an extraordinary life.

G.K. Chesterton has written that, “Wonders will never be lacking in this world. What is lacking is wonderment.” We worship to train our souls to behold the extraordinary work of Christ with wonderment. In the life of faith, wonderment is a synonym for gratitude.

The grateful find small miracles that are embedded in every day. They have little interest in complaints, and no time for regret. The grateful have hearts so full of wonderment of God’s love that there is no room left for fear. They give easily to others with great delight because when you’re grateful, you are no longer fretting over whether or not you’re going to have enough. They ask only for more glimpses of the Savior who is with us along the way. And the grateful keep moving.

Now, may it be so. Amen.