The Thankful Leper (10/13/2013)

The Thankful Leper

Luke 17:11-19

11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

There was a young mother who was preparing a thanksgiving party at her home. She had spent all day in preparations for the big event. She was nervous and wanted everything to be just right for her guests. She had cleaned the house from top to bottom, polished the silver, arranged the flowers, and even made little name cards for each guest. Finally, the guests arrived and were eventually seated at the dinner table. The young mother turned to her daughter and asked her to offer the prayer. The daughter said that she did not know what to pray. Her mother said, “Just pray what Mommy would pray.” The little girl thought for a moment and then prayed, “Dear Lord, why did I invite all these people to dinner?”
I am sure that you have had this kind of experience. Right?, losing the meaning of Thanksgiving.

In today’s text, Luke tells the story of ten lepers who beseech Jesus for mercy, while keeping their distance, as required by law.  They are objects of fear and loathing.  Not just their health, but their homes, their lives, friends, work, family, are gone because of this sickness that has grasped them. Their lives are miserable.

Jesus, who is full of compassion and love, says to them, “Go and show yourselves to a priest,” who has the power to pronounce them clean. They walk on.  As they walk, they realize they are healed. One turns back to give praise and say thanks.  The others keep on going.

Jesus asks the question:  why do nine rush away without giving thanks, and why is this foreigner the only one who does?  Think of the nine lepers. They are finally healed. It is the most wonderful day they have longed for. What are they going to do right after they become cleaned. Obviously, they would go home to see their family, parents, wife or husband, and children. This would be the most important thing they want to do right after the healing. However, there is one more thing they should have done. Thanksgiving to Jesus. They just rush away without giving thanks to Jesus who healed them. Only one comes to Jesus and says thanks.  
Jesus says to that one who came back, “Your faith has made you Well.”

This is a very important point for today’s sermon. Jesus makes a distinction between being healed and being well.  And between being healed and having faith.
Being healed should not be the end of our story in the course of our spiritual life. Jesus came to the world for us to be well in relationship with God and others, not just for healing. 

The curse of leprosy has made the ten a community in which they are joined in suffering and misfortune. They need one another. And because of their misfortune they have no others. They have been separated from their family and friends and other communities. Their prayer is a single voice with many echoes. “Mercy! I Am Unclean.” How miserable. Have you had this kind of experience in your life, crying out to God. “ Mercy, God, I am insecure. Mercy God, I am in huge trouble. Mercy God, I am in pain now.” The mercy they long for is not just the restoration of their flesh, but restoration of their whole lives in relation with others. They long to go home.

The ten lepers were not unacceptable and their lives were miserable without being accepted by others. However, Jesus came to them and healed their disease. Moreover, Jesus made it possible that they could not just be healed but also be well in relationship with others. Jesus came for that.

Thank you is the beginning, because thanks is an act of accepting yourself as “the be-gifted and the be-loved.” We have a very polite culture. We send thank you cards to people who have favored us. This culture is not familiar with Koreans. I, as a Korean, say “thank you,” but usually do not send a thank you card to others. So, I didn’t get used to it. I am pretty sure that for the last 7 years in America, I have missed a lot of chances to send a Thank you card. I am now feeling bad.   

Anyway, thank you cards or notes are such perfunctory cultural acts, nice to get, even nice to write. They warm people’s minds and make them feel connected with each other.
We are a community to say “thank you” to God and to one another. In the last two weeks, we have received four families as professing members. To them, the one thing that I have kept saying was “thank you.” I kept saying to them “Thank you for being professing members.” “Thank you for being part of our community.” I kept saying to God, “Thank you for blessing us to have them into our community.” Saying “thank you” to God and to others is one of the most important and spiritual practices needed to sustain a faith community. We build our relationship by saying thank you. 

There is an old movie, Places in the Heart, a tale of depression era life in the American south.  Did you watch the movie? Murders, lynchings, and betrayals occur in it, and the bond between a white woman and a black man save a family.  But they are eventually torn apart by racial bigots. The final scene takes place in a small country church, where communion is being passed among the pews. The dead are there, sharing pews and bread and wine with the living, shooter and shot, betrayer and betrayed, husband and cockold, bigot and black man. It is a sacrament of surpassing joy.  It is a sacrament full of thanks-giving to God and to others. It is the place to change one’s thought, mind, and even life. It is the place to accept others and to be accepted by them. Chilmark Church is the place to accept people and to be accepted by people by sincerely saying thank you to each other. Now why don’t you say thank you to the person next to you.   

Let me wrap up today’s sermon with the beautiful prayer. Saint Francis of Assisi understood himself as one who had received mercy and who had given thanks to God through his whole life. This is a prayer of Francis, a prayer which has been on the lips of millions.

“Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is error, truth; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.”

These are not only the words of faith, but also the words of thanksgiving.  They make the world well. We are the people who live our lives with the faith in God. We are the people who give thanks to God and to others. Our lives make the world not only healed but also well. Remember! Jesus did not come just for healing. He came to make us well. From now on, let us pray together both for healing and being well. Jesus says to us, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Let us pray
Loving God, you come to our lives not only for healing but also for making us well. Give us the faith that our lives can be well not just healed. And give us hearts full of thanksgiving to God and others. In your name we pray. Amen.

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