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Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost, October 9, 2016

Today we’re going to learn about gratitude.

We’re going to find out how gratitude does more than cure us; it makes us well, saves us and makes us whole.

I hope that you leave here today with a new appreciation for the expression of gratitude in your life.

When I was young, the magic words were “please” and “thank you”. They still are for that matter. You don’t demand something from another person or from God, you ask for it. And you don’t just go away having gotten what you wanted, you say thank you to the giver. My mother didn’t give out snacks after school, but a friend of mine’s mother did. When snack time came, I always said the magic words and I got a snack along with my friend. The magic words really did something for me and for the other person. It helped me know that I got something through kindness and that the person cared about me. It was like a circle had been completed: the asking, the giving and the thanking.

And those are the three things we’ll talk about today.

Jesus is traveling on the edge. He is in Samaria, where people hated the Jews, on his way to Galilee, where he was brought up. Jesus has put himself on the margins in the middle of a cultural feud to carry on his ministry. He enters a village and ten lepers approach him. Lepers were the ultimate outcasts. They had a variety of skin diseases and were unclean. Thus they were required to live away from others, their family and friends, in their own community of misery and suffering. They had no social standing, no rights, no hope unless their disease spontaneously went away. So the lepers had to forge a community for themselves and it sometimes made strange bedfellows. This group of lepers had nine Jews and one Samaritan. The feud was unimportant since that was part of the culture for regular people and the most important thing in their lives, the thing that defined them, was their leprosy.

The lepers approach Jesus but do not get too close. In their desperation, they plead with him for mercy. They want to be healed and clean again, to be able to resume their normal lives. They must have heard even in their isolation that Jesus was a great healer and one with a compassionate heart. Imagine the lepers standing away from Jesus, calling piteously. Would you have been frightened because they were contagious – maybe not in the physical sense, but certainly in the possibility of passing on their ritual impurity to others (Sharyn Dowd)? Would you have been compassionate and wanted to do something for them. Would you have seen them as Jesus does? He really sees their misery and wanted to help.

Next, the healing. Most healing was done through touch, but Jesus doesn’t heal them right there on the spot, but sends them to the priests, who have to verify that they can re-enter society. The men go. They have faith that Jesus can heal them, that his miracles will work for them, so they don’t complain about not being healed right away. They head for the priests instead. They are obedient to Jesus. On the way they are healed. They are so delighted at their healing that they head straight for the priests, who certify them clean and prescribe the ritual sacrifices that must be made so they can once again be in full community with their families and friends. Now they are not on the margins anymore they forget to thank Jesus for healing them and the circle of interaction was not yet complete.

But one person did not forget and that is where gratitude comes in. The Samaritan, the foreigner, the outcast, comes back to Jesus to express his gratitude. He probably didn’t need to go to the priests since it was not his culture, but he would have been restored to his community, though still an outcast to the Jews.

The Samaritan turns around and goes back to Jesus, praising God with a loud voice. Then he prostrates himself in front of Jesus feet and thanks him. He knows Jesus speaks for God – that God gave Jesus the power to cure him of his disease. Jesus very seldom asks people for thanks, but in this case he wonders and perhaps gets angry that no one else returns to say thank you besides a foreigner. Because the Samaritan returns to give thanks, the circle of human interaction is completed. Gratitude and praise is given to God for this wonderful gift. And because the Samaritan has literally turned around to come back to the center of the story where Jesus is, he receives another blessing. Jesus tells him that his faith has made him well or saved him as it is also translated. Faith did not cure the ten from leprosy, only God does that, but the man’s willingness to return showed his faithfulness of response (Beverly Zink Sawyer) and he was made whole. He is restored to relationship with community and his relationship with God becomes more intimate. His turning around leads to a new perspective on life, a perspective that he has been greatly blessed, a perspective that he should offer his gratitude and offer himself as God’s servant. Jesus’ mercy and compassion have restored another life not just to a cure, but to wholeness.

I would like to make two points about this story. First, while the ten lepers were all cured, we are not all cured of our diseases no matter how hard we pray. I visited a man in the hospital yesterday who had been given a cancer diagnosis with very poor odds. Sometimes, no matter how much we fight and struggle, we die. But we can still be made whole. We can learn to accept what is happening to us and know that God is there. We can even be grateful in the midst of tragedy for the presence of God in our lives, a God who is for us, even though it may not seem so at the time.

We can also be healed of other things – addictions, unforgiveness, neglect of the ones we love for another obsession and other emotional illnesses and sins. God can and will heal us if we ask and are open to receiving healing. Because being open is so important. The 10 lepers were open to receive healing from God. If they hadn’t been, they wouldn’t have asked. Sometimes God heals even when we don’t ask (like the son of the widow of Nain) as long as we are open.

The second point I want to make is about the importance of gratitude. What is your practice of gratitude? Do you make a list? Do you say “thank you” throughout the day? Do you offer yourselves to God? Thankfulness and praising God result in even greater blessings that healing does. We are all broken and it makes us whole. Our grateful response is to offer all that we are and have to God for God’s work in the world. God has given us everything including our healings and our restorations and our thankfulness is not out of duty but out of the joy that it gives us to become closer to God (Margaret Ernst Habib). It is commitment season at St. John’s. As you prayerfully consider your pledge, remember we are called to give out of this gratitude, knowing God will bless us and bless others through us. The biblical standard is the tithe, a tenth of our income, or if we don’t feel we can do that, we can practice giving some percentage of our income in thanksgiving for God’s work in us. We can do so much in the world through this church’s life and ministry. I ask you to increase your pledge if you possibly can so that we can show grateful hearts to the world in even more ways and render praise and thanks to God.

Works Cited:
Sharyn Dowd, Feasting on the Gospels: Luke, Exegetical Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), p.117
Beverly Zink Sawyer, Feasting on the Gospels: Luke, Pastoral Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), p. 120
Margaret Ernst Habib, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 4, Theological Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2010), p. 164, 168