*Sermon preached on 13 October 2019, at First Christian Church of Hampton. Honestly, I’d like to expand upon the whole “borderlands” aspect of this, and may well do so. It really is a profound metaphor for where Jesus meets all of us in life-changing encounters…. and where the grace of God stands out most clearly. It is the context always, for the gratitude that is what marks out the truly Christian life, in every circumstance. It is this that I myself am pondering and will continue to do so, in my own life. I invite you to do likewise. – Vinson
Gospel of Luke 17:11-19 (New Revised Standard Version)
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 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. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
One of the things that warms any parent’s heart is when other people comment on the children’s positive traits. Let’s face it, it isn’t easy being a parent. A parent notices what isn’t going as well as we would hope, or where our child needs growth. Sometimes, it’s just hard to have the big picture of success. That’s why back when our children were little, Julie and I started noticing what was good in other folks’ children and telling the parents… who would often become emotional with relief and joy. Parent to parent encouragement is a needed gift.
Let’s face it, in the daily grind it is sometimes hard to see that bigger picture of success, and parents can use the encouragement. All of us can use that kind word of where we are being successful, to be honest, parents or not.
It was back in that timeframe that Julie and I started a daily practice of just spending about 15 minutes together. Julie took the even-numbered days and I took the odd-numbered days! It was our way of sharing ownership for initiating a conversation that would always start with gratitude. Some of it might be for specific daily chores. Some of it might be for those singular moments, like Julie going out of her way to pick up cards for me to send our Moms for an upcoming Mother’s Day or for their birthdays. I suppose for some, it might be just laying out clothes that match, for those of us a bit colorblind or have no sense of style! Then we’d check with the other as to anything that was missed, as to our expressing appreciation. It just made us much more aware of all the small things that go into making a household run, raising kids, and being married. Then we’d go over our calendars, so we both knew what was happening, before touching upon any need for a changed behavior.
Simple. Uplifting. Unifying.
WHY I BRING THIS UP
If the text from the Gospel offers a number of sermon possibilities, gratitude surely is at the heart of today’s lesson from the Gospel of Luke.
How often do we really, deliberately consider it? I mean REALLY, deeply, consider it?
I’m not talking about the courtesy thank yous we say when someone opens a door, but actually centering ourselves in the BEING a people of gratitude, living a life of noting and appreciating that which is good?
Having set his face toward Jerusalem, in the 9th chapter of Luke, where he will finally arrive in the 19th chapter, if we peruse those chapters that span between, we might notice that Jesus tended to frequent those borderlands between Samaria and Galilee. I would suggest the “borderlands” is something of a metaphor for where the ministry of Jesus takes place in human life.
In today’s lesson, the borderlands are where Jesus encounters ten men begging for assistance, a mix of untouchables, a people whose shared suffering had become their tribe. Not just any suffering, but socially isolating as much as physically painful, cut off as it were, from the land of the living, with a life that but awaited death. The two types of lepresy both ended in death, one in 9-10 years and the other in maybe 20.
William Barclay describes the hideous progression of the worse form of this disease: Eyebrows would fall out; the eyes become staring; the vocal chords become ulcerated, and the voice becomes hoarse, and the breath wheezes. The hands and feet always ulcerate, and eventually one’s life would end in ulcerated growth, mental decay, coma and ultimately death. Or, one’s nerve trunks are affected, the muscles waste away, and the hands become like claws, with the progressive loss of fingers and toes, until in the end a whole hand or a whole foot may drop off.
So the cleansing of lepers, that earlier, in Luke 7:22, Jesus singled out, saying: “Go and tell John… the lepers are cleansed,” was no accidental sign of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. Leprosy made them rejected by both Jews and Samaritans alike. They were alive and yet dead to all who knew them.
In this narrative, at least one is a Samaritan, and reading between the lines it seems that the other nine were likely Jewish. Together, they address Jesus as “master,” a term which in Luke is only used by the disciples to address Jesus, and immediately he sends them to show themselves to the priests to confirm their healing. They hadn’t looked at their own skin… they just ran… and amid their running, they are healed.
It’s a three-part telling, that Luke gives us:
There is the healing itself.
There is the turning back and praising God.
There is the prostrating himself and giving thanksgiving at the feet of Jesus.
This three-step is echoed by the words of Jesus:
“Were there not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?”
“Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Then, there is Jesus’ response to the Samaritan at his feet: “…your faith has made you well,” literally “saved you.”
Jesus told them to show themselves to the priests, but one turns back, at first glance seemingly disobeying Jesus’s direction – as he instead gives thanks. He knows who the true high priest of God is, as he glorifies God and throws himself at the feet of Jesus, giving thanks. It is no ordinary word of thanks he employs and no language accident of the ever-thorough Luke, as the former leper glorifies God in thanksgiving. Luke uses the same verb Jesus would later when he gave “thanks” God for the bread and the cup, and blessed them, at the Last Supper.
It’s only then that Luke tells us that the one who turned back in this borderland, lifting his hands and falling at the feet of Jesus, is a Samaritan.
So we see through this now-healed man, God is at work whenever Jesus notices… and heals hurts… and heals brokenness… in those borderlands where lives otherwise go unnoticed.
I would suggest there is something in this gospel text for us to understand about those who live in the borderlands existing amid n the many kinds of life in the margins in our communities and in the world. There is also something we may want to also consider: those parts of ourselves hidden in the borderlands, the private suffering we may least want to be seen and most need to be touched. You see, Jesus isn’t put off by journeys into the borderlands of life, but readily meets the needs of sufferers in such places, sufferers in the deepest part of ourselves.
The response of the former leper is no simple one-off thank you, but the active tense of praising… literally staying in a life glorifying God, demonstrating how thanking Jesus IS to live a life that glorifies God.
I would suggest that Glory given to God may come easier to those who realize they’ve received the most from Jesus, the ones he encounters in the borderlands, the ones who’ve been through a lot and discovered the loyal love of God. I think of the kind of gratitude I see in many who gather at The Welcome Table, for instance. As Jesus noted when a suffering woman anointed his feet [Luke 7:47], the one who has been given much also loves greatly.
Love that springs from such gratitude IS the essence of faith.
Luke makes clear that Jesus’ life is framed by people glorifying God. There are the shepherds at his birth [Luke 2:20]. There is the centurion at the foot of his cross [Luke 23:47]. Responding to the life we are given in Jesus is to praise and glorify God.
In such a spirit Paul writes, in I Thessalonians 5:18: “in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
A life of thanks is hard to miss ’s hard to miss, as Julie and I discovered so long ago after our kids had spied on us! One day our then two-year old son, I expect prompted by his big sister, came and asked if they could do what Julie and I had been doing… if they could join us. Thus began our Sunday morning before breakfast time of thanks – spending those precious 10 minutes or so singling out something about of what had been done, of every other member of the family, and taking turns at it. Our children began to express such words of appreciation to others, unbeknownst to us, as adults often came up to us to tell us how polite and such our kids were – not often seeing such a spirit of appreciation among many children… or other adults.
Our kids humbled us, in what for them became a natural way of life, giving thanks.
The soul-searching question for us then this morning, is such a life of gratitude evident in us, if we are honest with ourselves? In our words to God and one another, in thanksgiving for the life we have in Jesus Christ? In our acts of service and in our giving?
Have we let it the spirit of gratitude grow cold, or is it like that of the healed leper?
Have we taken it for granted, or praise God without ceasing for His care of us? Certainly, is that part of our life with the people around us?
With humility, I can see I still have plenty of room to grow. How about you?