Sunday message: The difference that lies in thanks

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 13, 2019


Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

Psalm 66:1-12

Luke 17:11-19

In the cartoon, Ziggy, there is a conversation going on between Ziggy and his dog Fuzz. They are lost in ski country. Ziggy is very sure that the guidebook in his hands would help them out. There are three methods when you are lost, Ziggy says: First, the “coin-flip-method”, let’s skip that. Second, the “eeny-meeny-miney-mo method” not a good one either now. But then there is the third, the auditory method. Impressive, don’t you agree? A. Get comfortable. B. Take a deep breath. C. Yell “Help” as loud as you can.

Quite reasonable. Yes, that’s what the ten lepers did in the reading we heard from Luke’s gospel. When they saw Jesus passing by, they yelled out loud for help, and Jesus listened to them.

This reminds me of the cruise ship passing by a small island in the middle of the ocean. There’s a tattered-looking man running towards the beach, shouting and waving at them. “Who is that?” asks one of the passengers. 

“No idea” says the captain, “But every year we sail past, he just goes nuts.”

Jesus is travelling along the border between Samaria and Galilee when He encounters a group of men with leprosy. Lepers were used to having others “sail past” them all the time. Everywhere a leper went, they had to stay at least six feet away from a healthy person at all times, and they were required to shout a warning to anyone who passed by, “Unclean! Unclean!” That’s why it’s surprising to hear these lepers shouting at Jesus. Because they’re not shouting, “Unclean! Unclean!” as they were required to. Instead, they were shouting, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

What do you think they were expecting from Jesus? What do you expect when you cry out to Jesus? Do you expect healing? Do you expect comfort? I think these lepers just wanted Jesus to see them. To offer them some words of hope. They were so cut off from normal life. 

The story of the ten lepers is a great image of our faith journey, and what it means to be a Christian. We come to Jesus with a need, not knowing what to expect. We receive new life and respond in gratitude.

The first step in their faith journey is that the lepers came to Jesus with a need. Many of us start out our faith journey with a “tow truck faith.” We’re stuck. We’re broken down. Our spiritual engine has failed us, and we just want a quick tow back to our old life. So we cry out to Jesus with our needs.

The second step in the faith journey is to return to Jesus with thanksgiving. And that’s where this story becomes a cautionary tale for us.

So the lepers cry out loudly for pity, and Jesus gives them a challenge instead: “Go, show yourselves to the priest.” What does this mean? This is where the background of the Old Testament comes in powerfully. Showing themselves to the priest was a requirement in those days. But we haven’t heard of any healing yet! The thing is: These lepers were called upon to “act as if.” How much of our faith isn’t also “go and act as if”?

Be careful when you ask Jesus for something. He will often give you more than you ask. But before you can receive, you have to believe. God is not like Google Maps. When God says, “Go” that’s a complete sentence. Throughout the Bible, God sends people out into unknown territory and expects them to walk in faith.

Nine of the lepers presumably return to their normal lives. They’ve been healed. The curse of uncleanness has been removed. And they can’t wait to get back to living. Only one leper, a Samaritan, returns to thank Jesus. Look at what the verse says: “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.” The one man who returned to thank Jesus wasn’t even a Jew. He was a Samaritan.

Gratitude, thanks, is the response of this one healed leper. Loud, humble, enthusiastic, heartfelt, uninhibited gratitude is one of the defining marks of a Christian. God has touched my life! That kind of gratitude naturally turns to joy.

Many Christians reach the first part of the faith journey, bringing their need to Jesus, and then never go any further. They do not live in perpetual thanksgiving and praise. They do not return to Jesus and throw themselves at his feet and pour out their praise to God. We miss out on the greater blessing God is doing in our lives when we take our blessings for granted.

The mature understanding of life also shows us that our sense of gratitude doesn’t depend so much on our circumstances as much as it does on the condition of our heart. 

We now come to another step in our faith journey, which is to go forth from Jesus with a new mission. We come to Jesus with a need. We return to Jesus with praise and thanksgiving. Then we go forth from Jesus with a new mission—the mission to spread Jesus’ name and his truth, and the promise of new life with others.

Let’s look at the lepers’ story again. While the ten lepers were on the way to the priests, they were cleansed. Nine went back to their old lives. When God has touched my life, I have been made new. Rise and go! Others need to hear our story. 

There is a wonderful story about the famed actress of a few decades ago, Betty Hutton. Hutton was an award-winning movie star who also found fame on Broadway and in television and radio. But she suffered from depression and an addiction to alcohol and drugs. In 1970, she had a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide. Through the spiritual guidance of a Roman Catholic priest, she gave up her addictions and God turned her life to Jesus.

In 1980, Hutton returned to show business in the Broadway musical Annie. All the other cast members of Annie had detailed biographies of their lives and careers in the program guide. Betty Hutton didn’t include any of her major motion pictures in her cast biography. She didn’t include her awards, or her television shows, or her radio programs, or her starring roles on Broadway. Betty Hutton’s cast biography consisted of five words: “I’m back. Thanks to God.” 1)

Didn’t God save us so that we could pass on that blessing of hope and joy to everyone we meet? 2)

1) Barbara Hudson Dudley in Daily Guideposts, 1982 (Carmel, New York:  Guideposts, 1981).

2) This message has relied upon a sermon by King Duncan, “If your cry for help is loud enough” from Dynamic Preaching, Fourth Quarter Sermons.


Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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