Sermon by Rev. Brian Combs, 11/15/17
By the 17th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, the disciples have figured out that having faith in Jesus means following in strange and surprising ways. Abandon the flock of 99 found sheep for the reckless pursuit of the one lost lamb. Despite squandering his inheritance and bringing shame to the family name, look even more foolish by welcoming the Prodigal Son home. Host a banquet feast guaranteed to lose you money by inviting only those people to the party who can’t return the favor.
When Jesus and the disciples come to the edge of a village on their way to Jerusalem, they are met by a group of lepers on the other side of the tracks who were likely yelling out, “Kind sirs, don’t come too close because we’re contagious, but could you toss a few coins our way.” Instead of giving them what they asked for, Jesus offers something far more valuable than money, he gives them their healing.
And in doing so, the disciples then and now are invited in to yet another unexpected teaching moment. So the question for us to discuss is, what do we learn about faithfulness?
Luke 17:11-19 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.”
It requires movement.
It turns you towards Jesus and away from the institution.
It is often most deeply expressed by the least likely person.
Every month I have the privilege of helping lead worship at the Rescue Mission homeless shelter. We gather in the wood-paneled chapel, introduce ourselves and pray. Then comes the offering. I remind the men, and myself, that God has blessed every one of us with gifts and talents, and that no matter our station in life, we all have something to give back. One Thursday evening, after a pile of pennies and a few crumpled dollar bills had been left on the altar, a young man, who had just finished his shift at work, came forward. He was still wearing his Burger King apron, purple collared shirt, and matching visor. He said, to paraphrase, “I’ve chased a lot of fast money and the only thing it got me was serving slow time. I’ve done everything you can do wrong, three times over. And I’ve had to pay for my mistakes. But God gave me a bed in this shelter, opened my eyes this morning, allowed me to earn an honest dollar today, and gave me the courage to bypass the dope man for the past 30 days. Tonight I stand here as a changed man; Tonight my offering is my testimony; Tonight I want to give God all the glory by offering nothing less than my whole life back to him.”
If faithfulness includes our response to what God has already done, then today’s story from Luke’s Gospel gives us at least two options: Jesus says to all 10 lepers, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And 9 out of 10 listened. Faithfulness then is about obedience. Be a rule follower, keep the commandments, do what you’re told and make haste to the sanctuary, get diagnosed as ritually unclean, go through the rites of purification and become certified as clean. That’s a devout decision to be among the 90%. But do remember that to obey also literally means turning your back to Jesus and walking away from his presence without even a word of acknowledgment.
Or, the other option is to disobey. After his daughter was raised from the dead, Jesus told Jairus not to tell anyone. But he didn’t listen. After the two blind men had their sight restored, Jesus told them not to tell anyone. But they didn’t listen. After the unclean spirits were rebuked, Jesus told them not to tell anyone. But they didn’t listen. And after the Samaritan saw that his blistered skin had cleared, his infectious disease had passed, his banishment as a leper had ended, he didn’t listen either. Instead of going to the priests, he could no longer contain the exuberance of his body or his voice. Turning back and throwing himself at the feet of the divine physician, he screamed out, “Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus for healing me.”
Friends, the institution of religion has more than enough company men and women who always do what they’re told. But on this week of Thanksgiving, let us consider joining the 10%, let us be as irresponsible as the Samaritan with our thanks. If you’re going to be defiant, then do it in the name of doxology. If you’re going to ignore the instructions of the Master, then do it in the name of praise. If you’re going to disobey Jesus, then do it in the name of gratitude. If you’re going to disobey Jesus, then do it in the name of gratitude.
Luke’s Gospel doesn’t tell us what happened to the ten lepers. I would guess after the 9 returned to their lives back in society it occurred to a few of them to consider sending an obligatory note of appreciation. Maybe some mailed it in, maybe some didn’t. But the Samaritan, I’m almost certain he’s still out there somewhere sharing and shouting his good news because, after all, the point of Christianity isn’t the miraculous healing power of Jesus but rather our response to it.