This is a transcript from the November 24, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
Our passage this morning, it's in your bulletin, and it's one of those passages that has the delightful capacity to surprise us even though we've heard it a number of times. I find that throughout the Bible that there are those times when we go on our way and every day looks the same and we're not expecting anything different, and then by the grace of God, something cuts across our consciousness and it startles us, it causes disequilibrium, it causes a crack between what we expected and what we are finding, what we know and what we don't know, and it's in that moment something can move in that wasn't there before.
Just ask Moses. As he was walking the desert, as he had decided his life was pretty much over in terms of any eventful kinds of things. He's walking along and he sees this bush that's burning. Nothing, all that unusual about burning bushes in the desert, but this one didn't stop burning. It kept burning, and it caused a moment. It was, "Wait. what?" In that moment there was the possibility of an encounter with God.
Consider all the people who followed Jesus, they would follow along, and here was this teacher who was coming through and doing things. Then he would say something or he would say something old in a new way and people would go, "Wait. What?" They would turn aside and they would come find out more. It was in that moment, just that little bit of a crack between what was expected and what was unexpected that there was a possibility for an encounter with God.
Or when this same teacher, when Jesus came and as he was working and telling stories, He would tell stories or do things that intentionally were meant to twist and just turn the occasion just enough, so that if you were watching, you might notice and turn your head and it's in that moment, always in that moment that there's a crack, where there's the possibility for grace to teach us, to lead us, maybe change us.
That's what this passage is about. I'm going to read it. It's a passage that you may have heard before. It's not a minor passage by any means, but I'm going to invite you to listen to it as if you were listening to it for the first time. That it might catch us, catch us afresh and maybe make us fresh as well.
It says, on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus was going through the region, that region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village 10 lepers approached Him, and keeping their distance, they called out saying, "Jesus, master, have mercy on us." When He saw them he said to them, go, go and show yourselves to the priests. And as they went they were made clean.
This is in itself one of those stories that made people turn their heads. That's why so many people followed. Here was something that was new. Here was somebody who spoke with authority. That in and of itself is what we have come to expect of Jesus. But if we read further, this starts to take some different twists and turns for us this morning.
"One of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus's feet and thanked him and he was a Samaritan." For those of us 2,000 years on the other side of this story, we have come used to the idea that there was something surprising that Jesus would do with outsiders, Samaritans, who were considered basically heathens. They were considered untrustworthy. They are a common foil that Jesus uses to get people's attention because here's a Samaritan who's not supposed to know anything about God, or everything he knows is supposed to be wrong, and yet somehow Samaritans keep getting it right. That's supposed to turn our heads, but there's even more to that.
"Jesus asked, 'We're not 10 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, go on your way, your faith has made you well.'"
There is something that's troubling and curious about this passage if we let it be. There's something that's troubling and curious about this passage that asks us some different kinds of questions. It is enough, of course, that there is a Samaritan and the Jews, the people who aren't supposed to know God and the people who are. It's perhaps not surprising that they would hang out together, these lepers. Lepers are the people in those days who were isolated, they were feared, they were loathed.
They represented all that was wrong. In those days, if you were sick, if you had leprosy or anything bad happened to you, it was assumed that it was probably because something you had done or not done, or somebody who you knew had done something wrong. That was the common understanding. Not only were you sick and dangerous and contagious, there was something about you that people would do well to stay away from, and so they would isolate. As so often happens, it doesn't matter who you are anymore, pain forms its own kind of communities. There are Samaritans and Jews and everything else around when you're hurting, it is its own community.
That's perhaps not as surprising, but there is something else that is happening and it happens with this idea that there is healing without believing the right thing. The Samaritan who didn't necessarily believe the right things about God in his day, maybe he would have been a leper in his own way just because of who he was, and yet he gets healed just like everybody else. But then it goes a little bit deeper. Here's the surprising thing about this passage, there's healing and then there's being made well.
All 10 are healed of leprosy, and leprosy is no small thing. Leprosy is the scourge of the ancient world in the first century. It is the scourge and it would isolate and it would eventually kill you, so there is no small thing. But isn't it interesting that all 10 are healed, but at the end of the day He says to the one who comes back and gives thanks, you've been made well?
Evidently, evidently according to this pattern, there's a cycle of gratitude. Something is received, it’s received as a gift. Then that gift elicits gratitude. Then that gratitude opens us up to the needs of others and we give. Then as we give, that starts the cycle over again, it is now there's more reason for thanksgiving and gratitude. We all get bigger. The world gets larger, God's work is increased, it becomes part of the good news of God.
Now it's not automatic. It's not as simple. Obviously, it’s a little simple parable that takes place in a half block, but the principle is still there, as is the principle of there are ways to stop the cycle. At what point could we have shut down that cycle? At what point would that story have ceased? It would have been the first time someone had received something either not as a gift, they might've still been annoyed, they might've still had been self-absorbed, or they received it and it didn't elicit gratitude, or they could have received it, felt grateful, but then not extended themselves and become generous, and it goes around and around. Instead of becoming larger and larger, then it starts to implode on itself and everybody is smaller, and God's work doesn't get done, and God's character isn't expressed.
This morning, we have participated in the cycle of gratitude as we do every day. Every day we have that chance to wake up and do something. Every day we get to receive the things that we have been given as a gift or as an entitlement. We get to become grateful or just stay self-absorbed. We get to open ourselves up and become generous or just stay small and tight, fearful. Then it gets offered and now it becomes, it belongs to somebody else. We get to be a part of that.
I'm convinced, I'm just convinced in the core of my bones, if you want to grow a person's soul, pay attention to expressions of gratitude and generosity. There's a reason in the five by five, that piece that helps people grow, that so many things have to do with expressing gratitude and rejoicing and in giving. Those are the two great movements by which we experience and extend the very character and nature of God.
I'm going to end it there for us today. I'll pick up some more of the other things next week. I wanted to land here on this day as we're bringing in pledges, this day as we are thinking about what God has to do in and through us. That we get to be a part of, and we are invited by God to be part of the ever expanding cycle of gratitude.
Good and gracious God, keep us open, keep us aware, keep us receptive, that we might have the eyes to see to recognize, and then the hearts that are able to respond. That our hearts are aligned with your heart. Our actions are extensions of your actions and our vision is tuned to yours, through Christ we pray. Amen.