Our Goal: to Glorify God and Enjoy God Forever

Oct 09, 2022

Sermon 10-9-2022
18th Sunday of Pentecost
Text: Luke 17:11-19
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     If I suffered with a disease that turned me into an outcast, consigning me to be considered unclean and unable to come close to “normal” people without shouting out a warning, and was healed, you can bet I would go back and say “thank-you” to the source of my healing. That seems obvious, don’t you think?
     After all, in the first century those who had leprosy were excluded from society. People lived in dread of it, perhaps because the condition included everything from a suspicious looking skin blemish or rash to the highly contagious illness that destroyed skin and limbs. Those who were identified as lepers were forced to live outside of the community and to never interact closely with family and friends. It was even feared that crossing the shadow of one with leprosy was to risk infection. If they recovered from their ailment, they would have to present themselves to a priest, who could declare them ritually clean, allowing them to rejoin society. Other than that, though, they were outcasts for life.
     You’ll note that when the 10 lepers in today’s Gospel lesson begged for help from Jesus, shouting, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”, it was from a distance. One of them, though, was a double outcast, at least in the eyes of the Jews. He was a Samaritan and for that reason alone was viewed by those watching this drama unfold as an outsider and outcast, religiously unclean and unworthy of God’s grace. As one commentator noted, “Samaritans were a despised group, considered culturally inferior and theological and liturgical heretics.” The Samaritan was the enemy.
     Yet, all ten believed that Jesus had the power to heal them. When Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests, they all went without objection, even though they were not healed until they stepped out in faith. They are healed on the way. Presumably, the Samaritan would have gone to a Samaritan priest, since he would not have been allowed in a Jewish synagogue, cured of leprosy or not. Each one gets a new lease on life.
      But only one returned to thank Jesus and that one was the least likely to do so, at least in the minds of the disciples who are witnessing this event and those who hear the story later. Even if the others were busy seeing the priest first, thus doing what Jesus commanded, while the Samaritan intended to find a priest later, after thanking Jesus, the point is that he made doing so a priority. And there is no reference to the others showing up later.
     Were they too busy with their new lives? We can imagine that they were excited to return to their loved ones, to their professions, to ordinary everyday activities, like wandering from booth to booth in the market. Perhaps, to them, that was the priority. But not to the Samaritan, the one who was considered unworthy of God’s love is the one who was not just determined to thank Jesus, but to honor God. He understood that the place for him to do so is not at his holy site, Mt. Gerizim, but at the feet of Jesus.
     As a result, he was not just healed by his encounter with Jesus, he was transformed. Today’s reading ends with Jesus saying to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” But the closer translation from the Greek is, “Your faith has saved you.” The double outcast was named and claimed as God’s beloved. It is yet another example of Jesus shattering the boundaries that people construct.
     But that’s not the only message for us to consider. This account implies, writes commentator John Buchanan, “that faith and gratitude are very closely related, that faith without gratitude is not faith at all, and there is something life-giving about gratitude. Being grateful and saying thank you are absolutely at the heart of God’s hope for the human race and God’s intent for us.” (1)
      I’ve heard, and probably you have too, that there is a connection between gratitude and good health. For example, an essay titled, “Boost Your Health with a Dose of Gratitude”, cited evidence that grateful people, for whom gratitude is a permanent trait, have a health edge. While it may be that grateful people take better care of themselves, there is evidence that gratitude alone is a stress reducer, that grateful people are more hopeful, and that there are links between gratitude and the immune system. (2)
     Personal observation would cause me to agree with that; people who are grateful, regardless of their circumstances, are more content; they are spiritually healthy, which impacts being physically healthy, or at least being accepting of life’s imperfection and able to be at peace, or even joyful. One person can give thanks for a pleasant experience, while another thanks God for strength during hardship. Those are different expressions of gratitude, and in both cases to practice gratitude changes us.
     Commentator Scott Hoezee notes that the Westminster Catechism asks, in its opening question, “What is the chief goal of human life,” and the prescribed answer is, “To glorify God and enjoy God forever.” A chief way of doing so, he writes, is by thanking God moment by moment for the gifts God has lavished on us. Doing so should set the tone for our lives, which means Christians should be the most thankful people. (3)
     So, my friends, today we practice being grateful. We are thankful, above all else, for the grace of God in Jesus that made us God’s loved and forgiven children. We practice being grateful by reflecting on the ways God has been present in our lives to bless and support us. And, we practice being grateful by committing ourselves to sharing God’s gifts to us in this setting and beyond. That’s what Commitment Sunday is about...gratitude.
     Writer Anne Lamott says that her two favorite prayers are, in the morning, “Help me. Help me. Help me,” and at bedtime, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” May it be so for us, as well. AMEN
  1.  Feasting on the Word, edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, 2010 Westminster John Knox Press, pg. 169
  2. Same as #1
  3. “Commentary on Luke 17:11-19 by Scott Hoezee, Oct. 13, 2019, www.cepreaching.org