Two old friends met each other on the street one day. One looked forlorn, almost on the verge of tears. His friend asked, “What has the world done to you, my old friend?”
The sad fellow said, “Let me tell you: three weeks ago, my uncle died and left me forty thousand dollars.” “That’s a lot of money.”
“But you see, two weeks ago, a cousin I never even knew died, and left me eighty-five thousand dollars, free and clear.” “Sounds to me that you’ve been very blessed.”
“You don’t understand!” he interrupted. “Last week my great-aunt passed away. I inherited almost a quarter of a million from her.” Now the man’s friend was really confused. “Then, why do you look so glum?” “This week . . . nothing!”
In the scripture today, ten lepers are healed and one returns to give thanks. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem it says in Luke 17:11. He is on the border of Samaria and Galilee, Gallilee is a region within Israel, Samaria is a foreign nation ~ despised half brothers of Israel going back 700 years when Assyria invaded the northern tribes and intermarried with them, thus creating a polluted people in the minds of the Jews. Ten lepers spot Jesus in this no-man’s land between the two nations. Lepers are outcasts, feared, they band together, required to stand at a distance so as to not to spread the terrible disease. We in the U.S. don’t really know what leprosy is (today it’s called Hansen’s disease)... in the worst case it eats away the flesh…
Who are the lepers? Yesterday Sally and I were honored to spend a few hours with our old friend Hippie, who is living in a tent in Bellingham, (he showed us so I can check on Him). We took him to the nursing home to see Cliff, who is dying. We went over to the hospital to see Linda Raymond… in our travels he told us about the network of friends, the people on the street, the places to eat. He knew of another man that is getting set up with hospice, ready to die. Hippie said in thinking of that man, “I don’t care how much trouble a person’s gotten into, he needs to be loved and he is capable of giving love.”
The lepers are those that feels inadequate, the lonely, hurting, confused, we are living in a world where hope is slipping away, people are fighting to see the good, to lift up our eyes. Lepers often find the company of other lepers, others who can understand, find a measure of comfort… that’s a great description of the church at it’s best…
I am thinking Hippie’s description of his friend is not too far off the mark of the way Jesus thinks: “Everyone needs to be loved and everyone is capable of giving love.” This week keep that thought in the forefront of your mind as you go into the world and see people in all situations…When you are hit with a wave of depression, a sense of hopelessness, apply those words to yourself as well: “Everyone needs to be loved and is capable of giving love.” Perhaps the greatest miracle in this scripture is not that the lepers are healed, but rather, the lepers know they can approach Jesus.
Jesus instructs the ten in Luke 17:14 to go to the priest. The priests are designated to examine lepers and other diseases. On their way, they are healed, which brings us to the central theme of this passage: giving thanks.
I see at least two angles of applying this story. The lesser lesson: as you enter active service to the Lord, if you expect to be thanked every time you help another person, you will be disappointed. Ten were healed but only one said thank-you.
10% is not an absolute formula… One reason funerals are so meaningful from the perspective of the pastor is that the vast majority of people are so thankful. Weddings not nearly as much… it’s not that I need to be thanked, but it sure is a lot of fun being around people that are so genuinely thankful. Not everyone is thankful, but some are….
Have you met Bill yet? A few weeks ago I mentioned the Las Vegas shooting. Bill, Carol and Kari moved from Las Vegas, recently. they know the city. After the service Bill told me how amazed and thankful he was for the citizens of Las Vegas who acted so courageously. How the first responders looked for the license plates of Las Vegas residents to help because they just knew those folks would rise up to the occasion for transportation, helping. I love the quote from Mr. Rogers that has been circulating recently: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Some will give thanks when you serve them, but others will take advantage, think it is their right to receive, complain, or just plain indifference. Serve anyway. Surely this is a lesson from Jesus Christ who healed the lepers and only one gave thanks. God showers grace upon all, improves the lives of all people, loves all without condition, Common grace is things like breath, medicine, life.
The first lesson in thanksgiving is that not everyone expresses thanks. The second lesson is for us to strive to be the one that does return. .All ten lepers were healed, but only one returned, gave thanks, and received wholeness. Be that leper. Some things are more important than physical healing like spiritual health, a revival of your spirit, affirmation of your soul, and the promise of eternal life with Jesus Christ. When Jesus says in Luke 17:19, “rise and go, your faith has made you well,” he is talking to a man who has already been declared disease free, yet the Lord bestowed upon him a greater gift of wholeness, a transformation of His Spirit. The promise of Salvation is a promise for all people, but it is made complete only for those who are receptive to the promise.
A spirit of thanksgiving is to admit you have needs that can be filled by others. May thanksgiving become a way of life allowing us to find wholeness through Jesus Christ. Sometimes people ask me how they can grow in their faith. How about practicing the discipline of Thanksgiving. Become a thankful person.
I’ve heard it said that one of the most difficult things to do is to move the heart. Our feelings define us. We excuse ourselves because our heart is not wired for certain expressions. Through help with the Lord Jesus Christ, I believe our hearts can be changed.
As I was studying for this message, I had a strange thought… Have you heard of the Fruit of the Spirit? a list of qualities that are to characterize believers, not that we live them perfectly but in our walk with the Lord we are pointed in this direction of Christian character. Here’s a poster… [READ] Question. How come Thanksgiving isn’t part of this list? I’d think Thanksgiving would be a good candidate.
I turned to lists of Spiritual gifts, 25 or 30 gifts are listed in different parts of scripture, things like preaching, teaching, administration, serving… the Bible says everyone has some of the gifts but nobody has all of them… together we serve God using each of our gifts as given by God. Encouragement is a gift. Giving is a gift. All are called to give but some have a gift for it… Thanksgiving is not on the list.
Thanksgiving is not listed with the Fruit of the Spirit nor is it one of the Spiritual Gifts. How are we to understand Thanksgiving because clearly it is a good and necessary part of our Christian walk?
I put Thanksgiving in the category of the Disciplines of the Christian Faith. There are certain activities the Bible says we are to put into practice in our lives as a means to serving God and growing in our commitment: worship, church fellowship, reading the Bible, prayer, fasting, meditation, studying…. Richard Foster in his transforming book, Celebration of Discipline, makes so much sense when he explains that none of the disciplines do anything for our salvation by themselves, going to church does not make you a Christian, praying doesn’t mean you are a better Christian, fasting once a week isn’t a magic formula to move God’s heart. All disciplines of the Christian faith have the greater purpose of making it more likely you will hear from God. By reading the Bible as a regular habit you are inviting God to speak to you, to grow in your understanding. A worshipping Christian is taking time to hear from God, to learn, to give your heart to Him. The person who disciplines themselves to become a thankful person is more likely to hear from God! .
When I was young, (some of you are probably not going to believe this), but my mother was kind of mean. At Christmas time my grandmother and aunt from Boise would send a huge box of presents. We had as much fun playing in the giant box as the presents themselves. They were almost always good presents (except maybe that bright green hand knit sweater with matchng hat and mittens). After the presents were open, my mean mother made me write thank you notes. Don’t tell me you can’t force the heart. It is good to think of Thanksgiving as a discipline because sometimes you may not feel like it. The Bible doesn’t say the nine lepers were bad people, God loved them, they needed to be loved, they just cut the miracle short by not giving thanks.
Maybe you don’t feel like praying! Pray anyway and soon you will find yourself in the presence of God. Don’t feel like going to church? Make it a habit anyway and you will find yourself changed by God. Maybe you don’t feel like giving thanks. Give thanks anyway! A thankful person opens themselves up to hear from God…. Isn’t that exactly what happened to the leper? He took the time, it was deliberate, he just felt like he needed to go back to Jesus and say thank you. And when he went back to Jesus that is precisely what enabled him to hear from God, “your faith has made you well.” Through thanksgiving the leper found wholeness because his heart was ready to hear God’s proclamation of transformation. God loves all people. Common grace is for all. Even a Samaritan… Even you. “Everyone needs to be loved and everyone is capable of giving love.” A spirit of thanksgiving will open up your world, lighten your heart, expand your vision, see others for their loveliness. “Everyone needs to be loved and everyone is capable of giving love.”
ANYONE can become a thankful person. As a discipline of Christian fiath that means you must deliberately put it into practice. Maybe you don’t feel like it sometimes, do it anyway. Thanksgiving is a foundational attitude that paves the way for an abundance of other blessings. The thankful person focuses on the positive., The Thankful person becomes aware of grace. The thankful person discovers peace and assurance. Add the discipline of Thanksgiving to your life. The Lord Jesus Christ blesses all people with common grace, but being a thankful person is an invitation for the Lord to bless you even more. Amen.
EXTRA MATERIAL edited out of the notes:
I find it fascinating the Bible does not tell us which priest Jesus sent them to: we always assume it is the priest in the Jerusalem Temple, but why do we assume that? He is on the border of Israel and Samaria. The Samaritans also worship the same God, the Samaritans had priests…at least one of the lepers is a Samaritan, it doesn’t say the nationality of the other nine… Perhaps there is a lesson in this to remind us that we need to value other Christian expressions that are unlike us. If others worship the same God, the same Lord, believe Jesus is the only way to salvation, then I say thank you Lord for the many different churches with a variety of flavors.
One person (Ray Pritchard) pointed out what he sees as the significance of the ten lepers being healed after they left Jesus “as they went” on the way. Ray P. sees in this an active faith. They weren’t healed and then sent to the priest, but sent and then healed. When Jesus sent them to the priest he in effect is saying to the lepers, “Act as if you are healed.” Abraham showed us the same faith when God tells him to go to another place and become a great nation, the text specifically says he started on the journey without knowing where he was going. I am the world’s worst job interviewer ~ I just can’t sell myself. My father used to tell me to just say yes to anything they ask and I could learn. Bill won’t remember this, but one time I said yes to driving a stick shift. An old truck back and forth between the field and barn pulling loaded hay wagons.
Start on the journey, go out to the people even if you don’t know what you are doing, act as if the prayer is answered. If you choose to wait till everything is just right you may spend a lifetime as a passive disciple. While they are on their way all ten are healed.