Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 10, 2004
The Gospel: Luke 17:11-19
Sermon: "We are the Nine"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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."
We are the Nine
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost - October 10, 2004
In Martin Bell's book, The Way of the Wolf, he has a short story called 'Where Are the Nine?' In this story he gives credible explanations for why the nine other lepers did not return. Three of those examples are as follows. One of the healed lepers did not return because he had lost the ability to say thank you. For years he had been on the street begging for a few coins from every person who passed. At the beginning he said thank you to everyone, but as time went on he lost the ability to say thank you. It is hard to say thank you when you are ostracized and in great need. Over time it is almost impossible. One leper simply went home. This leper had a family before the disease struck. She had a husband and children and she had not seen them in many years. She was cured and she ran straight home to her family. The third example is one of the most interesting; he forgot. This leper of the nine was so exuberant and so ecstatic that he simply forgot. In his joy of being released from bondage he simply forgot to turn and say thank you. These are three reasons, perfectly rational reasons, why some of the lepers did not return. He offers six other credible reasons for the remainder of the nine. The question has to be asked why does he offer these reasons? Why does he find it necessary to explain why they did not return and give thanks?
I do not profess to know all of his reasons, but I can see one of them. Over the years the nine who did not return have been ostracized in sermons and writings. They have been condemned by others because they did not return and give thanks. They have been called names. They have been branded as thoughtless, unrepentant, and wrongful people. If I am not mistaken have they not been put right back into the prison from which they were released. This prison is not a disease. This prison has no law to bind them. This prison is of our own making. We brand them and ostracize them. We claim the nine to be unworthy of the gift they have received. We claim they have failed to give thanks for God's graciousness and generosity. Little do we know we have just convicted ourselves.
Think for a moment about the one who did return. The scriptures tell us that when he realized he was healed he turned around and went back to Jesus. He stopped what he was doing and returned immediately to the source of his great gift. On the way back he praised God continually for the mercy he received. Upon his return he fell at Jesus' feet and thanked him. To top it all off he was a Samaritan. He was not one of the chosen race of Israel. He didn't go to the Temple and offer the proper sacrifices. He was ostracized by the Jewish community because of where he was born, who his parents were, and what he believed about God even before he came down with leprosy. Yet, he is the only one to return and give thanks to God for God's abundant grace and mercy. We consider him the hero.
Yet, how would we react? I know we all would like to think we would have done exactly what the Samaritan did. We would have returned, praising God and worshiping Jesus as Lord and Savior. Yet, in our minds isn't there just that little bit of doubt? Do we know why that doubt is there? The doubt is there because of how we live our lives right now. We do not give appropriate thanks to God in our lives now for God's grace and mercy.
Think about our daily lives and let's ponder a few questions.
Do we praise God for the grace and mercy God has shown us in our lives daily?
Have we shared with others the story of God's redeeming grace in our lives, not once, but continually?
Do we respond to God's grace by giving freely of our time, talent and treasure?
Do we give God the glory for our abilities or do we believe we did it all on our own?
I believe if we are honest with ourselves we just might find more of ourselves with the nine than with the one. So, what is the answer? How do we correct this situation in our lives?
First of all, we give praise where it belongs.
Everything we have is a gift from God. Our families, our friends, our children, our houses, our jobs, our very existence is a gift from God. So, the first thing we can do is simply say thank you. We say thank you each and every day, over and over again.
Secondly, we use the gifts we have been given to show our thankfulness for God's love. Each of us has been given time on this earth. For some that time will be longer than others. This time is of life is an incredible gift. It is a time to give and receive love. It is a time to learn how to forgive. It is a time to glorify and worship God our Creator. Using our time to love, to forgive and to worship is an important part of growing in our relationship with God.
Third, we use the individual talents we have been given to share God's love. Each one of us has been given incredible gifts to help share the love of God in this community. Identifying them and using them are important responses to God's grace and mercy.
Fourth, we share of our treasure. We often have the mistaken concept that money is the most valuable thing we have. God is the most valuable aspect of our lives. We don't have God. God has us. Our job is one of our talents. The money from the job is what we receive for using our talents. Like the farmers of old who brought their gift to the altar, we too, bring our gift to the altar. The treasure we offer is a direct thanksgiving we offer to God for our livelihood, our health, our joy and even our sorrow. God is there for it all.
Finally, God is present for it all. God is always more ready to give than we are to receive. Ten lepers were healed by Jesus. Only one returned to give thanks. The other nine were still healed. The other nine were not stricken again with the disease. They were not given some other malady. God's grace and mercy still followed them. All ten were and still are children of God. Therefore, the last thing we do is the same as the first thing we do. We give thanks. We give thanks for a gracious and loving God. We offer ourselves to God to use as God wills. We pray each and every day to be more like the one. We ask this prayer because even though we sit in these pews, even though we pray, even though we offer our gifts, we are often like the nine. The only way we are more like the one is through God's help. And all God's people say, AMEN