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Science Hill Community Church

No Thanks!

No Thanks!

Luke 17:11-19

 

Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

 

Prayer

          In honor of one of the holiest days of the year for my wife (Black Friday) I’d like to tell a story about things on sale that I learned as a child from my home church pastor, Dr. Charles Yoost.  Charlie attended seminary in Boston, and, as a poor student, he never had much money.  But there was a local store in Boston called Filene’s Basement that was known for having great deals, so Charlie did a lot of shopping there.

          One day, Charlie was shopping at Filene’s with a friend when he came across a new suit in his size for only $10.  Envisioning a future in ministry, this looked like a real buy.  Charlie took the suit off the rack, went to a changing room, and tried it on.  His friend looked him over. 

          “It’s a beautiful suit,” he said.  “And it fits you just right.  There’s only one problem – one sleeve is longer than the other.”  It was true.  But Charlie realized that if he just crooked his one arm like this, it pulled the sleeve up so that it looked like they were the same length.

          “Uh oh,” said his friend.  “There’s a small hole in the material on one of the legs.”  Sure enough, there was a spot of missing fabric that detracted from the overall suit.  But Charlie discovered that if he twisted his leg a little like this, it hid the hole and no one would be the wiser.

          But then his friend found a third flaw in the suit: there was some kind of stain right on the lapel.  But Charlie found the solution to this problem, too: if he held his arm up like this, no one could see the stain.

          About this time, an older couple entered the store and began shopping.  Charlie and his friend overheard the man say to his wife: “Oh, look at that poor disabled man over there.”

          To which his wife replied, “Yes, but look how well that suit fits him!”

          Of course, the real holiday this week is not Black Friday, but Thanksgiving.  And yet, sometimes I wonder - Do we really need Thanksgiving?  I mean, as a holiday, Thanksgiving is often just treated as a sort of kick-off promotion for the Christmas season.  It used to be that Christmas marketing didn’t begin until after Thanksgiving, with the Macy’s Parade and Black Friday and all the decorations going up.  But you know as well as I do that Christmas has been creeping forward for years.  Even now, most stores have their ornaments already up and their sales already out.  Do we really still need Thanksgiving?  We apparently don’t need it to be a kick-off promotion for Christmas.

          And it’s not like we need the calories, right?   I mean, take a look at me.  I need a time of fasting more than a time of feasting!  Do I really need a day renown for a huge meal, stuffing myself with stuffing, making a turkey out of myself with turkey, adding rolls to my rolls.  Sorry for all the corn-y jokes.  I’m really milk-ing this bit, when really these comments should just be gravy.  I guess I’m a ham.  Anyway, the point is that it’s not like we need Thanksgiving to make sure we’re eating enough.

          Some have argued that we need Thanksgiving to be reminded of our nation’s history – you know, the peaceful co-existence of the Pilgrims and Indians that we learned about in school.  How our forefathers came to the New World to escape religious persecution and bravely settled the land, taming the wilderness.  Except now we’re told that those accounts are just a myth.  The new perspective is that our ancestors despoiled the land, pillaged the Indians – I mean, Native Americans – and manifest destinied the environment into oblivion.  That’s kind of a downer.  I don’t need Thanksgiving to make me feel guilty.

          So do we really need Thanksgiving?  I would argue absolutely.  Because you know that the heart of Thanksgiving isn’t the turkey and the potatoes and the cranberries.  It’s not the football and it’s not the history.  It’s not kicking off Christmas.  It’s not even really family get-togethers.  As good and pleasant as any of those things are, they aren’t the heart of Thanksgiving.

          The reason for Thanksgiving can be found right in its name – it’s a time for giving thanks, and that’s also the reason why it’s so important.

          Nobody likes an ingrate.  My mom taught me that – “Don’t be an ingrate!” she would say.  And she was right.  Thanksgiving reminds us of the importance of gratitude, of giving thanks, even when there’s nothing else that we have to give or offer.  That brings us to our scripture reading this morning.

          There are three principles of gratitude that we can learn from the thankful, healed leper in this story.  Maybe we can even apply these principles to our own situations this Thanksgiving.

          First, Gratitude is a matter of personal decision, not groupthink.

          You tell me.  Is this really a story about Jesus and ten lepers – or a story about Jesus and one leper?  We know that Jesus did a lot of healings.  Perhaps this story wouldn’t have even made it into the Bible if Jesus had healed ten lepers and they had all simply gone on their way.  Matthew, Mark, and John chose not to include this story.  But Luke seems struck by the fact that one of the ten broke away from the pack and returned to thank Jesus.  There is an individuality to this one who, even though a foreigner, seeks a connection with Jesus and needs to express his thanks.  Crowds are good at many different things: cheering on sports teams, filling up stores, occupying Wall Street, whatever.  But drawing near to the Lord isn’t one of them.  That’s personal.  And sometimes you need to have the courage to step away from the crowd and to be known as the one, rather than just the one among many.

          Second, gratitude is a matter of action, not inertia.

          If you had taken a poll of healed lepers that day, I bet that ten out of ten would have reported that they felt thankful.  It’s just that nine out of ten didn’t do anything about it. There is a difference between feeling thankful and doing what Jesus commended.

          The difference is that this one leper actually did something about his feelings.  First, he stopped and turned around.  Then he praised God with a loud voice.  Finally, he fell at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him.  Hopefully we all know what gratitude feels like – but this is what gratitude looks like.  The healed leper didn’t go along with the inertia of the crowd and get caught up in the moment of having his life back.  He stopped, turned around, and thanked the One who had made it possible. 

          Finally, gratitude is a matter of who God is, not who you are.

          Both Luke and Jesus draw attention to the noteworthy fact that this one healed leper who so distinguished himself through his thankfulness wasn’t a Jew or fellow countryman to Jesus – he was a Samaritan.  In Jesus’ day, lepers were despised, and Samaritans were despised.  I can only imagine what it would have been like to be a Samaritan leper – it’s a double whammy.  Jesus had blanket mercy upon the ten – yet the one who came back and thanked him was the one you might think least likely of all.  And I believe that teaches us that when it comes to gratitude, it doesn’t matter who you are.  It only matters who God is, as the recipient of our thanks.  The Samaritan knew that.  

          Most people probably feel that they are thankful, enough.  But gratitude itself doesn’t really mean much unless we express it by stepping out from the crowd, actually doing something to show it, and making our response about God rather than about ourselves.  That’s what the example of the healed leper shows us. 

          This week, I encourage you to take the time to actually express your thankfulness to the Lord.  Don’t practice the groupthink of our culture when it comes to Thanksgiving and focus on all the diversions and the trappings – the food, the football, the sales.  Rather, remember that this holiday is all about thanks, and make a personal, conscious decision to be thankful.  And then don’t let the inertia of the busyness of the season carry you away – take a stand and take action to express your gratitude in a concrete way.  Don’t just feel your thankfulness – show it so that others may see what it looks like.  Finally, remember that our thankfulness ultimately isn’t about us or even about what’s been done for us – instead it’s all about the One we thank, the ultimate Giver in our lives: God, the One who deserves all praise, glory and thanks.  Amen.

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