The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Luke 17:11-19

 They were only doing what Jesus had told them to do, the nine that did not return to him and give praise to God. So, why was Jesus surprised? Or maybe he wasn’t surprised at all, except by the one that did return, the one that couldn’t stay away but came back to Jesus to acknowledge the healing and blessing bestowed on him.

Leprosy or as we know it today, Hansen’s disease, was and is a terrible affliction. It causes weakness and numbness in the limbs and deterioration of the extremities and face, the loss of fingers and toes, the nose and ears and lips. It’s a horrible thing, AND it’s contagious to a degree; you can catch it from other people, though not easily. It takes a at least a transference of bodily fluids or the ingestion of affected tissue. Today the disease is actually on the rise, especially in third world countries where sanitary conditions are poor. But, Today, it is also highly treatable and almost always curable. Mycobacterium leprae, the bacterium from which Hansen’s disease develops, succumbs easily to antibiotics.

But that is today. In Jesus’ day, they didn’t know about bacteria or antibiotics or rates of infection. They didn’t know the cause of the disease or the way it was transferred from one person to the other. So, leprosy was pretty much a death sentence for the one afflicted and expulsion from the community from the moment of detection. Lepers were required to live outside of town in camps. Some of them actually habituated cemeteries, using tombs as their shelters or homes. Whenever a leper came into proximity with another person, they were required to call out, “unclean” to let people know who they were – what they were, so people could avoid coming to close to them. That is why the gospel says, “keeping their distance, they called out” to Jesus. Because they weren’t allowed to come any closer to him.

“…Have mercy on us,” they said to Jesus, and he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” which was a requirement for anyone with the disease. To be declared cured and clean from leprosy, the infected person had to be examined by a priest and pronounced well before they could reenter the community as “clean” person.

So that is what the ten were doing, that is where they were going, to show themselves to the priests, just as Jesus had commanded them. And you might say, they were doing this in faith, because they were not yet healed. Luke says, while they were on their way, “as they went, they were made clean.” They went in faith in trust that Jesus would make them well.

When they are healed, nine go on their way, following directions, doing as they were told to do, but one returns. One, knowing that he is healed, about to get his life back, his family and friends back, his place in the community restored, takes the time to return to Jesus and, in thanksgiving, to praise and bless the Lord for what has been done for him.

One-in-ten. That number seems about right, even today. How many of us live our lives aware of the blessings God has given us, but go on our way day after day, never really stopping to acknowledge and praise God and say, “thank you,” every day, for all of it?

How many of us are quick to call out to God when our lives are in trouble and we need help or healing, but once our prayers are answered, we put our thoughts and prayers and gratitude to God away until the next time we need him?

How many of us truly place a priority on giving praise to God by regular attendance at worship on Sundays, or is church something we do if nothing else gets in the way? I’m always amazed at how quickly Christians can scratch a church function off their calendars if something else should come up, but how reluctant and unwilling we are to cancel any other commitment, social or otherwise, for a church event. It’s almost unthinkable – it doesn’t really resonate with us – that we might actually put God or God’s church first, over these other things.

In our financial giving, do we give back to God out of the abundance God has given us, truly, or do we give our leftovers, after all our other commitments and needs and wants are satisfied?

For many Christians, religion and faith have become almost trivial things, or we, at least, take God for granted.

For most of us, maybe nine out of ten of us, though we claim to be followers of Christ, we don’t follow very closely, do we? We have great expectations of God: to be there for us when we need him, to continue to bless our lives with good things, to care for us and our families; but what is it that we do to gain God’s good favor towards us. What expectations might God have for us? What can God expect in return? Faithfulness? Devotion? Putting God first before all other things?

Probably not, from nine out of ten. That is why Jesus is so surprised and pleased that the one returns to give him thanks. That is why it pleases God so when Christians take their faith seriously enough to show true devotion and love in his name. To pray and worship and give in thanksgiving – in return – for what God has done for them. To put God first above all other things. That is what God wants from us. That is what God expects of us. And how often we fail. Maybe nine out of ten times.

Paul’s words from this morning’s epistle are both a promise and a warning for us. He reminds us that the God who died for us, who gave his very life for us, was raised from dead, so that we might have salvation and the gift of eternal life. He also reminds us that though grace may come undeserved, it isn’t free. There is a cost (to discipleship).

“This saying is sure,” Paul says: “if we have died with [Christ], we will also live with [Christ]; if we endure, then we shall reign with him. But if we deny him, then he will deny us. [So] do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed . . .”

In other words, if you have expectations of God, then be about meeting God’s expectations of you. Serve God, witness for God, Do not fail to give thanks to God through your words AND your actions, what you say AND what you do. Return to the Lord from what the Lord has given you.

The ten lepers were doing what Jesus had told them to do. They were on their way to show themselves to the priests and be pronounced well. They were excited. After years of being cursed, outcast, alienated from society, they were on their way to a renewed life and a reunion with their families and friends and community. But one, one of them stopped, one of ten, and put all that on hold – all those precious things – for a more important thing: to first return to Jesus and give thanks and praise for all of it. Will you do the same for all that God has given and done for you? In your commitment to God? In your worship? In your giving? In your service? Will you put God truly first in your life? Will you return to Jesus in thanksgiving and faith and be made well, in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.