The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Luke 17:11-19

MARTIN LUTHER WAS ONCE ASKED WHAT HE WOULD CONSIDER TO BE TRUE WORSHIP OF GOD. WITHOUT HESITATION HE REPLIED, “THE LEPER WHO TURNED BACK.” WHILE WE USUALLY HEAR THIS GOSPEL TEXT AS A READING FOR THANKSGIVING DAY, IT IS ABOUT MUCH MORE THAN GIVING THANKS. HOPEFULLY YOU WILL RECALL THAT THE RECENT READINGS HAVE BEEN ABOUT FAITH, AND THIS PERISCOPE IS A CONTINUATION OF LUKE’S EMPHASIS ON FAITH. LAST WEEK WE HEARD THE DISCIPLES ASK JESUS TO INCREASE THEIR FAITH; THE IMPLICATION OF THEIR REQUEST IS THAT FAITH IS SOMEHOW A QUANTITY THAT YOU CAN HAVE IN GREATER OR LESSER DEGREE. JESUS’ REPLY TO HIS DISCIPLES IS THAT IF YOU ARE THINKING OF FAITH AS A QUANTITY YOU WILL NEVER HAVE ENOUGH. ONE OF THE PROBLEMS WE HAVE WITH OUR CONSIDERATION OF FAITH IS THAT WE OFTEN CONFUSE FAITH WITH INTELLECTUAL BELIEF. IT’S BEST, THEN, THAT WE CONSIDER FAITH FOR WHAT IT REALLY IS; AN UNCOMPROMISED TRUST IN GOD. WITH THAT UNDERSTANDING, LET’S LOOK AT THIS GOSPEL PASSAGE IN DETAIL.

LEPROSY WAS, AND IN SOME AREAS OF THE WORLD IS STILL, A TERRIBLE DISEASE. NO ONE DIES OF LEPROSY. WHAT HAPPENS IS THAT THE DISEASE DAMAGES THE BODY’S ABILITY TO FEEL ANY SENSATION, EVEN PAIN. IT STARTS AS A SPOT OR SPOTS WITHOUT FEELING, AND GRADUALLY SPREADS. WHEN CUTTING FOOD, ONE COULD SLICE OFF A FINGER AND NOT KNOW IT. WHEN SLEEPING NEXT TO A FIRE, ONE COULD ROLL INTO THE FLAMES AND BE UNAWARE OF THE CHARD FLESH. THE INFECTIONS THAT WOULD DEVELOP FROM DAMAGE TO THE BODY WOULD BE THE CAUSE OF DEATH. THIS IS WHY, IN THE FIRST CENTURY, LEPERS GATHERED TOGETHER; SO THAT THEY COULD WATCH OUT FOR EACH OTHER, AND HELP EACH OTHER WHEN NEEDED. THEY WERE UNCLEAN, AND LIVED IN COLONIES NEAR THE GARBAGE DUMPS OF VILLAGES, WHICH WERE THEIR SOURCE OF FOOD, OTHER THAN WHAT SOME KIND SOUL MIGHT TOSS TO THEM. THEY WERE OUTCASTS FROM THEIR HOMES, FAMILIES, RELIGION, AND ANY CONTACT WITH HEALTHY PEOPLE.

AS JESUS WAS PASSING THROUGH THE BORDER REGION BETWEEN SAMARIA AND GALILEE ON HIS WAY TO JERUSALEM, A COLONY OF TEN LEPERS CRIED OUT TO HIM TO HAVE MERCY ON THEM. THEY OBVIOUSLY HAD HEARD ABOUT JESUS’ HEALING OTHERS, SO, KEEPING THEIR DISTANCE, THEY CRIED OUT FOR MERCY. JESUS DOESN’T TOUCH THEM, OR EVEN COME CLOSER TO THEM, HE MERELY SAYS, “GO AND SHOW YOURSELVES TO THE PRIESTS.” AS THEY WENT, THEY WERE MADE CLEAN. NINE OF THEM CONTINUED ON THEIR WAY, BUT ONE TURNED BACK. NOW HERE IS WHERE WE USUALLY GET SIDETRACKED AND GIVE THE NINE WHO CONTINUED ON A BAD RAP. THEY DID EXACTLY WHAT JESUS TOLD THEM TO DO. THEY TOOK JESUS AT HIS WORD; THEY TRUSTED JESUS AND WERE DOING WHAT HE TOLD THEM SO THAT THEY MIGHT BE DECLARED CLEAN AND REUNITED WITH THEIR FAMILIES AND SOCIETY. THEY MERELY FORGOT A LITTLE THING LIKE THANKING GOD. MORE THAN LIKELY THEY WERE ALL GALILEANS, AND COULD GO TO THE PRIESTS. THE ONE WHO TURNED BACK COULD NOT GO TO THE PRIESTS, BECAUSE HE WAS A SAMARITAN, AND A PRIEST WOULD HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH HIM. EVEN THOUGH HE WAS CLEAN, HE WAS STILL AN OUTCAST.

WHEN HE SAW THAT HE WAS CLEANSED, HE TURNED BACK. WE CAN’T OVER-STRESS THE BIBLICAL CONCEPT OF “SEEING.” ALL OF THE LEPERS REALIZED THAT THEY WERE HEALED AS THEY WENT ON THEIR WAY, BUT THIS ONE “SAW” THAT HE WAS HEALED. HE NOT ONLY REALIZED HE WAS HEALED, BUT SAW THE IMPLICATIONS OF WHAT HIS BEING HEALED MEANT. HE TURNED BACK TO JESUS. TO TURN BACK TO GOD IS THE DEFINITION OF REPENTANCE, AND THIS MAN TURNED BACK TO JESUS, PRAISING GOD WITH A LOUD VOICE, AND THROWING HIMSELF AT THE FEET OF JESUS THANKING HIM FOR WHAT HE HAS DONE. HE “SAW” THE POWER OF GOD IN THE ONE WHO HEALED HIM; HE TRUSTED THAT IN THIS MAN, JESUS, THE GLORY OF GOD WAS PRESENT. THIS IS THE FAITH, THE TRUST, THAT JESUS COMMENDS WHEN HE SAYS, “GET UP AND GO ON YOUR WAY. YOUR FAITH, YOUR TRUST, HAS MADE YOU WHOLE.” THE WORD IN THE GREEK IS NOT “WELL,” AS IN PHYSICAL HEALING, BUT SOSA, RESTORED, OR WHOLE, OR SAVED.

THERE WAS NOTHING APPARENTLY WRONG WITH WHAT THE OTHER NINE DID; THEY HAD THEIR RELIGIOUS RITES TO OBSERVE, AND THEIR COMMUNITY TO REJOIN. THEY WERE IN SUCH A HURRY TO GET BACK TO THEIR RESTORED LIVES THAT THEY FORGET TO THANK THE ONE WHO RESTORED THEM. THIS MAN, THIS SAMARITAN, SAW THAT SOMETHING NEW HAD COME INTO THE WORLD. FOR HIM IT IS NO LONGER THE PRIESTS WHO GRANT ADMISSION TO GOD’S PRESENCE AND LOVE, BUT JESUS. THIS IS FAITH; TRUSTING IN GOD IN THE PERSON OF JESUS. THIS IS WHAT MAKES US WHOLE, RESTORED, SAVED; FAITH – TRUSTING IN GOD.

THE MIRACLE STORIES OF THE GOSPELS, ESPECIALLY THOSE IN LUKE, ARE SIGNS TO HELP US “SEE” THE POWER AND GLORY OF GOD IN JESUS, AND, IN SEEING, WE MIGHT WELCOME THE GIFT OF GOD’S GRACE WHICH COMES FROM THAT SEEING; THE GIFT OF FAITH – TRUST. THE PROBLEM A LOT OF US HAVE WITH OUR UNDERSTANDING OF FAITH IS THAT WE TEND TO CONTINUE TO SEE FAITH AS QUANTITATIVE. IF YOU HAVE FAITH YOU WILL BE HEALED. IF YOU HAVE ENOUGH FAITH YOU WILL BE HEALED IN THE WAY YOU WANT TO BE HEALED. I REMEMBER, WHEN I WAS A CHILD, MY MOTHER WATCHING ORAL ROBERTS’ MIRACLE SHOW EACH WEEK. SOME POOR PERSON ON CRUTCHES WOULD HOBBLE UP TO THE FRONT OF THE AUDIENCE WHERE ROBERTS WOULD PLACE HIS HANDS ON HIS OR HER HEAD, AND YELL “BE HEALED!” THE CRUTCHES WOULD BE CAST ASIDE, AND THE HEALED PERSON WOULD JUMP AROUND, OR DO A LITTLE DANCE OF REJOICING. I WAS NO MORE THAN FIVE YEARS OLD, AND I THOUGHT, “WELL, THIS IS STUPID. IF HE COULD DO THIS, WHY ISN’T HE A DOCTOR?”

WHILE I WON’T DENY THE ABILITY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT TO EFFECT A PHYSICAL HEALING, BECAUSE I HAVE BEEN A WITNESS TO ITS HAPPENING. WHILE I WAS TEACHING AT WEST POINT, MY CLASSMATE AND NEIGHBOR, RICH JONES WAS DIAGNOSED WITH CANCERS THROUGHOUT HIS BODY. 28 YEARS OLD. WITH TWO SMALL CHILDREN, HE WAS MEDICALLY DISCHARGED AND SENT HOME TO OKLAHOMA TO CHECK INTO HOSPICE CARE. HE WAS A MEMBER OF OUR LITTLE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY, AND WE PRAYED UP A STORM FOR HIM AND HIS FAMILY. HIS PROGNOSIS WAS TERMINAL, SO WE DIDN’T PRAY FOR HEALING, BUT COMMENDED HIM TO GOD’S CARE. A YEAR LATER, HE WAS CANCER FREE, HAD ANOTHER CHILD, AND RAN A SUCCESSFUL ACCOUNTING BUSINESS. THREE MONTHS AGO, I GOT A CALL FROM HIS PASTOR TELLING ME THAT RICH HAD DIED OF A FAILING HEART. RICH WANTED ME TO KNOW, AND TO ENCOURAGE ME TO CONTINUE TO TRUST GOD IN MY LIFE, AS HE DID EVERY DAY FOR THE 45 YEARS HE HAD BEEN RESTORED TO HEALTH.

A PHYSICAL HEALING IS, IN ITSELF, NOT THE IMPORTANT THING. IT IS A SIGN THAT POINTS US TOWARD THE POWER AND GLORY OF GOD IN OUR MIDST; THE GRACE OF GOD WHICH LEADS US TO AN UNCOMPROMISED TRUST IN HIM AND HIS LOVE. I HAVE ALSO BEEN A WITNESS TO MANY WHO, SUFFERING FROM AN ILLNESS OR DISEASE FOR WHICH THERE WOULD BE NO PHYSICAL HEALING, REMAINED FIRM IN THEIR TRUST IN GOD, NO MATTER WHAT WAS HAPPENING TO THEIR PHYSICAL BEING. WHILE THEIR BODY WITHERED AWAY, OR THEY WAITED FOR THEIR HEART TO STOP AT ANY MOMENT, THEY WERE MADE WHOLE, RESTORED, SAVED BECAUSE THEY TRUSTED IN THE GOD OF GRACE, WHO THEY HAD MET AND LOVED IN THE PERSON OF JESUS.

THE OPPOSITE OF FAITH IS NOT DISBELIEF OR DOUBT; IT IS FEAR. TRUST IN GOD MEANS WE CAN LIVE WITHOUT FEAR; FOR NO MATTER WHAT MAY COME IN THIS LIFE, IN OUR FAITH – OUR TRUST, WE HAVE BEEN MADE WHOLE AND RESTORED AS A CHILD OF GOD
AMEN

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