“Thankful for a Greater Blessing”                                                     October 13, 2013

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 & Luke 17:11-19                                                 Stephens City UMC

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

I.                   I have told this one before about the little boy named Johnny whose father was a pastor and whose mother was a nurse.

A.    Johnny had been outside playing after school and came in for supper.

1.     As he entered the house his mother instructed him to go wash his hands.

2.     He did and then sat down to eat.

3.     Having played hard he was ready to dig into the food when his father stopped him and called on him to ask the blessing.

4.     By now Johnny was exasperated and exclaimed, “God and germs. God and germs. That’s all I hear about and I’ve never seen either one of them.”

II.                 Our scripture passage from Luke is concerned with God and germs, particularly the germ known as mycobacterium leprae.

A.    According to the website Today I Found Out it is a bacteria that multiples slowly.

1.     The incubation period can last up to 20 years.

2.     It is not highly contagious although that was what people thought back in Jesus’ day.

3.     We now know that 95% of the world’s population is naturally immune to the disease.

4.     Transmission from human to human is through respiratory droplets, however, and I think this is odd – another possible way to get the disease is through contact with armadillos.

5.     After learning this fact I felt as your pastor that I should warn you to beware of handling armadillos.

6.     Seriously, untreated leprosy, can badly damage the nerves, limbs, skin and eyes.

7.     As the disease progresses the person experiences decreased feeling in the areas affected.

8.     The decreased feeling can leave the person unaware that they have bumped into something or even injured themselves which can lead to secondary infections.

9.     Leprosy can cause “foot drop” or claw hands and as the face becomes involved the person’s voice might begin to sound hoarse, and people lose their eyebrows and eyelashes.

10.             The nasal cavities can collapse, glaucoma gets into the eyes and some folks basically look like they’re extras in a zombie movie.

11.             Now days when leprosy presents people will be treated with multi-drug therapies which are very effective and those therapies can be combined with surgical options.

B.     But back in Jesus’ day the story was very different.

1.     If you thought you had leprosy you didn’t go to a doctor or a hospital, you went to a priest, a process described in Leviticus 13:2-3.

2.     The priest would take a good hard look and then do absolutely nothing to treat you.

3.     Instead you’d probably hear the heart-breaking words declaring you to be a leper.

4.     You had been identified as unclean so you were put out of the camp of Israel and isolated from your family and the rest of society.

5.     As Rex Bartley and James Jordan have written in an article entitled “Cleansed, But Not Healed,” “Everything the leper touched was defiled and unclean” so the leper’s life was completed ruined.

6.     The only way back was for the leprosy to somehow go away and if you thought that had happened you were to find a priest and show yourself to be certified as clean.

7.     This reverse process is described in Leviticus 14:2-3 and once you were pronounced clean you were restored to your family and to society.

III.              So in the story told by Luke Jesus and the disciples are walking to Jerusalem and the most direct route from where they had been was through Samaria.

A.    The Samaritans were marginalized by the Jews because they had historic differences over issues of belief and worship but while walking Jesus and the disciples encounter an unlikely community of ten men.

1.     All ten are lepers and apparently nine are Jews but one is a Samaritan.

2.     Had they had been healthy and wealthy they probably wouldn’t have had anything to do with one another, but sickness, poverty, misery and need had made them friends.

3.     They were all marginalized by their leprosy so Jesus and his disciples are walking on the margins of society which might be a hint as to where Jesus wants the church to be.

4.     Initially the lepers keep their distance but they do get close enough to call out for him to hear their plea for help.

5.     And upon seeing and hearing he responds, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”

6.     They are obedient to his command and as they went they are made clean.

7.     So it was like someone had taken a wash cloth and had wiped away all the dirt and decaying skin and replaced it with sparkling, squeaky clean skin.

8.     Remember when you were a very young child and your mother would put you in the bathtub and give you a bath?

9.      She’d scrub your face, the back of your neck, get your ears and in between your toes.

10.                         When mom was done scrubbing you like she’d do a pot or a pan, (and you gave thanks she didn’t use the Brillo pad on you), you knew you were clean.

11.                         The lepers back then won’t have known what caused their skin to be the way it was, but when it went back to being clean they knew.

12.                         Going to the priest was simply a check mark.

13.                         They knew they had been blessed for they had been cleansed.

B.     And this is where we get the twist in the story.

1.     There is one man who turns back.

2.     As he walks back to Jesus he is praising God in a loud voice just like a devout Jew would do while on his way to worship in the Temple in Jerusalem.

3.     In those days as you walked to worship or rode in a cart on or the back of a donkey you would sing the Psalms in a loud voice.

4.     You didn’t wait until you got to the Temple to begin singing and praising God, you’d sing and praise all along the way.

5.     Not only does the man do this, but he prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet.

6.     He is giving just about every sign to communicate that he doesn’t believe Jesus to be a mere man.

7.     Oh no, he is making it clear that he believes himself to be in the presence of God so it is right for him to render his thanks and praise.

8.     And who is doing this?

9.     The nine Jews?

10.                          No, it is the one Samaritan.

11.                          Jesus comments on the irony of the whole scene, and the pronouncement he makes is better than any priest could have made.

12.                          Jesus says, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)

13.                         The outsider, the marginalized one, the formerly rejected by even his rejected society, is the one who demonstrates true faith and we know this because Jesus says so.

14.                         He is the one who has saving faith, not cleansing faith, but saving faith.

IV.              Now, this isn’t easy but who are you in this story?

A.    We know you’re not Jesus – that was easy to figure out.

1.     Are you the disciples?

2.     Well, you’ve probably seen Jesus do some amazing things in your time, but my guess is that when Luke wrote his Gospel he wanted his readers to go further than that.

3.     Are you the nine obedient Jewish men who did as they were instructed?

4.     It was while they were on their way that they were cleansed of their disease, so shouldn’t that be the point of the story – be obedient and you’ll be blessed?

B.     Or are you the Samaritan?

1.     The one who pointed to Jesus as being much more than good with a wash cloth?

2.     It appears that this Samaritan had experienced more than a cleansing.

3.     You get the sense that he felt cleansed on the outside and on the inside.

4.     Sort of like his sin had been washed away and that he had been made new both outside and inside.

5.     He had certainly been blessed by the healing of his skin but it appears that he felt like his whole soul had been healed.

6.     Whatever distance he felt between himself and God no longer existed.

7.     Remember how when he was ill he had stood at a distance calling out to Jesus, but now he was there in the very presence of Jesus worshipping him because his experience told him that Jesus was God.

8.     This Samaritan was grateful for being restored to God and to his society and to himself.

9.     Is that you?

10.             Why did you come here today?

11.             To use one of our rest rooms in order to cleanse your hands using hot water and soap from the dispenser?

12.             Or did you come today to be in the presence of Jesus and to thank Him for a greater blessing than clean skin?

13.             Did you come this morning because you recognize that Jesus has made you whole and therefore it is right for you to worship Him?

14.             I can’t answer that for you, but let me suggest that in the next minute or two as we pray that you identify the level of blessedness you have experienced from Jesus and that you not remain at a distance continuing on your way but draw near to him in thanksgiving.

15.             When it comes to God and germs, maybe you haven’t seen a germ, but has your experience allowed you to see God, the God who has blessed you with more than a cleansing, but with the greater blessing of wholeness, restoration and salvation?

16.             Let us pray.