Luke 17: 11-19
TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
TEXT: "... he turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he
prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him."
Many years ago a boat was wrecked in a storm on one of the Great Lakes. Rescuing teams were sent to help, including one made up of Northwestern University students. One student, a young man named Edward Spencer, rescued at least sixteen people from the sinking ship. When he was carried exhausted from the scene, he could only say, "Did I do my best? Do you think I did my best?" Years later, at a class reunion, one of the speakers recalled this act of heroism. Someone called out that Edward Spencer was present in the audience. Spencer was invited to come forward. Old and gray now, he made his way to the podium as the assembly cheered and applauded. The speaker asked him what in particular did he remember most about the event. "Only this," he replied, "of the sixteen or seventeen people I saved, not one of them thanked me."
One of the tangible ways in which they expressed their gratitude was to bring a portion of their material blessings to the place of worship and offer it to God.
Another tangible way in which these Old Testament people expressed their gratitude to God was through their God-given talents. They knew that they could use their abilities, their experience, their skills, their knowledge, to create something beautiful with which to say "Thank you" to God.
Moses had a sister named Miriam, and music was her thing. Having participated in the liberating Exodus experience, she wanted some specific, tangible way, of expressing the gratitude she and the others felt for God's saving Grace. So she composed a song, and she picked up her tambourine and she began to sing and dance. Over and over she sang the refrain, "Sing to the Lord, for He is gloriously triumphant."
This "Song of Miriam" is important not only historically (the little passage in Exodus where it appears is one of the oldest known fragments of the Old Testament literature) but also because it helps our understanding that one of the ways to express genuine thanksgiving is to create something beautiful for God.
And on into the New Testament. Here the event changes. No longer is the Exodus the decisive event. It is the same God who is acting with power and love, but now He acts by sending the Christ. And this Christ is the One in whom we see and experience the fullness of our life as human persons. This Christ is the One whom we follow on our quest to discover who we really are and what our life is really all about. This Christ is the Model par excellance of what it means to be fully human, what it means to be a whole person, what it means to be the person God created us to be. And The New Testament Community experienced this Christ Event with such overwhelming, contagious joy, that they put their whole beings into the expression of it. In so doing, they followed the example of Miriam, the sister of Moses. They used their talents to create something beautiful and offer it up to God as a sign and symbol of praise and thanksgiving.
What better example than Doctor Luke, the author of today's text! Luke's Gospel is a song of praise and thanksgiving. He takes the knowledge and the experience and the writing ability that he has and gives the world a beautiful Good News Gospel.
"Gratitude," someone has said, "is the memory of the heart." In today's Lesson, Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem when He encounters ten men who have leprosy. We soon discover that nine of them also have short memories. When the ten lepers see Jesus, they cry out, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us" (Lk. 17:13). They are pleading with Jesus to cure them of their terrible disease. And within that common cry for merciful healing lies a common faith -- a faith that this Jesus of Nazareth, whose fame had spread even to this isolated community of lepers, has the power to heal them in some miraculous way. Their faith is not misguided. Jesus says to them, "Go show yourselves to the priests," and immediately they are cured. Since lepers were forced to live in isolation, they would need to obtain the priests' official confirmation of their cure before they could return to their normal lives. Consequently, nine of the lepers head straight for the synagogue without even a backward glance. Only one turns back to express his thanksgiving to the Lord, when he realizes he has been cleansed. "Praising God with a loud voice," he falls on his face, at Jesus' feet, and gives Him thanks. Jesus then says to him, "Get up and go your way; your faith has made you well"(Lk. 17:19). Other translations say, "Your faith has made you whole" or "Your faith has been your salvation."
All ten lepers have faith in Jesus' healing power. But Luke makes it clear that Jesus speaks these words of salvation to only one of them. Clearly, the New Testament writer is trying to tell us that at the heart of genuine faith are the ingredients of praise and thanksgiving. Without them our expressions of faith are shallow and ultimately self-centered.
All through the Scriptures runs this same, deep life-enhancing truth: that the God of power and love acts, and through His action, calls forth our response of praise and thanksgiving.
In using your God-given talents to create something beautiful for God, you paint a picture. You write a poem. You compose a song. You repair something that is broken. You build a house. You plant a rosebush. You prepare a delicious meal. Every single one of us can do something tangible as a means of putting our whole selves into an expression of praise and thanksgiving to God.
We can't all paint pictures and we can't all write poems and we can't all build houses, and some of us are terrible cooks. But we all have some ability, and we can do what we can do for the glory of God. And it is never lost, you see. It becomes part of a style of life that opens up the channels for God's continuing Grace to flow through.
Having said that, I want to suggest that in a world like ours, perhaps the most beautiful and the most important thing we can create for God is a relationship with another person that is loving and healing and redeeming and good. Every one of us can do this. Before the week is over, your life will touch the lives of many other people. In the Spirit of Jesus Christ, you can work at creating relationships that are good, that recognize the integrity of other persons that calls forth their unique gifts and talents. And you can offer up these relationships as tangible signs of your praise and thanksgiving to God.
The tenth leper "turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving Him thanks." And Jesus said to Him, "Rise and go your way; your faith has been your salvation."
Your faith will make you well! Your faith will make you whole!