“What’s the Connection?” a message by Dr. Bruce Havens Coral Isles Church, UCC October 16, 2022 Luke 17:11-19 11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
What was it? What made that one leper turn around and go back? The story of the ten lepers is probably a familiar one. Most of you folks are “churched.” You’ve heard this story before, I bet. I don’t know that I have anything new to say about it, anything you may not have already heard. But as many times as I’ve heard it something struck me as if it were new when I read it this time. I got to the end of the story and I asked myself, what is it that made him turn around and go back?
Let me preface my answer with a short reminder of the story’s details. Some of those would have been quite shocking to those who first observed it or first heard it. Of course, if we don’t understand what was shocking about what Jesus said or did, we miss why he was crucified. They didn’t crucify him for being too nice, for preaching love, for healing a few people. So, I always try to figure out what might have been shocking in the stories.
In this one Jesus is hanging out in Samaritan territory. Remember that is like saying a white boy is hanging out in the ‘hood, or a black man is hanging out in a middle class neighborhood in Georgia, or pretty much anywhere there are mostly white people. It’s like an Arabic woman in a burkha hanging out at the Playboy mansion… well, you get the point. Jesus was in foreign country. And you all know that Samaritans were disliked, even hated by Jews. That’s what we call prejudice.
Along come ten lepers, considered ritually unclean of course by religious Jews because of the disease. These lepers kept their distance but begged for healing. Jesus sends them to see the priest, one assumes a Jewish priest, and one must assume one is available there in the village despite it being a primarily Samaritan neighborhood. We aren’t told if Jesus knows if these were Samaritans, or Jews, or who-knows-what, religiously. But they all go, Jewish or not, that’s how badly they wanted to be healed. Now pay attention to the details.
It says they were healed on the way, which is fodder for a sermon another day. Then as we all know, nine of them boogie on out of there, for whatever reason. I’ve heard tedious sermons assigning perfectly good reasons to each one, excuses I would use, maybe you, too. But one comes back. Jesus wonders out loud why the others didn’t and notes that the one who did was a Samaritan. You, know, the one whose religion is different from Jesus, who would have been considered the way many “Christians” today consider Buddhists, or Jews, or God-forbid, Muslims. Then comes the part that surprised me for some reason this time.
Jesus tells him, go on your way, your faith has made you well. Wait, what? Jesus, a Jew tells a man of another faith “your faith has made you well?” What the Holy Hades, Jesus? How can you say that? Now maybe that doesn’t surprise you. I’d like to hear why, but maybe it doesn’t surprise you given the circumstances, given our own prejudices against persons of other faiths, etc. Oh, I know most of us don’t feel that way here. We try not to be prejudiced against other faiths, but that’s why all the people who think they are real Christians, think we are not! [ I’m smiling here! ]. Now, I could go down that path for a while also, but the direction I want to go this morning is the first and more important thing for us today. I believe it is what truly connects us to God, and I believe that connection is gratitude.
There are a lot of things that could connect us to God – we call those things by names like “faith,” or “love,” or other names. But I believe the key to connecting to God with any of those other things begins with gratitude. Gratitude calls us beyond ourselves to something or Someone else. When we discover reasons to be grateful to God I think we will discover something that will power a strong and meaningful faith.
A writer I read shared that one of his colleagues, whenever he asks her how she is, she answers, “I’m grateful!” Think about that. What an odd response! Most of us say, “fine,” or “good” or “terrible,” or some variation of those, don’t we? I don’t think I have ever responded with the word “grateful,” when anyone has asked me how I am. The writer I was reading points out, read the headlines and you will see very little sign of gratitude or reasons to be grateful. We seem to be steeped in anger, frustration, pain, and suffering. Little reason to be grateful, is there? His colleague explained that she had made a conscious decision to focus on reasons for gratitude in her life and it had changed her perception of faith, of life, and of God. That’s a pretty powerful statement, isn’t it?
That writer says, “think about it. Gratitude is not the only emotion we might choose to express in response to the events of any given day. There are reasons for gratitude, yes, and also reasons for fear, for anger, for frustration, grief, for regret, for apprehension. Each and all of these colors our experience, makes its appearance on the stage of our lives, and perhaps each has a place and role to play from time to time. But we choose how much stage time to grant each of these emotions by giving them expression, and as we do so we give them power in our lives.
And that’s what’s key: we are making choices. We may feel a range of emotions to all kinds of circumstances and situations, but we choose which to give expression.” That’s easy when someone give us a gift. Gratitude flows naturally, pretty much. But he points out, “When confronted by someone who is angry, do we respond with anger as a form of self-protection or do we choose empathy, trying to understand the emotions of the other, and gratitude that the person was willing to be honest? When we are set back in some endeavor at school or work, do we express frustration or a resolve to keep at it and gratitude for what we’ve learned through this setback? These are choices.
He goes on to say, “Because here’s the thing: gratitude, like all of our other options, becomes easier to choose as we practice it. Gratitude, like faith and hope and love and commitment, are not inborn traits that some have, and others don’t, but rather gratitude is more like a muscle that can be strengthened over time. And as you practice giving thanks and more frequently share your gratitude, you not only grow in gratitude but create an example for others. More than that, you create a climate in which it is easier to be grateful and encourage those around you to see the blessings all around us.” [ Dr. David Lose, “Gratitude and Grace,” davidlose.net, October 3, 2016. ]
I share this with you, because I need to remind myself daily, to be more grateful. I almost always default to what is wrong, what isn’t perfect, what isn’t to my liking. My practice of walking daily, is almost always an effort to practice gratitude. I deliberately turn my heart to appreciate the natural beauty of the world around us. I note very detail that pleases me. And that worries me a bit that I am still being awfully self-centered about that. But I also am practicing praying for each of you as I know what your needs or challenges or blessings may be. I often walk as much as three times a day – and maybe I need to walk four in order to be more grateful.
Let me also caution, I am not trying to suggest to anyone who is facing an overload of pain, disappointment, or other circumstances that have left you beaten down. I would not pretend to suggest that gratitude will magically, or miraculously heal you or change you. I’ll leave that to God’s work.
You and I simply go on our way don’t we? As those lepers were on their way they ran in to Jesus. They were quite focused on the need for healing, as their disease cut them off from everything, from social interaction, community with family, friends or anyone. They were cut off from gathering in a religious community whatever faith they were. Their only company was each other, and that is not a case of “misery loves company” in the sense of wanting company with others who were miserable. They were probably glad to have company of any kind. On their way they encountered Jesus and it changed everything.
So the challenge for us is to ask ourselves – have we encountered Jesus and if so how has that changed us? I’m not big on the expectation that we all need to have a “conversion” experience to be a true Christian. But I’m not against it for those who have discovered it. However we encounter God, whether it is in the person of Jesus Christ, is less important ultimately than how has our experience changed us for the better? The challenge of faith is that it doesn’t simply exist to make us feel better about ourselves as we are, it is about helping us discover what we can become with God’s presence in our lives.
I had a member in another church and he was a regular attender and a generous giver. He often told me that without church, and without God, his life would be miserable. He was a successful man, but he realized that when he drank he became, in his own words, “a womanizer, and a negative SOB.” He had been a member of that church since childhood, but it wasn’t until he faced his own personal “leprosy” and discovered that being in the presence of Christ on a regular basis at worship, and giving thankfully and generously, that he was a changed man. He was a better man. And he was grateful for that. And I was always grateful for his faithfulness. You see, it was his faith that made him well. For him it was a natural connection. His faith connected him to a great sense of healing in his life. That connected him to a great and powerful sense of gratitude.
So, I want to invite you to join me in two things in response to this Scripture this morning. First, I want to invite you to take the cards that are in your hands this morning and write the word “Gratitude” on them – now, or as soon as you can. And I want you to join me in posting that card on your refrigerator or somewhere where you will see it daily. And practice adding things for which you are grateful to it everyday. Do this for a week. And if you get the chance tell me how it went when you come back next week.
The first thing you can write on that – if you don’t mind me saying, is the word “grace.” For grace is by far the first thing we should all recognize as worthy of our gratitude. It is this grace, this free gift of God’s unconditional love, given to us continually and without cost to us, that can break every chain in our lives. It is the gift that, the more we recognize it, the more we will discover the beginning of gratitude, the way to sustain gratitude, and the fulfillment of a life of gratitude.
The second thing I will tell you about after we sing about this grace. It will be our benediction. But first, let us sing with gratitude about this grace that breaks our chains and sets us free for a life of gratitude. AMEN.
How are you?
I am grateful!
How are you?
I am grateful!
How are you?
I am grateful!
Get up and go on your way! Your faith has made you well!