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October 10, 2004 (Pentecost 19)—“It’s All About Gratitude”

Pastor David Barber

Luke 17:11-19

Sisters and brothers, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
 

There's a Jewish folktale that tells about two beggars who went daily to the palace to beg at the king's gate for bread.

Every day the king gave each of them a loaf of bread. One of the beggars would always thank the king for his generosity. But the other thanked God for giving the king sufficient wealth to give charity.

The second beggar's words always hurt the king. So the king decided to teach him a lesson. The king ordered his baker to bake two identical loaves, but in one he had him conceal precious jewels. Then he instructed the baker to give the loaf with the hidden jewels to the beggar who always thanked the king for his charity.

The next day the baker went to the king's gate and handed the two loaves to the beggars. He took great care not to confuse the two, for he feared the king's wrath. When the first beggar with the special loaf felt how hard and heavy it was, he concluded that it was poorly made and asked the other beggar to exchange loaves with him.

The second beggar, always eager to help a friend, agreed. Then they went their separate ways. When the second man bit into his loaf, he discovered that it was filled with jewels. He thanked God for his good fortune, grateful that he would no longer have to beg for his bread.

The next morning the king was surprised to find only the first beggar at the palace gate. He had the baker brought before him and asked him, "did you mix up the two loaves I had you bake?"

"No, your majesty," answered the baker. "I did exactly as you asked." Then the king turned to the beggar and asked, "What did you do with the loaf you received yesterday?" The man replied, "It was hard and poorly baked, so I gave it to my friend in exchange for his."

Then the king understood the words of the second beggar and that all his riches had indeed come from God. For God is the giver of all bread and all possessions.

In our Gospel for today, one leper returned to give thanks to Jesus, and I'm wondering if that's what he realized as well--that God in Jesus was the source of his healing.

Is that why he turned back, praising God with a loud voice, and prostrating himself at the feet of Jesus with thanksgiving? Is that why Jesus said to him, "your faith has made you well?"

Luke begins by telling us that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. Luke won't let us forget that this ultimate outcast is on his way to crucifixion. He'll be put to death at the hands of the temple-based political and economic leadership--a leadership that's in bed with the Roman Empire.

On the way he encounters ten other outcasts who are classified as outcasts and unclean by the very system that Jesus condemns, and as a result, the system that will crucify him.

These lepers cry out from a distance, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." And Jesus does. On the spur of the moment, he told them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean.

Living in Hawaii we know well the consequences of leprosy and what families and individuals suffered when the disease was discovered. Those with leprosy were socially ostracized, physically exiled, and removed from family and culture. Our history, therefore, makes us somewhat familiar with the plague and the punishment of leprosy and its consequences in the ancient world.

Such disease and people are not beyond God's compassion and transformation as Jesus demonstrates in the healing of the lepers. Throughout his gospel Luke maintains his reassuring emphasis on the inclusion of all sorts of unlikely or "unlovely" people in God's saving purposes regardless of the barriers we often create to keep people apart and separated by gender, or social status, or physical condition, or sexual orientation.

Scenes like this one are simply a manifestation of what Jesus is about and the inauguration of the reign of God. Through Jesus, "the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them."

What we need to keep in mind is that all ten lepers were healed. Nothing is said about faith in regard to the other nine. Jesus didn't make faith a condition for their healing. All ten received the miracle of healing and were set free. They stand in defiance of that common misunderstanding that, "if you only have enough faith, then God will heal you."

Apparently that didn't make a bit of difference to Jesus. He saw their human condition. He was moved to compassion. He had mercy upon them, and he reverses the impact of sin and human brokenness in their lives.

One returned however, when he saw that he was healed. Although the other nine were still healed, perhaps this man returned because he saw Jesus as an agent of God's transforming and saving work.

All the lepers received the gift of physical healing, but this Samaritan received something more. "Your faith has made you well," says Jesus.

Isn't this true? Doesn't gratitude and thanksgiving in itself grant us even an extra blessing? In our story for today, the sign of faith emerges not so much in the healing but in the gratitude that follows as a result of the healing.

We all know what it's like to be healed. Some of us have beaten the odds and have experienced a medical cure that defies all statistics. But all of us have experienced minor medical healing whether it be the ending of a headache or a scab that forms over an open wound.

Some of us have experienced deep depression or wandered through dark and painful nights. We've experienced broken hearts, broken bones, and broken bodies. Some of us have also experienced being ostracized and being pushed to the outside because of the color of our skin, the amount of our paycheck, or our sexual orientation.

All of us in some way and in some fashion have experienced the gift of healing regardless of the quantity or the quality of our faith. We've been found. We've been touched. We've experienced mercy and grace, and we've encountered the living Christ.

And what's our response? Hopefully, it's one of deep gratitude and thanksgiving that returns to Jesus in faith and trust. And hopefully our gratitude moves us to serve and to touch all those that Jesus served and reached out to touch--the poor, the rejected, the battered, and those with leprosy in all its many forms. In thanksgiving we share with others what God has generously done for us.

The connection between gratitude and service is spelled out in all of our offertory prayers, but especially in this prayer:

Through your goodness you have blessed us with these gifts. With them we offer ourselves to your service and dedicate our lives to the care and redemption of all that you have made.

In gratitude, we have the opportunity to reach out to all people to bring healing and life to them just as Jesus has brought healing to every one of us. We break down the walls that divide and we melt the freezing cold of bigotry and hatred with the heat of compassion and love.

Several months ago I received an email and a story from Peggy Anderson entitled "The Cold Within." It's not a story about gratitude and thanksgiving, but what can happen when gratitude and thanksgiving is absent from our lives.

"Six humans trapped by happenstance
     in dark and bitter cold
Each one possessed a stick of wood,
     Or so the story's told.

Their dying fire in need of logs,
     The first woman held hers back.
For on the faces around the fire,
     She noticed one was black.

The next man looking cross the way,
     Saw one not of his church,
And couldn't bring himself to give
     The fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes,
     He gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use,
     To warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought
     Of the wealth he had in store.
And how to keep what he had earned
     From the lazy, shiftless poor.

The black man's face bespoke revenge
     As the fire passed from sight,
For all he saw in his stick of wood
     Was a chance to spite the white.

The last man of this forlorn group
     Did naught except for gain
Giving only to those who gave
     Was how he played the game.

The logs held tight in death's still hands
     Was proof of human sin.
They didn't die from the cold without,
     They died from--THE COLD WITHIN.

For the disease of an unloving and uncaring heart, the prescription is gratitude and thanksgiving. For gratitude melts the coldness of hatred, selfishness, and indifference. It moves us to care for each other, to reach out to others in their affliction, and to serve all in need.

All that we have is gift. And our lives burst forth in thanksgiving for all that God has done for us and for the riches that so abundantly overflow in our lives.

Praise be to God for all the gifts of God, and praise be to God that we're involved and are partners with God in the healing of the world.

When we're grateful and when we involve ourselves in service and love because of our thanksgiving, Jesus also says to us, "Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well."

Amen.


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