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Sermon for October 9, 2022 – Proper 23

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 4046 | Good Gift
Greg Williams

A couple of years back my son Gatlin proposed to his long-time sweetheart, Erin in a unique way. Under the guise of taking a family walk after dinner with mom, dad, brothers, sisters-in-law, and nieces and nephews we found ourselves on the putting green of hole number 5 at Cramer Mountain Golf Club.

As the small kids putted golf balls around Gatlin nestled up to Erin around the hole and slid down to one knee. He presented a shiny white gold ring with a diamond, but before Erin’s attention went to the ring her tear-filled eyes were fixed on Gatlin and her enraptured hug enveloped him as her feet left the ground. Undoubtedly the ring got her attention, and she proudly wore it and flashed it around every chance she got.

What stood out to me was that Erin was receiving Gatlin the man who gave the ring, over and above the ring itself. The ring was great, but life-changing only because of the giver – the person behind the gift. 

I think this is a workable metaphor for what’s going on in Luke 17 when Jesus heals some lepers. If you remember the story, ten lepers are healed by Jesus. They are told to present themselves to the priest as was customary of the law for cleansed lepers. But only one turns back to praise God and thank Jesus for the healing. There is more going on here than a man showing good social graces. All ten received healing from leprosy, but this one man received so much more. His praise and thankfulness was an expression of receiving the one who had healed him. He received the healing, and he received the healer.

That’s one reason scripture so often tells us to praise God and offer thanksgiving. We are being invited to receive and enjoy the Lord who gives himself to us.

Here is a segment of one Psalm that does just that:

1 Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
2 sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise.
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
Because of your great power,
your enemies cringe before you.
4 All the earth worships you;
they sing praises to you,
sing praises to your name.” Selah
Psalm 66:1-4 (NRSV)

We can be thankful for the good things the Lord gives us – and they are many. But let’s never miss out on receiving the good Lord himself. After all, he offers himself with every gift he gives.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 66:1-12 • Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 • 2 Timothy 2:8-15 • Luke 17:11-19

This week’s theme is the faithful response of salvation. The call to worship Psalm offers praise to God for his sustaining power during Israel’s history. The Old Testament reading from Jeremiah records God’s words to the Judean exiles in Babylon on how to survive in a foreign land, while also being a blessing to the cities where they live. The epistolary text from 2 Timothy calls us to anchor our faith in Jesus, holding fast to his word, with the recognition that such faith may be joined with pain and suffering. The Gospel reading from Luke presents a response of faith that embodies praise and gratitude from an unlikely Samaritan.

Jesus in the Middle

Luke 17:11-19 (NRSV)

Our message today comes from a section of Scripture known as the “Travel Narrative,” which is made up of events and stories that take place as Jesus is on his way toward Jerusalem and the cross. This section runs from Luke 9:51 to Luke 19:27. Luke also uses this section to present God’s special care and concern for the marginalized and the poor. Many stories highlight the outcast in society and lead to a theme of reversal. Jesus is seen to reverse and redeem that which is considered lost and broken. Often, it is the humble and the outsider who receives Jesus’ commendation over the prideful insiders who receive correction. Our story today, which focuses on a Samaritan who is suffering from leprosy, will carry this theme. As we see Jesus enact a reversal in the story, we do so knowing that Jesus is on a journey to the cross where he will bring about the great reversal of exchanging our sin and death for his righteousness and life.

The story begins with an odd description of the setting:

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. (Luke 17:11 NRSV)

First, our story begins with the language fitting the “Travel Narrative.” Jesus is “on the way.” It will be good to keep in mind in this story where Jesus is “on the way” to. What we see take place in this story, and the many others in this long section, is a foreshadowing of what Jesus will ultimately do for us in his crucifixion and death.

Second, Luke tells us that this story takes place in “the region between Samaria and Galilee.” What’s odd about Luke’s description here is the fact that there is no region between these neighboring areas. Either Luke is a bad geographer, or he is trying to make a deeper point. So, let’s take the opportunity Luke has created for us to think of who Jesus is and what this “region between” could mean for us today. As the story is introduced, we are aware that there is a great divide between these neighboring regions of Samaria and Galilee. These two groups of people should be brothers, but because of some historical bad blood, they view each other more as enemies. Is this not the case with many of our conflicts today? Whether on a global or national scale, so often brothers and sisters are made into enemies over some offense, great and small, that has gone unforgiven. This is also true and more prevalent on a personal level. How many of our personal relationships end up being twisted by offenses, real and perceived, that are never reconciled, leaving us with enemies next door instead of neighbors? This is an engrained condition that Jesus has come to reverse. He comes to be our great High Priest who not only mediates our relationship with God, but by extension, our relationships with one another.

We can rightly say that Jesus is our reconciliation. In this way, we can picture that Jesus stands in the middle of all our relationships. He is the “region between.” He is in the middle of our relationship with his Father by the Spirit, and he is in the middle of all our relationships with one another. No matter how severed or damaged our relationship is with God, or with our “neighbors,” we can trust that Jesus is “going through the region between.” He is always working by his Spirit to reconcile and restore what has been lost. So, as we consider the broken relationship between the Samaritans and the Jews in Galilee, we can see an image of Jesus standing in the middle—in this hidden “region between”—to create space for healing and reconciliation.

As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:12-13 NRSV)

The healing and reconciliation Jesus brings as our mediator is reflected through the healing of these ten lepers. They are introduced as approaching Jesus, but at the same time keeping their distance. The condition of leprosy carried many social implications. First, lepers were considered unclean. Beneath this label was the assumption that leprosy was connected to sin. Surely these people were worse sinners in some way that “earned them” their condition. Second, to have leprosy was to be a social outcast. People with leprosy were not permitted to be near others. We see this restriction working in the efforts of the ten lepers “keeping their distance…” They were keeping their distance from Jesus.

There are times we may feel that our sinful condition requires that we keep our distance from God. Surely God doesn’t want to be around a sinner like me. But Jesus draws near to us in order to heal us of our sinful condition. If you feel like a leper, like someone who is so broken and diseased by sin that you need to keep your distance, you can be assured that Jesus sets no restrictions on coming to him. There are no legalistic hoops to jump through to be face to face with Jesus. He is the one who brings healing and restoration.

In addition, lepers were not to come into contact with the general public. They were to keep their distance from everyone. However, the story leaves the impression that these ten lepers are made up of Samaritans and Galileans. They were not keeping their distance from one another. We might say, “misery loves company.” We see in their suffering and exclusion that the barriers that once separated them are now removed. This can serve as a picture of the reconciling work Jesus was on his way to accomplish through suffering and death on the cross. This work of reconciliation would not only bring us back into right relationship with God, but it would provide right relationship with one another. We find that we are reconciled as brothers and sisters, regardless of past offenses, in our union with the Lord who suffered and died for us.

Let’s look at how Jesus responds as the lepers approach him, calling out for mercy.

When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. (Luke 17:14 NRSV)

Do you ever feel no one sees you? Perhaps you even wonder if God really sees you. It is comforting in this story that Jesus’ first response to the lepers is that he “saw them…” He doesn’t turn his eyes from their suffering. He doesn’t frown or roll his eyes. He simply sees them. And he sees far more than we see. He looks beyond the leprosy. He sees beyond our disease of sin and sees who God created us to be. And with that perfect vision he sets in motion to redeem us to be who God created us to be.

In this story, it is interesting that when Jesus “saw them” he did not pronounce them clean or touch them or give any other indication of healing. All we read is that he gave them the command to present themselves to the priest. The first thing they were given was Jesus’ words. In their case, it was a word of command to abide by the ritual required when someone was cured of leprosy. The priest would have to confirm that they were clean before admitting them back into the community. The lepers obeyed and were healed “as they went.” Often, we experience the healing and reconciling work of Jesus as we walk in faith and obedience. We may prefer the stories when Jesus would heal immediately either by a dramatic pronouncement or by a tender touch. We love the experience of Jesus’ miracles in our lives. But this story stands in Scripture as a reminder that we do not always receive immediate healings or conversions accompanied by dramatic experiences or touching moments. Often, we are given the command to follow the mundane routine God has provided.

The first thing we need to receive is Jesus’ words to us. God’s word to us in Christ is also written for us in the Scriptures. Some of these words to us seem to be routine in nature. We are commanded to obey, but we will come to see that there is healing in the journey of obedience. Hearing and obeying Jesus’ words work a healing and freedom in us that we may not fully see in the moment. But along the journey we will come to see that Jesus’ word to us is not empty. His words have effect, and a very good effect at that. Like the ten lepers, we too are healed as we go according to his word spoken to us.

Let’s take a few basic commands we see in the scripture. What are some words Jesus may be speaking to you today that will be the first step of healing in your journey with him? How about simply gathering together at church to worship? What healing may Jesus have for us in following that week-in and week-out routine? What about the practice of prayer and study? Is that too mundane for our healing? Does Jesus really tell us to engage in such daily habits for our healing?

And let’s not leave out the prohibitions. There are many things the Lord commands us to not include in our journey with him. We may bristle at a command that denies something we think we want. But, if we truly come to Jesus while calling him “Master” and asking for mercy, do we turn a deaf ear to him when he says “stop” to something we are doing? We may not see the connection in the moment we hear Jesus’ words, especially his words of “no,” but Jesus’ words set us on a path of healing and reconciliation. He is not trying to be a killjoy or rob us of the “good life.” He has more for us than we could possibly dream. We could list many commands we see in the scriptures that Jesus speaks to us. These commands are not burdens. They are the first steps into the healing we are seeking from Jesus.

Now, let’s look a little further into the story:

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:15-16 NRSV)

We are told that one of the lepers “saw that he was healed.” All the lepers were healed but only one “saw” it. It’s after seeing that he was healed that another change took place. The leper “turned back, praising God” and ultimately ends up at Jesus’ feet thanking him. We are not told about the other nine, but it seems they are content to take their healing and move on with their life. We may be tempted at this point to pat this one leper on the back for having good social graces. Good on him for coming back to say, “thank you.” But there is more for us here than a lesson on proper etiquette for being healed. This leper came back to the source of his healing. He realized not only that he was healed of leprosy, but that Jesus was his healer, or more pointedly, his Savior. When he comes back with praises and gratitude, he is actually coming back to receive even more than a healing. He is coming back to receive the healer himself.

This is what happens in praise and worship. Worship is the fitting response of seeing who God is. And in worship, we see more of who God is. Or, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, “it is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence to men” (Reflections on the Psalms, p. 93). God reveals himself to be a generous giver. Even when we come to offer praise and worship to him, it is he who is giving us something more. This one leper received far more than the other nine as he “turned back.” We too, have more to receive from the Lord as we continue to “turn back” to him. We are not told how far the leper went before he turned back, but it’s interesting that when he returned, Jesus was still there. Jesus questions why the other nine did not return. Maybe that’s a good question we should put forth for ourselves.

What keeps us at times from returning and giving praise to God? Could it be that we don’t think our healing is all that significant? Maybe we have forgotten the seriousness of our disease. Perhaps we convinced ourselves on the journey to the “priests” that we are, on our own, quite presentable. Whatever our answers, we can be assured that no matter how far we journey, when we turn back to the Lord, he is always to be found. He will never turn away from our turning to him. And, he always has more to give. As we turn to praise and worship him, we can experience even more of his healing and reconciling work in our lives.

But maybe there’s another answer to why we don’t turn back to him. The story tells us that the one who returned “was a Samaritan.” A Samaritan who had leprosy would have been an outcast of an outcast. Perhaps we do not return to the Lord because we feel we are too much of an outcast? However, this story makes the outcast the one who shows faith. Jesus tells him that his “faith has made [him] well.” As we see our healing in Jesus, we can place our trust in him, no matter how much of an outcast we think we are. This trust or faith is characterized by the leper as a relationship that has moved from “keeping distant” to being at “Jesus’ feet.” His loud plea has been transformed into loud praise. Instead of holding back his approach to Jesus, he now lies prostrate at his feet. Jesus is the “region between” all our borders and walls that seem insurmountable. He is in the very middle, healing and reconciling. In faith, we can rest at Jesus’ feet knowing that he is the one who makes us well.

Justified w/ Walter Kim W2

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October 9 – Proper 23
Luke 17:11-19 “Lord, Have Mercy!”

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Program Transcript

Justified w/ Walter Kim W2

Anthony: Let’s move on to our next passage, which is Luke 17:11-19. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 23 on October 9. Walter, would you be willing to read that for us please?

Walter: Yes.

11While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as He entered a village, ten men with leprosy who stood at a distance met Him; 13 and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. 15 Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, 16 and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 But Jesus responded and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they18 Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”

Anthony: Walter, I’ve long believed that proximity tends to breed compassion. Jesus sees their affliction up close and personal and has mercy on them. What can we learn about proximity or maybe said another way, incarnational living, especially in light of this passage?

Walter: Yeah. The passage speaks to the presence of Jesus. Doesn’t it? He is present to the 10 men who had leprosy. He is present to the Samaritan. There are so many things about proximity that in the original audience’s hearing, would’ve struck them as extraordinary crossing of boundaries. Jesus was a boundary-busting person.

And so, it begins with, he was on the way to Jerusalem. So, it requires intentionality. He is on the way. And this theme of this journey to Jerusalem, Jesus is setting his face toward Jerusalem. So, whatever it means to be proximate to someone it’s going to mean an intentionality. It will require you to choose to move in a certain direction. And the fact that he was proximate to a place like Samaria, that would permit Samaritan to come to him, is also, I think, an issue of intentionality in putting yourself in places that were unexpected—that Jesus would be proximate to Samaria.

And as folks may know that the relationship between the Samaritans and the Jews was fraught with animosity, deep suspicion that was even theologically grounded. Samaritans were viewed as heretics. And the Samaritans returned the favor and viewed the Jews as themselves being heretics.

They were profound conflicts between these communities that at times came to physical blows and battles. So, there was a deep division that Jesus crossed. Then of course we see the division that even seemed to be one sanctioned by the law. So they were at a distance, these men with leprosy, because they were told to be at a distance the law required, a distance in order for purity to be maintained.

And so, this sense of boundary-busting must have captivated the disciples as they were following Jesus for how many boundaries can this man cross in order to minister to people. And I think there is for us a profound challenge. We have to be intentional. We have to find the spaces and places in our lives that we would not normally go to because well, respectable Christians wouldn’t go there.

And what does it look like to become proximate to that? And then when we do, there is even working through the things that maybe our religion and Christian subculture has taught us, oh, you can’t go there. You can’t touch that. You can’t be around that. And so that’s itself being challenged, challenge to our own instincts.

And so, as we do these things, we keep in mind, however, the ultimate desire. And that is to glorify God and to bring redemption in this world, this language of healing, this language of giving glory to God. Thanksgiving to God speaks to the powerful presence of Jesus in this world and the redemptive power that heals not only body, but also soul.

And once again, the kind of reconciliation that happens not just with the body being healed, but with the relationship being established. So, the proximity that was not permitted between the Samaritan and holy spaces, as well as the lepers and holy spaces now is being bridged. They are right at the feet of Jesus.

Here’s this Samaritan once a leper having all the bridges that Jesus crossed toward him, now he has crossed them in response and come back in humble submission to God. And that’s just such a beautiful picture as well as a challenging picture of what it means to pursue an incarnational ministry.

Anthony: Yeah. And all we have to do is look at Jesus. We sometimes act as if God cannot look upon sin, but Jesus dined with sin, embedded in all of us as sinners, as we’re going to see in a later passage, he moves toward it to heal it in himself once and for all. Hallelujah, praise God.

It’s hard to believe, Walter, but nine out of the 10 (90%) of the healed lepers didn’t return to glorify the Son of God for their received healing.

What is going on and how might this be a cautionary tale for us today?

Walter: You know that sense of gratitude is coupled with submission there. I think there’s something that strikes me about the Samaritan that is so challenging. It’s not simply that he gave thanks, but that he fell on his face at the feet of Jesus So it is gratitude with submission that is so profoundly challenging. It’s in his case, gratitude that probably led to the submission. I would like to reverse it for the 90% that didn’t come back; it’s probably the case that they were not submitted to God that led to their ingratitude.

And the coupling of these two works in both directions, that the ability to say, thank you, puts us in a place where submission is a sensible response. Such a good God. I thank him for this. I’m able to submit. But in this paradoxical way of life, our unwillingness to submit makes us ungrateful people because we can’t give God thanks. We have to say that we did this on our own, that we’re on our own, fine.

And I think something of that is probably going on. We weren’t there to interview the nine that didn’t come back, but the one that did come back and the way that the narrative describes the attitude of the one that came back, couples the submission with the gratitude.

And so, my hunch is that part of the critique of the nine that didn’t come back is that they did not have a submission coupled with gratitude.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Do you have any examples of gifts that are special because of who gave it to you?
  • The video stated, “That’s one reason Scripture so often tells us to praise God and offer thanksgiving. We are being invited to receive and enjoy the Lord who gives himself to us.” What do you think of that statement? Discuss.
  • Take some time to offer praise and thankfulness for any good gift the Lord has given you. Reflect on how this also helps you to know and receive the Lord more.

From the sermon

  • The sermon began by showing that this story falls within the “Travel Narrative,” which tells the story of Jesus traveling to Jerusalem to die. Did knowing this broader context help you see anything new in the story of the ten lepers?
  • The sermon used the description of the “region between Samaria and Galilee” as a picture of Jesus being the mediator of our relationship with God and neighbor. How can being aware that Jesus is in the “region between” our relationships, working towards healing and reconciliation, shape our response to one another?
  • The sermon described some of the social ramifications of leprosy. Discuss ways the disease of leprosy can serve as a metaphor for the disease of sin. What is lost? What is gained by Jesus’ work of redemption?
  • The sermon focused on the fact that when the lepers approached Jesus “he saw them.” Do you ever feel like you are not seen? Is there comfort in knowing that Jesus sees us beyond our sinful condition and moves to redeem us back to who we were created to be?
  • The sermon highlighted that the first thing Jesus gave the lepers was his words, not a dramatic healing. The healing came “as they went” in obedience to Jesus’ words. What stood out to you about Jesus healing in this way?
  • Were there any words from Jesus spoken to you today that are calling you to obedience that leads to healing?
  • What did you think about the sermon’s claim that the leper who returned received more than just a healing, but he received the healer himself? Did S. Lewis’s quote shed any light on this? The quote is: “it is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence to men.”
  • Can you think of some reasons that keep us from turning back to the Lord like the one leper did?
  • Discuss some of the reversals you see in the story of the leper who turned back to the Lord. What reversal are you hopeful for in your walk with Jesus?

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