[A sermon based on Luke 17:11-19 for Sunday, November 8, 2009]
When I was a boy I liked to watch the Officer Don show on one of the Atlanta television stations. Officer Don was a guy who dressed up in a policeman’s uniform, talked to a dragon puppet named Orville, and showed Popeye cartoons. The show also featured a live audience made up of elementary aged schoolchildren seated on some bleachers.
Each telecast also featured games the winners of which would get toys and board games as prizes; my favorite was the ooey-gooey bag game. If the winner, upon receiving her prize, said “Thank you” then she was awarded another prize. If she said “Thank you” again she’d get yet another one (they did cut it off at three).
Even as a child I remember being amazed at the fact that the vast majority of the children who won would not say “Thank you.” And I also remember that it seemed that so many of the children who did say “Thank you” seemed to say it because they meant it and seemed genuinely amazed that they received more gifts in return.
Even as children some apparently already felt a sense of entitlement while some already felt a sense of genuine gratitude.
It’s almost Christmas so I guess I can use a Christmas story. My home church had a big Christmas shindig on the Wednesday night before Christmas featuring special guest Santa Claus—right there in the sanctuary—and the giving out of Christmas presents. I of course was a regular at church and so got several presents.
For some reason at one of those Christmas gatherings when I was about nine years old a school classmate, a boy named Bubba, showed up and sat on the pew right in front of me. I wondered why he was there; he didn’t come to Sunday School or church—he didn’t even play baseball with the RAs. Contingency plans were in place to handle such a situation; presents were provided for unexpected visitors.
Bubba got a puzzle.
He kept turning around to show his puzzle to me, a big grin on his face. I remember wondering what he was so happy about; he got only one present. And I remember wondering as I sat there with my pile of presents why I wasn’t nearly as happy as he was. Had my sense of entitlement already, at the tender age of nine, robbed me of genuine gratitude that comes from a sense of genuine surprise at the great gifts that drop unbidden into my life?
Ten lepers there were, ten sick men. To make matters worse, these ten men had a sickness that made them social outcasts. They had each other because misery loves company and because a common problem will cause people to band together and forget those things that would have otherwise divided them. And so there was a Samaritan leper among the Jewish lepers, an outcast among the outcasts.
Jesus healed them all.
That’s the way it happens, you know. It is certainly not only people of faith whom the Lord heals; it is certainly not just good people whom the Lord heals; it is certainly not just people who deserve it whom the Lord heals. Jesus healed them all.
But it may be exactly right to say that while all ten lepers got healed only one of them got saved [that’s the way Fred Craddock sees it in Luke, Interpretation Commentary (Louisville: John Knox, 1990), p. 203]. Only the Samaritan leper came back to say “Thank you” to Jesus and to praise Jesus for what he had done in his life. Only the Samaritan leper’s heart was opened up by what the Lord had done for him so that he could be made whole in the ways that matter far more than physical wholeness.
Maybe one key to being able to be saved is arriving at a sense of gratitude for Jesus. Maybe it is gratitude to Jesus that allows your heart to be opened up to him so that you can be saved.
And maybe one of the reasons that more people don’t get saved is that they are too much like cats. As a character in a work by Mavis Gallant said, “What is the appeal about cats? I've always wanted to know. They don't care if you like them. They haven't the slightest notion of gratitude, and they never pretend. They take what you have to offer, and away they go.” The nine were like cats—they took what Jesus had to offer and away they went.
But the one—ah, the one—he took what Jesus had to offer and then he came back to Jesus, his heart bursting with gratitude and thanksgiving, and he then took what else Jesus had to offer. And that made all the difference.
I am grateful that Jesus blessed me until somehow, miracle of miracles, my heart said “Thank you” and my soul said “Praise you” and Jesus said, “Your faith has made you whole.”
Those children on the old Officer Don show who felt gratitude and demonstrated it by saying “Thank you” received even more gifts in return but, as I said, the limit was three. When your heart becomes strangely warmed by the gratitude you feel toward Jesus for all the blessings of help and healing and wholeness that have come into your life undeserved and as a result your awareness of your dependence on Jesus stops you in your tracks, spins you around and sends you back to Jesus just so you can fall on your face in thanksgiving, then begins a flow of blessings and gifts that is limitless and endless.
Then you can “go on your way,” knowing that “your faith has made you well.”