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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

October 9, 2016

 Faith that Heals the Heart

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7;Luke 17:11-19

            This morning we turn to Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers, an account that is found only in Luke’s Gospel.  Fred Craddock pointed out once that besides being a master of the art of narrative, Luke also is what he calls “a miniaturist.”  That is, Luke often takes a small story, an encounter like this one, and in it you can find the whole of the Gospel; that is, the good news of God’s saving, redeeming love for the whole human family.

            Jesus is “on the way to Jerusalem,” the so-called travel narrative in Luke, the longest section of his masterfully structured Gospel.  It begins in Luke 9:51 when we are told, “Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem.”  The main theme of this travel narrative is “discipleship,” what it means to follow Jesus.  The event occurs while Jesus “was passing between Samaria and Galilee.”  It is possible, even likely, that Jesus’ journey took Him outside the borders of Israel and into Samaria, a people with whom the Jews had a centuries-old conflict.  Jews considered Samaritans inferior.  Luke is the only Gentile, or non-Jew, to write in the New Testament, so he cares about Jesus’ encounters with those “outside” of Israel.

            Jesus enters an unnamed village and is met by ten lepers who “stood at a distance.”  Leprosy was a word Jews used to describe a host of skin diseases, that through superstition and ignorance, rendered them social outcasts.  They cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  In Mark, and Luke 5, Jesus reaches out to touch a leper, at great cost to His own status in the community.  But here, in Luke, they are healed by Jesus’ words.  I learned years ago how powerful words can be.  We all know how important words are in a marriage, between parents and children, or with folks who are important to you.  How much more powerful are Jesus’ words?

            Jesus not only heals all ten of these lepers, but He is also interested in restoring them to their communal lives.  “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” Jesus says.  Leviticus 13 and 14 detail how lepers could be restored to the community by the priests through acts of ritual cleansing and restoration.  Luke then tells us, “As they went they were cleansed.”  I love that little line!  Healing often requires our response, even if we are not the ones initiating God’s healing, restoring activity.  We must respond, doing our part, if God is to make us new.

            Up to now, Luke is offering a wonderful healing, restoring narrative.  Elsewhere in Luke, Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  It is why Jesus is my kind of Savior!  Jesus comes for the sick and the sinful – for folks who are just like me.

            But what starts as a healing narrative – and one for those who are outcasts and outsiders – turns suddenly into a faith narrative.  Remember the main theme of Luke’s travel narrative?  It is discipleship, or what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

            The story starts with ten, all of whom have been “healed,” “made well,” by Jesus’ word.  But now the focus narrows in on the one.  One of them “when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice….”  He even fell on his face, and thanked Jesus.

            Isn’t it interesting that the one who returns is a Samaritan?  Some would call this Luke’s love for irony.  My friend John Buchanan adds, “Observe how uninterested Jesus seems to be in the man’s religion.  We only know that the man is a Samaritan.  We don’t know what his theology or moral values are – whether he is pro-choice or pro-life, how he votes or spends his Sabbath.”  All we know is that he recognized a gift when it was given to him, and returned to say thank-you to the giver, to Jesus.

            Jesus tells him, “Your faith has made you well.”  Actually, all ten were made well, if what we are talking about is leprosy, of being sick and totally isolated, banished from interaction with everyone else.  So maybe Jesus is hinting at something more than physical healing.  To Jesus, following God, having faith, is very closely akin to expressing gratitude.  To Jesus, faith may not be some checklist of things we believe and things we don’t, or can’t.  Faith, the kind that makes you well, the kind that saves you, might be as simple, and as crucial, as giving thanks, of recognizing and praising God for all that God has done for you.

            To follow Jesus, to be Jesus’ disciple, might be as simple as being someone whose life is marked by thanksgiving.  Karl Barth was one who believed that this might well be the basic human response to God.  “What else can we say to what God gives but stammer praise?”  Barth says, “Charis [grace] always demands the answer of eucharistia [gratitude].  Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo.  Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning.”  Barth even went so far as to say that “all sin is basically ingratitude.”  That is, a failure to recognize and give thanks for all that you have received.

            Who are you?  This is the question raised by Luke’s little account of the ten lepers.  Are you someone who knows, who is aware, of all that God has done for you?  Nothing is any uglier than someone who is self-righteous and self-absorbed, unaware or unwilling to trace all they have and all that they are back to the Source – to God.  And nothing is more winsome than a grateful soul … a humble, grateful sinner who is knocked-out glad to be loved and redeemed.  C.S. Lewis observed this.  In his book, Reflections on the Psalms, he says, “I noticed how the humblest and at the same time the most balanced minds praised most; while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least.  Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.”

            This last week The Golf Channel televised Arnold Palmer’s memorial service.  His funeral was held earlier by his Presbyterian pastor in Latrobe, who sprinkled his ashes on the grounds of the Latrobe Country Club, the place where he learned the game of golf, and where he became Arnold Palmer.  The memorial service was held in the Basilica at Saint Vincent’s College.  Person after person told of Arnold’s zest for living, his love for people, his unfailing efforts to thank those who had so blessed his life.  His grandson said Arnold was always the same person, no matter where or with whom he found himself.  Jim Nantz, Jack Nicklaus and Nashville’s Vince Gill offered their gratitude and love for Arnold.  Palmer had a gracious, fiery spirit, a warmth that was palpable, and as much as anyone I can think of, charisma.  The word charisma comes from that Greek word charis – the word for “grace.”  No wonder everyone was so thankful to know Arnie!

            Have you seen over the last week the PGA commercial for the role of teaching pros in the lives of various professional golfers?  I love the tag line to the ads: “Every good story ends in thanks.”  By such a measure, is your life, the one you are living, a good story?  I pray to God you make it that!

                                                                                    Amen.

 

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