Sermon from Sunday, October 9, 2022
Speaker: Rev. Doug de Graffenried
Scripture: Luke 17:11-19
Our lesson this morning comes from the 17th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, starting with the 11th verse.
On the way to Jerusalem. Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. as he entered a village, ten lepers approached him, keeping their distance. They called out, saying, Jesus, master, Have mercy on us. When he saw them, he said to them, Go and show yourself to the priests. And they went. They were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’s feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. and Jesus asks were not ten made clean, But the other nine, where they? was none of them found a return and give praise to God except this foreigner. Then he said to him, get up, go on your way. Your faith has made you well.
Friends, this is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
The new common lectionary is not a book of sermons that preachers read on Saturday night. It is a prescribed series of scripture lessons that if you follow the new common lectionary and you read through year C, year B, and year A, you end up over the course of three years basically reading the entire Bible. There obviously places that are omitted. If you read all four readings, obviously we don’t read all four readings. We’re sticking to the Gospels. But I find it interesting that the new common lectionary as it turns its page toward October All of the readings seem to have a stewardship emphasis. Yes, they do. We have ten lepers. Ten of them. And they’re all healed, and one comes back. So that 10th comes back into the church, as the Bible says it ought to. the tithe is to The Lord, is holy unto the Lord, Bring all the tithes back in the storehouse. So, I thought what a great passage to preach right here in the beginning of October, because tomorrow you will receive, or no, Tomorrow we mail out a letter and a pledge card and all that and financial campaign stuff is starting. So here we are, the tithing lepers.
I am not going to do that to you. Okay. That is not what. Okay, everybody, take your hand off your wallet. Relax. I want you in your imagination to just stand by the roadside for a couple of minutes. Just stand there, and let’s walk through this passage together. Can you do that? Wherever your mind was, you can be standing. You can be in a rocking chair. You can be in an easy chair just wherever you need to be. As we deal with these lepers and their encounter with Jesus. the first thing we notice is that Jesus is in between. He is nowhere. He is, according to Luke, between Samaria and Galilee, And the journey from Galilee down to Jerusalem took Jews through a circuitous route so they could avoid Samaria. Jesus is in no man’s land. No good Jew really wants to be here. And yet there he is. And he entered a village. And this village is so small it doesn’t even get a name. It’s insignificant. It doesn’t matter. It’s never going to be on a map. It’s never going to be famous.
So, Jesus is at a place that nobody cares about. He’s just in a place. And there are ten lepers. leprosy in the Bible could have been Hansen’s disease, which is a biological disease, and transferred from human being to human being. Leprosy could be eczema, psoriasis, ringworm. leprosy could be a boil you get on your arm. There are some very bad acnes that would qualify as leprosy in the Old Testament, And there in the New Testament. When you were a leper, according to Jewish ceremonial law, you were unclean. You were required to be at least six feet from the nearest human being, to not allow them to casually touch you, to not allow any contact with you. You were required to stand and call unclean, unclean.
You were separated from your family. They were not allowed to be around you because you were unclean. You were separated from the community. Same reason; you’re unclean. You are not allowed in the temple. You are not allowed into the temple Even on Yom Kippur. You are not allowed in the temple to sacrifice for your sins. You were separated from everything that brought meaning to everything that brought life to you. It was taken away from you because you were a leper. The only thing you could do is beg for mercy or alms. That was it. There’s been one time in American culture where we were near this, and it was back in the early eighties when AIDS just was being diagnosed and it was spreading. It was spreading rapidly, And the scientists didn’t know what it was, how it was spreading. They just knew that the people that got it were dying, horrible deaths. And we in this country until we had a handle on really what it was and how it was spread, were treating people with AIDS as the Old Testament treated the lepers. As a matter of fact, the first generation of people who died as a result of AIDS were not allowed to be embalmed. They had to be cremated, because it wasn’t known what kind of danger that disease was to other people.
Can you imagine living in a culture where you are that separated from everything? that you have to stand there and announce to the world I’ve got this. I am a leper. I am unclean. Don’t come near me. There’s no love. There’s no compassion. There’s no human touch. They have to beg for what they receive. And what happens is lepers basically form their own communities. They’re estranged from everybody except lepers.
So, there they are. And you’re standing there on the side of that road and you’re seeing these ten men who are separated from everything. And along comes Jesus. And they call out saying, Jesus, master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said to them, Go and show yourselves to the priest. He didn’t announce to them that they were healed. He prescribed to them what the Levitical Law said they needed to do. Show yourself to the priest and what would happen is you would go in, you would show your leprosy, your disease to the priest and the priest with either declare it leprosy or something else. If it was something else, there would be a ritual for your cleansing, and you could hopefully rejoin the community. So, Jesus is prescribing to them what the Leviticus Law says they ought to do. They ought to show themselves to the priest in order that they may be cleansed. Leprosy also is the way the Bible likes to talk about sin, because sin is separation from God and sin creates separation from humanity. Sin renders us unclean. We cannot approach a holy God in a sinful state. So, in a way, there are parallels between leprosy and sin. And the title of the sermon, for those of you who are not Latin aficionados, comes from the Catholic Mass, where the priest is at the point of sprinkling holy water on the congregation. And the phrase means, wash me, Lord, wash me. It comes from the 51st Psalm where David says, wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. Purge me with hyssop and I will be made clean, wash me and I shall be white, whiter than snow. The cry of the lepers is for Jesus to cleanse their physical body and by extension, to cleanse their spirit, to forgive them of their sins, to help them move past the sin that’s in their lives.
There’s a beautiful story in the Old Testament about another leper. You know him as Naman. it’s in the fifth chapter of Second Kings. And Naman is the commander of the army of the king of Aram. I mean, Naman is about the baddest commander we can have. He has a Mercedes Benz chariot with all the latest technology. He has slaves that carry his spears and his bows and everything he needs for war. He is a great man, according to the text, but the text says he had leprosy. that under his magnificent robes, under all the symbols he had of power and wealth, He was deceased, and that’s us. No matter how much we clean up the outside, sometimes there’s darkness at the very core of our beings. And Naman was frustrated about his physical malady. And it’s fun. In the fifth chapter, all the servants that get involved. Naaman’s wife has a servant girl who’s come from Israel, and the servant girl tells Naaman’s wife, you know, if Naman were just in Israel, there’s a prophet, Elijah who could do something. So Naman goes to the king of Aram and works up a deal. And the king gives Naman a bunch of stuff to give to the king of Israel so the healing can take place. So Naaman is packing his chariot, and here’s what he took: Naman went, taking with him ten talents of silver, 6000 shekels of gold, And I love this one, and ten sets of garments. I mean, what’s he packing there? I mean, is it suits to change every day? How many dresses does Naman have? We’re going to barter these suits, these sets of garments. He has a letter to the king of Israel which reads, you know, when this letter reaches, you know that I’ve sent Naman. Naman needs to be cured of his leprosy. The king ruins his garments because he’s not a healer. And Elijah finds out that the king has torn his garment. He says, King, why did you tear your clothes? Send him to me. I know what to do. I’ve got the leprosy ritual. So Naaman, with his horses and his chariots; I mean, he’s got a whole entourage. He’s so powerful; They pull up to the preacher Elijah’s house.
Naman is certain that the preacher Elijah is going to come out and do a healing ritual, that there’s going to be anointing there, going to be prayers, go be tambourines. We’re all sing with the guitar. We’re going to have a full-blown church service because he’s Naman. besides, he’s there in his orange Mercedes Benz chariot with these clothes hanging off the eye. Every time I see this chariot, it’s got a clothes rack on the back. It just. I’m sorry. I can’t get that image out of my mind. Neiman riding up with the clothes blowing in the wind and Elijah doesn’t even come out. Elijah sends his servant. says, go tell. Naman to dip in the Jordan seven times. Immerse himself in the Jordan seven times. And Naman is furious. He’s furious. Back in Naaman’s hometown, Damascus, there are two rivers, and these two rivers have Dasani water flowing through them. It’s pure and clean and wonderful water. And the Jordan River looks like a bayou with the shrimp boats parked in it. It’s dirty, it’s muddy. And Naaman’s offended. But his slave says to him, Naman If the Prophet had told you to do something mighty, you would have done it. But he tells you to immerse yourself seven times and it, upset you. Get down there and immerse yourself so no one goes down in the river. First time down, back up. Nothing. Second time, down and back up. Now, if you want to see a funny site, you can try this later tonight. Either your swimming pool or your bathtub. Immerse yourself and see how silly it looks. Second time down and back up. Third time down and back up. Fourth time down and back up. Fifth time down and back up. Sixth time down and back up and nothing is happening. Seventh time. And the Hebrew says, I’m looking on purpose. The Hebrew says that when Naman came up the seventh time, his skin was as a baby’s. a baby’s. healed. Forgiven. baby skin, a new start.
Naaman, who was separated from culture, has met God’s amazing grace. These lepers who are separated from culture have met Jesus Christ, the Incarnation, God’s amazing grace. And one comes back to say Thank you. one, just one. one expresses gratitude. I’ve actually seen this happen. Go into a hospital room. Somebody is about to have surgery. They haven’t really been users of their church membership. But you go there, and you pray for them because that’s what Christ called us to do. and you’re there talking to them, and they start promising you everything, aw preacher, Once I get my widget fixed, I’m going to be back in church. Just as soon as I get out of this hospital, I’m going to be back in church. I’ll be there every Sunday, Preacher. pray for them. They get their widget fixed. Never see them. I have a list. If you like my list, I’ll let you pray for my list of people who promised me. Once God heals me, I’ll be back in church.
Then this guy in one church, his wife came to church all the time. He never did. He was friendly enough and nice enough. He just didn’t bother coming to church, I think he sent His wife said, Go find out what they’re saying. Come back and tell me. Well, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, fairly advanced pancreatic cancer. And the Sunday after he was diagnosed, he was right there on the second row. And in that church, you cannot get closer to the preacher than on the second row of that church. He was right there on the second row with his wife, and every Sunday he was right there in church. He even had the ministers of the church do a healing service for him and we were glad to do it. And we did the full-blown service one Sunday and he appreciated that. I went to MD Anderson when he had his surgery. He didn’t have the North American Whipple procedure. He had to have the Japanese Whipple procedure because of how his pancreas was located, and he survived his surgery very well. Thank you very much. I went two weeks later back to MD Anderson to pray for him before he got out and went home.
And the church did everything the church was supposed to do. When he arrived back, we had meals. We had meals lined up for weeks. We wrote cards and notes, we made visits, we did everything we could do and the moment his diagnosis came back, or the report came back, said, Dude, you’re healed. You ain’t got no cancer no more. You are a healed human being. Didn’t see him again in church.
What is that? It’s a lack of gratitude. Jesus said, didn’t I heal ten of you? I did heal ten. Where are the other nine? Can they come back and say thank you? Could they not offer praise to God for His healing power and his healing presence? I was friends with a couple that by the time I knew them they were in their eighties, and they told me that when they got married, they had decided that they would be a tithing couple, that they would give 10% of everything they ever made to the church. And they said they did it not because they were afraid of God. They didn’t do it out of a sense of guilt. They did it out of a sense of gratitude. But what they said about it was telling. They said, we did this because we were afraid of what we would become if we didn’t do this. And they were generous people, and they were grateful people. The one came back and expressed gratitude to Jesus, and he was a Samaritan.
So, you’ve been standing there, or you’ve been sitting, as I’ve talked you through being separated from God and the grace of God and the healing power that comes, and that our response to that is gratitude. I want to suggest to you that when Jesus speaks his last phrase to the leper, he’s actually talking to you and me. Then he said to the leper, get up, go on your way. Your faith has made you well. The Greek word is based on the verb sozo. it means whole well saved. You could actually say, get up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you. We can observe the biblical text for just so long, but after a while we have to engage it and we have to go and proclaim it. So, the command of Jesus, once you’ve stood on the side of the road and watch this play out, is for you to get up and go tell your story and yes, you have a story. A lot of you have a story of being separated from God, being separated from family, being separated from the community of faith. But you experience God’s love and grace in your life. And you came back to wholeness, and you came back to wellness, and you were saved. And you’ve expressed that in your gratitude. It’s your story. Nobody else is narrating your story for you. It’s your story. And people will respond. People will respond to your story if you will do one simple thing, tell your story. There’s some amazing stories in this room, some amazing stories of God’s love and grace active right here among us.
Tell your story because there’s somebody right now in your life that needs your story. They’re feeling separated. They don’t know about God’s love and grace. They don’t know what it is to live out of the spirit of gratitude. They need to hear it narrated for them. So, I say to you what Jesus said to the lepers, get up and go on your way. Live out and tell your story. Would you stand and pray with me?
We thank you, God, for the stories that we have, for the stories of Christ’s love and grace in our lives, for the transforming power that you’ve brought us. We pray, oh, Lord, for healing, for wholeness, for salvation. And in response to that receive our thanks, our praise, and our grateful hearts in Jesus’ name, amen.