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Monday, October 18, 2010

Sermon from October 10, 2010

Ordinary Time: Sunday 28
Rev. Rob Ruff

The writer, Anne Lamont, once said, “The two best prayers I know are: ‘Help me, help me, help me’ and ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you’.” The Tenth Leper in today’s gospel teaches us the importance of keeping those two best prayers joined together.

There were ten lepers in today’s gospel – ten people suffering from that dread disease.
Leprosy was & is an infectious disease, characterized by disfiguring skin sores,
nerve damage, and numbness in the hands, arms, legs and feet.

In Jesus’ day leprosy was thought to be highly contagious and so lepers were required by law to keep their distance from those who were healthy. They were required to live with other lepers in colonies outside of town. They were effectively cut off from family,
friends, work, and the rest of society.

According to the book of Leviticus: “The one who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, … and cry ‘Unclean, unclean’. He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease… and he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp.” (Lev. 13:45-46)

Lepers no doubt lived difficult lives and, I expect, they despaired from time to time
of ever being whole, healthy, or normal again. And so the ten lepers in today’s gospel
drew near to Jesus, having heard of his reputation as a healer. Keeping their distance as proscribed by law, they called out to him, “Jesus, master, have mercy on us.” It was their version of that first best prayer, Help me, help me, help me.

We too, brothers and sisters, you and I, not unlike those 10 lepers, suffer from a dread condition. Our is not a physical illness like leprosy, but a spiritual condition. It is our sinful waywardness; our inability, despite our best efforts, to be the people we most want to be, the people God calls us to be; our inability, despite our best efforts, to live the lives God calls us to live. The dread condition of our sin cuts us off from God,
others, and even ourselves. It causes us to band together in a colony with other sinners for solace and support – a colony we call the church. From to time we despair of ever being healed of this condition - of ever being the whole, holy people we are called to be.

And so we too draw near Jesus, knowing his reputation as a healer and a savior. We call out to him, here in this assembly each and every week, we pray: “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.” It is our prayer of ‘Help me, help me – help us, help us.

Jesus told the ten lepers, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Now in that moment, Jesus’ words made no sense. Lepers were required to show themselves to the priests after
they had been cured of their disease. And the priest would examine the leper and if he had indeed been healed, the priest would certify that this person was now culturally,
legally, and religiously clean.

But these ten lepers were still suffering from their dread disease, they were still unclean. And so it made no sense to go to the priests. But they went anyway. They went, presumably to show themselves to the priests (or maybe they just wandered off, bewildered by Jesus’ illogical suggestion.) Either way, as they went they were healed. As if in the blink of an eye they were changed from unclean to clean, from ill to well. And as we heard, nine of them kept right on going down the road and out of sight.

But one turned back, disobeying Jesus command. The tenth leper, grateful for the gift of healing, returned to give thanks to the Giver of that gift. And he was a Samaritan: The only non-Jew in the group.

He shouted out his praise to God and fell at Jesus’ feet. I imagine him weeping tears of grateful joy.He fell on his face before Jesus and prayed that second best prayer over and over again: Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! Jesus wondered aloud: “Where are the nine? Is this foreigner the only one to return and give praise to God?”

“This foreigner.” Have you ever noticed, Brothers & Sister, how often it is with Jesus that a foreigner, an outsider, an outcast, a sinner is held up as an example of faith?
Think of the “Good Samaritan” (the good foreigner) – who stopped to help the man who had been beaten when others passed by on the other side of the road, unwilling to get involved. Or the “sinful” woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, when Jesus’ host that evening failed to offer Him the usual foot washing hospitality. Or the Canaanite woman who asked for Jesus’ help. When he told her it is not right to give the children’s bread to the dogs”, she came right back at him saying
“But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table”.

And today we meet the Tenth Leper, the foreigner, the only one of the ten who remembered his manners, who demonstrates an attitude of gratitude in response to God’s gift. Jesus reaches down and lifts the grateful, former leper to his feet, saying Go, my child, Go, live your life, your faith has made you well. Literally he tells him, Your faith has saved you.

In the words of one wise preacher: “Ten were healed of their skin disease, but only one was saved. Ten were declared clean and restored to society, but only one was said to have faith. Ten set out for Jerusalem to claim their free gifts as they were told, but only one turned back and gave himself to the Giver instead. Ten behaved like good lepers, good Jews; only one, a double loser, behaved like a man in love.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life, page 110.)

As for you and me, Sisters & Brothers, while we were yet sinners, while we were still lost in our wayward wanderings, Jesus died for us. And by his wounds we are healed.
Because of Jesus, as if in the blink of an eye, we are changed from sinners to saints,
from lost to found, we are “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven”.

And what is our response to that amazing gift of grace? Do we behave like the nine lepers, continuing on down the road? Or do we react like the tenth leper, falling at Jesus’ feet with grateful hearts? Having prayed our Help me, help me’s, do we also pray “Thank you, thank you??

Well, this I know: we gather here together each week in worship not only to pray
Lamb of God, have mercy on us, but also to give God thanks. We gather here together in worship each week because we know, we know that (in the words of the liturgy) “it is our duty and our delight at all times and in all places to give God thanks and praise”. And so here together each week we sing with gusto hymns of thanks and praise. We bow our heads, our hearts and our bodies in thanksgiving. We fall to our knees to thank God for God’s good and many blessings. We pray the Great Thanksgiving, remembering and giving thanks for all God’s saving acts, all the while together facing East in eager expectation of that day when our Savior will come again like the rising sun. And we lift us empty hands to gratefully receive the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.

As Martin Luther wrote long ago, in words many of us once committed to memory: “I believe that God has created me and all that exists…He provides me with food and clothing, home and family, daily work and all I need from day to day. God also protects me in time of danger and guards me from every evil. All this God does out of fatherly and divine goodness and mercy, though I do not deserve it. Therefore I surely ought to thank and praise, serve and obey God.”

Therefore we surely ought to thank and praise, serve and obey God. And, truth be told, Brothers and Sisters, there are moments for each of us, when God’s gracious, healing love
washes over us anew in such a way that we are so filled with gratitude, so overcome with thanks for the grace that transforms us from having to stand off afar calling out “Unclean” to now being worthy to come into God’s very presence, so thankful are we in those moments that were it not for our Midwestern, Minnesota Lutheran stoicism we would behave exactly like the Tenth Leper: running forward down this aisle and falling on our faces at the foot of the altar as if at the feet of Jesus himself, weeping tears of joy
and praying over and over again “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

And when we do, when we fall on our faces at Jesus’ feet, pouring out our thanks and praise, if we listen, amid the sounds of our tears and our thank you prayers, if we listen, we will hear the voice of our sweet savior speaking to us, saying: Get up my dear child, go live your life, your faith in me and my love for you have saved you.

The two best prayers I know are: ‘Help me, help me, help me’ and ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you’.” The Tenth Leper in today’s gospel teaches us the importance of keeping those two best prayers joined together.

So Thanks be to God, Sisters & Brothers!
(say it with me)
Thanks be to God!


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