October 13, 2019
2Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c, Psalm 111, 2Timothy 2:8-15, Luke 17: 11-19
When you think about all of the texts included in this morning’s lectionary, what catches your attention? Is there anything in the text that raises questions for you? What do you make of the meaning of these texts for yourself?
There are many parts of the various texts that grab my attention and I’ll share my wonderings with you as I go, but I would like to dwell in the passage from 2 Timothy first just briefly. I felt that parts of this text were speaking to me and in particular to this moment I am currently sharing with all of you. The verses from Paul spoke of the very real responsibilities set literally right in front of me as I am delivering a sermon that hopefully sheds light onto the meaning of the Word of God that appears in these passages today. The last verse, verse 15 in particular sticks in my mind. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” As someone who is currently following the call of God to enter into pastoral ministry, I am both affirmed and challenged by this verse. God has approved of me and I have no reason to be ashamed, but now I must rightly explain the word of truth. I am responsible for explaining the Gospel? Oof what a task! Knowing the responsibility I have to the Word of God, I carefully studied and wrestled with the text in an effort to actively wonder what exactly the truth is in these passages from 2 Kings 5, Psalm 111 and Luke 17 and how to best convey that truth to all of you. So here it goes, Spirit lead me!
In the gospel text, Luke, in the middle of chapter 17, offers up a story of healing. Jesus, as he typically did was travelling about the land. As Jesus was passing through, 10 men with leprosy cried out for mercy in order that they would be healed, as people typically did when they encountered Jesus. Jesus told them to go to the priests, and as they went away, the miraculous healing occurred, as it typically occurs when Jesus declares the wounds healed. The men went away to tell others about their miracle, as those who were healed by Jesus typically did. But then something pretty atypical happened. One of the men who had been healed stopped, turned back, cried out in praise, prostrated himself and thanked Jesus. Not only was the man’s response to the healing different than what was expected but the man himself was different than who was expected to offer up praise to Jesus. It is important to note that the man was not just any man, he was a Samaritan man of all people.
A Samaritan man was the character least likely to offer up praise according to the Jewish perspective. Most of us have probably thought, or maybe just I have, that Samaritans were simply seen as “other” by the Jews, but a quick glance at history reveals that Samaritans were in fact seen as enemies of the Jews. They were hated and despised by the Jews. It began when the kingdom of Israel was split into the Northern and Southern kingdoms thus splitting the tribes of Israel. The Northern kingdom was later conquered by the Assyrians who brought foreign, non-Jewish peoples into the land. Intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews took place compromising the Jewish ethnicity. Overtime, Samaritans developed their own religious traditions but they still worshipped YHWH. Jews felt Samaritans were enemies because they threatened the ethnicity and traditions of the Jewish faith, and they had become straddled with one foot in the Gentile camp and the other in the Jewish camp, so to speak.
The idea that the Samaritan was the only one to turn back and offer up praise was kind of appalling. This Samaritan man had been healed by the power of God through Christ. He recognized what God had done for him in that moment. He was able to see the power of God, the activity of God, the presence of God there in that moment. None of the other nine stopped to see and recognize the truly awesome thing Jesus had done in that healing. And that is precisely what is so appalling! The Samaritan, the least expected person, saw. He recognized the power of God at work in Jesus’ healing when the others had not even stopped to notice or recognize God’s activity.
Now at this point in the sermon I had planned to move to the text from 2 Kings and the Psalm to connect them to the Gospel text in Luke to point out that we should offer God praise and thanksgiving in a way that goes much deeper than just saying “Thank you!” We should take time to actually see God’s power at work among us so that our thanks and praise to him are heartfelt and meaningful. But as some of us have already learned, when God is involved, our plans are often disrupted. I was in chapel at the seminary this past Thursday seeking the Holy Spirit, and of course that is what I received. There was a guest preacher, Rev. Dr. Elieshi Ayo Mungure, Lutheran World Federation Area Secretary for Africa, and lo and behold, the text for the day was Luke 17:11-19. She shared such beautiful reflections on the different parts of the text because there are indeed many lessons that can be drawn out from this one story. But she opened my ears to hear something different in the text that I had not quite heard yet in my own study of the text. She shed such light on how we should approach gratitude today in a world where it can become hard to feel grateful for anything at all.
It is very real and true that so much of what we hear all around us is tragic and sad. I don’t know about all of you but it seems that every time I turn on the tv or the radio or every time I tune into social media, I see hate, I see violence, I see death, I see hunger, I see hurt. Those things seem to be all around attempting to choke out the last bit of light this world has left. When there is no light, no hope, what is there to be thankful for? Elieshi pointed out that even in these moments of grief and hopelessness, God’s power is at work here on earth in his people through the Samaritan, the unlikely foreigner and through you and I. We should be grateful that God is ever present, His unconditional love surrounds us daily and he walks beside us throughout all the trials of life. When we cry out to Jesus for mercy much like the ten lepers did, Jesus will heal your every ill even and especially if that includes your soul. We should open our eyes to see God face to face in our everyday lives in order that we may witness his power, his healing, his grace and love. And because we have witnessed God’s great love for us, we should give thanks and praise.
The thanks and praise that we offer God should be as heartfelt and meaningful as the Samaritan man. He witnessed God’s healing touch and turned back to face Jesus. He let out shouts of praise to God and he prostrated himself before Jesus and thanked him. Notice his posture of thanksgiving. What posture do you take in offering up praise and thanksgiving to God? My original thoughts were that praise and thanksgiving should not be a superficial response to God but instead something much deeper than that. But again, Elieshi opened my heart to the idea that maybe the text is calling us to a greater posture of gratitude. She shared that the greatest form of praise and thanksgiving we can offer God is witnessing his love and healing in our lives and taking that love and healing we receive out to our neighbors. We give thanks to God by extending God’s blessings, love and presence in our lives to others we encounter including and especially the “foreigner” those who differ from us in race, religion, wealth, status, education, politics and all of the other ways we try to divide ourselves from the “other.”
The first couple of verses from Psalm 111 seem to fit the conclusion of what I am trying to express here:
1“Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
2Great are your works, O Lord,
pondered by all who delight in them.
3Majesty and splendor mark your deeds,
and your righteousness endures forever.
4You cause your wonders to be remembered;
you are gracious and full of compassion.
5You give food to those who fear you,
remembering forever your covenant.”
Everyday we can be thankful to God for he is a sure source of renewal, strength and hope even on our darkest days. For this reason, we should praise him and offer our thanks by extending His love and mercy to our neighbors. And even when we can’t or don’t or won’t give thanks and praise to God, his grace and love still surrounds us. Amen.