Sermons

2019 Pentecost 18 Proper 23

There were three Florida senior citizens talking about their ailments: The first guy said, “My arms are so weak and shaky I can hardly hold this cup of coffee.”  The second guy said, Yeah, that’s tough.  You know, my cataracts are so bad I can hardly see my coffee.” The third guy said, “My arthritis in my neck is so bad I can hardly bend my head to drink my coffee.”

They were all silent for a while feeling bad about how their bodies were just not the way they used to be. Then the first guy said, “Well, it’s not all bad. We should be thankful we can all still drive.” Gratitude is important isn’t it?

The very first person to reach the status of billionaire was a man who knew how to set goals and follow through. At the age of 23, he had become a millionaire, by the age of 50 a billionaire. Every decision, attitude, and relationship was tailored to create his personal power and wealth. But three years later at the age of 53 he became ill; he became very ill. His entire body became racked with pain and he lost all the hair on his head. In complete agony, the world’s only billionaire could buy anything he wanted, but he could only digest milk and crackers. An associate wrote, “He could not sleep, would not smile and nothing in life meant anything to him.” His personal, highly skilled physicians predicted he would die within a year.

That year passed agonizingly slow. As he approached death he awoke one morning with the vague remembrances of a dream. He could barely recall the dream but knew it had something to do with not being able to take any of his successes with him into the next world. The man who could control the business world suddenly realized he was not in control of his own life. He was left with a choice. He called his attorneys, accountants, and managers and announced that he wanted to channel his assets into hospitals, into research, and into mission work. On that day John D. Rockefeller established the Rockefeller Foundation. This new direction eventually led to the discovery of penicillin, cures for the current strains of malaria, cures for tuberculosis and diphtheria. The list of discoveries resulting from his choice is enormous.

But perhaps the most amazing part of Rockefeller’s story is that the moment he began to give back a portion of all that he had earned, his body’s chemistry was altered so significantly that he got better. It looked as if he would die at 53 but he lived to be 98. Rockefeller learned gratitude and gave back from his wealth. Doing so made him whole. Gratitude is a powerful emotion.  Gratitude helps us to see better who we are and what our position is with God.

Our gospel reading today is a familiar one. Ten lepers see Jesus, ask for healing, and Jesus sends them to a priest.  They go and as they walk to show themselves to a priest, they become healed.  One returns to thank Jesus.

In those days, leprosy was a terrifying disease. You can carry the disease for years before the symptoms appear. Leprosy first appears as nodules on your skin which grow larger and larger, until they force deep wrinkles all over your body. Then your lips, nose and ear lobes grow thicker, until your face begins to resemble an animal’s. You get ulcerations everywhere, which cause your arms and legs to be horribly mutilated. You start losing your fingers and toes and as the disease continues to progress, you are left blinded. It was contagious and there was no known cure until modern times.  Jewish law forbade anyone with leprosy to live around others who were not infected. They had to live on the outskirts of towns and villages and if anyone approached them, they were to ring a bell or some sort of noise maker and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.”  How humiliating, how lonely were their lives. One day they were living like everyone else, had families, had homes, had jobs and then the next day someone would notice a spot or patch of discolored skin.  And even though this person may have had wealth and power and position, the fear of leprosy was so great that they were sent out from society to live by themselves. It was death penalty; there was no cure, only the prospect of increasing disfigurement. So it was no wonder that lepers would band together for companionship and even safety.  So even normal social antagonists lived together and helped each other.

In our gospel account we see that these lepers did not approach Jesus too closely. They kept their distance; they called from afar. They called to Jesus to have mercy upon them.  It is interesting to note the phrase they used was “Kyrie eleison”, Lord have mercy. We still use this prayer. When Jesus sees them he simply calls back to them, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”  This was in keeping with Jewish law.  Moses had set it up long ago. Once a person had leprosy they could no longer be part of society at all.  But sometimes, people would get other skin diseases which over time would heal and in order to get back into society; in those situations people had to go to the priest who would examine them and see if they were better.  If they were then the people would be declared clean and could return to their past lives and once again live with their families and have jobs and talk with their friends.  So this is why Jesus told these guys to go the priest and show themselves.

Now usually when Jesus healed someone, the healing was instantaneous but not in this case. These men had to begin to go to Judea where the priests were; and they started out still having the obvious signs of leprosy upon them.  But as they went on their way, the ravages of the disease began to disappear.  You can imagine the conversation as they are walking or for some limping along.  One says to the other, “Hey Joseph, didn’t you have a big discolored patch on your wrist?”  Joseph stops and looks.  Everyone stops and looks. And then Joseph examines his entire arm.  It is clearing up as he looks.  Then everyone begins to look at themselves and ask each other, “Hey, the place on my head, is it gone?”  “Not completely—but it is getting really small.”  One of guys says, “Look, my finger is coming back!”  Another says, “Hey, I can feel my feet again!”  They get more and more excited and they begin walk faster.  They begin to say to each other, “I am going to get to hold my children again!”  “I will get to hug my wife again”  “I will be able to live with my family and sleep in my own bed again.”  Tears of joy begin to run down their faces and they begin to jog not walk.  And then one of them stops; perhaps the rest of the men do not even notice.  He examines his body and can’t believe what he sees for the joy of it.  And then he turns around and begins to run back.  He runs back to Jesus.  We are told he is praising God in a loud voice. He is shouting!  Notice that now he comes close to Jesus—he doesn’t stand far away—and we are told he falls on his face in front of Jesus. Jesus says, “Weren’t there 10 who were healed?  Where are the others? Clearly Jesus expected gratitude from all ten. Jesus expected them to delay seeing their loved ones. He expected them to delay getting back to their lives. God expects that gratitude should come first; it is that important!

Gratitude changes our perspective on life. It changes our perspective on our situations. Through gratitude we act, think and even feel differently. God tells us in His Word over and over to be grateful—grateful to Him—grateful to others.  May God help us to become more grateful people and may he help us to become more aware of his blessings to us. Amen