Damariscotta Baptist Church
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

10/13/13 Sermon - Ed Wynne



Jeremiah 29:1,4-7

II Timothy 2:8-15

Luke 17:11-19


Like any pastor, I spend a fair amount of time around sick people. Unlike some of you who are nurses, pharmacists, or social workers, there is very little I can actually do for sick people except to visit them and pray over them, which is fine as far as it goes. But as they would probably tell you, it doesn't go too far. While a visit from a doctor of philosophy is fine, what they want is a doctor of medicine.

Sickness is about the worst life can do to us. Not only the pain, the physical misery, but the mental, spiritual anguish as well. We ask, Why me?

Sickness is the everyday, in-life experience of vulnerability, finitude, death. Sickness, at its worst, is a foretaste of what it is like to have the world go on without us, to be nothing. Sickness is a reminder that life is fragile, limited, vulnerable-- in short, terminal. Sickness is a brush with death.

Is that why we, who happen now to be well, are so threatened by sick people? We send a card or make a call but find it hard to visit, difficult physically to confront a person who is seriously ill. Is that why we scurry desperately to find some reason for every illness, some virus that can be conquered, some new treatment? Is that why we isolate those who are ill in modern leper colonies called hospitals and nursing homes rather than risk caring for them ourselves? We touch them, but only with rubber gloves.

Out in Samaria, on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus met ten very sick people. Ten lepers. Why is he going to Jerusalem? We know what awaits Jesus there, in just a few months. Death.

That Jesus is an outcast in Samaria and that he is on his way to death in Jerusalem makes this an interesting location for him to meet ten lepers.

Here are ten people who have been cast out of family, home, and work, made to wander helplessly because they are afflicted with a dreaded disease. It doesn't take too much imagination on our part to think of a particular disease that seems to parallel leprosy in our day. Here are not only ten sick people but also, without stretching things too far, ten dead people. They are marked for death, not just in the future but now, today. Like Jesus himself, they are doomed to die. For as far as these lepers' families are concerned, they are dead. It takes a condemned, outcast person to know one. Out in Samaria, an outcast named Jesus meets ten outcasts who are lepers. Moreover, at least one of them is a Samaritan, so he has two strikes against him. Samaritans were hated as another race, as members of a corrupted, compromised religion. So these ten are dead people, if not yet physically, then spiritually, socially, dead.

Standing well away from Jesus-- as lepers were required by law to do-- they cry out, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.

Jesus looks at them and tells them to go “show yourselves to the priests.” Jesus is referring to Leviticus 14:2-3, which specifies what the priest is to do with a leper who happens to get healed. A leper was not allowed in the temple because lepers were thought to be “unclean.” If cured, the leper must be ritually purified, certified “clean” by the priest, in order to worship at the temple.

So Jesus' command to them is a bit confusing. They have asked to be healed. But Jesus has done nothing to heal them. He's only told them to go and act as if they were healed. Go, present yourselves to the priest as if you were whole, healed, accepted, living people.

Strange. But let's face it, Jesus is often strange. So, they go. Luke doesn't say whether they went to the temple or just plain went bumping into each other to get out of the way of Jesus, who is acting and talking strangely. At any rate, they go. And, as they go, they are healed.

Nine of them just kept going. Apparently, they make no connection between Jesus' weird reply and their recovery from leprosy. After all, Jesus didn't do what they expected. He didn't touch them with mud and spit, as he once did a blind man. He didn't command any demons to come out of them, as he did some sick people. He didn't even say, “Be healed.” As far as they are concerned, Jesus had nothing to do with their healing.

But one leper, a Samaritan, made the connection. He came back, loudly praising God, screaming at the top of his lungs, and fell at Jesus' feet, saying, Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Luke notes, “And he was a Samaritan. So he was a two-time loser, a double dead duck. And Jesus once again says the unexpected. Hey, so what happened to the other nine? Has only one come back to say thanks? And him a Samaritan of all things. Get up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.

So what do we make of this medical miracle? One Samaritan leper had faith and was healed. The other nine, who presumably had absolutely no faith, were also healed. What's the difference between the unthankful nine and the thankful one Jesus is pinpointing with his terse, if not downright gruff, reply? Get up and go! Your faith has saved you.

In his book, The Parables of Grace, Robert Capon urges us to think about it this way: The ten lepers are all dead people. Whether we are talking physically, spiritually, socially, they are dead. They would love to get healed which, in this context, means they would love to get raised from the dead, resurrected, which they assume would send them back home to a “normal life.” That's all they ever really asked for, just a chance to “be like other people,” an opportunity to go back home and be like everybody else, normal. They assume that is what Mr. Resurrection, Jesus, is all about, a return to the normal, revival of the ordinary for people who, because of their infirmity and illness, are abnormal and sub-ordinary.

But one of the healed lepers, the Samaritan, realizes real resurrection. He alone comes back to say, “Thanks.” He realizes his healing puts him in relationship to Jesus, a relationship which alone has made him whole and alive again.

All the other nine wanted out of Jesus was to be made well, to go back home and start all over again, doing what everybody else had been doing-- driving to work on Mondays,, going to school, eating yogurt out of plastic containers, meeting some nice Galilean and maybe starting a family of nice, normal, ordinary children and a station wagon. And who would blame them?

Later these normal nine would say, Who, me? A leper? You've got to be kidding! I eat yogurt. Never been sick a day in my life-- not me.

But that one Samaritan comes back not only cured but saved, because he alone saw his healing, his “resurrection” wasn't just something for the future. It was for now. He was saved and accepted by Jesus now, while he was a leper, when he was still sick, untouchable, before he got well. He alone realized Jesus didn't just want to make people well, much less normal; he wanted to raise people from the dead. Easter is now!

Those poor, healed nine lepers go away unsaved precisely because they put their lives as lepers, as outcasts and dead people, behind them and went on to be nothing but normal. All those years of suffering and injustice, of pain and ostracism, just gone. Who, me? A leper? No, not me! I'm OK!

The healing began for all of them, not when they were healed-- even a hospital could do that-- but when they met Jesus who took them, all ten of them-- leprosy, outcastness, deadness and all-- just as they were. But only one of them knew it, so he alone came back to say, Thanks, Jesus; I needed that.

Nine got healed, but only one got saved. Your faith-- your relationship to my accepting, embracing, life-giving, extravagant love-- has saved you. Not your clear, clean, whitewashed skin; not your good, Bible-believing, cleaned-up, boringly middle-class normality has saved you. I have saved you, just as you are. I am here only for the sick.

And for that, the Samaritan rightly said, “Thanks.”

It's a gift. When will we ever get it through our heads? It's a gift! Can we say the word, “Grace”? When grace is offered, we are on our way to getting more than even a dermatologist can do for us, on our way to being saved, warts-- or even leprosy-- and all.

Where are the other nine? Why aren't they leaping and shouting for joy, partying with the father and having the time of their lives? Where are the other nine?

They are back at work, back to business as usual, nothing more than merely normal. Skin now clear and clean, lives all progressing along nicely, and everything so, so utterly, boringly normal.

What a shame, to have met Jesus, the Lord and Giver of Life, the one who loves to eat and drink with sinners and take us and embrace us just as we are, and to come away with nothing more than normal.

What a shame for people to settle for Monday, when they could have had Sunday, Easter.

What a shame, out on the road toward death-- and aren't we all?-- to have met Jesus headed to the cross, and to have come away only healed when we could have been saved.