Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Journey to Gratefulness Luke17:11-19

Pastor Andy Cook Shares “the story of Pam, who worked in downtown Chicago. Every morning, she encountered a heavyset, middleaged woman in a shabby coat soliciting spare change in front of an old brick church. She greeted everyone with a smile and a pleasant "Good morning." Pam almost always gave her something. After almost a year of this routine, however, the woman in the shabby coat disappeared. Pam wondered what had happened to her.

Then, one beautiful day, she was in front of the church again, still wearing the same, shabby coat. As Pam reached into her purse for the usual donation, the woman stopped her. "Thank you for helping me all those days," she said. "You won't see me again because I've got a job." With that, she reached into a bag and handed Pam a wrapped package. She had been standing at her old spot waiting, not for a handout, but for the people she recognized so that she could give each of them a doughnut. She was thankful.”[1]

Being thankful is not always so easy.  Working our way into a grateful life takes practice and it is a Journey.  Listen to today’s Gospel. Jesus is traveling when he hears ten lepers Call out from a distance.

Leprosy is a terrible disease. It is a communicable disease that affects the skin and nerves of those infected. Though it is still around today most people will not catch it.  It requires a compromised immune system and or poor nutrition.  It is treatable with a regimen of medications. Annually there are 214000 new cases every year.[2]

Back then, in Jesus’ time, they had figured out that it was a communicable disease so if one were to display symptoms they were exiled from their family, their community from all they knew. Being that there was no treatment except for a miracle most died of disease and or starvation.

This disease took a terrible toll on the body.  As the nerves die one easily injures themselves and so sores and infections set in.  Besides loosing limbs, people literally would rot from the outside in.  The smell was the worse.

“Beth Moore, in her book Jesus The One And Only, tells of an occasion she had to be near a modern-day leper colony. Something within her had always wanted to minister in a leper colony, but her trip overseas had given her the first opportunity to be near such a place. She walked by the entrance three times. She saw those who were suffering. She begged herself for a chance to go inside. But she could not.

The reason? The smell overwhelmed her. She could not work up the stomach to go inside the colony. She could not bear the thought of witnessing for the Lord, but at the same time becoming violently ill as she faced human beings already acutely aware that they were different. The trip passed, and she was not able to go inside.”[3]

Lepers lived in groups and would beg for money or food.  But this wasn’t your normal fashion of begging.  They had to keep a distance, people could not get near them and they understood this.  So, they would stand not even on the side of the path or roads but in the nearby fields and they would shout at the top of their lungs hoping someone would have pity.

I Imagine, since they were not allowed to get close to people they often had their begging bowl set next to the path though they were a way off.  This opened them up to robbers and thieves who could easily steal their money before they even had a chance to see what might have been tossed in their plate.  They were subjects of fear and loathing often run off while rocks and stones were tossed at them. Human contact besides fellow lepers was seldom.

Jesus is on this road and he hears ten lepers shouting from the distance “Jesus Master have Mercy on us”! I imagine at first, he just heard noise in the distance because he did have a crowd around him.  But as they proceeded the shouting became louder and the crowd quieted down as they realized who, well really what was making the commotion.

Now Jesus does not approach them. He has hardly any interaction at all he just shouts back “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”(Luke 17:13)  My first thought, if I was one of them might had been “what are you kidding? Been there done that! That’s how we got here”

“The local priest had duties other than leading worship on each Sabbath. He was also something of a health official. If a person was miraculously healed of leprosy, it was up to the priest to inspect the body, to test for a complete removal of the disease, and to announce the person healed. In such cases, the person would have been cleansed, and at that point, it would be fine for the leper to see his wife again, to hold his daughter again, to look for work again. If the priest gave him the OK, he would be healed!”[4]

In the same way it was the priest who proclaimed the person unclean and sent them into exile.  So yeah been there done that would have been my thought.

But not this group.  This group, still diseased, still with open sores and extreme pain start to walk to the local priest.  These ten ill people who know their disease can see it is still running its course set out on the road.  They did not wait for the healing.  They did not wait for their prayers to be answered.  They trusted in Jesus so much that they started to walk down that road they were told to walk.  They stepped out in huge faith before their prayers were even answered.

Rev. Cooke says; “In other words, all of these men were no better off than they had been ten minutes earlier, when they had first spotted the famous teacher.

And yet, they headed off in search of the priests. And on their way, they were healed. On their way, a hand reappeared, and tingled with life. A crutch tripped on a filthy rag, as it fell to the ground. The leg was back, healthy, whole, complete. The skin cleared, and the tiny hairs on a forearm turned from snow white to brown. One looked at the other, another looked at the rest, and the screaming started. The smiles broke into cheering, and a sweet madness. They raced off in the distance, not believing that the nightmare was finally over.

But for the miracle to happen, these men had to start walking in faith before their circumstances had changed one tiny bit.”[5]

I try to be faithful.  I try to trust in God.  I have stepped out in faith not knowing what was coming next.  But wow this one is hard. I imagine these men just still sore still pain ridden turning to seek a priest in despair.  They had nothing to lose.  They have heard of this great teacher.  They have heard about his miracles and, so they just start walking.

They start walking slowly at first for it is painful to walk.  Then slowly one starts to notice his step becoming lighter.  A little way down the road another starts to notice he can feel his feet.  A third can feel his hand.  Suddenly they all stop realizing what has Just happened and they rejoice.

 I wish my faith was as great as theirs.  There are so many roads I would have walked down.  Then again perhaps they were not mine to walk down. Funny thing stepping out in faith. It is particular. It is a process and when it happens what is meant to be will be.

I truly believe these lepers were sent to the priests because that is what they were called to do.  Even though doubts were high.  Perhaps they were even touched by healers before and nothing happened.  We do not know their whole story all we know is that this time.  This time when Jesus gave them a task their hearts were moved enough that they stepped out.

There is a cooperation needed for the miracle to happen it takes three.  That’s what I said it takes three. It takes God to give us an opportunity and/or many opportunities.  It takes the spirit prompting us , encouraging us to step out.  Then finally it takes us taking that deep breath and to actually start down that road.

It is a challenge for us and we always want to well bargain.  You know what I mean.  Ok God I feel you are calling me to do this, to go here, to try that.  I will go, do, and try, if you dot dot dot.  Right? I mean how many times is our prayer God if you just dot dot dot then I will dot dot dot!

“But we cannot wait until the problems are over to start walking in faith. You cannot put conditions on holy God. You cannot say, "Lord, as soon as there's enough money, I follow your instructions." You cannot pray, "Lord, if you'll just solve this issue in my family, I'll start to church." You cannot put conditions on God! Instead, God places a demand for faith on us, before anything at all has changed.”[6]

This is a long road, this faith journey and it requires of us some bold moves.  God requires of us to be bold. But even being bold in God requires a process.  For us it’s called discernment. “Discernment is more than just a process. Even for the most 'material' or 'nitty-gritty' matters, there is a Spirit at work nudging us, leading us, even pulling us by the nose ring. Then again, even for the most 'spiritual' matters, there are disciplines, methods, processes, lessons, means, and tools which the Spirit can work through to help us discern rightly. Discernment isn't usually a sudden zap from beyond, but something which emerges from hard work and close attention.”[7]

This process of the journey with God means we listen with our spirit, with our soul for patterns.  God doesn’t usually just drop something on us and expects us to act right away.  I said earlier there are often something that continues to arise in our heart.  An opportunity from God that seems to come to us again, and again, and again. Until we take it to prayer and say is that you God.

Remember Samuel?  The lord called him three times.  The first time he thought it was Eli, so he went to Eli and said here I am and Eli said go back to bed.  The God called Samuel a second time this time Eli realized what was happening and told Samuel to answer here I am Lord the next time he is called.  I took 3 calls and a spiritual director to figure out that it was God calling Samuel.

We really cannot put God on hold oddly enough she will keep pestering us till we answer the call that is placed upon our heart. 

Also there are times we should step out on the road that God has called us to in spite of where we are at on our journey.  Much as with the lepers.  They were not healed yet and they started upon their Journey.

“God might say, "Love me despite the disease. Obey me despite the lack of talent, or the lack of resources. Follow me now, despite the depression. Say no to the temptation, while it still is difficult. Praise me in the darkest of nights, and in the worst of circumstances."[8]

It is here through the most difficult of times when we are tested.  Do we step out on the journey with God knowing that we may not have all the gifts needed?  Perhaps knowing that we do not have all the resources?  Perhaps knowing that a ministry may cost the church money?  How many times has anyone heard a story of people seeing a need and begin to fill it then and only then does the money come to help make the ministry stronger, better?

I know of a church in Medford Massachusetts called sanctuary. Now this is not an example for this congregation but an example for stepping out in faith.  They had this big old historic sanctuary and the congregation was down to about 30.  They knew they had to do something different.  They sold their sanctuary and moved into a store front in downtown.

They didn’t know if that would work.  They were scared and for the first two years or so it seemed truly rough going. But now it is a thriving congregation ministering to youth.  Ministering to the people who walk by.  They have Projects of partnering with other churches.  They have a ministry to a Lakota reservation.  They have art church, Faith and Film, and dinner church.

Again, I am not saying this is your future what I am saying is sometimes it seems crazy and impossible when we step out in faith. They almost failed a few times but now they thrive, and they are grateful.

First, they were grateful for their history and all their old sanctuary was. Then they were grateful for a new beginning. It didn’t matter how tenuous, they were greateful.  Then they were grateful to offer a warm place where one can come in form the cold right downtown. Today they are very grateful to be a thriving congregation.

Remember our Lepers.  They had to say ok to God before they were healed.  They had to step out in faith to be healed. They had to be grateful for just the chance that this Jesus might be the real thing.

“This is the nature of God, a God who loves you so much, He'll give you the opportunity to be thankful when nothing about your circumstances gives you that motivation. My friends, that is the very definition of faith. If you praised God only on the good days, only in the best of circumstances, it would not be faith at all. That would be more like a business arrangement - and this is not about business!”[9]

So, what about that road to gratefulness.  We assume 9 lepers went to the priests praising God for their miracle.  They went to the priests for verification of the miracle, so they could be welcomed back into society, so they could get home to their loved ones.  So, they could have a full and wonderful life again.

So many of us have a prayer answered and barely take notice.  So many times, we are faced with small miracles daily.  I mean just the sunrise here is a miracle in and of itself every day. It is so beautiful and yet so many just take it for granted. I have said this before and I will say it again in a few minutes. God answers our prayers and sometimes it is in hindsight that we see it.

But the challenge is when we see it do we just acknowledge it and move on.  Do we Give God the credit due?  Do we make the journey back down the path to stop and say thank you before we move on to the task at hand?

“One of the men came back to Jesus, and praised God. He was thankful. He was public about it. He was loud - he wasn't shy at all.

Why was he so loud? This guy had been forced to yell for as long as he'd had leprosy. Had it been years? He'd probably yelled so long, he didn't know how to come to the Lord quietly, or even in a normal voice. When he came back and fell at the feet of Jesus, he was just louder than the normal person, and he was praising God.”[10]

What is praising God louder than normal.  What is giving thanks out loud and so all can hear? Isn’t that worship?  Isn’t that a Sunday service?  Do we not intentionally put time in our service to be grateful?  This thanksgiving weekend do we not take a little extra time to be grateful. Right her right now is the end of the road to gratefulness.

“One healed leper came back. One caught himself in the midst of the celebration, and returned to Jesus. He reversed his steps, put his family on hold, put the priest on hold, and came back to the cause of his celebration. His response and life situation were unique, but in the simplest sense of what he did his thankfulness led to action. And boy, did that turn out to be important!

"Where are the other nine?" Jesus asked.

Do you realize what this says? Jesus said, "Go, and show yourselves to the priests. Jesus never commanded that any of them express thankfulness to God, or return to him, the healer. Nevertheless, that is what Jesus expected.

What kind of action is Jesus looking for from you? Has God's Holy Spirit been urging you toward some action step? Had the Lord been tugging at you for some step of faith? Is there a family, a friend, or even a stranger in need of help this Thanksgiving season? Is there something you feel compelled to do?

My best advice, based on what Jesus was looking for 2,000 years ago, is to take that step of action. Assume God is pulling you toward that area, or that action, and get it done.”[11]

Talk to others about it perhaps God is calling more than one.  Whatever, wherever you are being called to I suggest you listen pray and talk with others about it.  But through it all be grateful.

[1] Andy Cooke, Sermon: A lifestyle of thanksgiving - Luke 17, last modified 2017, accessed November 2, 2017,
[2], Leprosy FAQ, last modified 2017, accessed November 25, 2017,
[3] Cooke, Sermon.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Robert Longman, Spiritual Discernment, last modified April 2, 2017, accessed November 25, 2017,
[8] Cooke, Sermon.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.

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