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Edward F. Markquart

Series C
Where are the Other Nine?

Pentecost 20     Luke 17:11-19

“Where are the other nine?,” Jesus asked.

I would like to begin the sermon today with three grandparent stories. On Thursdays,  I have the privilege of taking my grandson Ben down to Redondo by Puget Sound to the Redondo Community Store where Cliff and Gail work.  When we come into the store, with its old wood planked floors and ancient cash register,  Cliff slyly sneaks behind the counter and creates a paper bag filled with seagull food, writes Ben’s name on that paper bag along with a couple of drawings of happy faces.  While we aren’t looking, he hides the bag in the store, after which Ben begins searching the store, looking for the seagull food. Eventually, he finds it, smiles with glee, and shows off what he has found.  And what do I do?  Of course, I say, “Ben, make sure that you say thank you to Cliff.  Tell him to thank the seagull man for coming again.”  And so Ben gives Cliff a high five and thanks him for the seagull food. 

That’s the way we all are:  we want our children and grandchildren to learn have a sense of thanksgiving in their hearts, for all the little gifts that life offers, and we begin to teach them young.  As soon as they are able to verbalize, we are teaching them the feelings that are found behind the words  “thank you.”

Second story.  Grandpa and grandma arrive from the Holy Land, from Minnesota, for Christmas.  Everyone has been waiting for the arrival of Grandma and Grandpa and they finally arrive, bringing in a huge carload of Christmas presents for everyone.  And the biggest one under the tree this year is for the grandson.  It’s Christmas eve;  he rips into that package; and he discovers a trainset which is immediately set up and he begins playing with it, racing the train around the tracks as fast as he can.  Meanwhile, the parents are persistently coaching their boy, “make sure you say thank  you to Grandma and Grandpa.”.....which the grandchild does with a cursory hug and shout, as he is happily focused on playing with his new train.  The parents and grandparents would like more signs of appreciation, but, “oh well.”

Third story.  It’s birthday time and Grandpa and Grandma send their annual birthday card to their granddaughter from their faraway city, and granddaughter tears the envelope open, barely reading the front page of the card and merely glancing at the poem inside and grabs at the money, the one dollar or five dollar or ten dollar bill, or maybe a check.  Granddaughter needs and wants that money.  She is so very happy that Grandpa and Grandma remembered her birthday in this way.  Mother says, “Make sure you write a thank you note to Grandma and Grandpa.”  A week later, the mother again asks  her daughter to write the note, with the same lack of response from her daughter.  It is now two weeks later and their is a conflict brewing, Mom is mad, because that note has not been written.  Is that the way it occurs at your house?  Or is ours the only one like that.

We all want our children and grandchildren and our selves to have this deep feeling of appreciation inside, not out of duty,  not out of politeness or being proper. Rather,  we want them to know the deep felt appreciation for the little and big things of life;  that this is a highly desirable quality. We want that miracle to occur in our children and grandchildren, the miracle of deep and genuine thanksgiving.

“Where are the other nine,” Jesus asked.   Did I not heal ten lepers?  Where are the other nine?  Did only one come back to say “thank you?”

Before we focus on the Gospel story for today, we first need to talk about leprosy.  Leprosy was the dreaded disease of Jesus’ day, just as cancer and coronaries are the dreaded diseases of our day.  Today, none of us want to hear the “C” word from our doctor about our medical condition.  And that’s the way it was in Jesus’ day about leprosy.  Nobody wanted to hear the “L” word.  Leprosy was highly contagious.  It could come in a mild or serious form.  It was mild when it involved red or white blotches on the skin;  it was serious when it involved the disintegration of toes, ankles and feet, or fingers, wrists and hands.  But both were feared.   And the way they treated leprosy was to quarantine you.  You were separated from your mother, father, brother, sister, cousins, friends, and you lived in a leper colony.  You would cover your body with rags, let your hair grow, and no one could come within twelve feet of you.  You were untouchable;  no one could touch you in that condition for you were highly contagious.  Leprosy was THE dreaded disease of Jesus’ time. 

In the story for today, a group of ten lepers were in a small leper colony in a small village outside of Jerusalem.  Three days before, Jesus had healed a leper and the news had spread and these lepers too were hoping that Jesus would come by and perhaps one of them would be healed.  Jesus did come by, and the lepers began shouting to him:  “Have mercy upon us.  Have mercy upon us. We need your help.  We need you.”  And Jesus did something unheard of:  he crossed the invisible twelve foot boundary and came before each leper and touched each leper.  Everyone was  surprised, stunned, shocked;  for Jesus was now contaminated.  He then told them to go into Jerusalem to the priests and get a certificate of health that they had been cured. ....  On the way,  the lepers noticed their white blotches began to leave them and they knew they were being healed.  They were elated.  Ecstatic.  Free.  Off they ran as fast as they could go.  To see a husband, a wife, that they hadn’t seen for weeks.  To see a son or daughter, a father or mother, a grandfather a grandmother they hadn’t seen for months.  Off they ran to see their field, their fishing boat, their store, their garden, their oxen that they hadn’t seen for who knows, how long. As fast as they could go, they were so happy to be well after all this time. remembered, only one, returned, fell at his  feet, worshipped him, and thanked him.  And Jesus asked, “Where are the other nine?  Were not ten healed?  Where are the other nine?  And only you, a Samaritan, a foreigner, are you the only one to have returned to say thank you.  Go in peace.  Your faith has made you well.”

Where are the other nine?  Is true that healing the human heart of ingratitude is a greater miracle than healing the skin of leprosy?   Is that true?  Healing the human heart of ingratitude is a greater miracle than healing the skin of leprosy?  Where were the other nine?  Why didn’t they come back?  How do you heal ingratitude?  Let’s first look at the nine lepers and then the one leper?

The nine?  They were very religious as long as they needed God.  That is, the lepers were shouting, “heal us, Lord;  heal us, Lord;  we need you;  we need you.”  But after they were healed, they felt they no longer needed God anymore.  I see that all the time in my work:  people crying out in pain of a divorce, cancer, heart attack, bankruptcy, “I need you Lord.  my life is all messed up.  I need your help, God.”  But shortly thereafter, when the crisis has passed,  life gets back to normal and they are not calling out to God anymore.  People cry out to God in crisis, when their need is desperate. 

As one scholar said, “the result and irony of the miracle was to drive these lepers away from God.”  When they needed God, they were close to God; but when they didn’t need God, they were off busy being well.  The strange irony of the healing was to drive them away from God.

The nine lepers were so busy being well.  I can understand that.  They had been separated from their family and friends and work due to the quarantine, and now they were free to return to those relationships.  And they became so busy being well.....gotta rush to see mom and dad, brother and sister, aunt and uncle  and the garden and the farm and the shop and the fishing boat, all those people and places we haven’t seen for so long.  Whew, they were so busy being well, that they no longer had time to feel thanksgiving or express thanksgiving to Jesus.  We all personally understand this one clearly:  being too busy to have a life of inner gratitude towards God.  We hit the floor in the morning running and fall asleep exhausted at night with nary a prayer except for a quickie prayer at perhaps one meal per day.  Words of gratitude?  Feelings of gratitude?  Busy, Lord.  Very busy being well.

And the ultimate tragedy is that the nine lepers got the healing, but not the healer; they experienced a miracle but not the miracle worker; they received the gift but didn’t know and love the giver.  It reminds me of the grandson I mentioned at Christmas time, so busy playing with his new train, that he is not really aware of Grandma and Grandpa who came to see him and spend time with him and love him.  Likewise, we, as human beings, can become so busy playing with our little trains of life that we forget the God who has come to visit us, be with us, love us, see us, and watch us.  That’s the real tragedy of the nine:  they missed the true blessing.  That is, they got the miracle but didn’t discover the miracle worker who so enormously blessed them.

But let’s focus on the one, the one who came back to say “Thank you.”  The Samaritan, the foreigner, the outsider. 

The story for today makes an important point that the one who came back with a heart of gratitude was not a Jew; he was not part of their religious establishment; he was an outsider to the faith.  We find several stories in the Gospels where it is the foreigner, the outsider, the Samaritan as being the one who has great faith or great thanksgiving.  I think I understand this one.  Let me try to explain it by means of an analogy.

Many of you are blessed by living within a very good marriage.  I personally am so blessed.  And when you live within a good marriage, over time, you can begin to take the goodness of your marriage for granted.  So your wife or your husband does all these nice little things for you, over and over again, does that mean you are appreciative?  No. You become used to these things.  You start to expect these favors from your spouse.  There is no longer the fresh and genuine appreciation for the other’s goodness, for life has become routine, a habit, an expectation of favors.  

Likewise with kids who live in a good home with loving mom and/or dad.  The kids can easily begin to take the blessings and pleasures of their family life for granted.  It becomes no big deal that their parents do all of these wonderful things for them.  It is expected.  It is part of life. 

So also, within the household of faith, we can become used to God blessing and caring for us; we can begin to take God for granted;  we begin to expect his blessings as our God-given rights.   Whereas someone who hasn’t been part of the Faith, they may be deeply grateful to God for the smallest of gifts, for the littlest of his blessings.   When you become very familiar with someone, you often start to take that someone for granted, and that is what we often do with God.  We take God’s blessings for granted.  So it is no surprise to me that it was a foreigner, a Samaritan, an outsider of the religious establishment was the only one who paused....remembered.....and came back to Jesus to say thank you.  The other nine expected God’s blessings.

Here is another quality about the one who came back to say, “Thank you.”  It is my sense about him that he had a heart of thanksgiving even while he had leprosy.  Let me explain.  I don’t think he was bitterly whining to himself:  “O God, why did you make my life so miserable with this leprosy?  Why did you take my family away from me, my job away from me, my health away from me?  What kind of a god are you, anyway, to give me leprosy.”  Rather than such attitudes, I would guess that he may have been thankful to God even in the midst of his suffering.  His thoughts may have been:  “O God, life is miserable.  This leprosy is awful.  How I wish I didn’t have it.  But thank you for being with me, thank you for giving me strength to handle this awful situation, thank you for taking care of my family during this terrible time in my life.” People can have such grateful attitudes in the middle of suffering. 

Let me tell you a story that illustrates what I am saying.  It is the story of a man by the name of Pastor Rinkhart.  He was pastor of one congregation for thirty years, just as I have been a pastor to you for nearly thirty years.  He was pastor of a church in Prussia from 1619 to 1649, during the Thirty Years War in Europe.  From the year the war began until the year the war ended, he was the pastor in the same walled city.  His was a walled town, so all the refugees from the thirty years war flocked into his city to find safety inside the city walls as the battles raged around them.  His town was overrun with poverty, the plague, and all the perils of war.  It was awful.  It was hell on earth.  It wasn’t like being a pastor in suburban Seattle for thirty years at all.  By the end of the thirty years war, he was the only pastor left in town alive; all the other pastors had died, so he alone was to bury the plagued villagers and refugees from war. Somewhere in the middle of all of that suffering, he wrote a hymn, which is perhaps the second greatest hymn of the Reformation. You know it well and you sing it at least once a year in the fall.  “Now, thank we all our God; with hearts and hands and voices; who wondrous things hath done; in whom this world rejoices.  Who from our mother’s arms, has blessed us on our way, with countless gifts of love and still is ours today.”  Incredible.  What an incredible sense of thanksgiving in the human heart.  How beautiful are hearts filled with genuine thanksgiving. 

You see, the greatest miracle is not to be healed of leprosy or cancer or coronaries; the greatest miracle in when my human heart is healed of ingratitude, so my human heart is then filled with daily thanksgiving God and others..... for God’s countless gifts of love. Please, God; heal my heart of ingratitude.

(The pulpit hymn is “Now Thank We All Our God”)

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