“Unlikely Gratitude”

Luke 17:11-19

13 August 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 17:11-19

 

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.

And he was a Samaritan.

Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

 

Prayer.

1

A Story of Kings

 

There once was a commander of the Syrian army

By the name of Naaman.

He was loved by his men, for

He was strong and

The Lord, Yahweh, our God, brought him victory,

Though Naaman was a pagan and knew him not.

 

Naaman developed a disfiguring, communicable disease.

He suffered in isolation and shame.

How could he lead men if none would come near?

 

There was a great prophet of Yahweh

Who had developed the reputation as a healer.

The prophet lived in Israel,

South of the Syrian border,

His name was Elisha.

 

Naaman had to see Elisha

Even though Syria and Israel were adversaries,

As they are to this day.

The healer was behind enemy lines.

 

The intersection of Naaman and the Lord was heating up.

 

King Joram of Israel was suspicious of the king of Syria,

Who requested safe passage for his commander to visit Elisha.

Was this a pretext for starting a war?

What should he do?

Fear, anxiety, and uncertainty overwhelms King Joram.

He tears his shirt in frustration.

The crown’s concerns spread throughout the kingdom.

 

The prophet Elisha hears the news.

He sends for Naaman,

That he might come to know Yahweh;

The source of his victories,

The Lord of prophecy,

The God of healing.

 

Naaman comes.

Elisha tells him

“Go, wash in the Jordan seven time, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean,” (2 Kings 5:10)

 

You’ve got to be kidding.

 

Desperation overcomes skepticism.

Naaman washes himself just as he was told.

He is healed of his leprosy.

 

At the intersection of Naaman and the Lord,

There is healing.

He renounces his former pagan god and

Claims the God of Israel,

Giving praise:

“Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel!” (2 Kings 5:15)

 

Naaman comes to the Lord and

Finds himself

At the intersection of faith and praise.

 

……………..

 

800 years later

Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem

Through the land of Elisha.

 

Leprosy was a disease of legend,

So easily transmitted and feared,

It left its victims in forced isolation.

 

Ten people with leprosy like Naaman approach Jesus.

All the while, they keep their distance.

A touch means becoming unclean and a time-consuming trip to the ceremonial baths and coming before the local priests.

 

Jesus was Jewish.

They were Samaritans.

They shared a common belief in Yahweh,

As do we.

Jesus was widely known throughout the region as a healer.

He attracted large crowds.

Jesus had something

These ten people with leprosy wanted:

To be cleaned, healed, and restored to normal life.

In short, to be made well.

 

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” they cried. (17:13)

If Yahweh can heal Naaman,

So too, can the Lord use Jesus to heal us.

 

The region between Galilee in the north

And Judah and Jerusalem in the south

Had changed in the 800 years between Elisha and Jesus.

Samaria had been dominated by faithful Jews

From the 12 tribes of Israel,

Namely Ephraim and Manasseh.

 

About eighty years after Elisha

The region fell to the conquering Assyrians,

Who deported the best and brightest of the population to exile.

 

Assyrians settled in,

Intermarried with those who remained behind to tend the land.

To the Jews in Galilee and Jerusalem

The Samaritans became known as mixed raced collaborators with the enemy.

 

To talk about Samaritans

Is to bring up the topic of racism.

 

The divide deepened.

Most Samaritans remained faithful to Yahweh,

Yet were prohibited to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem.

They established their own local Temple first in Shechem,

Then to Shiloh.

Judaism schismed.

To the faithful Jews in the time of Jesus,

Samaritans were treated as pagans.

 

Samaritans.

Discriminated because of their mixed race;

Hated for their collaboration with the enemy;

Dismissed as pagans.

It is in this cultural context

Jesus enters when he stops in a village between Samaria and Galilee.

 

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” they cried. (17:13)

 

Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan,

Also unique to the Gospel of Luke? (10:29-37)

When held in contrast with this narrative of Jesus healing ten people with leprosy

It is as if this

Miracle of healing becomes secondary.

When held in context with the narrative of the healing of Naaman

It is as if the Gospel is painting a far greater trajectory

Of God’s intervention in salvation history.

 

Imagine that.

A miracle may be pointing us to something more profound.

 

This story of healing

Reveals a deeper message of unlikely gratitude.

 

…………..

 

Allow me to bring laser focus on the one Samaritan

Who returned to Jesus.

 

“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.”

(17:15-16)

 

The text appears relatively simple and straight forward.

But, consistent with Luke, let us pay attention to details.

 

The first detail is the healed man

Came to an immediate awareness of God;

A display of God’s presence, power, and mercy.

He saw that he was healed.

 

For us today,

Are we as self-aware of God’s presence, power, and mercy?

Or, have our spiritual senses been so dulled by the world

That we’ve lost most of our situational awareness of God?

 

Have our spiritual senses been dulled by our passive approach to discipleship

That we’ve grown distant from the only source of healing,

The only solution to the fractures of the world

And the brokenness in our life?

 

Beloved, let us adjust our sets and tune our spiritual antenna.

Let us be aware of God’s presence, power, and mercy.

 

The second detail

Is that the man healed of leprosy changes his orientation towards God.

He walked away, but then

He turned back.

He returned to Jesus.

 

Oh, it is so easy to be healed by the Lord

And to simply move on,

As did the nine others who were made clean

But who failed to return.

 

Experiencing the presence, power, mercy, and grace of God’s healing intervention in our lives

Is an opportunity to repent

And to engage in the hard work of discipleship.

 

To turn back requires the intentional desire to change and grow in spiritual depth

Even though every one of us naturally resist change.

Repentance and change always begins with the self;

It always begins with me.

 

The third detail has much to teach us.

As the cleansed and healed man made his way back to Jesus,

He praises God with a loud voice!

 

Praise is recognition:

The source of healing is the object of praise,

None other than the Lord, our God.

Praise is reassurance:

Instilling confidence of faith within

And bearing testimony to others of

God’s greatness, glory, and mercy.

Praise is admiration of

God’s power, grace, and love.

 

And he did it loudly!

Shouldn’t our praise be loud, too!

Perhaps the cry room in the back should be reserved

For those who want to praise God in silence,

Because this sanctuary should be rocking!

 

The fourth detail is instructive.

The healed man prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet.

 

Do we place ourselves in a position of submission before Jesus?

Do we listen to his teaching at his feet?

Do we make our selves vulnerable before the Lord,

Placing ourselves completely, whole, utterly in the mercy of God?

 

The final detail is all about gratitude.

The healed man,

Mixed race,

A former foe,

One who had been considered a pagan like Naaman,

Gave thanks for what the Lord had done.

 

None were more unlikely to extend gratitude to God

Than this Samaritan man.

Yet, he did.

So, too, can you and me.

 

Beloved members and friends, guests and visitors,

The Gospel invites us today

To fill our hearts with gratitude.

 

Thank the Lord,

For all that has been, and

For where our spiritual journey has led us

To this day and time and place.

 

Thank the Lord,

For his faithfulness.

God keeps his covenants.

The One who created us stays in love with us.

 

The Lord’s faithfulness gives us assurance,

That if we follow wherever God is leading,

We will remain in God’s presence,

Strengthened by God’s power,

Blessed by God’s mercy and grace.

 

In this season of thanksgiving,

Let us thank the Lord

That, yesterday I may have been at war with God,

Emotionally and spiritually scared as a man with leprosy,

But today, I’ve been given a second chance

To turn back, and

Return to the feet of Jesus,

Cleansed, cured, and restored,

With a heart at peace.

 

“Get up and go on your way;” Jesus tells us.

“Your faith has made you well.” (17:19)

 

Our Lord’s invitation to us today

Is to place ourselves at

The intersection of faith and praise and gratitude.

That’s where we meet the Lord.

Amen.

“The Size of a Mustard Seed”

Luke 17:5-10, Proper 22 C, 6 October 2019

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

 

Luke 17:5-10

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

5

Prayer.

 

Our Gospel lesson is a continuation of the past couple of Sundays.

You may remember

We left Jesus first teaching the disciples,

Then teaching the Pharisees

(who were lovers of money),

And, last week

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

 

Today, Jesus again turns to his disciples

And begins to teach

Four seemingly unconnected sayings

That are found in the first ten verses of chapter 17.

The first two are not included in our reading this morning;

Yet it is important to mention them.

 

The first saying

Is a warning to anyone who would cause someone to stumble,

That is, to temp someone to sin.

Jesus warns

“It would be better for you

If a millstone were hung around your neck

And you were thrown into the sea.”

– Luke 17:2

This is familiar for most of us. It’s also self-explanatory.

 

The second saying

Is Jesus giving instructions about

How one disciple is to treat another disciple who sins.

“You must rebuke the offender,”

Jesus instructs them,

“and if there is repentance,

You must forgive.”

– Luke 17:4

Again, straight forward.

 

Allow me to leapfrog the third saying and go right to the fourth.

The fourth saying of Jesus

Was read this morning and is found in verses 7-10.

Jesus makes his point with an illustration that causes us to shutter today,

Yet, this was a common cultural reality in the time of Jesus.

 

I doubt if any of Jesus’ disciples owned slaves.

At the same time, it was a slave holding society.

Slaves came primarily from military expansion, victory, and settlements.

Only the wealthy, politicians, and members of the military would have owned slaves.

Everyone would have been exposed to slavery

And known the ins and outs of how it worked.

 

The slave’s time and labor belongs to the master,

Therefore, the slave has no claim on the master

Even after a period of obedient service.

The point being,

 

We cannot put God into our debt.

 

God never owes us.

What we receive from God is kindness,

God’s grace,

Not reward for what we should do in the first place.

This is an important point:

What we receive from God is grace, not reward.

 

It is God’s nature to love, forgive, and save.

There isn’t a thing we can do to earn it;

It is already ours to accept.

 

….

 

My primary focus for today is upon the third continuous saying of Jesus,

Found in Luke 17:5-6, which reads:

 

“The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

The Lord replied,

“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,

you could say to this mulberry tree,

‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’

and it would obey you.”

 

Note the fact that

It isn’t the disciples who ask,

Rather, it is the “apostles” who ask Jesus to

“increase our faith.”

 

The use of the word “apostles” indicates the fact

That this passage was most probably first written down

Almost two generations after Jesus.

Think about this dynamic for a moment;

The Gospel of Luke was written down nearly 50 to 70 years

After Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.

 

It goes to show that

For those who follow Jesus,

Be they the original disciples,

The faithful members of the early, first century church,

Or even for us today,

It is normal and natural to find the demands of life

Seemingly too great for the faith that has already been given us.

 

What they are asking is, “Lord, make us adequate for being your disciples.”

 

This reminds me of the old hymn

 

“When the storms of life are raging, stand by me. (x2)

When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the sea,

Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.”

(Words and music by Charles Albert Tindley, 1906)

 

Sometimes we feel like the weight of the world is crushing us,

The responsibilities thrust upon us are more than we can bear,

The expectations of family, work, and life exceed our capacity to endure,

And we, like the disciples of old cry out

“Lord, increase our faith!”

We cry out like the old hymn

“Lord, stand by me,

because I can’t stand alone any longer.”

 

Jesus reminds us

 

The faith we already have is more than adequate.

 

Our natural tendency is to think this is a parable about us.

We want to measure and quantify our faith.

We do so to correlate life’s events,

Suggesting that times of great faith is a sign of God’s favor

And times of weakened faith is a sign that we’ve fallen out of God’s favor

(which is patently untrue).

 

I’d suggest, however, Jesus teaches this parable

To reveal more about the characteristics about God, our Heavenly Father,

Than to teach his disciples about how to increase our faith.

 

Our faith taps us into the unlimited power of God.

God’s power is unlimited.

When our faith is connected with God’s infinite power

There is nothing God can’t do through us.

All things are possible by God

When working through willing disciples of His Son, Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus’ response to his disciples petition is quite familiar;

Familiar much more so to us from Matthew and Mark

Where “mountain” is substituted for “mulberry tree.”

“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,

You could move a mighty mountain.”

– Paraphrased from Matthew 17:20 and Mark 11:23

 

Mulberry tree or Mountain,

… Six and one-half dozen the other …

Both employ impossible tasks at the time of Jesus.

Yes, the top of a mountain could be leveled and a temple built on top of it;

But move a whole mountain?

Whoa! I don’t think so;

Not in an era before shovels, earth movers, dynamite and pan dump trucks.

 

Likewise, it would have been quite impossible

For a mulberry tree,

A middle-eastern blackberry tree with an extensive root system

Which thrives in the desert,

To be transplanted from its original growing place

And be replanted in, or near, the sea.

It would be quite the impossible task!

 

Another point.

From the original Greek,

Our Lord’s words,

“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,”

Implies or assumes an existing level of faith.

 

Specifically, Jesus isn’t questioning

Whether or not his disciples had any faith,

He was simply saying,

“If the faith you already have is equal to, or bigger than,

The size of a mustard seed …”

 

Friends, a mustard seed is the very smallest of seeds,

Nearly microscopic in size.

 

When looking at the tiny mustard seed

And comparing it to the decision to leave life and family behind,

To lay down their nets to come and follow Jesus,

Every one of his disciples would have thought,

“Well, yes. I do have at least THAT amount of faith!”

 

Today, when considering the tiny mustard seed

And comparing it to the decision to roll out of bed

And to come to worship on a Sunday morning,

Every one of us can also proclaim,

“Why, yes. I do have at least THAT amount of faith!”

 

If faith is even teeny-tiny in size,

It is sufficient to do the seemingly impossible for God.

 

You heard me right.

The faith you already have

Gives you the potential

To do the impossible.

 

Faith in Jesus Christ connects us to the power of God.

It taps us into the Almighty,

The Creator of the universe.

The faith you already have

Connects you directly into the power of God,

Enabling that power

To be put to use for God’s useful means.

 

Faith grows when we take God at his word.

God has been tugging at you all your life.

God has been whispering in your ear all your life.

God has been speaking to your conscience all your life.

 

It is God’s initiative,

God’s persistence,

God’s urging

That brought you forward to the baptismal font

And cleansed you with

Your baptismal waters.

Jesus has led you to the foot of his cross

To be washed clean of sin by his blood.

 

It is God’s prompting you,

Nagging you,

Urging you,

Longing for you to step forward again,

To partner with our Creator in this great endeavor,

To follow his lead and to expand his kingdom

On earth as it is in heaven.

 

….

 

So, what are the implications of this passage for our church family today?

Let’s call it “Mustard Seed Sized Faith”

 

Let’s take them one-by-one.

 

1. It is normal and natural to find the demands of life

Seemingly too great for the faith that has already been given us.

God’s vision is far greater than ours.

We get so focused on the here and now

And our personal challenges

That we are blinded to the possibilities of what God is creating.

 

We see our life and our church as broken, as limited, and vulnerable.

This is based upon the past and present.

But this is not the future reality to which God is calling us.

 

Take heart!

Be of good courage!

Wherever God is leading, let us follow,

Knowing in the depth of our bones

That God has given us all that is necessary for this journey.

The church of tomorrow

Will be what God wants it to be.

 

2. The faith we already have is more than adequate.

The particulars of doctrine don’t matter to God;

What matters to God is that

“we live by faith, not by sight.”

– 2 Corinthians 5:7

The fact that you are here right now,

In front of this altar and the cross of Jesus Christ,

Surrounded by this cloud of witnesses,

Tells me that though

None of us have seen Jesus,

Each of us live with Christ living in us

( – Galatians 2:20).

The breath of his Holy Spirit filling our lungs.

 

That’s sufficient.

That’s all you need.

Your faith is more than adequate.

Stop complaining and making excuses.

Move on.

Move this church forward

And bring it into the fullness of all that God wants us to be.

 

3. Our faith taps us into the unlimited power of God.

“With God all things are possible.”

– Matthew 19:26 and Mark 10:27

Jesus is claiming,

The God who created all there is,

All there ever has been,

And all there ever shall be,

Is a God of infinite power and ability.

Faith is like hooking in a power cable directly into God.

God’s will is the future’s reality for this congregation

 

Whether we like it, or not.

Whether we’re on board, or not.

Whether we cooperate, or not.

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”

– Luke 11:2

 

Grow this church two-fold in the next year?

Of course this is possible.

If this is God’s will, our faith can make this happen.

 

Though the opposite may be true,

It is important to recognize that

God is in the expansion business!

 

Faithfulness is the ability to pray,

“Use me, O Lord, …

Use this church, O Lord …

That Thy will may be done.”

 

4. If faith is even teeny-tiny in size,

It is sufficient to do the seemingly impossible.

Beloved friends, you’ve got this!

God’s future for us is not dependent

On how smart we are,

How creative we are,

Or how much money we have.

We’re tapped into the greatest power in the cosmos,

And through this power

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

– Philippians 4:13

We’ve got this, if we want this

And if we are willing to be faithful.

 

5. Lastly, Faith grows when we take God at his word.

Disciples of Jesus,

Stop complaining and stop obsessing about all that distract our attention from Jesus:

Size, status, past mistakes, promises unfulfilled.

 

Let it go.

Let it be.

With Christ by our side,

There is no reason to be anxious about the future.

Our future is God’s to give,

For us to confidently claim.

 

Stop trying to quantify faith.

Faith will take care of itself,

Just so long as we continually attempt to seek God’s will

And follow God’s ways.

 

Living the quest to discern and follow God’s will

Normally, naturally, grows faith.

Instead of petitioning Jesus to increase our faith,

Perhaps we should spend more time asking our Heavenly Father

What he would have us do

And spend more time getting it done!

 

….

 

Dearly beloved,

Because of God love

The reality of God’s tomorrow is more wonderful than you or I can imagine.

In the meantime,

Take heart in the faith that you have been given.

Know that your faith is sufficient,

Because it connects us,

It binds us together with God,

Tapping us into God’s unlimited power.

 

Together, we can complete God’s will.

Together, we can do anything.

Amen.