Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, January 22, 2022
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Luke 17:11-19

I once heard someone talk about how some people have a “cosmic vending machine understanding of God.” A vending machine, of course, is ignored until you want something. The rest of the time they just fade into the background. But when you want something, you put your dollar in, and after it’s rejected five times, and you do that whole straightening it out on the edge of the machine routine, then you select what you want and you go on with your life. Unless, of course, you don’t get what you want. Then you kick the machine. Maybe curse at it. Maybe complain to someone. And then you steam off in a huff.

Well, the person’s point was that some people treat God that way. You ignore him, until you want something. Then you put in your prayers. And if you get what you want, you go on your way. If you don’t, then maybe you curse God or complain about him and then go off in a huff.

I thought about that when I read this story. No doubt some people do treat God like that: They only pray when they want something. And the shame is that the real value of prayer, the real point of prayer, is to build relationship. Prayer should draw us closer to God. Prayer is an important part of spiritual growth. Prayer just to get what we want is not conducive to growth. It’s not wrong to pray for our needs. It’s not even wrong to pray for our wants. What’s wrong is to pray for nothing but those. If the only time you talk to someone is when you want something from them, that’s not a good relationship. I’m not sure it’s a relationship at all.

The acronym I learned for prayer many years ago is the word ACTS, like the book of the Bible. Prayer should consist of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Adoration is praise, honoring God for who he is. Confession is acknowledging our sins and our failures. Thanksgiving is praising God for what he has done in our lives. And supplication is asking God for the things that we need, and also the things that we want. Supplication isn’t wrong; it’s just that prayer should be more than that.

Getting into the story: Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, the last time he takes that journey because it ends in the cross. Jesus is on the border of Galilee and Samaria. Considering the opinions of Jews and Samaritans about each other, this is a no man’s land. And it’s here that he encounters a group of men afflicted with leprosy. It is

apparently a mixed group, consisting of both Jew and Samaritan. The disease has broken down the barriers between them. And I think that’s representative of all of us as human beings. We might put up barriers between ourselves and others. But at the end of the day, we all have the same disease. We are all sinners before God.

These ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out for mercy. We don’t know exactly what the biblical leprosy was. Many Bible scholars think it’s not the same disease that we call by that name. But it was certainly a contagious skin disease. And because it was contagious, those afflicted had to live outside of towns and keep their distance from people. The Bible did not prescribe a distance, but one rabbi from Jesus’ era said that they should stay back 100 cubits, or about 50 yards. No wonder they have to shout. It was a disease of isolation: Isolation from family, friends, community; even isolation from God, because a person with leprosy would not be allowed in the Temple or the synagogue.

Jesus sees them and sees their need. Often times, we don’t see other people, and maybe especially we choose not to see those who are in need. But Jesus sees them and he acts; he responds to their need. He sends them to see the priests. Now according to the Old Testament laws about leprosy, when a person was healed, they had to present themselves to the priests to be examined. And if they were found to be cured, they had to offer sacrifices as an expression of thanksgiving. All these things were prescribed in Leviticus 14, if you’re curious.

The fact that Jesus sent them to the priests indicates that he intends to heal them. But he requires a step of faith on their part. They have to be willing to go. They all do go, and along the way, all ten of them are healed.

But only one man, when he sees that he is healed, returns to Jesus. What of the other nine? We don’t know why they didn’t go back. Perhaps they were too concerned with the requirements of the ritual. Perhaps they were just too eager to get back to normal life to bother returning to Jesus. We don’t know how far they went before they were healed. If this is the border between Galilee and Samaria, and if they were going to the priests in Jerusalem, then you’re talking about a couple days walk. Were they half-way there when it happened? We don’t know. Or perhaps they failed to see Jesus as the source of their healing.

Is healing a natural process or is it a sign of God’s grace at work? If you ask me, the answer is yes. Obviously, it’s a natural process, something our bodies are designed by God to do. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not also a sign of God’s grace at work.

Regardless of the reason, only one returns. Gratitude is rare. It’s rare that we give thanks to God. Perhaps we’re too busy. Perhaps we’re worried about other things. Perhaps we don’t see our blessings. Perhaps we don’t see God as the source of our blessings. Regardless of the reason, gratitude is rare.

What does a lack of gratitude reveal? I think it might reveal self-centeredness or an attitude of entitlement. There is a lack of awareness of God, or the assumption that one deserves good things, so why bother giving thanks for them? I think we all know the experience of someone who comes to us looking for something, and once they have it, we never see them again. It’s sad to say, but that’s the case with many of the people who come to me as a pastor or as the president of the ministerium looking for money.

On the other hand, what does gratitude reveal? I think it reveals a humble spirit and sensitivity to the grace that we have received. And the Bible makes it clear that we are all beneficiaries of undeserved grace. So gratitude is a necessary expression of our faith.

I’d like to close with an opportunity for us all to offer expressions of our gratitude.

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