Monday, October 10, 2016

Gratitude Is Not Always the Lesson (And Not Every Story Has A Moral) - Sermon 10/09/16

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.” 

-Luke 17:11-19
[ source ]
The risk of reading this story today in church, 

this story about the people with leprosy and Jesus, 

and their healing… 

And the one, just the one, 
lonely one 
that came back to celebrate with Jesus, 

and to give Jesus thanks, 

(the “Samaritan” right?…)

The risk of reading this story is that we might be really quick to moralize it, right? 

To skip the story and go straight to “the lesson,” 

the ethical conclusion, the punchline. 

(In the church I grew up in we didn’t read the first and second reading. We read the first and second “lessons.” 

This is always a risk as we read any story. 

And this is a risk as we read this story today. 


If we did do it though, 
if we did wanna jump to a “moral punchline,”
Perhaps (and I know you all can do this without me)
perhaps our punchline would sound something like this: 

The Samaritan who gave thanks was good the good leper. 

And all the other lepers were kind of bad. 

Therefore: Don’t be the bad leper! And… Give thanks!

Not bad, right? I think I’ve heard that sermon before, probably a few times throughout my life. 

That’s one way we can easily moralize this story, jump to an ethical punchline. 


Then again (if we wanted to) maybe we’d moralize the story a little differently, maybe we’d do it in this way: 

Maybe we’d say: 

The Samaritan had faith that made him well. 

But the other lepers didn’t. They didn’t have faith! 

Jesus praised the faithful leper. 

He said “your faith has made you well!” 

Therefore: Be like the faithful leper. 

Have faith. 

And then you’ll get well. 

(I think I’ve heard that one before, too. And that moral’s not even accurate. We know this from experience, right? Sometimes we stay sick, even when we’re full of faith, even when all we do is pray and trust and hope and praise God all the time. From experience we know that this lesson just isn’t true. So much for that lesson… right?)


How else? 
Just one more… 
If we wanted to, 
maybe we would even moralize this story this way:

Maybe we would
come to this moral punchline: 

We could say something like: 

People in Jesus’ day judged Samaritans. 

Jesus doesn’t judge the leper because he’s a Samaritan, 

and neither should you. “Don’t judge lest ye be judged.” Right? 

I’ve definitely heard this one. I’ve definitely preached it, too! I even think it’s a pretty a good way to think, morally, 
if our concern in our lives today

is about a moral question: (right?) 

if our concern in our lives today is 

“what’s the right thing for me to do?”

“What’s the right thing to do today? 

If that’s our question, if our question is moral, 
a moral answer is a good answer. 

If that’s our question, we look for the moral punchline. 



what if, 

today, that’s not everybody’s question?

(“the right thing to do?”)

What if ethics isn’t our only crisis as we come to Christ? 

For example, 

do we admonish the people in Hati and Cuba and South Carolina to “just have faith, and give thanks,” today? 

Do we say, “man—at least you’re okay… give thanks… you’re blessed” (and imply that those who died, aren’t)?

Do we encourage one who is suffering to be like the “good” leper (the grateful leper) and then ta-daaaah! 

Everything’ll be fine?” 

When someone says “I’m suffering,” do we respond “Be good?” 


No! Right? No! We don’t do that! Or at least I hope we don’t do that. 


What if our question isn’t “what should I do?” 


“What the HECK” “Why?” “Oh my God!?” “Why?”


what if we come without even a question, but just with desperation? 

If we come with these questions, if we come in desperation, looking for hope, help, peace.. 

an answer about morality is just about as good as a slap in the face, isn’t it? 


In times of tragedy, it can be helpful to remember that:

Not every story is meant to have a moral. 

In times of tragedy, it can be helpful to remember that:

Not every story has a moral.

And also remember that every story (I think) 

should have a chance to be told. 

(I wonder what the other 9 people with leprosy would’ve said if the author of Luke would’ve tracked them down and asked them what happened that day the one guy went back?) 


Not every story in the Bible has a moral. Just like not every story in our lives has a moral. Not every experience is a moral lesson. 

But sometimes, in telling our stories, we do learn something about ourselves, about others, and sometimes even about God. [Amen?] 

And as we listen to others, we learn, too. As we listen to others, we learn. About others. About ourselves. And even about God. 


Di you hear anything in today’s story? 

About you? About Jesus? About other people? 


I wanna tell you what I heard, and I’d love to hear what you heard, anytime you wanna share this week. 

What I heard today when I read this story, 

(and maybe you’ll hear it differently). 

What I heard today is that ten people came to Jesus in desperation.

I heard that they had a disease that isolated them from others, 

that marginalized them, from family, from friends, from faith, 

and that diminished their lives.

I also heard that in their marginalization, their suffering, 

(in their being pushed to the edge, excluded—that’s what you did with lepers back in the day)

that they learned to embrace neighbors 

(such as the Samaritan—that’s also what people did with Samaritans back in the day)…

In their marginalization they learned to embrace neighbors that they might not necessarily have embraced had they not been in their marginalized location, on the fringe, at the edge of town…

I heard, that in their shared oppression, ailment, disease, they formed bonds with one another that went beyond their ethnicities and even their religious identities.

I didn’t hear anywhere in the story any explanation of their disease.

In fact, I heard dead silence on all the tough questions. 

That is, I heard nowhere in this story any attempt to figure out where their condition came from or why they were the ones who got stuck with it unfairly, (right?)
or why they had to suffer and no one else had to suffer, why they were stuck on the edge of town and Jesus and his disciples got to wonder town to town, freely… why they were excluded from worship, and others were not… 

None of that. 

I didn’t hear any explanation about why bad things happen to faithful people. Nothing.

None of the “why questions” were addressed… 

Which kind of stinks, because I could really use a few of those answers this week…

But along with all ten lepers, at the end of the story, we’re left holding them. We’re left with our questions. 

I heard that ten people cried out, 
ten people who had suffered miserably. 

I knew from reading Leviticus that the Law said they were supposed to cry “unclean, unclean!” when someone approached. 

And Instead, they chose to break the Law, and they cried out “Lord have mercy,” instead.

The Law said they were supposed to cry “unclean” as a warning. And instead they cried “Lord have mercy…”  

I thought that was awesome. 

I heard 
that they gathered around the one the Bible calls elsewhere “God-made-flesh” (right?), 
around Jesus, 
even as (at the same time) they suffered in their flesh, 
and that, grateful or not, able to return or not, 
whatever was going on in them differently from what was going on with their one friend…. 
in their desperation, 
Jesus chose to heal all of them, regardless.  


I heard Jesus tell the one, the thankful-healed-person that his faith had healed him. But also that all of them, despite their faith, despite Jesus’ surprise that they didn’t return, still found something of salvation that day. They were all healed. They came to Jesus, broken, imperfect, and they received a blessing.  

So I heard about grace. I heard about  love that heals when we are unable to love back, or to love ourselves… That’s what I heard…


What did you hear? Read it again this week. Listen. 

Anything about yourself? Your story? Anything about God? 

What we hear is often related to what we’re listening for, to why we’re listening in the first place. 

How do you come to the faith? Why? 

What questions do you bring? 

What are you listening for? 


In time, may God help us to hear. 


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