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I Want To Be The One
a sermon based on Luke 17:11-19
by Rev. Frank Schaefer

          Can you imagine what it was like to be a leper in first-century Judea?  I don't know much about leprosy, mainly because I've never been around it, but from what I've read and heard it is a disease where body parts rot away: you may loose fingers, toes, hands, feet, even parts of you face.  And it is a disease that will eventually kill you.  It is called Hanson's disease today, and the disease has been largely eliminated in the West owing to modern medicine.  But at that point in time, there was no cure for Hanson's disease.  And not every leper then had Hanson's disease either.  Persons who had any skin condition would be kept out of the community.  Psoriasis, lupus, ringworm, or just unusual marks on the body was reason enough to send a person away from friends and family and to live in special places on the fringes of society.

          Can you imagine what it must have been like to be pushed outside the community?  Humiliated? The butt of jokes?  No self-esteem.  No reason to go on, Used as object lessons about sin. Charity cases.  What would it be like to never be touched?  To be feared and avoided?  No hugs, no kisses, no hand-shakes, no pat on the shoulder.

          The ten lepers knew exactly how far they were required to stand from the public.  There they stood and yelled: "Jesus, Jesus, have mercy on us!"  They had heard about Jesus, they wanted alms, they needed food, maybe they had heard about Jesus' ministry of   healing.

          "Go show yourselves to the priests," Jesus yells back.  What does that mean?  O the Lepers knew what that meant.  They were familiar with the traditions of the Torah. It meant that Jesus had arrested the disease, because according to the law of Moses, the only way for a leper to be reinstated into the community was to show him or herself before the priest to be examined.  And only if the examination came out positive were you allowed to return to society.

          In my mind's eye, I can see our lepers walk, hobble, scoot, lurch to the priest's house, and on their way--one after another discovers, "I am clean, look my boils are gone, look my wounds are healed."  And now they're really picking up the speed.  They can't wait to become fully rehabilitated into society again.

          Yet, there is one, 1 out of 10, who stops short in his track. And he is the foreigner too.  He says, "wait a minute!  Look at that--I'm healed, I'm really healed!  That teacher healed me.  I've got to go back and thank him."  And so he runs back and, as he approaches Jesus, who was probably still preaching, the text says:

"One of them, when he realized that he was healed, came back.  He threw himself at Jesus' feet, and thanked him."

It is at this point that Jesus asks some questions that cut to the heart.  He says: "Did I not heal ten?  Where are the other nine? Was there nobody else who came back to praise God exept this one.   And he is a foreigner."

The truth is that we were all lepers at one point; people without purpose, people without hope, people without salvtion, without God.  We all were living a life of sin and destruction, without Godly values and dignity.  We were living egotistical lives, not caring for our neighbor and we removed ourselves from God and from the communion with God's people.

We were sick people, sick unto death.  We were in that leper colony--isolated from the community because of our own choice, awaiting certain death.   The only difference between a real leper colony of the first century and us was that they knew they were going to die, and we thought that this is the life.  We were even blind to our own sin and depravity.

And God could have said, "o well, if these people chose to be away from me and if they don't want to be healed, then there is nothing I can do.   But as we have sung earlier, God is a God of Love, not just any love, but amazing love. 

He could have left us alone in the leper community, but he decided in His great love and mercy to cross over into the "quaranteed" area, he sent His own begotten son Jesus Christ to heal us of our sins and to give us new life.  And it's not like he hasn't tried anything else before.  No before that he sent his prophets, but we wouldn't listen, we wouldn't get it.

And God, in His amazing love, doesn't just do it once, but in many cases, He does it again and again, calling us, beckoning us, gently pulling us.

And are we who have been healed, who have been given new life, and are we really living a life of thankfulness toward our God?  Do we have the attitude of gratitude? 

Jesus has done it all for us, he has healed us, he has already given us an eternal spiritual body, we have been born again, from above, into a new spiritual life.  And if that's the only thing God ever does for us--that's enough, because that is the greatest gift of all, it's the thing that matters most.  And even if life around us is falling apart, we should be thanking Jesus every minute of our lives for the gift of the forgiveness of our sins, for our salvation, for eternal life.  When we wake up in the morning, the first thought should be a prayer of thanks, we should call upon our heavenly Father and say: "Father, thank you for a new day.  I didn't deserve that, but you are giving me another day."  We should be thankful in all that we do, and receive out of God's hands with thankfulness even the tough things in life.

And what does reality look like.  Well, it looks more like in our Scripture text this morning.  Only one out of ten comes back to Jesus.  Only one shows his thankfulness.  Only one has the attitude of gratitude.

And sadly, this is true for the church of Christ as well.  We soon forget about that great gift of new life, our healing from sin and death, and we begin to think that we are entitled.  That we are entitled to have the best in life, to enjoy a good reputation.  And even in church we think, we are entitled to be payed respect, or to be heard over others, because of who we are in the community, or how much we contribute, or how much we do for the church.  We think we are entitled to these things.

But does God promise us any of these things we think we're entitled to?  I don't think so.  Here is what we are entitled to in this life.  I am reading from 2. Peter 4:12  and Jesus himself said: "the pupil is not greater than the master, brace yourself for persecution." Nowhere in the entire bible does God guarantee us an easy life in this-worldly standards.  But he does guarantee us salvation and eternal life and inner peace and joy inspite of adversity, he promises us to be by our side always and anywhere, and He calls us to the love and support of the people of God.

Sadly, even church-going people are saying in sync with the world, "what can I get out of it?"  And God is saying: "it's not what the church of Christ can do for you, but what you can do for the Lord."

Today Jesus is calling us to a life of gratitude and thankfulness.   Am I going to be the one that returns?  Am I going to be the one that lives a life of thankfulness before him?  Am I going to be the one that is loyal to Jesus for saving me, forgiving me, and giving me the ultimate gift of life?

I want to be the one, I want to belong to the 10% that are loyal to him, that always and everywhere thank God for anything.  I want to be loyal to my Lord who did so much for me. I cannot stand the thought of him asking in my absence: "and where is Frank, didn't I heal him too? Didn't I give him new life?"   Why isn't he here to thank me."

Do you want to be the one? Let's be faithful to Jesus and return to him today, giving him thanks for all he has done for us.  Amen.