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Worship With the Mind And Heart

by Frank Schaefer

based on Luke 17:11-19

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. He is the foreigner--the outsider of the group--the Samaritan. 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, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet, and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan.”

I can see some of the people in that service. Gee wiz, does the man have to be so emotional? Listen folks: that’s exctly what’s wrong with us today--especially with us so-called main-line Christians.

This man is not joining the crowd in the pews singing: (subdued): “He touched me, o he touched me! And o, the joy that fills my soul.” (yawn). Something happened, and now I know: (I wonder what’s for supper later). . . he touched me and made me whole.” No! This man runs toward the altar like this . . . (act out).

How many people just felt uncomfortable with that? Good, that means I’m preaching!! The truth is that all of us here have been touched and helped and healed by God in one way or another, but when we worship it looks more like a rehearsed response than heart-felt thanksgiving. We too have been saved, healed, made whole by Jesus, and Jesus waits for our “thank you.” Not the rational kind of thank you. The one that goes: o yeah, this is what I have to read (monotonously): “We offer thanksgiving unto you o Lord . . .”

One of them, only one of ten came back to say thanks. And the thing is, Jesus didn’t order them to come back and say thanks. In fact, Jesus said to all of them: “go show yourself to the priest.” In other words, Jesus told them to do what tradition prescribed.

You really can’t order someone to say thanks by the way. I’ve tried it many times with my children, and it just doesn’t do anything for me (or for them) when I have to prompt them: “what do you say? What do you say? You say thank you. Say it: thank you!” But it sure feels great when they says it all by themselves with enthusiasm: “Thanks dad.” Jesus didn’t order it, but he sure was sad when the other nine didn’t show up to give thanks.

“One of them, when he realized that he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet, and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan.”

Folks, don't get me wrong, this has nothing to do with what form of worship we use. This is not about contemporary versus traditional worship. This is about whether our heart is in it or whether we just engage our mind. This is about whether we really pray the words that are printed in the bulletin and mean it; this is whether we really mean it from the bottom of our hearts when we say: ”thank you, Lord!” That kind of heart-felt worship can happen in any kind of worship service--contemporary, traditional, historic, alternative, or blended. And it doesn’t mean that we have to lift our hands, and that we have to get into a frenzy, or that we have to jump and dance in the pews--that has nothing to do with it!! That’s not everybody’s cup of tea.

I remember the way we used to sing the old traditional hymns in Miller chapel at Princeton Seminary. . .you could hear us all over campus!! (I really hope that hasn’t changed!) It was heart-felt! Not contemporary, not overly emotional, but heart-felt, people were not just singing, they were praising God!

“One of them, when he realized that he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet, and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan.”

For some reason, we mainliners have lost something over the years, and it is so much like God to use an outsider like a Samaritan to teach us an important lesson. While mainline denominations have declined, the Pentecostals and Charismatics--those who don't even count themselves to the historic church--have reminded us that worship must be heartfelt, it can’t just happen up here (in the head). Again, don’t take this interpretation too far--I am not suggesting we become a Hallelujah-shouting, pew-dancing Methecostal congregation. Some Pentecostals could certainly learn from us that we are called to worship God with all of our mind too! It’s not all emotions either.

However, we certainly need to learn how to loosen up a bit and show some emotions in our thanksgiving!

It’s not like we are not capable of showing some emotions in public, is it? All you need to do to see excited, emotional parishioners is to follow them to a football stadium. For some strange reason we have gotten it stuck in our heads that worship in church must be “unemotional.”

There is a promise in the kind of worship that comes from the heart and mind. Psalm 22:3 says: “You are holy, you inhabit the praises of your people.” In fact the NRSV puts it this way: “You are enthroned on the praises of Israel.” The picture here is that we are enthrowning God by our act of true worship. The pharisees ordered Jesus to stop people from loadly praising him during the triumphal entry, but Jesus said to them: “I tell you if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19:40) We can’t even begin to understand why, but it seems that there is real significance in the act of worship that comes from the heart and mind!

Has God not given us everything in life and even in death? Has God not lifted us up from spiritual death, and healed us? Where then is our heart-felt praise, our songs of thanksgiving?

Let us respond to this message by showing God our heart-felt thanks by singing “Give thanks” again, and let us sing it from the bottom of our hearts. Let God hear your thanksgiving this morning!