Sermon, Nov 18, 2018
Text: Luke 17:11-19
Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Isn’t this an amazing story? Here we have a description of 10 people who literally had their lives totally changed by Jesus, and only one returns to offer thanks. I can’t imagine what life must have been like as a leper. I know that there were laws and customs that forced anyone with the disease to remain a certain distance from anyone who wasn’t infected; I have also heard that when it was required a leper enter a public place, they had to move through the area announcing to everyone they saw; “unclean, unclean”. What kind of life must that have been? Can you imagine being delivered from a life like that, and then not returning to give thanks? It is hard to imagine, isn’t it? Or is it really?
I got to thinking about the people in my life that have formed the process of having me end up here, in Lewiston, Idaho delivering a Sunday sermon. I can’t imagine anything right now that I would rather be doing, but how did I get here? What sorts of influences have been parts of my life, what people have changed the course of my life, and how often did I return to say thanks?
Of course, we naturally think of people like our parents or siblings that have major influences in our lives…perhaps a spouse or best friend as well. And that certainly is true for me as well, neither of my parents are alive for me to thank; but I’m not sure that matters. I think I can still thank them, and should thank them; after all, this idea of thanksgiving does as much for the thanker as the thankee – don’t you think?
I have credited my sister Sharon in the past for influential conversations that helped me decide to pursue the ministry, and my brother Bruce has given me the confidence to tackle many a project I might never have tried without knowing I could call on him for advice or help, which includes the house project currently underway down the hill.
But what about some of those people you may have forgotten about? About 30 years ago there was a man, who I didn’t really like all that much. He was my boss. His name was Carter Pitts and he was the owner of the daily newspaper where I worked as a Sports Editor. I say I didn’t like him very much…I didn’t really know him very well, we were not socially active and he kind of scared me, so I avoided him when I could. But he did give me a job….and it was a job that first opened my eyes to the wonder of photography. It was a job with virtually unlimited resources of black and white film, darkroom chemistry and photographic paper. Whatever I wanted to do, whatever I wanted to experiment with, whatever I wanted to shoot, I was always encouraged to do so. The people there at the newspaper already knew what I was learning, and that was the more pictures you take, the better you get. I have never returned to thank him for that, and yet, photography has shaped my life from that time on.
There was a teacher I had in high school. He taught speech and was the head of the drama department; his name was Roger Hallum. I would say he was the first person to offer me encouragement toward careers in public speaking. Roger Hallum invited me to Toastmasters where I learned even more about speaking in public. He offered me confidence and wisdom, he offered me the opportunity to fail in a safe environment, he gave all of us tools for life, which I now use all the time. I don’t believe I ever returned to thank him for that.
I have had two surgeries in my life that could have been life threatening. One surgery was so long ago it hardly seems real. I was 14 years old and had a bout with appendicitis. I have mentioned before that Heidi and I were high school sweethearts; this particular surgery actually interfered with one of our very first dates. If I had not had the surgery, it also would have been our last date. Lucky for me, there were surgeons and doctors who knew what to do and my appendix was removed. I can’t tell you the surgeon’s name. I’m certain I never returned to thank him.
I had a professor in seminary that was one of the first to really open my eyes about the New Testament and the many options we have about interpretation of scripture. I found his approach to scripture captivating and enlightening all at the same time. I still use many of the techniques he taught me when I prepare a sermon. I took every class I could from this man and tried to absorb as much as I could. Before I graduated, he left Iliff School of Theology and went to Claremont Theological Seminary in southern California as the professor of New Testament theology. He left before I could thank him.
I learned to ski in 1985 on the bunny hill at Loveland, Colorado. Since that day downhill skiing became a part of our family life for the next several decades. All of our kids still ski to this day – they make it a priority, as we did as a family while they were growing up. The many ski trips we made in Colorado drew our family closer together, we bonded and shared some remarkable and memorable experiences. Skiing has had a huge impact on our family. I can’t tell you if the instructor was male or female. I certainly don’t know their name. Obviously, I have never returned to thank them.
While in high school I had a track coach who was an extraordinary individual. He taught me a great deal about competition, about winning and about losing. He often spoke of the individual victories and the team victories. He often told us that success wasn’t measured in blue ribbons. He was one of the first to mention that you shouldn’t worry about being the best runner on the track, but rather try to be better than you were yesterday. Cancer claimed Coach Gary Meyer 15 or 20 years ago…I never returned to thank him.
Maybe the story of the ten lepers isn’t so hard to believe after all. As I thought about all the influential people in my life and how little I have said thank you, it was actually a little embarrassing. Alive or dead, living close or far away, old or young, I would encourage you to give some thought to those you need to thank. Write a note or a letter, give them a call, and let them know they did something for you. Funny thing is, you will be the richer for it. Go in peace, go with God and go giving thanks. Amen.