A Second Blessing

Christ-and-the-healing-the-ten-lepers-32

a sermon offered
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Pentecost XXI-C
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

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“I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, *
      in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
      the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.”
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As I was spending my time during the week with the scripture that we’ve heard this morning, it kept coming to me . . . I think we are in desperate need of thanksgiving.

If we stop and take a look around there are plenty of reasons to be worried: There’s too much unemployment; Congress has been gridlocked, and the government is struggling to figure out how to get up and running again; Deadly conflict continues in Syria and too many other places in the world; and there’s the possibility of default on U.S. debts and the world financial crisis that would cause . . .

And bringing it closer home there are challenges, there are losses … and grief … and sadness … and uncertainties . . .  here in our church family and inside our homes and family lives.

Looking at all this, you might wonder why I’m talking about thanksgiving.  Wouldn’t a cry for justice be more appropriate?  Or a call for self-preservation?  Or a time for mourning?  These are all possibilities, too, of course, and they have their time and place.  There’s a need for all these things . . .

But just now, and given today’s gospel reading, I am remembering that one of the most powerful responses to the events of our lives, whether they are blessings OR difficulties, is thanksgiving.  And oh how often we overlook or forget thanksgiving . . .

In the gospel narrative, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem.  He’s in a border region, crossing boundaries and wandering into areas that could be dangerous.  And he’s healing people who are living on the margins of acceptable society—namely a group of ten lepers. They’re unclean and outcasts.  People were scared to death of leprosy in those days – they knew less about leprosy and had less control over it than we do these days over a disease like AIDS.

The lepers approach Jesus with a cry, a plea for healing.  But they also keep their distance – they’ve learned the hard way, from life experience, to expect very little from those around them.  Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the local priest.  This seems to be his way of telling them that they will be healed.   And, true to this intent, as they are on the way to the priest, they are healed, totallycleansed of their leprosy.

Then, when one of them notices that he’s healed, he turns back; he goes back to Jesus to say thank-you.  He falls down at Jesus’ feet, he worships. and he gives thanks.

Two points here:  First:  The other nine don’t do anything wrong.  In fact, they do exactly what Jesus tells them to do, go off to show themselves to the priest.  And we can safely assume that they are healed and enjoy being accepted back by their families and friends. They don’t do anything wrong, and they receive the blessing that Jesus promised them.

Second point:  The one who turns back, first he sees that he is healed and then he returns to say thanks  – and it’s at this point that he is blessed a second time.  When he comes back to Jesus and worships in praise and thanksgiving (and this time he comes close to Jesus, he doesn’t stand at a distance like the first time) Jesus invites the man to rise and go on his way.  Jesus says that his faith has made him not only physically well, but also his faith has made him spiritually whole. (The Greek word is σoζω  – “sod-zo” – the word that is translated “salvation” throughout the New Testament.)

So what does this man who returns receive? Certainly, he receives the blessing of healing just like the other nine. But he also receives also the blessing that comes from recognizing blessing and giving thanks:  the blessing of wholeness, the blessing of salvation.

Have you ever noticed how powerful it is, not only to receive a blessing, but then also to name it and give thanks for it? Maybe at dinner with family or friends – it’s one of those gatherings, when time just stops, you’re caught up and drawn together by a wonderful sense of community and joy.  This happens for me when we celebrate at this table.  During the Eucharist we see in a mysterious kind of way and we give thanks.  The original blessing is somehow multiplied – we’re blessed a second time.

Thanksgiving is like that.  It comes from seeing, from our ability to recognize blessing. Every time these two are combined – seeing the blessing and giving thanks  –  Thanksgiving actually leads us to a second blessing: you know you are a child of God, whole and accepted and beautiful . . .

And that’s what the nine miss.  It’s not that they do anything wrong; it’s just that they don’t recognize their good fortune and don’t say thanks – and so they missed out on being made whole.

So let’s look at our world again:  Filled with troubles?  Filled with deep sorrow that cries out for our prayers?  Yes – Definitely.  But in the middle of trouble and sorrow and grief we still see blessing:  Families and friends that care for each other, people who work hard . . .and work well, a government that is far from perfect but still strives to honor freedom and opportunity, good neighbors who support one another, and a faith community where our life and faith is nourished – a family of faith that loves and cares for each other.

Jesus said to the healed leper who came back to say thanks, “Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well.”  Jesus says the same thing to us: ”Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well.”  But before we leave, let’s not overlook the prayer of thanksgiving that God’s grace arouses deep within us.  Let’s hang around for that second blessing.

And when we go on our way, let’s be ready to share that blessing with the world . . .

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