Sunday, October 28, 2007

My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad, Luke 18:9-14

Luke 18:9-14:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” 13But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

My dad can beat up your dad.” That’s just the beginning. Next it’s, “I can out do you.” “I’m smarter than you;” “I’m better than you at soccer, at tennis, at bridge.”

U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi you ugly.” This is how things begin. Kid’s stuff right. Show everyone just how good we are; at least how good we are compared to some people.

Last night we had a great time at the club de chicas y chicos Halloween fiesta—kids carving pumpkins, roasting hotdogs and marshmallows, games including bobbing for apples. The kids gathered around the wheelbarrow full of water and apples. At first they went one at a time, and everyone kind of delicately dipped their heads into the pool, gently trying to gather an apple between their teeth.

I was getting bored so I said, “Alright, now see who can get the apple the fastest.

Antonio versus Scarlette…” The two dive in, I won’t say who won, but the effort certainly was increased. Then Trasie said “Gigi vs. her friend Lauren”, and both whom had been standing back just watching as if they couldn’t care less, dove in after those apples, their faces underwater. In seconds Gigi emerged triumphant, arms in the air, and water pouring all across her front!

We love to compete; to compare with others.

Jesus tells a story to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt. The story is about two guys, “a good guy” –The Pharisee, and a “bad” guy—a tax collector—who just so happen to be going up to the church to pray together. Well, not exactly pray together, they just happen to be there at the same time. The really good guy goes first, lays it all out there before God, kind of…. “Oh God look at me. Now, consider the worst people around; you know all those terrible people out there, I mean, just look at that loser over there, a tax collector of all people. God, I am great; I am about as perfect as you can get.” In reality what does he lay out there before God?

He just talks about what he is not like; then he talks about all these “Good” things he does—praying, fasting, tithing...

But who is he? We know what he is not like. We know what he does. But who is he? Does he know?

And then it comes right back to us? Who are you? Who am I? Do we know?

Or does it take looking at others; particularly others who we think are doing things worse than we are, and defining ourselves over and against them.

This “good” guy “has found no certainty in himself and is evidently suffering from lack of personality;” so in his anxiety he makes others out to be terrible people, so that he can think himself all that.1

So the good guy is an upstanding citizen who fasts twice a week and tithes…

This guy is actually a model church-goer! If only we could live up to his example of moral conduct. Not to mention his fasting praying and tithing. This world is hurting for prayer; and of course stewardship season begins next month!

But, apparently, according to Jesus: He’s done something wrong. Even though he thought he was doing everything right—Right in the eyes of all the people, right in the eyes of the law. But, when he left the temple and went home, he was not justified.

The person who did leave the church justified was the tax-collector—the “bad” guy. He was up there praying too: but he stood off to the side, would not look up to heaven [which I suppose is where we get the tradition of bowing our heads in prayer]; but beat his breast [so why don’t we beat our chests?] and cries, “Lord, BE MERCIFUL, I am a sinner!” In that phrase, he has spoken from his heart; “he has uttered the complete truth about himself. He is a ‘sinner’—before God, before the law, before the standards of his own people, and before himself.”2

He has spoken directly about himself. He has not tried to make excuses for his own shortcomings; he is not looking toward the shortcomings of others to make himself feel better. He is simply claiming a reality about himself. “I, sinner.” I have messed up. I have done others wrong, I have done myself wrong. I need mercy from the one who is merciful. “This one went home justified.” Jesus said.

What is the difference in these two? Why is one justified and not the other?

I think the Pharisee didn’t go home justified because he didn’t go home free.

He left still so worried about what others thought of him, and worried about all the things he had to do to prove himself; he didn’t really seem too concerned about what God thought of him. He had not received mercy, nor did he understand what it meant to receive mercy.

Do you remember when we talked about mercy a few weeks ago; my buddy who would say “mercy” when an attractive young lady walked by?

Let’s think about mercy again for a second: Was there a time in our lives before we knew the good news? Do we remember the time before we knew we were loved and forgiven? The time before we were called to be disciples? This was the time of “pre-mercy.” In the time of “pre-mercy,” we have to reinvent ourselves every day, we face daily pressure to achieve, accomplish and impress. Good enough to impress our parents or our boss; smart enough to impress our teachers and peers; and romantic enough to impress our significant other. “But of course it is never enough; Because then, then, the next day it has to be done all over again, until we’re simply exhausted and left in despair.” Do you remember: Once you had not received mercy.3

This was the world of this Pharisee.

The other one, the tax-collector cried out: “God be merciful, I am a sinner.”
“This one went home justified.” Jesus said. He left there free, not worrying about what other’s thought or said, but having stood naked before the one who is merciful and pleads for mercy. This one went home justified.

Did he change his evil ways and stop ripping people off? We don’t know? But even by asking that kind of question of the tax-collector, we might be slipping off into the realm of Pharisee, judging what this bad guy should be doing.

Who are we to compare ourselves to other people, to compete against others to make ourselves look better? We can only stand before God—have God see us just as we are. We can cry for mercy, and trust that our loving God is merciful. God is merciful, God loves us. Do we believe this? That we are recipients of mercy, even when we may forget to ask for mercy? Or do we have to go around looking for other ways to feel good about ourselves.

I love to think I am such a good husband because I don’t do a lot of things that some of Trasie’s friend’s husbands do. I like to think I’m such a good citizen because I stay informed, I participate in public life, I’m a Presbyterian minister.

I like to think I’m such a good environmental steward because I recycle and I catch shower water in a bucket and use that water to flush the toilet. How many of you do these things? Ya’ll didn’t know what you were getting when you called me to this church!!!

These are silly ways that I compare myself to others. But about they ways the we compare ourselves to others that is damaging and hurtful to the other. We look at the homeless, and say. “Why don’t you just get a job? I’ve worked hard for what I have”. Or at the women experiencing domestic violence, “Why doesn’t she just leave? She deserves it.” Or to the immigrant, we dehumanize by making them “illegals” and criminals. In our efforts to make ourselves better, we judge and we exclude others based on race, class and gender. We hurt others, we become paralyzed and imprisoned by our judgment and the walls that divide us grow taller.

We too have come to the “temple” this morning—come to church to pray, to come before God, and to come before one another. We are seeking assurance about ourselves and about other people before God. But who gives us this assurance? We too are hungering for acceptance (recognition), for without acceptance (recognition) no one can live. What kind of acceptance do we seek?

We, too are seeking mercy in the things about ourselves that neither we nor anyone else can describe as good.” And who shows us this mercy?

Are we past these silly games of trying to make ourselves look better by saying things like: My Daddy Can beat up Your daddy? Are we ready to accept ourselves tal como somos? Just as we are each of us uniquely and wonderfully made, and then be free to love others just as they are. Not judging and comparing and holding in contempt of whatever.

We could go around comparing ourselves all day long with other people.

But it just doesn’t justify. What justifies is God’s mercy in our lives!

1 Jurgen Moltmann, “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector,” in Chorus of Witnesses, ed. Thomas Long, p. 25.

2 Jurgen Moltmann, “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector,” in Chorus of Witnesses, ed. Thomas Long, p. 27.

3 Walter Brueggemann, Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, pp 80-81.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Persistent Women Appreciation: Luke 18:1-8

Luke 18:1-8:
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” 6And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

When was that time in life when you reached the bottom? That time when you felt like you had nothing left to give? Nothing left inside you? You could do nothing else on your own. You were desperate. Was this the time to reach down just a little bit further? To count your losses, to forget about everything else and give it your all?

Sports seem to have really captured this idea of finding something somewhere that gives you the strength and power to go a little further: the 15th round; the 9th inning, down by a run and two out;

the fourth quarter, your team has the ball with 2 minutes left and is down by a touchdown.

But, when do we reach these times of trial in real life? When our lively hood is threatened? Our identity assaulted? When a family member or a friend had really disappointed or hurt us? When we are taken advantage of? When we’ve had to face your greatest fear?

When Jesus tells this story we heard this morning, he is making his way toward Jerusalem, where he will be beaten and killed. Maybe Jesus tells this story to disciples who are beginning to wonder if it is even worth it to go forward; to continue the good fight and preach the good news. Maybe Luke tells this story to the early Christians a few generations removed from Jesus, who are really beginning to wonder what this new movement called the way, this new movement seeking an alternative life according to the way Jesus lived. Life is lived not to gain the world or seek after one’s own interest, but to seek after the interests of others. Self giving, self sacrificing life modeled by a man who gave his life on a cross, and by others whose lives also came to tragic endings. These early Christians were probably wondering what it was all about. Why them? Why the persecutions? Why the struggle? For what?

For this woman in our parable, there was nothing else to live for. Someone wanted to do her in and she “needed justice. But, she had nothing…absolutely nothing. No money, No husband, No standing in society, no power, no resources, Nothing. Well, maybe nothing is not quite accurate. She did have something. She had the capacity to be a pest, to annoy. And, when you only have one weapon, you use it.”1 She didn’t care what others would think of her. She didn’t care about any potential negative consequences her actions may have. She didn’t care about the judge’s terrible reputation. So she goes to the judge who is not a typical “Your Honor.” This judge didn’t respect anyone. He didn’t fear God, so what would motivate him to hear out this pitiful woman’s desperate plea. No Karma/Darma factor, no golden rule, no empathy. He heard cases and said, “that’s your problem, not mine!” He simply didn’t care. But this widow in Jesus’ story doesn’t care either. She doesn’t care that the judge has a careless attitude. She pesters this judge constantly. Day and night she would bang on this judges office door,

she would cry out from the chambers of the courtroom, send him annoying emails and text messages. “I want justice! I need Justice. Give me justice!”

We’ve all met people who annoy like this woman. The youngest of three and only boy, I was kind of an annoying kid to my parents, especially to my mom. I loved to play the why game, usually in the car when there was nowhere for my mother to escape to. Any time she said anything I would ask “Why.” How was your day at school? “Why” And when I was hungry—I was terrible—I would stand in the kitchen, “I’m hungry, When are we going to eat?” I would sing terribly annoying songs: “I’m hungry I’m hungry. I’m hungry, Give me food.” And just like that food appeared. I gave my mom grey hair; this judge was probably bald after this woman drove him crazy: “I want justice! I need Justice. Give me justice!”

So, he gives in. And just like that there was justice.

This is the story Jesus told so that we might pray always and not lose heart.

So what do you make of it? What do two characters: A judge and a widow, teach us disciples as we listen intently? A judge who couldn’t care about anything, who finally gives in. “Maybe what Jesus is teaching us is that, even though the headlines in the newspaper often show a world of corruption and evil,” even though we face any number of difficulties and disappointments in our lives;

this is, after all, our Father’s world; a world ruled by a loving and just God;”

Can we trust that at the end of the day, there will be justice? “Is that what Jesus wants us to see?”2

To be sure that is part of it. I find it always helpful to be reminded of how much God loves and cares for me; to hear of the sovereignty of God—that’s so Presbyterian. But if this were all to this parable its moral would have been:

God will take care of all your worries.” “Let go and let God.”

But, Jesus told this parable of the unjust judge and the persistent widow, “In order that we might pray always and not lose heart.”

Ah yes, of course, there’s the old annoying widow who is also part of this story.

The model of faith, and the model of what it means to pray. I came across many examples of this kind of pesky persistence; and interestingly, most all of them were persistent women.

Trasie and I watched the film Out of Africa last week. There was a scene of Karen Blixen, a dutchess from Denmark, getting down on her knees before the new governor at his welcoming party, begging him not to remove the Kikuyu from their land. This was a very improper thing to do, but Karen didn’t care about anyone’s indignant stare. She demanded justice for the Kikuyu people.

At age 90, Mrs. Doris Haddock—the kids refer to her as “Granny D"— walked for 14-months, 3200-miles across the United States to protest the corrupting effect of big money in our electoral process.

Cindy Sheehan—the woman who upon the death of her son in Iraq, camped out at President George Bush’s Ranch demanding to speak with President Bush face to face.

And what about that persistent woman, Mother Teresa. I pity any “judge” that had her knocking at the door. Seeking to raise money for an AIDS hospice, Mother Teresa called out to Edward Bennett Williams, a legendary Washington lawyer who was loaded, who at one time owned the Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Orioles, who was the lawyer for Frank Sinatra and Richard Nixon, among others. Surely he would give to her plea for justice. But, Williams and his law partner, Paul Dietrich, had decided not to make a contribution. Still they wanted to meet this Catholic saint, so they would be polite, hear her out, but then say no.

The day came for the meeting. Mother Teresa “was a little sparrow sitting on the other side of the lawyer's big mahogany desk. She made her appeal for the hospice, and Williams said, “We're touched by your appeal, but no.” “Well,” Mother Teresa said as she looked at the men, “Let us pray.” Williams looked at his partner; they bowed their heads. After the prayer Mother Teresa made the same pitch, word for word, for the hospice. Again Williams politely said no.

I see,” Mother Teresa said, “Let us pray.” Williams, exasperated, looked up at the ceiling, “All right, all right, get me my checkbook!”3

Is this what Jesus trying to tell us to do: annoy like Granny D, pester like Cindy Sheehan, use prayer like Mother Teresa, cry out like the widow: “bang on the doors of heaven with insistence.”

To be sure, Jesus wants disciples to act likewise—to be persistent in prayer. Maybe even get a little feisty with God. “We want justice.” But maybe that's not all. “If that were the whole meaning of Jesus' story, then the moral of the story would be “Be feisty. Pray always.” But the moral of this story is, “Pray always and don't lose heart.”4

This moral of the story leads to two problems for me:

  1. Pray always. This is a problem for me; and I don’t think prayer is a problem just for me, but probably for most of us. What am I supposed to say? Am I really talking to God or am I only speaking to myself? I’ve already confessed to you that I’m uncertain about prayer. And really, when we pray, we are putting out faith on the line. Is there a God or not? Is there a God who cares for us, who hears and responds? These are frightening questions.

Maybe that’s why so many don’t even bother to pray. “If God really cares for us and knows what we need, why do we need to pray?” some may say. “It’s kind of old-fashioned,” Others quip. “It’s a little self-righteous,” suggest others.

But really prayer is a great risk of faith!5

2nd problem: don’t lose heart.

The problem beneath all of our problems with prayer is exactly what Jesus addresses here: We simply lose heart.

If we really believed in the power of prayer; if we really believed that prayer can effect world peace; if we were truly convinced that prayer changes things;

heals broken lives and restores severed relationships,”6

then I guarantee, that this sanctuary would be pact on Thursday mornings at 7:30 am, and probably every other morning. We would wear knee pads; pray constantly. Nothing—No work schedule or busy life—could keep us from praying.

But, instead, we don’t do it. We find we are too busy to pray. And we find we are constantly confronted by the appalling injustices around us:

Why do children continue to starve?

Why is there increasing economic disparity?

Why are families divided due to deportations?

Families torn apart by domestic violence?

Why do wars continue to wreak havoc across the globe?

Why? Why? Why?

I simply lose heart.

Jesus told them this parable so that they would pray without stopping, and never give up hope!. From this story Jesus told, we learn something about God;

that God is so much more willing to hear our cries for justice than a crooked mean old judge. But sometimes our cry for justice seems to go unheard.

We learn something from this widow—how we need to act—pray day and night when we are faced with trials beyond anything we can bare. When an opponent would do us in. But it is hard to pray, risky to pray, and sometimes it seems irrelevant to pray.

Well, maybe “Jesus' story is not finally about the bad judge and it's not finally about the insistent widow. Maybe it's finally a story about God and about you and me.” A story about relationship between a God who is in fact loving; a God we can trust; a God who we can turn to in confidence to hear our cries and desires justice; and us, God’s beloved children.

The reality is that we have to endure many hardships in this life. Do we remember? Christ ended up dying on the cross. And he told this parable to disciple so that they would pray always, and not lose heart.

What is it that keeps us going from day-to-day? What do we do when we are faced with insurmountable odds? What do we do when we reach the bottom? When we feet like there was nothing left to do? Nothing left inside you but despair? Can we reach down just a little bit further? Can we pray? Maybe not necessarily so that things will turn out exactly as we hope for, but instead so that we can grow in relationship with the one to whom we pray.

And we remember: The cross was not the last word. Resurrection came and it was the relationship that carried it through. In the face of seemingly nsurmountable odds, can we arise in the morning and pray for justice?

Can we approach mid-day banging down the doors of heaven demanding justice?

And as the sun goes down, can we lie in bed and rest assured that resurrection—life, hope, loving relationship—is the final word?

Jesus concluded the parable by saying: When the son of man comes, will he find faith on earth? Maybe because of the relationship with God, prayer gives us faith.

And Jesus challenges us to pray always, and never give up.

In a large gathering of persons concerned about certain unfair and oppressive conditions in our society, an elderly black minister read this parable

and gave a once-sentence interpretation: ‘Until you have stood for years knocking at a locked door, your knuckles bleeding, you do not really know what prayer is.’”7

I know that I do not know what prayer is; I know I do not understand how prayer works. But, strangely when I do pray, I feel that somehow things are different. That somehow things have changed. Most likely, when I pray, I have changed, because I have grown closer to God. Most likely, when I pray, I have encountered the living God in some mysterious way.

1 Thomas Long’s sermon "Praying Without Losing Heart," Luke 18:1-8. Program #5101 on

2 Thomas Long’s sermon "Praying Without Losing Heart," Luke 18:1-8. Program #5101 on

3 Adapted from the story as told by Thomas Long, in his sermon "Praying Without Losing Heart," Luke 18:1-8. Program #5101 on

4 Thomas Long’s sermon "Praying Without Losing Heart," Luke 18:1-8. Program #5101 on

5 William Willimon, 10/18/1998 - On Not Losing Heart:

6 William Willimon, 10/18/1998 - On Not Losing Heart:

7 Craddock, Texts for Preaching: Year C.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Grateful Leaper: Luke 17:11-19

The Grateful Leaper! Luke 17:11-19
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."
La palabra de Dios. Te escuchamos, O Dios.

Leap for Joy!!! Make a joyful noise!!! Let out a great sound of joy! Of cheer, of excitement! Woohoo! What better way to give thanks for today! What better way to give praise to God for God’s mercy in our lives. Praise to God for one more day because even this day is a gift. Life is a gift. Every day. Some days better than others, but today—this is special.
It was a good day for the lepers in this morning’s story. They got up day after day, their bodies covered in sores; skin pealing away. Deformity, shame…relegated to living on the edge of town; not accepted as part of the mainstream. But they kept living. They kept hoping for something to come their way.
Jesus Approaches!
They Shout—“Unclean! Unclean!”—as the Law requires:
They Shout: “Lord, Master, we’ll call you whatever you want us to call you, just
PLEASE have Mercy.” MERCY!
Of course, mercy.
That is what they pray for, that is what they dream of; that someone would show these pathetic people rendered powerless, unclean, blemishes to society mercy, treat them as humans. Will Jesus heed their plea? Can Jesus do anything about it…? It’s worth a try, they’re desperate.
“Have mercy!”
Mercy!” That’s what my buddy from school John Curlin would always say when he got one of his tests back and saw that he passed, barely: Mercy!
He said it when he spotted an attractive young lady: Mercy. Don’t ask me why?
Mercy. That was what my sisters and I used to shout as kids around Christmas when we would drive through the really nice neighborhoods in town on a Mercy Tour…we’d see all the bright colorful lights draped over all the trees and all over the house. Mercy. We saw the giant tree inside the house all lit up, Mercy! We would shout. Don’t ask me why?
Mercy. That’s what you cry when you play that wrestling game…[demonstrate], and when you’re on your knees and your wrists are bent all the way back till you can’t take it any more you beg for mercy. Don’t ask me why?
Mercy, that’s what we pray for when we have the prayers of the people: “Lord, in your mercy”
Mercy, that’s what we sing when we do the confession. Ten Piedad.
But what does mercy mean? Ten lepers beg: “Jesus, Master, HAVE MERCY ON US.”
And as they go on their way, just as Jesus told them to do, they are made clean. And it would appear that mercy made all the difference. Does mercy make any difference in our lives?
Let’s think about mercy for a second: Was there a time in our lives before we knew the good news? Do we remember the time before we knew we were loved and forgiven? The time before we were called to be disciples? This was the time of “pre-mercy.” In the time of “pre-mercy,” we had to reinvent ourselves every day, we faced daily pressure to achieve, accomplish and impress. Good enough to impress our boss or our coach; smart enough to impress our teachers and peers; and romantic enough to impress our significant other. “But of course it is never enough; And then, and then, the next day it has to be done all over again, until we’re simply exhausted and left in despair.” Do you remember: Once you had not received mercy. (Walter Brueggemann, Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, pp 80-81)
“And then the miracle! The miracle is that Jesus came into the world; gathered up the stranded people and made them into a new community. He called disciples, he called little children, he called the publicans and sinners, he called tax collectors and fishermen…all sorts of people who did not belong to each other, did not know or trust each other.” (Walter Brueggemann, Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, pp 80-81)
But everywhere Jesus went, things were made new.
Jesus enters a no name town somewhere between Samaria and Galilee, and before he can enter that town lepers out on the edges, where they’re supposed to be, mob him: “Have Mercy!” They Cry. And he does: Of course. This is what God incarnate was about. Mercy. He had mercy on them. They were made clean; and their lives took on new meaning. Each made new.
Newness…forgiving, healing, cleansing, feeding…this was the life of Jesus: Mercy giving life back by taking the time to share his life, invest himself in others. That’s what he did, even to the very end. It is as though the whole world addressed him: “Master, have mercy on us.”
So he gave his life as a continuing act of mercy. That’s all. That’s everything. And you know: that’s what the world in its desolate anxiety does not know. That’s what sometimes I forget!
I forget that God is not a hypothesis or a good idea, but instead God is an agent who turns what was into what will be. (Walter Brueggemann, Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, pp 83- 84).
Mercy me! This means so much to me. “Mercy is God’s response to us, and then through us and beyond us.”
And our response to God? Jesus suggests a simple, “Thank you.” Or maybe a loud shouting and jumping up and down, “THANK YOU!”
It never hurts to get a little sign of appreciation when you have done something for someone else; when you’ve given of yourself. It’s nice when you’ve worked all day for Spanish supper to get a thank you note. You’ve worked behind the scenes at this church, at work, in our community—and someone gives you a pat on the back. I’m sure you’re all aware that this month is pastor appreciation month; I suppose it’s my job to tell everyone that right?
But even I don’t mind someone saying, Hey Chester, Thanks! Maybe this is hereditary: something I got this from my dad. No, we all like to be appreciated; even if we haven’t really done much! A little gracias. Can that be the case with God too? This mysterious God whom we worship, often times seems so simple—God appreciates a little appreciation.

This foreigner in the story from Luke—a Samaritan—probably didn’t expect to get the same treatment as the others who were Jews. He was shown mercy, healed; and came back ecstatic, praising God and showing his thanks to Jesus. Once a sad leper, he came back a grateful leaper! [Cheesy joke for the day] shouting and praising God, “Wooohhhoooo!”
A foreigner who is the model of faith shows us what thankfulness looks like.
As a Spanish speaker doing social work, Trasie works with a number of foreigners.
They’ve come to this country for any number of reasons, and now are trying to get by in this strange new world. Many are on the edges of society, in the shadows; unsure of what to expect.
One of her clients was the family of a two-year old girl who couldn’t walk or talk. They didn’t know what to do about this precious little girl when they showed up at the center. And Trasie, simply did her job, spent hours with them by going to appointments with doctors and provided counseling for the family. Most of us in that family’s situation would have really appreciated Trasie’s work, but probably thought…well she’s just doing her job. But this family extended one of the most gracious acts of appreciation they could offer. They invited Trasie, and her tag along husband, into their humble home; where we ate a wonderful feast and stayed until 11 at night! What a nice thanks!
Thank yous are nice. It’s no surprise that Jesus, while simply doing his job—healing, showing a little mercy—was hoping for just a slight recognition, just a small sign of appreciation: and one came back. Who knows maybe the other nine who didn’t come back to him were planning an upcoming Jesus appreciation banquet. But there’s there may be a little more to this thankful heart according to the passage. Now this is the kind of stuff us bible nerds really get into…yep that’s me. A Bible nerd. My dad always hoped I’d be a nerd at something. The word derived from sozo translated “made you well,” appears when Jesus says to the appreciative foreigner at the end of the story that his faith had made him well: that word means save. In other words, Jesus seems to say your faith has saved you; well duh, but what about his faith.
His faith led him to say thank you; that is what made him well. Mercy is the big difference in the lives of all the lepers. They are all made clean; but only one comes back and praises God.
Gives thanks to the one who healed, recognized him for who he is. And somehow now, salvation, not just healing, but salvation becomes part of the picture. Salvation factors into the equation.
Now issues of salvation can be tricky in the Bible: it can be talking about eternal salvation, or is there something about experiencing salvation day after day. But I would like for us to consider for a moment, that it his thankful heart, his attitude of gratitude meant salvation that day. He recognized what a gift life is, was left with nothing but say, wow, what a difference, thanks...Being thankful for all of life, for everything life has to offer, is a way we can experience salvation every after day. What can get us down when we live a life of thankfulness? What can do us harm if we trust that our loving God is a god of mercy?
Maybe you know some people like this. People who have seen some of the worst times in life, stuff we couldn’t even imagine experiencing, and in spite of how hard life has been, and for whatever crazy reason these people can only give thanks. Thank you!
The late Rev. John Claypool preached a sermon shortly after his 10-year old daughter died a tragic death. What pain can compare with a parent losing a child? Claypool says that three options came to him as he dealt with the grief. One was to resign to fact that life is just plain difficult and unfair. He likened this approach to a leaf hanging from a tree, fluttering in the wind in the fall time. He could just accept life as it is: that bad things happen no matter how good one might be, and that there is nothing to do but just accept it that way. Maybe we just let life happen; and we fall into cynicism.
Two: The other option that came to Rev. Claypool was to intellectualize the event. To try to make sense of it in his mind, wrap his head around it: Why did my daughter die? What happened? Why did this happen to me? To play scenario after scenario in his head as to how things could be different, how things could have played out another way. But he knew he would never understand, no medical or reasoned explanation would make it better, but more than likely would eventually lead to bitterness and despair.
These two options, as tempting as they were for him, didn’t really give him much satisfaction, in fact just made him more depressed, and anxious and bitter about everything. He was hurting. But somehow, he came out of his suffering, if only for a moment, begging and pleading “Lord, Have mercy;” He realized how much he loved his daughter, how many wonderful memories he had of his daughter. How they would play together, dance and sing together, and read before she went to bed. Laugh and share life with each other.
Some of his greatest memories. He would not trade the time he had with her for anything. It was not fair that she died at such a young age. But what a gift her life was. This father who lost his daughter experienced salvation, in some strange way; by giving thanks for her life, and for his. (Tom Long, A Chorus of Witnesses, “Life Is A Gift,” sermon by John Claypool).
How precious life is. What a gift life is. The God of mercy, gives us life. Mercy made those ten lepers clean, but it was a thankful heart that made the one well. It saved him that day. Surely hard roads were ahead, after all he was a foreigner in a strange land, but a thankful heart can overcome even the most dreadful situations, because life is a gift, and so long as there is life, there is hope. “There is an old spiritual discipline of listing one’s blessings, naming them before God, and giving thanks. It’s a healthy thing to do, especially in a world where we too often assume we have an absolute right to health, happiness and every possible creature comfort” (Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone, 2004 WMJKP, pp206-207).
So that’s what I’d like us to do this morning. Take the time to find something we are thankful for: A good week last week, a win for our favorite team, a visit from a family member, the soft fur of a pet, a phone call with someone we love. Maybe it is something miraculous that has happened in our lives: Recovery from an illness, an experience of reconciliation. Maybe we are just thankful for the pastor..or if not me maybe for my wife! Maybe for the person or people sitting around you. Each and every day we can hope for something new and unexpected.
Each and every day we can wake up and give thanks that on this day, something wonderful may happen: A smile from a child; A hug and a kiss from a loved one; a wonderful storied shared over a meal; A glimpse of a beautiful sunset.
Take time to reflect on mercy and on thankfulness:
Play Song while people write down things they are thankful for: David M. Bailey, “I’m Thankful”:
“I'm thankful for the way the sun rises in the morning
I'm thankful for yellow, red and blue
I'm thankful for the quiet thoughts that visit when the moon shines
But most of all I'm thankful for you

I'm thankful that the lightning never strikes twice in the garden
I'm thankful for the silent midnight dew
I'm thankful that the tides don't forget to return
but most of all I'm thankful for you

So much to make my heart glad
So many reasons to sing
Well I'm thankful for every moment
And you, you're in everything

I'm thankful for the way my son reaches for my fingers
I'm thankful for my daughter's smile too
I'm thankful for the Time that brought us all together
but most of all I'm thankful for you”

Yes, there are so many things to be thankful for.
What does mercy mean? It means that God loves us beyond anything we can experience; and that is something to be thankful for.
that is awesome!