Sermon: PENTECOST 21, October 9th, 2016
In the Name...
I know this may be a shocking revelation, but, seminary students can be a bit irreverent and I'll confess that in my day we used to call today's Gospel reading the "Ten Lepers Leaping." But, times change and I understand the modern generation calls it the "Grateful Undocumented Alien."
In any event, the story of the ten lepers is a classic illustration of power at work. Ten incurable skin diseases miraculously cured. Ten outcasts of society restored to community. Ten lives given up for lost now ten lives given a second chance. Magnificent! And what made this transformation possible? Well, it would be natural for us to answer, the power of God. But, I'm going to say "No" to that because it wasn't that simple. That's right. These miracles cannot be explained away by something as simple as the power of God. It was much more complicated. There was indeed a power at work, but, it was the power of obedience. The power of obedience.
Now, obedience is something with which we deal and struggle every day and some of us don't do very well with it. We prefer our freedom of choice and Why not? God gave us that freedom and even though we know we don't always use it well, we still treasure and protect it. It's what makes us, us. And, that's why we find obedience difficult because when we obey we're using our freedom to choose not something we want, but, what somebody else wants.
Of course, sometimes we don't mind doing that because we see an advantage for ourselves or a penalty we want to avoid. That, at least, is how human society works. But, God is different. When he asks us to do something we can be reasonably sure that he's got something good planned for us if we do it. If we don't, he doesn't smite us with lightning or drop an elephant on our car. We can, however, be sure that we will have missed out on something special.
Take our lepers. They were asked to do something extremely difficult because what they were asked to do was something extremely simple. Yes, that's what I said. The difficulty is that it was simple. Go away and see the priests.
Now, if you or I went to see a doctor, we'd expect him to do something more than just tell us to see a priest. In fact, I'd get worried if he did that! And, here we have ten men who have serious physical problems, who have gone to some trouble and risk to seek out Jesus. They believe he can cure them. They call him "Master". What do you think they expected to happen? Surely Jesus would go to them, maybe touch them or say some blessing. But, what does he do? He just says, "Go see someone else" and they go. They obey. And, they are healed. They have exercised the power of obedience to the words of God and that power has healed them all.
Now, our Old Testament lesson today is one of my favourite Bible stories, that of Naaman the Syrian. Naaman was an important man in his country - a five-star general. Unfortunately, he was also stricken with leprosy, but, that was not a social or religious problem in Syria. He was not cast out and forced to beg for a living. He had position, servants; a family. From a Syrian point of view, his problem was purely medical and when he went to Elisha his attitude was purely clinical. He was just going to a doctor, albeit a religious one. His camels we read were laden with gold and silver to pay the bill, but, faith was not something he brought to the appointment.
And, what happened? He received royal disrespect. First, the Israelite king treats him like - a leper. Second, Elisha doesn't come to the palace to meet him. He stays in his house on the outskirts of town. So Naaman has to trek over there. And third, Elisha, following Jewish custom, refuses to have any physical contact with him. He just sends a servant outside with a message - Go jump in the lake.
Well, Naaman was a bit ticked. After all, he expected to be treated in accordance with his rank. The way he complains is almost comical, like a spoiled child. I wanted him to come out and wave his hands around, and do this and that and the other thing. He's totally focused on how he's been dissed. Rather than take a simple bath in the Jordan, he's prepared to go back to Syria and stay a leper until his staff officers convince him to try it. Once he does, of course, he is healed.
Now, the Gospel lepers couldn't have been more different. They were men of strong faith. They believed that Jesus could heal. He told them to go and they went because they believed he had a good reason. No argument, no complaints. They believed and the word used to describe their healing is "katharis" which means to be physically in health, also free from shame, and it can mean, in a religious sense, ritually purified. A good word, this "katharis".
But, one of the lepers does something a little different to the others. He started to go, but, before he reaches the destination, he comes back to give thanks and, if you notice, Jesus didn't tell any of them to do that, which is why Jesus uses a different word to describe him. When he says "your faith has made you well", he uses the word "sesoken" which is a word used for "rescue" or "salvation". It doesn't have anything to do with healing in the medical sense.
Jesus says that all ten were "katharis", but, only one was "sesoken". Ten received a physical blessing while only one received a spiritual blessing. Any why? Because he saw to God's wishes and not just his own needs. Jesus didn't tell them to come back and give thanks, but this one fellow knew deep down that he should. He obeyed something more powerful than Jesus. He obeyed himself and he used his freedom of choice to praise God.
Our freedom of choice is powerful and when we use it not merely to obey God's orders, but, also to fulfil God's wishes, it can provide us with extra blessings.
We all know the way God wants us to live. He's left us general principles in Scripture and he speaks to us individually. And being faithful and obedient to his instructions we're all like the ten lepers in that regard. We believe in God; we have needs that we believe God alone can address; and we are ready to respond in faith to His Word. But, that's only the start. Any fool – including me - can choose to obey God. But, what makes a Samaritan leper, what makes a Christian saint, is choosing to do what God has not asked you to do, but, the thing he hopes you will do.
Obeying God is good. It leads to "katharis." But, choosing to fulfil God's dreams for you leads to "sesoken" and not only is that even better, that is the best.
Yes. You have power beyond measure in the choices you make. Never mind the lepers; you have the power to make God leap. Leap with joy.
In the Name...