The Healing Power of Gratitude

Luke 17:11-19

Sermon Preached at Watonga Indian Baptist Mission, Watonga, OK

There are two words that are never going out of style in the English language.

And they are_____. (Thank you).

We all love to be appreciated. We all love to have our good deeds noticed. We all love to know that our good works have meant something to someone we care about.

But we aren’t a culture that is really very good at thank you’s are we?

(When is the last time you wrote a real thank you note?)

While many parents’ number one goal in raising their children is to teach them to say “please and thank you” frequently such doesn’t happen. I have a friend who teaches Kindergarten at a local school and she once spoke about her greatest social challenge with her students, getting them to say thank-you when their classmates shared something.

And it is not just the young ones that have trouble with thank you. I have also have spent a good time in retirement communities where you walk the halls and say hello no one says anything in return, even if they are wide awake.

I don’t know how you feel about the importance of the words “thank you” in your home, but if you’ve ever been frustrated with the lack of “thank you” in the world today, then you will find good company with Jesus this morning. Because what we find is a story of Jesus healing a group of people and Jesus not getting much back in return.

And this is the scene: Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem. While passing the border between Samaria and Galilee, he and his disciples hit a rest stop known as a local village.  And in this village, Jesus and his disciples were greeted by a group of ten men. Though it was not usual at this point for crowds to approach Jesus, this encounter was different. For, the group that spoke to him was made up entirely of lepers– a contagious skin disease that caused massive deformity.

These lepers “kept their distance” from Jesus and his friends as was prescribed in the Jewish law as recorded in the book of Leviticus.  The decree about leprosy was this, “This person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair but unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!” As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp” (Lev. 13:45-46)

What a life, right?

I can only imagine that as they approached Jesus that day, how the years of pain and isolation must have weighed on them. Crying out “unclean, unclean!” day in and day out.

Though pale by comparison to many other instances, we recently had an experience in our house that gave me greater sympathy for who have dealt with skin deforming or long-term contagious diseases. Kevin got the shingles.

During the two weeks that followed and Kevin while was contagious our whole household routine was altered.

I have to confess that in response I went a little crazy trying to make sure I didn’t get it too. I just couldn’t help myself in figuring out ways to separate our lives so I would not get sick.

I made these rules: we would not sit on the same pieces of furniture. We would wash all of the sheets and towels immediately in hot water after Kevin finished with them.  We would wash our hands frequently and we would clean the bathroom a lot.

A week or so in to the ordeal, I think what was worse was not just the physical pain Kevin had but the social isolation. He told me how much he missed human contact. He missed being able to come home and sit wherever he wanted on the couch.

Probably such was much the same for the group that approached Jesus that day.  Their only community came from those with disease like themselves. They were regularly mocked, ignored and disregarded for having anything of value to add to society. Their family members kept their distance. There was little hope that they’d ever get “well” because known medicine at the time had few solutions. They had learned to follow the rules and they knew how to call out “Unclean! Unclean!”

Yet, they risked approaching Jesus because they hoped something was different about him.  He was not just a mere man. They believed Jesus could be God’s son. Thus, we hear these words of greeting in our text: the lepers called out to him, “Jesus, Master.”

And, Jesus’ response was, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”

We might think this that this is a strange request—why did they need to go to the priests? Could have Jesus just healed them on the spot?

Much like a person today wrongly accused and placed on the sex-offender registry, to be a leper was a sentence of societal isolation until the religious powers that be changed the degree about the person.

A leper needed to be first verified by the priests BEFORE the person could re-enter the world and be treated like everyone else.

So, in Jesus telling them to go to the priest, he was saying to them, in your faith in me, go get what you need to have your cure from leprosy. Go to the priest and you will be clean.

What happened next? Verse 14 tells us that without hesitation all 10 go as Jesus tells them, and “as they went, they were made clean.” It was a miracle! They were given the cure that each of them had been dreaming about for years! What a day! What an amazing day it was.

Yet this is what I want you to pay attention to: we hear no record that 9 of 10 lepers ever saw or talked to Jesus again. 9 of them said nothing more to Jesus. There would be no thank you from their lips.

It would be easy at this point to begin to speak negatively of them. Why did they NOT say thank you? Wouldn’t have that been the polite thing to do? Yet, we never hear harsh criticism by Jesus of them.

Jesus knew they had celebrating to do. For enjoying the experience of freedom, especially when it hasn’t been enjoyed for a long time is all-consuming and important. I can imagine for these nine guys there were relatives to visit, there were children to hug, there was partying to do. The lepers were cured after all and life would be forever different!

What about that one, though? The one who we read about in verse 15 who “saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God in a loud voice.” What was different about his experience? What did he come back and say thank you?

I think distinction comes as we follow the word “see” through the passage.

First, there is Jesus, who in the beginning of the encounter “saw” the lepers for the human beings that they were as they cried, “Unclean! Unclean!”

And, then there is this one who after being cured on his way to see the priest, “saw” himself as a new person and turned back to go to see Jesus once again.

This ONE came back because he saw his life differently. He took the time to realize the things that God had done for him. And we could call this gratitude.

Merriam Webster defines gratitude as a state of being thankful of the benefits received. And, though this word was not used directly in the text (for it wasn’t a word believe to be coined until 1523 AD) it’s a wonderful example of what gratitude is all about.

And this is the powerful part of the story, I think: in this one man’s coming back to say thank you, he was more than cured from his disease he was healed.

There’s a difference between being cured of something and being healed.

Being cured of a disease is all about having the physical symptoms going away. But healing is about something much deeper—healing is about emotional peace and spiritual peace and being able to walk in this world differently.

And this one who came back to say thank you got both a cure and healing too.

How? Jesus tells him that “his faith had made him well.” I want to stick with the word, “well” for just a minute because I believe it has a lot to teach us about what transpired.  The phrase, “made you well” comes from the Greek word sozo which is commonly translated “to save.” A soter is a “savior, deliverer.” Thus, in being “made well” the Samaritan finds salvation, but not salvation in the way that many of us might think of in terms of the typical “get saved” terminology. No, rather, by coming back in praise of God, the former leper acknowledged his dependence on something greater than himself.

And, in doing this, the years of anger, the years of bitterness, “Why me, God?” the years of emotional and spiritual pain were no longer chains that bound him up on the inside, as much as his disease isolated him from others on the outside.  He finds rest for his soul, rest that was more than just having been cured from leprosy could have given him.

Healing as the ultimate virtue is not often the way our minds work though.

There are countless situations that you and I have on our hearts, have mentioned today in the prayer request time, and have shared with our loved ones this week that are in need of a cure.

We all know people who are struggling with cancer, depression, and addiction that can’t seem to go away . . .  We keep lifting up these situations in prayer and often as we pray, we pray for a “cure” to whatever is going wrong.  Right?

We say things like: “Dear Lord, please make my mom better.”

“Dear God, please help my son not make so many bad decisions.”

“Dear Lord, help me not kill my boss. Give me into a new job.”

Sometimes we feel our prayers are answered. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we want to lash out at God and say, “Why is he still sick? This is all YOUR fault.”

But, this morning, I want to suggest in moments like this, we might in fact be focusing on the wrong things . . .

What if we, left the possibility of the “cures” to the mystery of life, and instead, remembered that all of life is gift? None of us are ever promised tomorrow. So we can be grateful for today.

What if didn’t associate gratitude just with the season of Thanksgiving—rather every day of the year?

What if our prayers to God were about healing, not just cures?

What if we said to God “Make me well” and let go of the control of what it looked like?

This is what I most know: only leper who was healed was the one engaged in gratitude.

He was not afraid to be vulnerable and come back and share his joy with the Lord.

He was not afraid to speak of what was most important in his life.

He was willing to humble himself and say, “Thank you.”

It’s a discipline, alright, because really there are moments when the practice of being grateful is truly the last thing that you and I want to do, especially for the parents in this room– the group gathered here this morning who have pledged to dedicate their children in this church. I know that you love and appreciate your children, but when is the last time they drove you crazy? Was it yesterday? I bet it wasn’t easy to be grateful for them then!

But gratitude for this day and for our life is so very important to what it means to know Jesus. For in gratitude, we are able to open up our eyes and see the world in new ways. We can see:

A smile from a stranger . . . .

A devoted friend . . . .

An unexpected path to something new . . . .

Unconditional love from a family member . . . .

A touching word of encouragement . . . .

I have no idea, I know, my friends, what the dark places of brokenness are in your life today, but what I do know is that gratitude is an invitation to all of us to light shining through. Gratitude is an invitation to healing. Gratitude is where God’s love can shine forth in our lives and bring us peace.

Let us with thanksgiving, pray together today as a community as we sing, that we may have the sight to see God’s good work around our lives even as we speak.

AMEN

Comments

  1. Therese lynch says

    Elizabeth,
    That was very moving. I am trying to use gratitude on a daily basis. That and acceptance are the keys to joy which I would like to recapture in the midst of my grieving. Thank you so much!!!

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