Living the Faith Luke 17:11-19
Proper 23C Pent 18 October 9, 2022, St. John, New Orleans
They say correspondence is becoming a lost art, particularly the thank you note.
I was first exposed to them after my confirmation reception.
All eleven of my aunts and uncles, all of my grandparents, my pastor, and several friends from church along with all their families came out to the house for cake and punch.
And each of them brought a card or small gift to commemorate the occasion.
And the next week my mom sat me down to write the thank you notes.
Dear, insert name here.
Thank you for coming to my confirmation.
Thanks for the insert gift here.
While I'm sure none of those notes survive to this day, I'm sure they were appreciated at the time.
It showed my parents knew what the socially proper thing was to do.
It demonstrated that I was disciplined enough to complete the task,
and that I acknowledged, and, hopefully, connected the faces to the gifts by reviewing them all one more time.
But none of them would have been overly moved by my brief note. It was just an expected formality.
Contrast this expression of thanks with the joyous and perhaps, boisterous reaction your children or grandchildren have on their birthdays, or Christmas morning, when they open their gifts.
Especially when that gift is something they have been hoping for for a long time.
Especially when it is something they have they never thought would be afforded or allowed in the home.
Hugs and kisses and the bright smiles on their faces are all the thanks you need.
I don't ever remember having to write a thank you to my parents or grandparents on such occasions.
In fact, as I look back, I think their smiles were as big as ours.
How we respond to the gift of faith is a main theme throughout our texts today.
Ruth decides to move to a new country in order to continue worshipping the God of her mother-in-law.
The one, out of 10, healed lepers returns to give thanks to the one who healed him because of his faith.
And Paul encourages Timothy to be thankful for, and live fully in, that faith
as he is tested over and over again, especially by those who do not share the faith,
or by those whose faith is not as strong as his.
While all three are great examples for us, I'd like to focus on the lepers in our gospel today.
The scene begins as they were walking along the border with Samaria.
The Samaritans claimed Jewish heritage but intermarried with those outside the Jewish faith.
Consequently, many other religious ideas had become mixed in with their form of Judaism
which made them undesirable, and even “unclean”
and untouchable to the more orthodox Jews in Judea and Galilee where Jesus grew up.
But, as you often see in Borderlands, the people and culture here was quite mixed and integrated.
So, when those with leprosy were cast out of the village, those infected stuck together.
Not only was there safety in numbers,
but because of their disease, they were considered unclean and untouchable by both the Jews as well as the Samaritans.
Regardless of the varying orthodoxy of their faiths, they were all under the impression that Jesus was someone greater than most.
They called him, “master” and asked him to have mercy on them.
Mercy is withholding consequences or punishment.
and by their plea to Jesus, they are stating faith in him as one who can deliver them from the consequences of this highly contagious disease.
Currently, those consequences were separation from their family and community.
But for many lepers, it eventually became lethal as secondary infections easily set in.
All ten of the lepers had faith enough to cry out for help which they believed Jesus could deliver.
And based on that faith he sent them to the priest
who would restore them to their previous status in the community
once he saw they were, indeed, healed.
And for this faith we are thankful,
and I hope, one day, to meet them all in heaven
and ask them about their encounter with the Great Physician, Jesus.
But there was one who “disobeyed,” if you will.
Apparently, the nine Israelites continued to show the priests that they were healed.
But the one who was a Samaritan,
when he realized that he was healed along the along the way, stopped.
And he went back to thank Jesus.
He didn't need the affirmation of the priest that he was healed by Jesus.
He could see it on his skin and could feel it in his limbs.
Because leprosy causes damage to the nerve endings,
when the feeling returned to his feet and hands and the rest of him, he knew he was made whole again.
Being a Samaritan, he wasn't welcome in polite company in Galilee anyway.
So, now that he was healed, he was free to travel home.
And unless someone recognized him from when he begged outside the village, no one would know the difference.
Jesus had not only healed him, but he had set him free!
You and I have certainly been healed by Jesus as well.
I'm sure many of you can share times when you were certain it was by God's intervention that you survived some illness or injury.
But you also know that through your faith and baptism into Christ
you are healed of the sinful condition you were born with in your soul.
And it is that continued healing that brings you here each week
to not only receive the healing nourishment of the sacrament,
but the bolstering effect of the word of God read and preached.
And for these reasons alone we are moved to give him thanks, praise, and our worship.
The challenge for us today from this reading is, “how do we give our thanks like a kid on Christmas, rather than a teenager writing compulsory thank you notes?”
Both are right to do, but one is more from the heart.
Certainly, some people are capable of writing beautiful and thoughtful thank-yous.
And certainly, our worship can be thoughtful and beautiful.
But thanks are really noticed when one goes the extra mile to show it, and makes it part of their way of life, rather than an unusual or occasional display.
What we see in a Samaritan and Ruth in our readings today,
are people who are moved to do the unexpected
in order to acknowledge the gifts they've received.
The Samaritan bypassed the steps required by the Levitical laws
in order to thank God first when he returned to Jesus.
Ruth decided to walk away from the land of her ancestors and the life she knew
to remain with the woman whose family brought her to faith in Yahweh.
And you and I are capable of similar expressions of Thanksgiving if we desire to do so.
We can buck up against tradition and history to respond as our heart tells us to do so.
We can make dramatic changes in our lifestyle to follow God and his calling in our life.
To put it simply, we can live in our faith daily giving thanks to God in everything we do.
In other words, the life of faith is a life of giving thanks.
And while God appreciates the words as we give him thank you notes in our prayers,
he smiles in heaven when we get excited about his gifts
and can't wait to use them, play with them, show them to our friends,
just like we did when we received gifts as kids.
The gift of faith has so many facets to explore as we live in it, share it, use it, and strengthen it.
God doesn't give it so that we might put it away where no one can see.
He wants us to take it out, use it, give it a few good knocks and dents as we interact with it.
And as we do, it becomes even more beautiful as it takes on the patina of age and experience.
And when we come together, living in faith together as the Church, its even more beautiful.
We are coming upon the time of year when we begin to look at the church’s ministry plans for the coming year.
And a big part of these plans revolve around figuring out how much they will cost. In other words, forming a budget.
As an organization we are limited by the resources at hand.
The church council can't manufacture money
and the treasurer can't make bills go away.
But, as individuals, the possibilities are only limited by our decisions and choices.
I can give as much of my time as God gives me waking hours to breathe.
I can use my talents to the glory of God as liberally as God gifts them.
And I can give every penny of the treasure that God has blessed upon me, promises to still take care of me.
So, when we plan for the ministry we want to do as a congregation next year,
it is simply a function of adding up how each of of us will live in our faith.
Will we worship weekly as the Lord desires?
If so, we will need more communion supplies and bulletins
and more of us will be available to read, and usher, and sing, and play the bells.
Will we use more of the talents God has given us to show his glory instead of our own?
If so, then we should not be surprised if our ministry mix expands into new areas of love and service to others.
Or that others thank us or ask us about our motivation for using these gifts in service in this way
or about the faith that informs our actions.
Will we trust more of the financial resources God has given us to his church?
IF so, then together we might be able to have a bigger impact on the world for the sake of Jesus.
And church leaders will be able to focus more on being examples of faithful service, instead of effective fundraisers.
True Thanksgiving is more than just saying the words.
It's about actions and a lifestyle that express the gifts that were given.
May each of you receive every good and gracious gift from God above
and may each of our lives show the richness of God's great gifts in all we say, do, and share.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.