“Who Returned To Give God Thanks?” – 10-13-13 – Proper 23 – Cycle C

Listen to the sermon here:

Scripture: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15; Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

Ten unclean and nowhere to go. Ten men cleansed as clean as snow.
One returned to give God thanks. But nine went away.

Ten men, lepers in a Hebrew town. Ten crying, “Lord won’t You please come down.”
No hope near ‘till one fine day, Jesus of Nazareth passed that way.

“Lord, make me clean,” was their single cry. “See, how the whole world passes us by.
No man’s home will take us in!” Then Christ bent down to touch their skin.

Ten unclean and nowhere to go. Ten men cleansed as clean as snow.
One returned to give God thanks. But nine went away.

Yes, who returned? One returned. When something good happens to us, where are we? Are we seeming to obey God’s command by hurrying to the priest to be declared “clean” or do we retrace our steps, seeming to move backward to make our movements round and complete. Complete like a wedding ring – no beginning, no end. Returning to give God thanks was completing a circle, then we can go to the priest to be declared clean.

Do we give thanks after we are declared clean or do we give thanks while giving thanks is possible? The one leper was compelled to return to Jesus while Jesus was available. How many times have we neglected to thank someone until it was no longer possible. We may not have thanked our good teachers until their funeral. We may not have thanked a spouse until the relationship had fallen apart. We may not have thanked the person who rescued us when our car slipped into a ditch in a snow storm.

However, let us think if it is ever too late. Paul is saying to Timothy, Paul’s protegé, that we have died with Jesus when he was on the cross. Therefore, we also live with him in his resurrection. We are resurrection people! So I look forward to the time when people whom I have neglected to thank will be alive with me as we gather in heaven with the risen and ascended Jesus. I fully intend to thank all the people who helped me, who have endured my personality, my critical nature, my prideful attitude, who saw the Christ in me despite my sinfulness. Therefore, I am trusting that it is never too late to come full circle with the completeness of deeds and thankfulness.

This writing of Paul to Timothy is the passage that includes the words, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” My mother wrote these words in the Bible my parents presented to me for my sixth birthday. I assume this verse to be the reason that I have become a workaholic. In the King James version of the Bible this verse reads, “Study to show thyself approved of God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.” This is 2 Timothy 2:15. Even though I frequently feel God’s approval for my “work” I tend to ignore the verses such as the one commandment of the ten that admonishes us to “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” Then there is the verse from the story of Elijah in which we hear, “Be still and know that I am God.” Yes, be still. Sit in silence. Say thanks to God in the quiet of my heart. In the quiet of your heart. Give thanks!

It is similar to the action of being generous with the gifts which have been bestowed on us by God. Blessings fall upon us! We don’t give for the purpose of receiving more gifts. We give thanks to God and then more reasons for thanks appear before our eyes.

Paul is saying in 2 Timothy 2, “… if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.” We are in Jesus Christ. That is what it is all about. Christ Jesus cannot deny us as we are part of him. Think about that! It is quite profound. Theologians have a field day – in past centuries, in present time, and the discussion will be alive for years to come. The question being, what religious vocabulary will explain and make clear this concept of our being in Christ? In all respect to persons who enjoy bantying great words around like so many ping pong balls, I just let myself feel protected and secured in the knowledge. It is more than knowledge. It is an emotional state of being; it comes from the soul.

We were sore and then we were healed. The Psalmist of Psalm 111 says, “Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation. Great are your works, O Lord, pondered by all who delight in them. … You sent redemption to your people and commanded your covenant forever; holy and awesome is your name. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who practice this have a good understanding. God’s praise endures forever.”

Interesting saying, “God’s praise endures forever.” Is that God’s praise of us or is that our praise of God?” Which came first – the chicken or the egg? It is a cycle. It is a wheel moving us through life; moving generations through life. You may be thinking of healing that does not happen. This does sound like a broken wheel, does it not? We wonder why some good people we know, or about whom we hear, die young. We wonder why people of all ages are afflicted with either severe disease or chronic pain and inability. If we have been blessed with good health, we may feel guilty about having good health. As long as God gives good health to us, he expects adoration and service from us. Adoration, praise, worship are fine and good and necessary but if they are not accompanied by service, the awesome possibilities for this kingdom on earth are not realized.

It is totally wrong for us to analyze why either ourselves or someone else is afflicted in any way. That is not our business unless it is very obvious that unhealthy practices are being continued. Then the challenge is to think how God would want us to approach this discussion. Always we need God to guide these discussions, this guidance. Remember the admonishment of Jesus when he said, “Let those who are without sin, cast the first stone.” The accusers lost their power, they disbanded. Jesus loves us regardless of our state of sin. That is exactly why he died. To move our sins from ourselves to the cross. Yes, indeed. We can be free; free to live generously and joyously despite our situation.

You are probably saying, “But you do not know the extent of my physical restrictions, the depth of my guilt, the inability to change my child’s life while I watch my child hurt himself or herself to the quick.” You are so right. I don’t know. I can only pray and walk beside you. I do this in a non-judgmental way just knowing that my place is beside you. We can give thanks together for our togetherness.

That is what Jesus does for us. Jesus walks beside us. Jesus dwells within us. At the same time we are in Christ Jesus. Never mind thinking about that logically, realistically. It does not compute. It just is. Accept it! It is foolish to reject it. It is a gift not to be analyzed but to be used as the stabilizing force to keep us from losing our grip on life, to keep us in the world of joy instead of despair.

Naaman, was close to rejecting this gift. Admittedly, we do not read the name of Jesus in the Old Testament because Jesus had not yet come to earth. However, Jesus is part of this being called God – God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. Jesus was very much present when Naaman was told by Elisha to go wash in the Jordan River to be healed of leprosy. The healing power was from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit just as surely as it was in the New Testament when Jesus commanded the man to rise and walk instead of saying, “Be healed.”

This Naaman was sent by his own king to go into enemy territory after a servant woman reported that there was a person in the place called Samaria (part of Israel) who could heal Naaman of his leprosy. Instead of sending Naaman to a leprosy specialist and then to the drug store for expensive long-term medicine, Elisha, God’s prophet after Elijah, told Naaman to go wash in the Jordan River seven times. It happens that the Jordan River was not a clean river. And besides, Naaman was embarrassed that he, a commander of the army of the king of Aram, should be told to do this strange healing act. After all, the rivers in his home country were cleaner. So he intended to retrace his steps and the steps of the other persons in his entourage, and reject this silly remedy or prescription, if you will.

Thank goodness that he had these people walking along side him. They mentioned, or maybe pleaded with him, to at least try it. What harm was there in trying it? Well if I had been Naaman, I would have replied that there may be some harm. A dirty river. Who knew what diseases were lurking in that water. And it was supposed to be a healing place? Who knew!

So, putting away pride, putting away distaste, putting away disgust and even fear, Naaman moved into the Jordan River. After immersing himself seven times, there it was! Healed flesh! If you have ever been afflicted with less than perfect skin, you can appreciate how wonderful Naaman must have felt! Did Naaman give thanks?

Yes, you will be glad to know that Naaman returned to Elisha, the man of God, and stood before Elisha and declared, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” Who returned to give God thanks? Naaman did! The one leper in the New Testament story did!

Do we give thanks for big and little healings? for big and little daily guidings from above? for relationships healed? Do we thank our Sunday School teachers, our public school teachers, our parents even, our sisters and brothers, yes! While we are giving thanks, let us ask forgiveness and give forgiveness. Let us immerse the bad spots in our relationships into the already dirty Jordan River or maybe the Jordan River has miraculously become clean to match the lives it has affected. Let us get up and go our way realizing that our faith has made us well. With Naaman and Paul and the one leper, let us return to Jesus daily, receiving cleansing and giving thanks. In doing so, we are presenting ourselves to God, to be approved by him, workers who have no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth; rightly shouting our profound joy in being healed – maybe physically, maybe in our souls! Amen