Reverend Rick Kirchoff
November 21, 2010
Luke 17:11-17 The Message It happened that as he made his way
toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and
Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept
their distance but raised their voices, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have
mercy on us!”
Taking a good look at them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priest.”
They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when
he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting
his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He
couldn’t thank him enough – and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be
found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he
said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”
Let us pray. Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove, descend on us; reveal your
love. Word of God and inward light, wake our spirits; clear our sight. Surround
us now with all your glory. Speak through me that sacred story. Take my lips
and make them bold. Take hearts and minds and make them whole. Stir in us
that sacred flame. Then send us forth to spread your name. Amen.
The border between Israel and Lebanon is potentially one of the most dangerous
places in the world. Many people expect that if there is another war…that’s
where it will start. A few days ago on our trip to Israel, as we sought to
understand the complexity of living in a nation where all your neighbors seem to
wish that you no longer exist, Jane and I, along with our Interfaith Clergy friends
from Memphis, stood on a hillside overlooking that border. We learned that
across that border Hezbollah is amassing weapons and burying them in the
hillsides. Tensions are high. Just a few weeks before, three Lebanese soldiers,
an Israeli officer, and a Lebanese journalist were killed in a border clash between
Israeli Defense Forces and Lebanon's Hezbollah. Details are murky as to why
that happened, but it seems that tempers flared after Lebanese soldiers thought
Israeli soldiers were trimming hedges on their side of the border fence. Five
people were killed. Imagine living in a world where there’s that kind of hatred!
I thought about that border when I got back home and realized that the scripture
that I had chosen for today occurs on a border. Jesus meets some people at a
border, not far from where we stood that day, overlooking the border between
Israel and Lebanon.
Jesus is walking along this border between Samaria and Galilee. Galilee was
Jesus’ home and Samaria was a place where few Jews wanted to travel. As you
know, in those days, Jews and Samaritans had no dealings with each other.
Besides that, borders were known as havens for all sorts of unsavory characters:
outcasts, fugitives, criminals, and lepers.
And at that border, Jesus encountered ten lepers.
In the ancient world, leprosy was a dreaded disease that left its victims maimed
and disfigured. There was no known cure. It was believed to be highly
contagious. Because of that belief, lepers were ostracized. They couldn't enter
villages or cities. They had to stay out on the borders of life. They were to get out
of the way if they saw a healthy person coming toward them. If they didn’t,
people would hurl stones at them to keep them away. And whenever they got
near to people they were to cry, “Unclean! Unclean!” as a warning: stay
clear…there’s danger here!
Well, as Jesus is walking along this border, ten lepers approach. But instead of
shouting, “Unclean!” they cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
Mercy is extended. And Jesus says, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”
Why would he say that? The law of Leviticus read that if you were healed from a
disease that had ostracized you from the community, you were to go to the priest
to be certified that you were healed so that you could be restored to your rightful
place in the community.
But there’s a twist to the story that is so easy to miss. These ten lepers obeyed
even though they were not yet healed. They started toward the temple while
they were still lepers. And the text tells us that it was “while they were on their
way” that they were healed.
While they were on their way! One thing I want you to notice is this: In those
words, there is a marvelous model of part of the life of faith.
Faith means going on, anticipating that what is promised is going to be fulfilled.
Faith means that we have a part in our healing and wholeness. It means that life
is not going to change if I just sit still. It’s going to happen only if, in trust, I get up
and live in anticipation of what is to come. It is anticipating the promise being
fulfilled even before its fulfillment comes to pass.
One of my favorite preachers, Mark Trotter, says it like this: God's part is up to
God. I have nothing to do with that. But my part is to assume that God is
already at work, even when I cannot discern it…my role is to start out, keep on
going, never give up, to live expectantly… trusting God for the rest.
I think about Donald, who graduated from Georgetown Law School at the age of
47. For twenty-three of those forty-seven years, he was an alcoholic and drug
addict. At age thirteen he had his first drink. At age fifteen he smoked his first
joint. At age eighteen he began shooting up heroin. From the time he was
eighteen, his life was a series of jails, prisons, and rehab programs, none of
which seemed to work.
When he was 36, he went to an AA meeting. After that meeting was over,
someone called to invite him to come back. Donald said, “No, I've got some
business that I have to take care of.”
The person who invited him -- being wise in the ways of alcoholics and having
heard excuses like that many times before -- said, “If you don't do something, you
ain't going nowhere.” And he added, “If you want something different, you have
to do something different.”
Donald blew off that advice. Except, he couldn't forget it! It haunted him.
Later when he was taken to the hospital because of a heroin overdose,
something about those words connected. It wasn't as if the skies opened or
anything like that, but that those words kept haunting him: “If you want something
different, you have to do something different.”
Finally, out of the hospital, he walked warily by the corner liquor store, were he
went each day to buy a bottle. Only this time he walked past the store, praying
all the while, “I want this out of my life.” He walked to the home of his stepfather
who took him to the hospital where Donald admitted himself, and after months in
rehab, he came out clean and sober, went to college, and graduated from
He finally understood: “If you want something different, you have to do something
But we all know that it’s just so easy to stay right where we are…doing the same
old things in the same old ways, not doing that one thing which would bring us
life. Sometimes we’d rather live with the pain of a problem rather than find a
We’re often like the old hound dog lying on the front porch of the old codger’s
cabin. The preacher came to visit the old guy and noticed that throughout his
visit, this hound just kept whimpering and whining, and every so often let out a
long, mournful moan. The preacher asked, “What's wrong with that dog?” The
old man said, “Where he's lying on the porch, there's a nail sticking up and it's
probably gouging him in his side. I guess it's hurtin' him.” The preacher said,
“Why doesn't he get up and move?” The old codger replied, “I guess it's not
hurtin' him enough yet.”
Sometimes we just choose to live with pain, rather than doing what it takes to find
relief for that pain and to move toward healing and hope.
So, one of the things that’s so important to hear today in this story of Jesus and
the lepers is this: If you want something different in your life, you’ve got to do
There’s another Bible story that makes this point! It’s where Jesus meets a man
at the pool of Bethesda.
For 38 years this guy had joined other sick and crippled folks at the pool because
legend has it that periodically an angel came down, stirred the water, and
imparted healing power to the water. And the first person to get into the spring
would be healed. For 38 years he’d come to the pool. More than once, he’d
tried to get to the water in time, but others rushed ahead; so now he just sat there
passively, without hope, without expectation, miserable, unmoving, and
paralyzed. Then, one day, at that pool, a shadow fell across him. He shaded his
eyes from the sun, looked up, and there was Jesus. He asked, “What do you
want with me?” Jesus replied, “Do you want to get well?” Do you really?
That’s one of the most profound questions in scripture. Do you really want to be
well? Or to say it another way like the guy at AA: “If you want something different
in your life, you have to do something different.” That’s the first lesson!
But the story of the ten lepers carries a second lesson that is especially
appropriate for this season. Jesus said to the ten, “Go show yourselves to the
priest.” And off they go. About half-way there, they discover that they’ve been
healed. But only one of the ten wheels around, returns to Jesus, and falls at
Jesus' feet and gives thanks.
Interestingly, the one who comes back to give thanks was a Samaritan, one
everyone assumed was uncultured and unenlightened. The one they least
expected to do so was the one who gave thanks.
The message, of course, is that if an outcast Samaritan leper knows what to do
upon receiving God's grace, how much more should you and I, who are
surrounded by God's great grace, live lives of gratitude and thanksgiving?
Yet, we often forget to celebrate the greatest gift of all.
I have a friend who’s beginning a whole new life after 45 years, many of those
years spent in the darkness of crime and violence. After 45 years of wanting
nothing to do with Jesus, he has fallen in love with Jesus.
Over the last year, through the exchange of letters between the two of us, God
has been doing something amazing in his life. He’s become a follower of Christ.
He’s now on a crash course in Christianity, trying to understand the Jesus who’s
making such a difference in his life.
But the deal is, my friend has no frame of reference for talking about Jesus. He
never knew much about Jesus except as a curse word or someone that rather
strange people talked about.
So everything about the Christian faith is brand new to him. And he’s full of
questions: why this...how come that...help me understand Jesus, especially help
me to understand what it means to follow Jesus.
As we talk, he’s helping me see with fresh eyes the wonder of the faith that we
One of his first questions to me was a very simple one. He said, “Jesus was
such a good guy. Why did he have to die?” I said, “The answer, my friend, is
summed up in the words of John 3:16: ‘God so loved the world....’” Jesus’ life
and death are defined by love…he loved all kinds of people in life-giving ways.
When some people wanted him to stop loving, he said no…I’d rather die than
stop doing God’s will. So they killed him. And when Christians try to explain the
mystery of the cross…we say that Jesus, the Son of God, loved so much that He
took to the cross with him all the sin of the world. Every bad thing you and I
would ever do went to the cross with him and was forgiven.
He looked at me and said, “Rick, do you mean that before I was born, Jesus
gave his life for me…forgave all my sin and the bad stuff that I’ve done?”
I said, “Yes, that’s precisely what it means.”
My friend was silent. Then he smiled and said, “Rick, this is the best news I’ve
ever heard. Why don’t more people know this?”
That’s the question I leave you with this morning. Why don’t more people know
that? Could it be that like those other nine lepers, we tend to take for granted the
amazing gift God has given in Jesus...the free gift of amazing grace that God has
given to all of us in Jesus Christ?
As my retirement rapidly approaches, one of my prerogatives is to tell again
some of my favorite stories. Here’s a story that I think brings the message of
scripture into focus.
It happened about sunset every Friday evening on a lonely stretch along the
eastern Florida seacoast. You’d see an old man, white haired, bushy eye-
browed, slightly bent, wearing a hat, walking toward the pier. In his hand, he
held a bucket filled with shrimp.
There on that pier in the setting sun, a weekly ritual was enacted. Almost as if
they’d heard a command, as if they’d been waiting in the sky, twilight would
become a mass of dancing dots -- growing larger. Screeching calls would fill the
air, growing louder and louder as seagulls would come from everywhere on a
pilgrimage to meet this old man.
For half an hour, the old man would stand on the pier, surrounded by fluttering
gulls until his pail of shrimp was empty. Sometimes the gulls would linger awhile.
Occasionally one would perch on the old man’s hat and he would remember a
certain day many years before.
The day came in October, 1942, when Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was reported
lost at sea. His mission had been to deliver an important message to MacArthur.
However, over the South Pacific, the plane became dangerously low on fuel and
Rickenbacker and his crew had to ditch the plane in the sea. The B-17 stayed
afloat just long enough for all aboard to get out, then sank, leaving eight men in
three tiny rafts.
For nearly a month, Eddie and his companions fought the water, weather, and
scorching heat…and spent sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed
against their rafts.
But of all the enemies at sea, one that proved most formidable was hunger.
Eight days out and their rations were long gone or destroyed by the seawater.
It would take a miracle to sustain them.
It was in the afternoon, just after they’d finished a time of worship. Eddie pulled
his hat down over his eyes to keep out the sun to get a few minutes of sleep. As
he was dozing, he felt something land on his head. He knew that it was a gull.
No one said a word. They all just stared at the gull. The seagull, if captured,
meant food. Would it fly away? Could the Captain catch it?
Slowly his arms went up. The gull did not fly away; it did not struggle or resist.
Its life was sacrificed; its flesh was eaten and the remains were used for bait to
catch fish. Eddie and his men were sustained and their hopes were renewed
because a lone sea gull, hundreds of miles from land, offered itself as a sacrifice.
As long as he lived, Eddie never forgot. Every Friday, around sunset -- on that
pier -- you could see him, with a bucket of shrimp, there to remember with
gratitude a day long past, when one gave itself without a struggle that he and his
men might live.
And we gather here, in this room, with the Cross before us to remember and
celebrate the amazing grace of Christ who gave himself so that we and all the
world might know the great love of God.
Let us pray. Lord, we thank you for your gift to us in Jesus Christ. Out of
gratitude, we come before you, not quite sure how to say thank you. But come
and be our teacher, Lord. And show us how to live lives of deep thanksgiving.
For we pray in Jesus’ name and for the sake of his Kingdom. Amen.
Endnotes: This sermon is based, in part, upon material from the following
1. John Claypool, “Ambiguity and Gratitude,” The Protestant Hour
2. Fred Craddock, Interpretation: Luke
3. Paul Harvey, The Rest of the Story
4. Scott Hoezee, “Coming Back”
5. Tom Long, “Thanks But No Thanks”
6. Linda Loving, “Whole and Thankful, Holy Thankful”
7. Rick Rusaw, “One on One with a Dysfunctional Life”
8. Mark Trotter, “What About Something Different?”
9. Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone