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Not Going with the Crowd

October 14, 2019

October 13, 2019

 

Not Going with the Crowd

 

Luke 17:11-19

 

Sandy Larson

 

Getting the most out of sermons largely lies with the listeners. So, let’s explore together: What new inspirations can we find in Luke’s familiar account of Jesus healing the 10 lepers?

 

In the biggest sense, we see Jesus healing. In this instance, Jesus heals not just one person, but 10 people seemingly simultaneously. How awesome is that? Jesus performs many mental health and physical healings in the course of his ministry. These healings are compassionate. His healings also have a larger purpose.  Jesus’ healings are dramatic, intense samplings of what God offers to everyone everyday. Jesus concretely demonstrates God’s healing grace, translations vary, but Jesus often says, “Your faith has made you well.” Also translated:  “Your faith has made you whole.”

 

Wholeness:

The common interpretation of Jesus healing the 10 lepers is to contrast the grateful leper and the other nine. They had all lived in had lived in pain and isolated squalor. The 9 self-oriented lepers immediately bolt away to find the priest in order to be released from quarantine. Jesus told the man who turned back to express thanks for this amazing gift: “Your faith has made you whole.” A ‘whole’ or ‘well’ person is healthy in mind, body and spirit, freed from anxiety and negativity.  A whole person has peace of mind and can live life to the fullest. The other nine lepers were healed in body only. Jesus says to the one who expressed gratitude, “Your ‘faith’ has made you whole.” He does not say “Your gratitude has made you whole.” The grateful leper’s faith (his confidence and trust in Jesus) made him ‘whole.’ Psychology confirms that gratitude helps people be healthy and whole. Gratitude is the product of being thankful to the source of one’s help.  The Lord, is my rock and my redeemer.

 

Gratitude:

This story underscores at least one more significant insight. This healing story seems to imply that chances are 10 to 1 against people giving thanks. Most of the lepers run off to get their self-centered needs met. Only one turns back, praising God with a loud voice and falls on his face at Jesus’ feet.  This one Luke points out—was Samaritan. Samaritans were seen as intrinsically impure and half-breeds at best. This Samaritan leper hangs back to express his appreciation. His remembering to say “thank you’ makes a good manners lesson. And, it is far more than that.
 

Jesus uses his response as a lesson in gratitude--especially gratitude for the God-given grace of wholeness and healing. Living in gratitude is a life-spring to wholeness and health. Jesus implies that the other nine did not fully benefit from their good fortune. They did not fully consider the generosity and completeness of the gift they received.

 

Running with the Crowd:

Yet Jesus goes even deeper by addressing the danger of running with a crowd. The grateful healed man sees the magnitude of the gift and is moved to express gratitude, despite all the others rushing off to celebrate their healing. This week, the barn sale opened to Food Pantry recipients and after the sale, volunteers offered whatever the Food Pantry recipients wanted for free. There was a stampede. Many people grabbed armloads and bags full of freebies. Only a few stopped to say thank you for these free gifts. Like a Black Friday sale frenzy, the herd mentality largely prevailed. In contrast, it is noteworthy that most people who receive food bags express heartfelt thank you’s. Jesus made a teachable moment for those who observed leper expressing his gratitude. He was trying to demonstrate that anyone who appreciates a gift will benefit most fully from the gift.

 

Today, we live in a herd-like society. Life is complex, so we tend to follow views of our favorite leader, agree with our preferred commentator, identify with the lyrics of music groups we like and concur with the news commentator or host of TV talk shows that we choose to hear. It seems easier to let others think for us. We run with the crowd. We stick, too often blindly, with our political party leanings, we go along with current attitudes and even fall for expensive consumer fads. We want to fit in. We conform to social norms so we feel like we belong with the “in” group we chose for reasons we may no longer remember. A serious problem with running with a crowd is that the crowd may be running in a destructive or wrong direction. Like street gangs, people can get hurt because of many kinds of unthinking conformity.  Jesus tells the grateful leper, “Your faith has made you whole.” 


We often follow the crowd in conversation. No matter the topic, we go along. In politics, we join one crowd and often unthinkingly go along with that crowd. Sometimes, when with another crowd who might even express opposing viewpoints, we are likely to go along with them, too. By not thinking for ourselves, we are buffeted by whatever is in vogue.  And bouncing from trend to trend often makes us hypocritical.  

 


In religion, we join one denomination or faith and often unthinkingly continue to identify with that religious pathway—even if the dominant attitudes or beliefs of that sect  diverge from our own. In social circles, we stick with our own crowd. This sheep herd behavior and thinking pattern is dangerous. Jesus said, “Your faith has made you whole.”

 

Not following the mainstream can be risky. People often react negatively to non-conformity. Yet, if you know in your heart and mind that you are going in the right direction for you, following along with the crowd going another direction is untrue to yourself.  Such inauthenticity  eats away at your own integrity and peace of mind. 


Father Dameon is a stellar example of not going along with the crowd. Father Damien was considered a fool.  In the late 1800’s. Dameon chose to give his life in ministry with lepers who had been placed under a government quarantine on the island of Molokaʻi. Father Damien lived in isolation with the lepers and cared for them as friend and nursemaid. Damien built a church, dressed their ulcers, built a reservoir, built homes and furniture, made coffins, and dug graves. Under Father Damien’s leadership, basic laws were enforced in the leper colony, shacks became painted houses, working farms were organized, and schools were established.  Six months after his arrival at the leper colony, he wrote his brother, Pamphile, in Europe: “...I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.”


After sixteen years caring for the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of those in the leper colony, he eventually contracted and died of the disease. Father Dameon remains an inspiration of faith and loyalty to this day.

 

An early feminist once observed: No conformist ever made history. Going with the crowd disavows our own independence. Was there ever a conformist who was truly whole in mind, body and soul?
Let us remember that our actions and voice are precious gifts and we must use them. 

 

 

More on gratitude:

So how do we maintain grateful attitudes? Is gratitude the automatic response when something for which we should be thankful happens? No, or else why wouldn’t the other nine healed lepers have also given thanks?

 

Do we normally think that our thanksgiving is dependent on our conditions and circumstances? If our sense of personal comfort or security is shaken, we often think something like—“I’m afraid we won’t have much of a thanksgiving this year.” If it’s the other way, then we can be thankful—“I’m filled with gratitude because I’m filled with turkey, too, and pumpkin pie.” If things are rosy, then we can be thankful.

 

Yet Paul says, “In everything give thanks.” The Christian gives thanks in all circumstances. It’s not that we give thanks for everything. We can’t be thankful for our pain or problems, but in everything we give thanks.

 

We could be thankful on the basis of being more fortunate than other people.  But comparisons are closer to selfishness than gratitude. “I grumbled because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” This perspective is like the Pharisee’s prayer—“I thank thee, Lord, that I am not as other men—even this lowly publican.” Chances are that this leper was grateful for some things even prior to being healed.

 

If gratitude is not strictly dependent on outward conditions, what can we do to cultivate a thankful spirit?” What are some things we can do, some ways we can live, so that we might in everything give thanks or give thanks in all circumstances?

 

We can learn to take joy in small things. Paul said, “I have learned what it is to have little”, and he said, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have.”

 

All of us have witnessed people who exude joy and gratitude—even in extremely difficult circumstance. Gordon Thompson visited a paralyzed man in his church-- who was just getting back the use of one side of his body. He sat in a rocking chair and had a board across the arms of the chair. He had a sponge on the board and took his left hand and placed his right hand over the sponge. Painfully straining, he closed his fingers around it and lifted it up a few inches and exclaimed, “Look at that!”

 

Gratitude for small things—for sleep that brushes aside somber thoughts—for little affirmations that give meaning to life. We can learn what it is to have little and still be content with what we have. We can learn to find joy even in the midst of hardship.

 

Then we can learn to store up for joy. As this silly parody about a  Dachshund  describes:

 

There was a dachshund once,

So long, he hadn’t any notion

How long it took to notify

His tail of his emotion.

So it happened while his eyes

Were filled with tears and sadness,

His little tail went wagging on

Because of previous gladness.

 

We can store up for joy—like the photographer who takes pictures of every event that comes along. He tries to capture the present for future reference.

 

Mike, a little boy in Florida lost one eye and they were going to have to remove his other eye to save his life. Mike received nationwide publicity. Reporters interviewed his parents. They said, “We’re taking him to see every wonderful thing we can--to the Zoo, to Marineland, to Silver Springs—to all the beautiful places that he can see, so that he might have something to remember.”

 

The Apostle Paul advised,“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

 

Then when it seems there’s nothing to be thankful for, we can still be thankful.

 

An elderly woman had memorized many passages of the Bible. But she began to experience hardening of the arteries, which affected her memory. She couldn’t remember as many of the passages as she once did. Finally, as she came near death, she could remember only one verse: 

“I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”

 

As her memory loss worsened, she could remember only, “I have committed unto Him.” Then on her death bed, those around her heard her saying, “Him! Him! Him!” It’s possible to store up for joy.

 

What did the leper do to cultivate a thankful spirit? “He saw that he was healed, and turned back, praising God with a loud voice.” We could do that. We could turn back. So many of us go forward pell-mell, gathering blessings and never turning back and pausing to give thanks.


Someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. - James 2:18 (NIV)

 

Ten unclean and nowhere to go,

Ten men cleansed as clean as snow,

One returned to give God thanks,

But nine went away!  [Miriam Terese Winter, in Joy is Like the Rain]

 

So That’s what our Gospel lesson seems to indicate. Jesus sees ten lepers crying to warn people away. Jesus is instantly moved to compassion. He tells them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” While they are on their way to the priests, they notice that they are cleansed of their leprosy. One of them turns back, praising God with a loud voice and falls on his face at Jesus’ feet, and this one was a Samaritan. Jesus said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?”

 

Then Jesus tells the one who came back, “Rise and go your way. Your faith has made you well. Your faith has made you whole.” This seems to infer that the ingratitude might be as bad as the physical disease. Psychology confirms that gratitude helps people be whole and healthy people.

So how do we maintain grateful attitudes? Is gratitude the automatic response when something for which we should be thankful happens? No, or else why wouldn’t the other nine healed lepers have also given thanks?

      Do we normally think that our thanksgiving is dependent on our conditions and circumstances? If our sense of personal comfort or security is shaken, we often think something like—“I’m afraid we won’t have much of a thanksgiving this year.” If it’s the other way, then we can be thankful—“I’m filled with gratitude because I’m filled with turkey, too, and pumpkin pie.” If things are rosy, then we can be thankful.

 

Yet Paul says, “In everything give thanks.” The Christian gives thanks in all circumstances. It’s not that we give thanks for everything. We can’t be thankful for our pain or problems, but in everything we give thanks.

 

We could be thankful on the basis of being more fortunate than other people.  But comparisons are closer to selfishness than gratitude. “I grumbled because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” This perspective is like the Pharisee’s prayer—“I thank thee, Lord, that I am not as other men—even this lowly publican.” Chances are that this leper was grateful for some things even prior to being healed.

 

If gratitude is not strictly dependent on outward conditions, what can we do to cultivate a thankful spirit?” What are some things we can do, some ways we can live, so that we might in everything give thanks or give thanks in all circumstances?

 

We can learn to take joy in small things. Paul said, “I have learned what it is to have little”, and he said, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have.”

All of us have witnessed people who exude joy and gratitude—even in extremely difficult circumstance. Gordon Thompson visited a paralyzed man in his church-- who was just getting back the use of one side of his body. He sat in a rocking chair and had a board across the arms of the chair. He had a sponge on the board and took his left hand and placed his right hand over the sponge. Painfully straining, he closed his fingers around it and lifted it up a few inches and exclaimed, “Look at that!”

 

Gratitude for small things—for sleep that brushes aside somber thoughts—for little affirmations that give meaning to life. We can learn what it is to have little and still be content with what we have. We can learn to find joy even in the midst of hardship.

 

Then we can learn to store up for joy. As this silly parody about a  Dachshund  describes:

 

There was a dachshund once,

So long, he hadn’t any notion

How long it took to notify

His tail of his emotion.

So it happened while his eyes

Were filled with tears and sadness,

His little tail went wagging on

Because of previous gladness.

 

We can store up for joy—like the photographer who takes pictures of every event that comes along. He tries to capture the present for future reference.

 

Mike, a little boy in Florida lost one eye and they were going to have to remove his other eye to save his life. Mike received nationwide publicity. Reporters interviewed his parents. They said, “We’re taking him to see every wonderful thing we can--to the Zoo, to Marineland, to Silver Springs—to all the beautiful places that he can see, so that he might have something to remember.” The Apostle Paul advised,

 

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

 

Then when it seems there’s nothing to be thankful for, we can still be thankful.

 

An elderly woman had memorized many passages of the Bible. But she began to experience hardening of the arteries, which affected her memory. She couldn’t remember as many of the passages as she once did. Finally, as she came near death, she could remember only one verse:  “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”

 

As her memory loss worsened, she could remember only, “I have committed unto Him.” Then on her death bed, those around her heard her saying, “Him! Him! Him!” It’s possible to store up for joy.

 

What did the leper do to cultivate a thankful spirit? “He saw that he was healed, and turned back, praising God with a loud voice.” We could do that. We could turn back. So many of us go forward pell-mell, gathering blessings and never turning back and pausing to give thanks.

 

We Americans could turn back to Washington at Valley Forge, forging out our freedom—back to the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock who came to a new world to face the wilderness and its perils to give us our religious heritage—back to the native Americans who showed them how to grow corn and have a clam bake before they ever had a turkey feast. We can turn back to the Magna Carta and trial by jury that was granted by that document. On a trip to Israel and Greece, I became aware of three great heritages which we owe to that little section of the world over there: the Arabs who gave us numbers, the Greeks who gave us the concept of democracy, and the Jews—who modeled belief in one God. We can turn back to Martin Luther King Jr, Martin Luther, to the disciples, to Christ’s ministry and cross, and resurrection. And if we turn back with sincere gratitude for any such remembrances, we will praise and give thanks to God.

 

A Methodist pastor, Hamp Watson explained how gratitude swept over him: “My mother died when I was 16. My father was taken to the state hospital at Milledgeville because there was nobody left to take care of him at home. We were $700 in debt to the grocer. But my pastor, Ab Quillian, got me a paying job song leading at revival engagements. His wife helped me get a scholarship to Emory even though I thought that school was out of the question. They’re all dead now, but can I ever stop thanking them?”

 

In prison, Paul turned back to people in the Christian community in Phillipi that had been generous to him and supportive of his ministry. Paul wrote to them, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.”

 

If you have lost a loved one and manage to be grateful for that person even after they are gone from your life, it’s probably because you’ve  been turning back. You join Paul in saying, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” What a precious memories we create whenever we turn back to say, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.”

 

Tom Watson she thinks most about his positive manner, his affirming attitude toward one and all. Tom took up ministry after a leg amputation. His grin lit up his entire face when he’d say, “You know, there are advantages in having only one leg. That’s right. There are advantages in having only one leg. You know I never did like to wash my feet.”

 

“Do you have a piece of paper? Do you have a piece…Well, use your worship bulletin. Would you write in the margin somewhere or at the bottom these words: I THANK MY GOD IN ALL MY REMEMBRANCE OF YOU. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you. And write a name. You choose the name. You remember the name. Write another name, and another name, and another name.

 

I gratefully remember

 

Have you written any names? Keep the list. Keep the list, because to you, it’s a lifeline of memories of gratitude. Keep your memories of gratitude with you at all times, whether hard times or joyful times.

 

Will you receive blessings great or small and take them for granted or not notice at all? Or, will you be one who turns back to give thanks?

 

 

 

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