Sermon on Luke 17:11-19
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Calls for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tounges above;
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it.
Mount of God’s unchanging love.
I’m not 100% sure I know what this hymn is means. But I love it. I don’t often think of God as a fount, nor do I know exactly what it means to “praise the mount.” But I do know that it’s a hymn of gratitude. It was written in 1758 by Robert Robinson. He wrote this hymn to go with a sermon he wrote when he was 22 years old. Robinson had a fascinating life. His father died when he was just nine years old. He was a very bright, headstrong boy who became increasingly more difficult for his mother to handle. When Robert turned 14, she sent him to London for an apprenticeship with a barber. Robert proceeded to get into even more trouble, taking on a life of drinking and gambling.
At 17, Robert and some of his drinking buddies decided to attend an evangelistic meeting, with a plan to make fun of the proceedings. When George Whitfield began to preach, Robert felt as if the sermon was just for him. He did not respond to the altar call that night, but the words of the evangelist would haunt him for the next three years. On Dec. 10, 1755, at age 20, Robert finally yielded his life to Christ, and very soon thereafter answered a call to the ministry. Two years later he wrote this powerful hymn of gratitude – a response to faith.
Here I raise my Ebeneezer
Hither by Thy help I’m come
And I hope, by thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.
This is a hymn of gratitude of God’s saving grace.
Gratitude is always a response to faith. It then stands to reason that true faith always results in
gratitude. We cannot help but singing. We can’t help but respond.
Our Gospel reading today is the story of 10 people with leprosy.
This disease held many implications for those afflicted with the disease. The book of Leviticus dedicates two whole chapters to how people with the disease were to be treated. The book says that priests had to diagnose the disease, and then would pronounce them ritually unclean, and after would perform rites of purification. The Lepers were ordered to wear tattered clothing and wear their hair loose and then cover their hand with their lip and shout out “unclean, unclean!” So that people would be warned that they were coming. Imagine if you can the profound demoralizing experience this must have been. This was not only their health care policy, it was their social policy. This disease did not discriminate. There was nothing you could do to avoid it, which it made even scarier. Therefore they were barred from the community and declared unworthy of God. So, the rule was, “they live over here and we live over here and never the two should meet. We are not like them. They have are sympathy and we might pray and thank God we are not like them, but we have to be sensible about these things.”
Today ten lepers approach Jesus. This is a big deal. We just learned lepers weren’t to approach anyone. But they approach Jesus and they cry out, mercy, mercy. Jesus knows the Book of Leviticus and he says go show yourself to a priest. They are obedient to the rules and as they walk they find themselves healed.
One, upon seeing that he is healed, is overcome with gratitude and he runs back and falls on his knees in gratitude.
Imagine the courage it took for the one leper to leave his band of brothers and run back to Jesus. It’s a brave move just because he was set apart as a leper. But this man is not just a leper, he was a Samaritan. You know what they thought of Samaritans. Nothing good ever came out of that place. The rules were you don’t talk the likes of them. Barbara Brown Taylor says he is a double loser. Imagine the conviction it took to leave the only people who would ever acknowledge him as a human being and leave his community to return by himself to see Jesus and express gratitude.
Jesus is taken by this expression of gratitude and he looks upon this man and asks the question: why do nine rush away without giving thanks, and why is this foreigner the only one who does? And, to that one who came back, he says: “Your faith has made you well.” Some scholars say that Jesus says your faith has made you whole, and others interpret the passage as your faith has saved you. No matter how you slice it, the point is they all are healed, but only one is made whole. They all returned to their families and community, but only one was said to have faith. The ten lepers all obey Jesus and they all have healing. One leper responds in gratitude to Jesus and receives more than healing, he receives wholeness. Why wholeness? Because through his gratitude he is now he is connected to Jesus in a very personal way. He now has a relationship. Obeying Jesus brings healing. Showing gratitude makes a relationship.
You might be familiar with story of Les Miserables written by Victor Hugo. It’s the story of a man named Jon Valjean. He is caught stealing silverware from the local priest in order to get bread for his sister and her daughter. When the priest catches him in the act, Valjean strikes him on the cheek and flees. Later the next day he is caught and the authorities take him to the Father’s house. The Priest says, “ Valjean I am so disappointed in you! You just took the silverware. You were supposed to take the candle sticks too! They are worth so much more. Now take these.” As the authorities leave, the priest looks sternly in Val jean’s eyes. Jean Valjean asks, “why are you doing this?” To which the priest replies, Jean Valjean my brother you no longer belong to evil. With this silver, I have bought your soul. I’ve ransomed you from fear and hatred, and now I give you back to God. Valjean spends the rest of his life responding to the love bestowed him. He lives the rest of his life responding to the grace given him. At the end of his life he sings, “to love another person see the face of God.”
So too, when Jesus sees the Samaritan leper, he sees the face of God. And when the leper sees that he has been seen, he cannot help but respond with that same expression of profound love.
He breaks the rules and follows with his heart instead of instructions. Something rose up in him. Something so profound, he could not help but turn around and go in a different direction. To go in a direction no one ever thought possible.
This afternoon we are going to participate in an event that sets us apart from being just another church. We are going to participate in a worship service that is clearly Presbyterian in practice. It’s an installation service. The rules require that we have this type of service – like the rules required that the 10 lepers were required to go to the priest. But this service is more than just some formality that we need to go through, its response to the goodness of God. The question is: will we see this service as a witness that God keeps his promises? God calls people. God calls the church. With those with ears to ears to listen God speaks. With those with eyes to see, God reveals.
When I interviewed colleagues about Orchard Park Presbyterian Church, they couldn’t believe I was even being considered. “Oh, they will never call a woman. You should just decline.” They said. “Orchard Park? No way. Oh, they would never go in that direction.” They did not look with faith. They just saw what the societal rules had told them. So you see we have something to respond to today. God saw something they didn’t see. We have received more than healing. We have responded to Jesus out of obedience and out of gratitude. The obedience part results in healing. The gratitude part results in wholeness.
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be.
Let they grace now like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
And All God’s People Said, “Amen.”