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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sermon-- The Thankful One

Luke 17:11-19
17:11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.

17:12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance,

17:13 they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"

17:14 When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean.

17:15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.

17:16 He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.

17:17 Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?

17:18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"

17:19 Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

Sermon-- "The Thankful One"  October 13, 2013

Whenever I read a parable, I automatically put myself in the shoes of the good person, the one who gets it right. Oh yes, I'm the good Christian who..... in this case, I'm the good Christian who comes to church and thanks God when most people I know do not. Of course I want to think that way. I want to think that I have it all right but how arrogant of me to think that. After all, a Christian is loving and humble.

So I thought about the other nine lepers. I thought about, “when have I been like the other nine?” Really, they were being obedient Jews, doing what Jesus told them to do and what the Law required of them. These lepers wanted to get to the Temple to prove their cleanliness and get on with their lives.

How many times in our life have we asked God for help, gotten that help, and didn't turn back to say thanks? How many times have we felt God pour grace upon us and we didn't utter so much as a, “hey, thanks.”

The lepers were in a place of crisis, then went back to their lives, without a thank you.

How many times have we begged God for something in a moment of crisis and when “whew,” it's all over, we “forgot” to say thanks?

I can't tell you how many times this has happened to me. I get all worried and upset about something and I beg God to help me. ….. and the whole time, talking and pleading with God. Begging God for mercy, healing, another chance. And then that grace comes. Everything is alright, big sigh.. and then in joy we go back to our lives, like a miracle didn't just occur. No thank you to God.

Now that we have what we want, we're done with God until the next tragedy strikes. Or we are so swept up in our joyfulness, we forget God. We tend to forget God in the good times.... we are quick to ask for God's help, but forgetful when it's time to say thanks.

A year or two ago we had a bad storm. “J” and I were living in the suburbs at the time. We had no electricity, and the weather was pretty crazy out. But we made a good time of it. We played board games and cooked on the range, almost like camping indoors. It was a lot of fun being forced to unplug for a day.

But then the night came and with it, the worsening of the storm. There were tornado warnings. A tornado had touched down ten minutes from us.... the rain water was flooding and coming into the house. It was no longer fun. I was worried for us and our families back in Philly. It was a time to turn to God. On some level I knew we were going to be fine, but hearing about natural disasters on the news all the times gets into your head. We carried sentimental items to higher ground and then went back to the basement to camp out.

We listened to the radio, praying that everything would turn out alright. It was a pretty frightening night for me, a city girl, who grew up in a row home, right smack in the middle of the block, in a brick house-- to be living across the street from a farm, in a flimsy new development, hearing about tornado warnings on the radio. So there I was praying everything would end up all right.

And It did. The flooding wasn't bad at all. Could have been much worse. The tornado didn't harm anyone, it was a small one that did minor damage to property.

Did I thank God? Honestly, I don't remember. I remember asking God for help, but I don't remember thanking God. It's possible I did, but certainly not as enthusiastically as I asked for help.

I could have thanked God for sparing our lives, our house. I could have thanked God for the great day we spent together, unplugged. I could have thanked God for the beautiful rainbow that came after the storm.

What if we praised God and thanked God with the same kind of urgency and fervor we use to ask for help?

How many times have we been obedient Christians, done “what we were supposed to do,” without being truly on fire for God? Without being so in love with God that we turn back in ecstatic praise, like the 10th leper and praised God?

Jesus said, your faith has made you well. Why shouldn't we praise the one that makes us well, the one who makes us whole? The ten lepers asked for Jesus' healing and were healed, but only one came back to thank him.

Barbara Brown Taylor, an episcopal priest, wrote, "Ten behaved like good lepers, good Jews; only one, a double loser, behaved like a man in love... I know how to be obedient, but I do not know how to be in love."

How true is this for so many of us church-goers?

When was the last time you prostrated yourself at the feet of the Lord in praise and thanksgiving? Picture the kind of praise this leper was giving. If someone were to come into our church and go prostrating in front of the altar, what would we think? I can just imagine what some of our faces may look like.

We wonder why people don't want to come to church and one teenager at my last church summed it up nicely. “Why would anyone want to come to a place where you sit in uncomfortable silence getting the sense that everyone is just waiting for it to be over?”

Maybe that's not how you are feeling, but that is obviously the vibe some people are getting from church. This is the idea of church many people have in their minds.

Why would anyone want to come to a stuffy room with fake Christians that are going to judge them? Yes, this is the image people have of church. We can get upset about it all we want, but what are we doing to change their perception?

People have put a guard up against Christians, because it seems to be a trend that the only vocal Christians are the ones that are more in the business of promoting a condemning God than a loving one. So people tense up when Christians approach them to tell them about their God. People are hurt by the church and these Christians. But not all Christians are like that. Some Christians are so excited by God's blessings and radical love that they want to shout from the rooftops how awesome God truly is. Let us be those Christians. Let us be that beacon of light in this neighborhood.

If we were so in love with God we couldn't contain it, would people think that way about church and the Christians in them? What would we do differently if we weren't just obedient Christians? What if we were like that 10th leper? What kind of revolution, reawakening, Renaissance..... could church have If we were more like that 10th leper-- in love with God and on fire with the Spirit?

In a meeting recently, we were asked what qualities we looked for in a religious leader and I offered they should have a contagious spirit. But really, every Christian should have a contagious spirit. John Wesley said, Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.” YES! We say we want to grow the church, but what are we doing about it? If we were truly IN LOVE with God to a point we couldn't contain it, we would live our lives in a way that would attract people to us and then they would see that it wasn't us they were attracted to, it's God.

When the early church was started, when the UMC was started, they were movements, it was an experiment. In the next few weeks, I am going to be deep in research and reading about the people of faith who started the church and started the United Methodist Church. These were people who were IN LOVE with God. Who couldn't contain that spirit and it was just bursting out of them. And from that came these massive Christian movements. You will hear this John Wesley quote again. We need a radical new attitude about this thing called church if we want it to survive. We need to be in love with God and on fire with the spirit. Are you ready to be those Christians, and that beacon of light in this neighborhood and beyond?

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