Luke 17: 11-19 (Proper 23C2)
Good morning again, and grace and peace on this fall Sunday. It is so much fun every year, such an exciting experience to have the Heinz Chapel Choir with us—and always some family, friends, and a good group of Pitt students and alums also. With thanks again to John Goldsmith and especially all you “Singing Panthers” —great to have you with us today.
So. When I was in high school there was a regular, on-going, deep-level philosophical and perhaps even more profound theological discussion, it might turn out to be, as best a cluster of teenaged boys could have such a discussion, centering on this critical question: what’s more important, looks or personality?
The question returned in a slightly different way some years later when I was teaching—both when I was a grad student at Cal and in the little country high school where I spent several years in the classroom before going to seminary. How to evaluate the perfectly organized and well written but entirely bland and mediocre essay, just basically regurgitating material from textbook and lecture, over against the disorganized, perhaps poorly written, and yet somehow brilliantly creative and insightful one. We would say, “form and content.” Sometimes giving two different grades on the assignment. But I’m not sure real life works that way.
We say “clothes make the man,” and thinking about how often it is that the clothes are all we really see. Hairstyle, ethnicity, regional accent. What you see is what you get. Certainly some maturity and perhaps wisdom comes when you learn how easy it is to miss value and substance and even occasionally a great treasure when you focus so much on what’s outside that you don’t even really notice what may be going on inside, beneath the surface. And it can come as a surprise when your eyes are suddenly opened in some context to say, “Wow. There’s more there than I thought.” A question about vision, perspective, insight, discernment. A bigger question here about how we approach every day of our lives. How we judge, evaluate, experience, make sense of things day by day.
The contrast between two guys. You ask, “how was your day?” The first says, “Oh, man. Just same old, same old. I got up this morning. Ate my Cheerios, like I do every day. Took that same bus to work. Worked. Had lunch. Worked some more. Came home. Had dinner. Watched t.v. Went to bed.” Nothing. Boring! Same old, same old.
The second guy answers the same question. “My day? FANTASTIC! I got up this morning! Think of those people who didn't, for one thing. The sun was shining through the bedroom window. Ate my Cheerios! Loved those ever since I was a kid, and it turns out it’s good for your cholesterol! Took the bus to work, and isn't great to live in a place where there’s some reasonable public transportation, and I sometimes meet the most interesting people there. And I worked! What a great thing that is, to have something productive to do with my day—and think of all those folks who would love to have a job but can’t find one. And I came home! Love my neighborhood! And I’m thinking about painting the dining room this weekend, we’re looking at some fun new colors. And watched television—a great detective mystery for Inspector Lewis! And then I was tired, I went to bed, and how great that was. Sank into the pillow. Slept like a baby.
Anyway, you get the idea. The same day. From the outside. The difference just how you live it, what you look for, how you experience it. To think about the line in the John Lennon song, “life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” Certainly it slips by fast, especially if you’re not paying attention. Grumbling. Perpetually irritated. Just plain bored. Maybe spending so much time thinking about where we aren't, what we aren't doing, what we could have been doing instead. And pretty much miss everything along the way. Another day down. Another week down. Another year down.
Just to notice this contrast, how some people who are blessed with good health and families and a good work, with intelligence, resources, can seem so joyless sometimes. Complaining. Always with a chip on their shoulders. Focusing on minor problems. Getting all agitated with grievance after grievance. Joyless. While others who seem to have lives full of so many challenges, of all kinds (I don’t know if you've found this to be true—I think I have), stressed in terms of even basic material resources, health, struggles with family and relationships, can sometimes be the very people who when they walk into a room it’s like someone opened the curtains. Warmth and light and fresh air. Appreciation. Personal kindness. A radiant smile. The point is simply of course as we all know, that having more doesn't make life better. It’s not at all to minimize the challenges, or not to have sympathy and tenderness and care. Life can be very hard in many ways, and so many things beyond our control. If we want to be miserable, there certainly are plenty of opportunities. But here we are. Sometimes you might say a question of character rather than context. The inside rather than the outside.
Kathy and Wally Lalonde talking about their long work with the Mustard Seed Babies’ Home in Uganda. Maybe you heard their presentation last spring. Or saw the photographs of the two children sponsored by our Church School. Very inspiring. Teachers, staff, all these children, living in a material way with so many challenges, so many, yet with such a vibrancy of joy that folks from Pennsylvania and California who take a couple of weeks off from work and come to visit find themselves saying, “I wish I had some of what they have.” Those great smiles. I wish I could live with so much joy, so much blessing. A lifestyle of appreciation and thanksgiving. A sense of the goodness of God.
Thinking about the witness of the Church in those first generations, the martyrs singing joyful hymns on their way to the coliseum. People by the side of the road watching and listening: "I wish I had some of what they have.” We had St. Francis a few days ago, fourth of October. As Pastor Larry Kemp said in his little homily at our annual Saturday Service, the patron saint of Earth Day, birdbaths, and the family pet. And yet not to miss the core message of St. Francis, as he personally turned away from so much of the comforts of the world so that he would be free with all joy to preach the gospel. To put aside the fine clothing of the son of a prosperous merchant, to dress himself in the radiant love of Christ. An echo of the quote from Steven Covey that I referenced several times this past summer when we were reading Colossians. “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
What’s really important? Three score years and ten, or perhaps four score, as the psalmist says. But not long, that’s for sure: this life of ours. And for how much of it are we awake? For how much of it are we singing? The Mark Sanders song that Leanne Womack made popular a few years ago: “May you never take one single breath for granted . God forbid love ever leave you empty handed. I hope you still feel small when you stand by the ocean. Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens. Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance. And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”
Ten lepers. Thought I’d never get to the reading from Holy Scripture this morning, but here it is. Luke 17. All made clean. All. Physically healed of their disease. But one, just this one, is made well. Notice those two words in the translation. Clean and well. The Greek verb for the first is katharzo, which refers to a literal, physical cleaning, the removal of something that was a stain, a contamination. For the second, translated here as “made well,” but this really interesting verb, sozo. To save. Which is the source of the noun Soter, which means Savior. Jesus says, “Get up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.” A great distinction. Not about being healed of a specific skin disease, but about being brought to wholeness entirely. Because in returning he turned his heart and mind to the giver of the gift. Prostrating himself at the feet of the one who healed him. His savior. Because he saw what was happening. Somehow he figured it out. Because his eyes were open to deeper realities. Because he saw that what was true and best about being healed, was the opportunity to know and to be in a relationship with the one who was the giver of the gift. To see and know Jesus, and to offer not simply a word of thanks, but to offer himself, falling on the ground, in worship. And it was in that, that he was saved.
All ten are healed. But only one in this story comes to know the healer, and is made well. Sometimes people ask what the Bible has to say to us about the living of day to day life. Maybe this wouldn't be a bad place to start. “I got up this morning!” The first day of the rest of our lives. In the One who has made all things new.
Know who he is. The one who has saved us. Who is for us here this morning in his life and death, his cross and resurrection, the one who brings life and light, forgiveness of our sin, healing in our brokenness. Who is the bright morning star, the Dayspring from on high. Savior. The Great Physician of our souls. In the songs that we hear and sing, in our prayers, in all our lives, returning to him.
May the Almighty Lord, who is a strong tower to all who put their trust in him, to whom all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth bow and obey: Be now and evermore your defense, and make you know and feel that the only Name under heaven given for health and salvation is the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.