Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost - 10/09/2016

At one point during the tumult of the Reformation with all its changes and challenges, Martin Luther was asked what constituted true worship. His response was, the tenth leper turning back. With that response, Luther put a somewhat different spin on this story.

The story of the ten lepers is a healing story. In the lectionary though, this story is one that always comes up around this time of year, late in the Sundays after Pentecost season, a time when many churches are into or at least thinking about stewardship and the annual pledge drive. With that as part of the context it’s a story that gets used to encourage an attitude of gratitude and thanks which hopefully results in generous giving. That’s an OK interpretation; stewardship does start with recognizing God as the source of all that we have and it continues with our thankful response of time, talent and possessions.

Our attitude then should be one of thanksgiving but we do need to be reminded once in awhile because it’s easy to forget. We’ve all heard the joke about the guy who’s driving around and can’t find a parking space and he’s afraid he’s going to be late so he prays, “Dear Lord, please help me find a parking space.” Next time around the block, lo and behold, there’s a space and he says, “Never mind Lord, I found one.” It’s funny, but of course the reason it’s funny is because there’s a grain of truth in there. We can be quick to blame God or question God when bad things happen but then we can forget to offer thanks when things are going well, instead taking credit ourselves, taking pride in our hard work and persistence.

So using this story as a reminder to give thanks to God or just to say “thank you” when someone does something nice for you is perfectly appropriate. We do need those reminders. Luther’s reference to this story in response to the question regarding worship though, is a hint that as is the case with many Bible stories, we can perhaps go deeper, as we consider giving thanks as an important part of worship.

What’s important to note here though, as we interpret this story, is that the other nine lepers didn’t really do anything wrong. Initially, as they cried out to Jesus, they kept their distance which was the proper thing to do. As lepers they were quarantined, unable to be part of the community, so they cried out to Jesus but stayed at a respectful distance. Because of their condition, lepers were also classified as being ritually unclean meaning that they were unable to participate in Jewish rituals and worship.

In the event that the condition cleared up, and some of diseases called leprosy in the Bible could clear up, following the laws of Leviticus, the first step in being declared clean was to present oneself to the local priest who could do the initial inspection and declare someone cured. That’s where Jesus told them to go and, again doing the right thing, that’s where they obediently went. To be clean would take at least another week and involve a trip to Jerusalem and a sacrifice at the temple, but the first step was the local priest, so all ten lepers were being obedient.

One however, when he saw that he was healed, was more than obedient. He praised God, turned around, went back, prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. The one who thanked Jesus is obviously the focal point of the story, the example we’re supposed to pay attention to, but before we talk about him, what about the other nine?

After they leave to see the priest, we really don’t know any more about them; in most Bible stories the peripheral characters tend to disappear, but let’s assume that they completed the prescribed process of being declared clean, that they went to the priest, they went to Jerusalem and made the proper sacrifice so they could again participate fully in society and in worship. It’s not a bad ending, in fact it’s a very good ending…except for their failure to turn around to recognize and give thanks to Jesus as the source of their restored life.

That however, just makes them like a lot of people, it makes them like the guy in the joke who finds a parking space. It’s a good ending, a happy ending, but something is missing and what’s missing is a life that is oriented toward God, a life that recognizes that, in the words of Luther’s Small Catechism, “God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life.”

The one who went back recognized something in Jesus that caused him not just to go back and say thank you, it caused him to go back and worship Jesus—prostration at the feet of Jesus is more than thanks; it’s worship. The others obviously saw Jesus as a healer, in which case they still should have said thank you, but the one who turned back was blessed with vision that enabled him to see more; he was able to see not just the human nature of Jesus, but his divine nature as well prompting him to worship by giving thanks prompting Luther’s comment about the tenth leper representing true worship.

What you see does make a difference on a lot of levels. To start with it makes a difference in how you approach life in general. When faced with a challenge, do you question, why me, or do you see it as a new possibility? When you encounter someone in need do you see them as a nuisance or is it an opportunity to serve and provide help? When you find the parking space, do you see it as a time to pat yourself on the back for your perseverance or do you give thanks? How you see things does make a difference.

What you see also makes a difference in your faith. When you see Jesus, do you see a wise and gracious teacher or do you see something else in him, something more? Do you see Jesus as a healer, or is there more than that, something that maybe you can’t put your finger on? Do you see and hear Jesus as a good story teller, telling stories that make you think, or do you hear the words of eternal life?

The one leper who went back had the vision to see more. The other ten and most other people don’t see more in Jesus and it wasn’t and still isn’t just those who are opposed to him or indifferent. His disciples, those closest to Jesus, were mostly confused, seeing in him an exceptional human being, but failing to see that he was more than that. Peter, James and John got a glimpse of the more on the mountain of Transfiguration; for the others it wasn’t until the cross and resurrection that their eyes were opened.

The truth is that most of us, on our own, would not have the vision to see the more of Jesus. We might see him as a great teacher and philosopher, we might be obedient like the other nine lepers, but seeing him as divine, believing in him as divine is different. Again quoting Luther, “By my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him.” For Luther, the vision could only be provided by the Holy Spirit.

What we also have though, is the witness of the apostles and the saints. We draw from their experience and their vision and with that and guided by the Holy Spirit, our vision becomes clearer. Led by the Holy Spirit and guided by the saints, worship isn’t just singing some songs and hearing some words; it’s not a performance and it’s not entertainment. It’s an invitation to see more clearly. Worship is an experience of the divine through word and sacrament enabling us to see more, enabling us to see the revelation of God in and through Jesus, enabling us to recognize the majesty and splendor of the works of the Lord, the gifts of the Lord.

That’s when worship isn’t just going through the motions; it’s genuine and it’s starts with thanksgiving. We join the tenth leper who turned back and with him we give thanks.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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