Where Are the Others?
By Rev. Heidi L. Barham | October 9, 2022
Click here to listen to the service
Read Luke 17:11 – 19 (NIV)
The Lectionary text this week has us looking at the Gospel of Luke once again. Now, one of the things that I do when preparing a sermon is to look back through my computer files to see when, or if, I might have preached from a particular passage of Scripture before. It helps me to see what I may have written in the past so that I don’t inadvertently end up preaching the same sermon twice.
Although to be honest, on the rare occasions when I have had to use the same manuscript for two different services… the sermon still does not come out exactly the same.
Now, because the Lectionary goes through a 3-year cycle, it is not inconceivable that on any given Sunday, I will come across a text that I have used before. When that happens, I will look back at the previous manuscript(s) to see what the text was saying then in comparison to what it has to say to us now.
And so, as I considered using this passage from Luke’s Gospel for today’s sermon, I went back to see if I had preached from this particular text before and it was actually just three years ago.
At that time the title of the sermon was, “Give Thanks,” and the focus was on being blessed by the Lord and having a spirit of thanksgiving for what the Lord has done.
Today, I want us to pay attention to the Samaritan who was the only one that took the time to “Give Thanks,” but I also want to pose a question that will take us in a slightly different direction than the earlier sermon.
And the question that I believe is calling for our attention this morning is, WHERE ARE THE OTHERS?
Now, as we look at our text, we find that there were ten men who were all in a need of a blessing… and not just some ordinary run-of-the-mill blessing, but a rather serious one. You see, all ten of the men were lepers, which meant that they were literally outcasts from society.
They were not allowed to associate with anyone who was not “unclean” like them. In fact, upon coming near other people, lepers were expected to declare loudly, “Unclean!” to warn people of the potential for contagion.
Obviously, the ten men were well aware of the decree that they not come into contact with persons who were considered clean… because the text tells us that these men all stood at a distance… they were not within close proximity of the others who were gathered and would therefore not be considered a danger to anyone else.
But these men apparently recognized Jesus and the power that He had to make them clean again. Which is perhaps why rather than shouting and declaring themselves as “unclean,” they called out to Jesus in loud imploring voices, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.”
And the good news for them is that Jesus did seem to take pity on them… He told them to go and show themselves to the priests. It was common practice in biblical times that if a person had leprosy which they believed had gone into remission… they would present themselves to a priest in hopes that the priest would confirm that they were indeed clean.
But according to the text, Jesus told the men to go and show themselves to the priest before there was any sign of remission… before they had been healed and made clean.
Now, perhaps the men assumed that when they went to see the priest, they would receive some special type of blessing once they arrived that would make them clean. But the text says that, “as they went they were cleansed.”
Before they had even made it to the priest… they had already received a blessing… they had been made clean!
They were made whole and well… and they would no longer be cast out to the margins of society. That was a tremendous blessing to say the least.
Strangely enough; however, as we keep reading, we see that only one of the ten men came back to thank Jesus. But that one man came back with a real “Hallelujah” in his spirit because the scriptures tell us that, “when he saw that he was healed, [he] turned back, praising God with a loud voice. [And he] threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.”
Keep in mind, it was only a short time before this when this same man would not have dared to come anywhere close to Jesus – one, because he was a leper and two, because as the text points out… he was a Samaritan. And Jews and Samaritans simply did not mix…
But now that the man had been made clean… none of that seemed to matter which is why the man fell at Jesus’ feet with a heart filled with thanksgiving.
Then Jesus asked something following this display of gratitude that was not just for the man… but for all those who had gathered there to hear Him. Jesus’ response is one that we should still give heed to now… some two thousand years later.
Jesus said, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Simply put… WHERE ARE THE OTHERS?
“Where are the so-called believers, the insiders, the nine who should have known better? Why did only this lone outsider come back to give thanks?”
All very good questions that we would do well to answer…
I shared a sermon illustration before about the other nine lepers and some of the reasons… in fact, nine of the reasons why they might not have returned:
One waited to see if it would last.
One said he would see Jesus later.
One decided that he had never had leprosy.
One said he would have gotten well anyway.
One gave the glory to the priests.
One said, “O, well, Jesus didn’t really do anything.”
One said, “Any rabbi could have done it.”
One said, “I was already much improved.”
(Charles L. Brown, Content the Newsletter, June, 1990, p. 3., retrieved from http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/t/thanksgiving.htm)
But before we come down too hard on those other nine lepers, we might want to ask ourselves if there are circumstances when we could be found guilty of being like them… of looking for the most convenient excuse for why we failed to give God credit for the blessings in our lives?
Have there been times when we have been the beneficiaries of the Lord’s grace and mercy… and Jesus has had to scour the land looking for us to come offer thanks… posing the same question He asked back then… WHERE ARE THE OTHERS?
Let’s hope not!
Now, looking back at the text, after Jesus inquired about what had happened to the others and why they had not returned… it’s interesting to note that He did not wait for an answer. He just went on to tell the Samaritan, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
That was an important message that the other nine missed because they had not taken the time to come back to see Jesus… They would not know that it was because they had faith enough to go to the priest when Jesus told them to do so that they had been healed…. That because they had taken action before seeing any evidence that it would all work out… they had been blessed beyond measure.
Putting this in context with last week’s sermon, I guess you could say they had all taken a leap of faith… it’s just that most of them had no idea of what had really happened.
And so, we are still left with the question… WHERE ARE THE OTHERS?
And just what does this question mean for us today in light of what we are seeing taking place in the world around us? Perhaps it means expanding it beyond just looking for those who should be giving thanks…
WHERE ARE THE OTHERS who should be speaking out against the wholesale assault on people’s right to choose… whether it is who to vote for… who to love… or what to have done to their bodies?
WHERE ARE THE OTHERS who should be moving heaven and earth to protect our children from bullets in their classrooms… rather than from the books on the library shelves?
WHERE ARE THE OTHERS who should be standing up and working on behalf of the immigrants who are being shuffled around like pawns on a chessboard?
WHERE ARE THE OTHERS who should be doing as Christ commanded… loving God with all of who they are and loving their neighbors as they love themselves?
And as I thought back to that one man… that lone former leper who returned to give thanks… it occurred to me that this man was already an outcast before he was a leper.
Presuming he had not born with leprosy… it was this man’s heritage as a Samaritan that would have initially placed him on the margins of society… regarded as untouchable with little or no regard for the condition of his skin… Contracting leprosy would have simply had the effect of making an already bad situation worse.
And yet, he was the only one who seemed to grasp the enormity of the gift that he had received… and he was the only one who felt the need to give thanks to the giver of the gift.
Although it is possible to receive God’s blessings and have an ungrateful spirit like the other nine men in our text… it is also not a far stretch to say that the Lord is pleased when we have an attitude of gratitude.
And when we come before the Lord with hearts filled with thanksgiving, there is much that we can learn.
The Samaritan man learned that it was his faith in the Lord that had made him well. Which means, the next time he encountered a difficult set of circumstances… he could face whatever the challenge was… armed with first-hand knowledge of what faith in the Lord could do.
His companions, on the other hand… well, let’s just say they might have a little difficulty grasping that concept.
And just think about it for a moment… isn’t it better to go through life’s ups and downs with the confident assurance of what can happen when we place our faith in the Lord?
However, I do feel compelled to issue a word of caution here… we cannot simply take it for granted that just because we have faith in the Lord, things will always go well or go our way.
But when we give thanks to the Lord, even as we are in the midst of our trials and tribulations… make that particularly as we are in the midst of our trials and tribulations… we will gain a peace that truly does surpass all understanding.
The Apostle Paul told the Philippian church, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippian 4:6 – 7).
In his letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul said it like this, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” (1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 18).
And if we take a quick peek back to the Old Testament, Psalm 118 begins and ends with these same words of the psalmist, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1, 29).
It really is a good thing for us to give thanks unto the Lord… He is good… and His love does endure forever… And I don’t know about you but I am beyond grateful for that!
And that is why I want to encourage us to not be like the nine… to not have Jesus looking high and low for us… asking WHERE ARE THE OTHERS?
Rather, I pray that we will be found falling at the feet of Jesus… giving thanks and praise for every good and perfect gift… for every blessing, whether large or small… for every answered prayer… even if it is not the answer we may have wanted… whatever the case may be, we should still make a habit of giving thanks to God IN all circumstances.
That means that even with all the chaos and confusion we see in the world… even in the wake of natural disasters and senseless violence… even as we bear witness to so much hardship and heartache… we should still give God thanks… even IN those challenging circumstances.
Now, just before I close and we prepare to move into our time for Communion… I want to share something I read about today’s Hymn of Discipleship, “Now Thank We All Our God.” This hymn was written by Rev. Martin Rinkart, a minister in a little town of Eilenburg, Saxony, at the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648.
Rinkart was the only surviving clergyman in a town that was so crowded with refugees and had been so severely ravaged by plagues, pestilence, and famine that there were times when they held 50 to 100 funerals in a day.
When the war finally ended, a decree was issued ordering every church to hold a Thanksgiving service. Ministers were asked to preach on the text, “Now bless ye the Lord of all, Who everywhere doeth great things.”
It has been said that Rev. Rinkart was so moved by that particular text that he wrote the following words for his own Thanksgiving service:
Who wondrous things hath done,
In Whom His world rejoices.
Given the stories about Rev. Rinkart, it would seem that he understood that thanksgiving is generated from the love of God, not from the circumstances around us… and that while happiness is dependent upon what is happening… true joy is found in Jesus.
So today, let us make it our mission to be found giving thanks IN all circumstances… so Jesus won’t have to come looking for us asking, WHERE ARE THE OTHERS?
And with that thought in mind, I want to invite you to stand now and join in singing our Hymn of Discipleship: Now Thank We All Our God #715.