What Do You Say?

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  November 26, 2023

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Read Luke 17:11 – 19 (NIV)
When I read this passage from Luke’s Gospel, I was transported back to an earlier time in my life when someone would do something nice or say something complimentary and my mom or another adult would look at me and ask the question, WHAT DO YOU SAY?
It was a not-so-subtle reminder that the polite thing to do in response to someone else’s kind words or deeds is to say, “Thank you,” [at the very least].  And that was not something that we needed to learn from Miss Manners… it was something we were taught by parents and grandparents as well as other significant role models in our lives.
But in those moments when it may have slipped our mind… that simple question, WHAT DO YOU SAY… quickly brought us back to our senses and we knew what was expected of us… we were supposed to say, “Thank you.”  It’s what most people would consider to be common courtesy.
But sadly, these days, common courtesy, is not always so common.
The art of saying please and thank you has been all but lost… many people no longer recognize the kindness shown by others as something to be grateful for… rather they see it as something to be expected and generally taken for granted.
But as we give our attention to the New Testament scripture this morning… we find Jesus offering a lesson in what it means for us to give thanks when we have been blessed.
According to the text, there were ten men who had leprosy which was an extremely contagious disease… so much so that anyone who had leprosy was required to stay away from other people.  That is why the Scriptures say that the ten men were standing at a distance… because their condition would not allow them to come anywhere near Jesus… or anyone else for that matter.
But that did not stop them from calling out to Him… “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” or as some Bible translations say, “…have mercy on us!”
That word mercy is often defined as not getting what we rightfully deserve…
You know, like not getting that speeding ticket when we get pulled over by a State Trooper on 480 or 271 for doing 75 in a 60-mile zone.
Or not being charged penalties and interest for a late payment on a past due credit card bill.
Or not being sentenced to death on a cross as the punishment that our sins truly deserve…
That is what the ten men asked for… to not be ostracized for having a disease that made them untouchable… to not be marginalized for a skin condition that was beyond their control…
And in response to their request, Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priests… an action that would have made sense for someone whose leprosy was already in remission… for someone who had already been healed…
But Jesus told the men to go before their prayers had been answered… before their condition had been changed… before they had been healed and made clean.
And according to the text those ten men did what Jesus told them to do and… “as they went, they were cleansed.”
All of them stepped out in faith… doing what Jesus told them to do… despite the fact that it did not necessarily make sense for them to do so… they were being sent to show themselves to the priest while they still had a contagious disease.
They were being sent to do something that was contrary to the order of the day… to go make contact with someone else… when convention dictated that they stay far, far away.
And yet they went… and as a result, their cries for mercy… their pleas for pity… were granted.  They were cleansed!  No more being ostracized.  No more being marginalized.
But that is not where the story ends… in fact it is really more where the story begins… because it is what comes next that holds the key for us… it is where we come to the moral of the story.
Out of the ten men who were cleansed… just one of them came back to offer thanks for the miracle that he had been blessed with… only one… and that one was a Samaritan.
It might seem like an odd detail to be noted in this passage but it is a critical detail… because the Samaritans were despised by Jews. They were considered to be idolatrous half-breeds. 
And yet on more than one occasion… we find Jesus breaking with convention… coming into contact with a Samaritan and highlighting their actions as something to be applauded.
From the story of the Good Samaritan to the story of the woman at the well to this grateful former leper in our text today… we are reminded that God’s grace… God’s mercy… God’s love… none of it is exclusive to any one group or groups… it is for everyone!
Now, out of all the men who were cleansed… it was only the one who already had two strikes against him… being a leper AND a Samaritan… who came back.  He was the only one who recognized the great gift he had been given… and the text says he came back, threw himself at Jesus’ feet, and praised God in a loud voice…
I would imagine his voice was probably even louder than when he and the other men made their original pleas to Jesus for mercy… because now this man in particular knew he had a whole lot to be grateful for.
Now Jesus’ initial response to the man’s display of gratitude was to raise the question… What happened to the rest of the group?  Where were the others? 
Were they simply ungrateful for what God had done?  Or could it be that they were unwilling to be found in the company of the Samaritan now that they had been made clean? 
After all, it was one thing to be quarantined alongside a Samaritan when they all had leprosy but now that they were healed… could their prejudice have been greater than their praise… the Scriptures do not tell us.
But what we do read in the text is the declaration from Jesus that it was the Samaritan’s faith that made him well. 
It is the same pronouncement that Jesus made to the woman that had an issue of blood who touched the hem of His garment and was healed (see Matthew 9:22, Mark 5:24, Luke 8:48). 
And it is the same pronouncement Jesus made after He restored the sight of Blind Bartimaeus (see Mark 10:52). 
“Your faith has healed you…”
“Your faith has made you well…”

So, WHAT DO YOU SAY after Jesus tells you that because of your faith you have been made well?  At the bare bone’s minimum, I think, “Thank You, Jesus!” would be in order.
But perhaps we should also pause to ask ourselves the question, WHAT DO YOU SAY if you are not made well? 
Our response to God in our various circumstances and situations should always be one of thanksgiving… regardless of how things turn out… because even when things don’t go as we might like them to go… we still have reason to praise God for being with us in the midst of whatever it is that we are going through.
In 1 Thessalonians 5 (16 – 18), we find Paul’s words of encouragement to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
As you have heard me say before, we are encouraged to give thanks …in all circumstances …not for all circumstances.
We have not been promised a life free from hardships and challenges… what we have been promised is a Savior who will be with us.
In the 23rd Psalm, the Psalmist David said that even though he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, the Lord was with him (v. 4).  An indication that David knew he would face some very difficult and trying times… and he did… but he held onto the promise that the Lord would be with him through it all.
An over in Isaiah 43 (2), the Prophet makes this declaration from God:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
Not if you pass through the waters and the rivers… not if you walk through the fire… but when
Something that Jesus confirmed in John 16:33 where we find a verse that I have quoted more times than I can count, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Or as it reads in the Message Paraphrase, “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”
So, WHAT DO WE SAY when life is turned upside down… when we cannot tell night from day because of the darkness that is swirling around us… when it feels like we will drown under the weight of our problems?
We say, “Thank you, Lord!”
Thank You, Lord, for Your promise never to leave us nor forsake us.
Thank You, Lord, for Your promise to be with us always… even to the end of the age.
Thank You, Lord, for loving us so much that You gave Your life in exchange for ours.
Thank You, Lord, for making a way for us to spend eternity with You in Your kingdom.
And that is why on this Sunday following the Thanksgiving holiday… as we look forward to the start of the Advent Season… on this spectacular day that the Lord has gifted to us… I want to invite us join together in simply saying, “Thank You, Lord!” as we stand and sing our Hymn of Discipleship: Thank You, Lord #531.