The other sermon: Thankfulness matters

Published 12:04 pm Saturday, August 5, 2017

by Andrew Book

I love the Bible. Even though I have been reading Scripture (almost) every day for years, I come back to passages I have read and studied before and hear something new from God. In the church, we talk about the words of Scripture being “living and active,” (Hebrews 4:12) and anyone who has committed themselves to prayerfully studying Scripture can bear witness to the ways that God is able to speak to us in new and life changing ways through stories and Scriptures we have read many times.

I want to give you a glimpse into what this looks like for me today, in hopes that you will both learn something from this column, but also be inspired to prayerfully sit down with the Bible yourself. It is good to be able to read someone else’s words explaining the power of Scripture, but it is even better to fall in love with God’s book for yourself and soak in the powerful words it offers.

At Courtland United Methodist Church, I have been preaching a series of sermons about “Navigating Life” based on Jesus’ own journey to Jerusalem. Early in Luke’s Gospel (there are four Gospels which record Jesus’ life,) we read “As the time drew near for him to ascend to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (9:51.) There is much more to Jesus’ life and ministry before he ascends to heaven, but the entire journey is heading toward Jerusalem and his death on the cross because he knew that was God’s call on his life. We have been doing our best to learn from Jesus by looking at each of the stories in Scripture that talk about his journey to Jerusalem. This week has brought us to Luke 17:11-19.

11 As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. 12 As he entered a village there, 10 men with leprosy stood at a distance, 13 crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

14 He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests. And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.

15 One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” 16 He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal 10 men? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

As I prepare for this Sunday’s worship, I have been reading, praying, and studying the words of Luke and I have heard God say two distinct and powerful messages to me.  In nine short verses, God has packaged two powerful ideas about what it means to follow Jesus as he travels to Jerusalem. Honestly, I have little doubt that there are many more than two lessons in this passage, but these two are what God has spoken to me!

After I saw these two distinct yet important words from God, I was in the tough place of determining which message I think God wants me to share with the church. As a preacher, I know trying to convey more than one key idea in a sermon usually means people will leave the time of worship remembering nothing (because the message was not focused enough,) so I had to focus in on one of the two messages to preach on Sunday. In the space I have left here, I want to offer you a few thoughts on the other sermon — the one I am not going to be preaching. You are welcome to join us Sunday at 11 a.m. at Courtland UMC if you are curious about the sermon I am preaching.

In our story, Jesus encounters 10 men. They were all lepers, meaning they had a skin disease which had led to them being cast out of society to face their illness outside of the community. In Jesus’ day, people were concerned these skin diseases were contagious, so they thought exile was the best option.

As a result, these men were not just sick, but every portion of their lives had been shattered.  They could not live with their families (or even visit them.) They could not work. They could not worship in the temple. They had been cast out in every imaginable way. So, when they saw the miracle-worker Jesus outside of town (they were not allowed in town,) they called out to him seeking healing.

Healing is exactly what they received from Jesus, though they did not know it until they had travelled further down the road. Jesus gave them instructions to be examined by the priest (priests had the role of determining if someone had leprosy.) It was on the way the power of God was poured out on these ten men and the disease which had caused them so much pain was removed.

I can only imagine the excitement as they realized the future they had thought was dead was alive again. They could be reunited with their families! They could return to their work! They could gather with the community again! I am sure all those possibilities and more were running through their heads as their joy bubbled over. They had to get moving! There was no time to waste to make up for the lost time in their lives! To the priest and then, finally, home!

You can see how easily they might get caught up in the excitement. One of the 10, however, realized the first thing he needed to do was not hurry to get “back to life,” but instead stop, return to Jesus and thank God for this incredible miracle. Jesus agreed with him. He was the one who chose rightly, and he was blessed because of it.

We all have an abundance of gifts from God. Despite the abundance around us, we are often like the nine who could not wait to get “back to life.” There is so much to do, so many things to catch up on, so many tasks to complete that we don’t even consider taking the time to stop, come to Jesus, and thank God for all God has given us.

However, we need to stop. We need to recognize God is the author of our blessings and the giver of every good gift. When we stop, we are able to get the perspective we need to live life well.

Thanksgiving changes our attitude from focusing on what we want to celebrating what we have received. It truly has the power to give us new eyes to see the world differently. We need to stop and give thanks if we are going to live well.

I want to invite you now simply to stop and reflect on all the blessings in your lives. They are all gifts from God. Thank God for them and live life looking for how God is working in you!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or