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One Came Back

Thomas J Parlette

“One Came Back”

Luke 17: 11-19

10/9/16, Stewardship

There is an ancient legend about two angels who were sent to earth to gather people’s prayers. Wherever people bowed in prayer – by their bedside at night, in a chapel on a Sunday morning, or even on the side of a mountain – the angels stopped and gathered the prayers into their baskets. Before long, one of the baskets was so full that the angel carrying it could barely fly. So the angel asked for help – “Could you help me with this, its so heavy I can’t manage anymore.”

“What do you have in here.”

“I have the prayers asking God for things, “Oh Lord give me this, O God let me have that… Your basket certainly seems light – what do you have in yours.”

“I have all the prayers offering thanks to God.”

That’s the way it is I guess. People are usually ready enough to pray for what they want, but very few remember to offer thanks when God grants their request.

The brilliant criminal lawyer Samuel Leibowitz once wrote that he had saved 78 people from dying in the electric – but not one ever thanked him.

An official with the United States Postal Service, in charge of the Dead Letter Box in Washington DC, once reported that he had received hundreds of thousands of letters addressed to Santa Claus asking for everything from toys to dolls to new bicycles – but in the months after Christmas, only one letter came to the box thanking Santa for the gifts received.(1)

Saying “Thank You”, offering gratitude is something we sometimes overlook. Yet, as this story points out – expressing our gratitude is central to our faith. Indeed, it could be said that without gratitude, there is no faith.

In today’s passage we find Jesus traveling towards Jerusalem. On the way, he is passing through the region between Samaria and Galilee. At this, our ears should perk up. We know from past sermons that Jews and Samaritans hated each other. They disagreed about almost everything – from scriptural interpretation to how best to worship right down to the proper foods to eat. Jews and Samaritans were enemies in every sense of the word.

Yet here is Jesus, traveling in the region between two bitter enemies. He enters a village and has an encounter with 10 lepers. It is difficult to overstate the amount of social alienation and isolation that these lepers had to endure. In Jesus’ time, this term “leprosy” could apply to any number of skin conditions from eczema to a severe case of acne. Any skin abnormality was termed leprosy – and you would be shunned and ostracized because of it. People with leprosy were banished from their homes, from their spouses, from their children, from their parents, from their faith community. They lived alone, sometimes banding together to become a small company of misery. Such was the case for these 10 lepers here in this little village.

They call out to Jesus – “Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus does nothing special – he doesn’t touch them, he doesn’t say anything special, he doesn’t spit in the dirt and make mud – he just says – “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they go, running or walking or perhaps skipping off to see the priests, their skin disorders clear up. One of the lepers, a Samaritan – again the alarm bells go off, who, a Samaritan? – he goes back, falls on his knees and thanks Jesus. The Samaritan offers “eucharisto” – that’s the word used here for thanksgiving.(2) The same word that we use for our communion service when we call it the Eucharist. Our communion, our Lord’s supper is eucharisto, it is thanksgiving, it is an offering of gratitude to God.

After this Samaritan leper returns to offer thanks, Jesus expresses his surprise that the other 9 did not bother to come back, they did not offer thanks. And then he says to the Samaritan, “Go, your faith has made you well.”

Jesus makes it very clear that faith and gratitude are very closely linked. To have faith, you must have gratitude. To have faith, you must offer thanks. In this story we see that gratitude is indeed life-giving.

Being grateful and saying thank you are absolutely at the heart of God’s hope for humanity and God’s intent for each of us.

And there is evidence that Jesus knew exactly what he was talking about. “Boost Your Health with a Dose of Gratitude” was the title of a Web launch by a medical group. The essay cited thousands of years of philosophical and religious teaching urging gratitude and then cited new evidence that grateful people, for whom gratitude is a permanent trait, have a health edge. It may be that grateful people take better care of themselves, but there is evidence that gratitude alone is a stress reducer, that grateful people are more hopeful, and that there are links between gratitude and the immune system. Gratitude is absolutely necessary for a strong faith. And your faith will make you well.(3)

Karl Barth was fond of saying that the basic human response to God is gratitude – not fear and trembling, not guilt and dread, but thanksgiving. He wrote “What else can we say to what God gives us but stammer praise.”(4)

C.S Lewis, as he explored his newfound faith, observed , particularly in the Psalms, that the Bible was quite insistent that we praise and thank God. He also observed the connection between gratitude and personal well-being. He wrote, “I noticed how the humblest and at the same time most balanced minds praised most: while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least. Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.”(5)

Expressing our gratitude is expressing our faith, and out faith makes us well. To practice gratitude changes an individual life, to be sure. It also changes the character of a congregation. When Christians practice gratitude, they come to worship not just to get something out of it, but to give something back. We come to give our thanks and praise to God. Our stewardship drive is transformed from fundraising and balancing the budget to the glad gratitude of joyful givers. The mission of the church changes from ethical duty to the work of grateful hands and hearts. Our prayers include not only the things that we want, but also our eucharisto – our thanks for the gifts of God we receive at the table.

There are those who believe that worship – this practice of gratitude – is almost primal, an essential part of being human. John Burkhart once wondered whether “humans can survive as humans without worshipping. To withhold acknowledgement, to avoid celebration, to stifle gratitude, may prove as unnatural as holding one’s breath.”(6)

This story of the one who came back points us to the truth that when we express our gratitude, we express our faith; and our faith will make us well. Perhaps we should rename our Stewardship Drive and call it our annual Gratitude Drive, or perhaps our Season of Thanks.

There was once a father and a mother whose son was killed while serving in the military overseas. A few months after the funeral, the couple went to see their pastor. They told him that they wanted to give a monetary gift to the church as a memorial for their son. The pastor said, “That’s a wonderful gesture on your part. Would you mind if I shared that with the congregation.” And the couple said that would be fine.

The next Sunday the pastor told the congregation about the gift given in memory of the soldier who had given his life in service to his country. On the way home from church, another couple, who had a daughter also serving in the military, was driving down the highway when the husband said to his wife, “Why don’t we give a gift to the church as well – in honor of our daughter.”

At first, his wife was a little taken aback – “But our daughter isn’t dead. She hasn’t died in a battle – she’s fine, she’s alive and well.”

And the husband said, “That’s exactly my point! That’s all the more reason we ought to give – in thanks to God. Our child is still with us!”(7)

In this season of thanks, that’s what we do. We offer our gratitude to God for all the blessings we have received. When we fill out a pledge card and mail in a check, we are not simply raising money, we are not simply balancing the budget. We are offering our thanks to God for the blessings of life.

The story of the one who came back shows us that when we express our gratitude, we express our faith. And our faith will make us well.

May God be praised. Amen.


1.    Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXII, No. 4, p. 8.

2.    Margit Ernst-Habib, Feasting on the Word, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010, p.169.

3.    John Buchanan, Feasting on the Word, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010, p.169.

4.    Ibid…p.165.

5.    Ibid…p.165.

6.    Kimberly Bracken Long, Feasting on the Word, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010, p.168.

7.    John Wayne Clarke, Father Forgive Them, CSS Publishing Company Inc. 2006, p.409.