Readings: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c, Psalm 111, 2 Timothy 2:8-15, Luke 17:11-19
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Holy and Loving God, write a message on our hearts. Bless us, direct us, and send us out, living letters of the Word. AMEN.
In my home, there is a lamp of great controversy. This lamp is not a particularly ugly lamp, it is not one of those leg lamps from “A Christmas Story,” but still the mere mention of this lamp sends certain members of my family, related by marriage, into shudders and convulsions. Ellen and I received said lamp as a wedding present, but therein is the genesis the controversy: the giver of the lamp in question never received a thank you note. It arrived in an unmarked package, without attribution. We have asked several relatives if they gave us this lamp, but all said no. We have sent out feelers via chatty relations if they have heard of someone who is unhappy with the Robertsons because they never received a thank you note. We even took the packing slip – a packing slip listing no discernable buyer – to the retailer and asked if they could determine who purchased the item, to no avail. So there the lamp sits, unthanked, taunting us night after night, “you never sent a thank you noooote!”
Our mama’s taught us to write thank you notes … or face the consequences. I dimly recall a relative once telling me that a gift was not truly yours until you wrote a thank you note. Our Gospel for today is about saying thank you. As Jesus enters a village, ten lepers approach him. Keeping their distance, they call out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" When Jesus hears them, he says to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests," [a legal requirement to be declared healed and reenter normal society]. So they went ... [but] one of them turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him.
Now, saying thank you is a very fine lesson. Many of us, myself included, could be more thankful. If the children come back from Children’s Chapel and all they learn is to say thank you, their time was well spent. But, Jesus is a bit more than Miss Manners, so I wonder if there is something more, something deeper, going on between Jesus and this thankful leper.
One key can be found in the language. When Jesus first heals all ten lepers, the Gospel reports that they are made “clean,” καθαρίζω / katharizo in the Greek, as in your car is clean or your credit report is clean, but when the final leper returns to thank Jesus, Jesus says, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Well, σώζω / sozo in the Greek, as in wholeness, wellness, safety, or deliverance. Σώζω / sozo is the same word the angel uses when describing the unborn Christ to the skeptical Joseph. “She will bear a son,” the angel says, “and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save, σώζω / sozo his people from their sins.” There is a profound difference between a state of cleanliness, and a state of wellness.
Keeping that difference in mind, think about why you say thank you to someone. Do you say it out of obligation, out of habit, because your mama told you? Or, do you say so out of gratitude, out of an awareness of the blessings you receive every day, out of respect for the beautiful child of god who gave you the gift, or rang up your groceries, or passed the mustard? When we say thank you to another, the relationship between us grows stronger. When we say thank you to another, the emotional ties that bind us to each other, intertwine and embrace. When we say thank you to another, to quote Louis Armstong, we’re, “really saying, I love you.”
That love is the difference between being clean and being whole. Cleanliness is fairly easy – a little hand sanitizer, a sweep with a Clorox wipe, and we are free of the usual toxins. As a society, we are little obsessed with cleanliness – just look at the popularity of hand sanitizer. And as the father of small children, I am all for less germs in my life. But, sterility in and of itself is not exactly fulfilling.
Wellness, on the other hand, is inherently messy, but ultimately more fulfilling because it contains that fundamental aspect of being: relationship. Our relationships are what make life interesting. Our relationships are what gets us out of bed in the morning – sometimes literally when they start screaming at three a.m., but you get my meaning. Our relationships are where we find solace, where we find challenge, where we regroup after failure, and where we celebrate after achievement. Quite simply, relationships are our σώζω / sozo, are our salvation. That one leper who said thank you is not only free from disease, but he is now in relationship with God and Christ and his life is infinitely more than the other nine.
I wonder how our lives would change if our first priority was our relationships. I wonder how society would change if our first priority was our relationships. How would Syria change, how wound Congress and the Presidency change, how would Memphis change if our first priority was our relationships. I wonder what my life would be like if, instead of vaguely following my friends' lives on Facebook, I actually called them and said, "do you know what - I love you." Some might be a bit wierded out, but others ... I wonder.
After the 8 o'clock service this morning, my friend Eyleen reminded me of the 20th century Jewish philosopher and theologian Martin Buber and his concept of I-It and I-Thou. According to Buber, we have two types of relationships, I-It and I-Thou. My relationship with this glass of water is I-It, my relationship to this iPad is I-It, but with people, and ultimately with God, we are meant to have a deeper, mutual relationship termed I-Thou. However, in our broken world, how often do we treat others, strangers, colleagues, even those we love, as "its" rather than "thous." I wonder.
A challenge for this week: every day, each one of us encounters healing. Our souls are healed by the intense beauty of an autumn day, our spirits are healed by a meal shared, our hearts are healed when a broken friendship is repaired. When we encounter such healing, give thanks. Give thanks for the God whose spirit of grace makes such healing possible. Give thanks for the power of love which can overcome any brokenness. For when we do, I’d wager, the relationships in our lives are strengthened, the relationships of our life that provide so much spice, so much joy, so much meaning, are enhanced. And if we give thanks long enough, not only our lives, but our very world can be saved.
“Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” AMEN.