Where's The Gratitude?
On a stormy night on Lake Michigan in 1860 a boating mishap turned into an enormous tragedy.
A side-wheeler steamboat was rammed by another boat.
The steamboat was sinking fast.
It was about a mile offshore from the village of Winnetka, Illinois.
Out of 393 passengers on board, 279 drowned.
Several of the survivors owed their lives to the superhuman efforts of one young man.
A young Methodist theological student named Edward Spencer, from his seminary room
witnessed the tragedy and heard the piercing screams for help from people who were drowning.
As the survivors were screaming for help, he plunged into the lake and swam to the drowning people.
He brought one person to shore, and then, he would dive back into the cold waters
to rescue another.
He pushed his body beyond human endurance, and after he had dragged the seventeenth person
to safety, he collapsed on the lakeshore.
When he regained consciousness in a hospital, the nerves in his legs were so completely damaged
that he could never walk again.
He remained an invalid for the rest of his life.
On his eightieth birthday, someone asked him to relate his most vivid memory of that dreadful day.
He replied sadly, "Not one of the seventeen returned to thank me."
On His way to Jerusalem, while passing through the region between Samaria and Galilee,
Jesus came upon a band of ten lepers.
Leprosy is a chronic, infectious disease that primarily affects the skin, mucous membranes,
Its clinical name is Hansen's Disease.
The earliest reports of leprosy date all the way back to 3000 B.C.
The disease probably originated in the Indus valley, spreading from there to Mesopotamia
and North Africa and ultimately affecting all of Europe.
Although there are different types of leprosy, the earliest symptom is often loss of sensation
in a patch of skin, accompanied by general weakness, periods of fever, pain in joints and limbs.
In its nodular form the disease invades the nerves under the skin and the mucous membranes
of the nose and throat.
Lumps begin to form in the skin off the face.
Nerve damage may cause muscle paralysis.
Loss of sensation often results in unnoticed injuries, causing secondary infections.
More infection may result from blisters and ulcers forming on deadened skin.
As tissue dies and bone damage advances, the patient becomes more and more disfigured.
Leprosy is the least infectious of all the contagious diseases.
Advances in medicine and nutrition have all but eliminated the disease from the continental US.
Patients are no longer isolated in "leper colonies," but receive treatment
on an outpatient basis while leading an otherwise normally life.
That wasn't true in Biblical times.
In the Old and New Testaments.
Leprosy was a generic term for a variety off skin diseases, ranging from psoriasis
to ringworm to leprosy.
In ancient Israel and among the Jews of first century Palestine, if a person developed
an unhealthy skinny condition, he or she would have to go to a priest.
The priesthood was responsible for pronouncing a man or woman, leprous .
A verdict of leprosy meant that you were ceremonially unclean for as long as
your condition remained.
Ceremonial uncleanness was not a moral pronouncement; it didn't mean that you were
a bad or evil person; but it did mean that you could not participate in the religious rituals
of the community, which was a very serious issue.
As long as a leper was considered unclean, other members of the community could not
have contact with that leper without becoming unclean themselves.
When the leper's symptoms cleared up and the priest judged him clean,
and after certain rites off purification he could be readmitted to the worshiping community.
If the condition was ruled chronic, the leper was banished from society and ordered to dress
distinctively, announcing his uncleanness to anyone who approached him.
This was the hopeless condition of these ten lepers who cried out to Jesus:
"Jesus, Master, have mercy on us."
Nothing caused people in the ancient world to recoil with such horror and loathing
as the sight of these outcast lepers.
They were shunned by their communities and disowned by their families.
Others looked upon their leprous condition as divine punishment for their sins.
They had nothing left.
They were banned from human contact and were therefore forced to beg for mercy
and for food from a distance.
Luke relates their chorus of woe, and because they were compelled to keep their distance,
they were heard before they were seen.
Their continual cries alerted people to the fact that they were lepers, so the healthy
could keep their distance.
However, Jesus did not avoid these lepers.
They were waiting for Jesus, whom they hailed as Master.
They had heard of His healing touch, and they wanted Him to heal them.
He stood before them, and gave them the cure they needed.
It wasn't what they expected.
He told them to go to the temple and show themselves to the priest.
That was it!
All they had to do was to do what He had told them to do.
So they went, and as they did -- they were healed!
The hurried to the Temple to present themselves to the priests.
With divine authority, Jesus commanded them to give evidence of the healing which would
take place by doing what He said.
As they did as Jesus had told them, the lepers were restored to health they were whole again!
Ten lepers who were suffering a living death, had their life given back to them.
No longer would they be characterized by horrified cries of "leper, leper "!
They were no longer untouchable, unspeakable persons.
Once again sons and fathers and brothers could share their lives with their loved ones.
Nine of the lepers were Jews for whom the trip to Jerusalem to offer God homage in the
Temple was not just the customary thing to do -- it was also a moral and a spiritual imperative
These nine men disappeared from the pages of the gospel having received healing
and having performed the ritual inspection.
That was the end of the matter for them.
They had done their duty, but nothing more.
The one honorable exception was the Samaritan who threw himself at Jesus' feet
in gratitude for the miracle which had happened to him.
The Samaritan was the only one to demonstrate true spiritual depth by offering thanks
where thanks was due.
Jesus had gone out of His way to help him, and so he followed Jesus' example
by going out of his way to thank Him.
When Jesus dismissed him for the second time, he was also spiritually whole.
He leaves the pages of the gospel but we still remember him as a model of thanksgiving
for God's gracious healing of his leprosy.
We wonder, as Jesus did, what happened to the other nine.
They were saved from a fate worse than death.
They had no hesitation in receiving healing for their leprosy.
As far as we know, they were thankless.
It was this same thanklessness which haunted the mind and wounded the heart
of Edward Spencer for sixty years.
Surely, it also wounds the heart of Jesus, when we, who have been so greatly blessed,
are so thankless.
I can imagine Jesus looking out over this congregation and crying out, " I gave forgiveness
for their sins and life forever in heaven, but where are John and Bill and James and Mary
and Betty and Jane...?"
Let us not be found thankless!
Let us bow at His blessed feet and express our eternal gratitude, and let us give Him
our total dedication -- that is the gratitude that will truly please Him.
It is the heart which is grateful for God's amazing grace that is pleasing in His sight
and obedient to His Word.
Christ has gone to the Cross for our sake.
We should always be willing to take the time to thank Him by showing forth our praise,
not only with our lips but with our lives.
Sermon By Dr. Harold L. White