In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Last week we heard that it is the grace of Christ alone that can create and sustain a spirit of servanthood in our Christian life. A servanthood that freely responds to God's gift of salvation by serving God and neighbor without thought of reward or personal merit. As we heard our Lord say last Sunday morning, true, Christ-like service responds with the words, "We have only done what was our duty."
But today's readings from Holy Scripture somehow remind me of the golden rule each of us were taught as little kids: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Use your common sense about what behavior you would desire from others when dealing with your neighbor. Everyone likes to be recognized and appreciated and listened to. Everyone likes to be treated with fairness and honesty. Everyone likes relationships that benefit themselves as well as others.
And so we go through life trying to be nice to others — at least in public — at least some of the time. We hold the door open at the store for old men with canes. We are polite with the person in front of us at the post office. We wait our turn at the DMV. We even try to be friendly with people we don't know much about as we wait to get out of the sanctuary after Sunday morning service. Because we've all been told: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Christians remind themselves of the Golden Rule. They put these words on stickers and toys and Christian story books for children.
Others who follow Confucius remind themselves of the Silver Rule (it's kind of the Golden Rule in reverse): "Don't do to others what you would not want them to do to you."
That means, if you don't want to be kicked in the shins - don't kick anyone in the shins. If you don't want to be beaten up on the playground, don't beat anyone up on the playground. If you don't want to be cut off on the freeway don't cut off people on the freeway. If you want your pencil back without teeth marks on it, don't start chewing on a pencil you borrowed from a friend.
These are great and indispensable rules to live by. They help keep everything from getting out of hand. They keep the speed of our cars in check. They help keep arguments from becoming fist-fights. They keep our outward behavior in check - in our homes and at our school and in the workplace and in our apartment building. They keep order when we find ourselves stuck between floors in a crowded elevator or in the middle of a 50% off sale at Target or around the family dinner table after having a personally long or difficult day at work or school.
But there's another kind of rule we often find ourselves living by. It sometimes seems to be quite reasonable. One of those "common sense" kinds of dictums that even Ben Franklin would follow: "Show kindness and grace to those who will acknowledge it. Show love and mercy and forgiveness to those who appreciate it. Be kind and loving to those who will return the favor."
But this proverb comes from the wisdom of a fallen world and the world's religions and our own worldly nature. "Give it out only when there's some guarantee that you'll get at least some of it back. Why give of yourself when it's not appreciated and returned?"
You probably know someone who uses this approach as their secret guideline in making decisions about who they will allow into their life and who they won't allow into their life. What they will do for one person, and what they just won't do for another.
The world tells us: "Invest where you can get the greatest return." And there's a part of each of us that takes this kind of wisdom to heart — when we're dealing with the stock market — when we're shopping for a personal savings account — when we're evaluating our friendships and family.
Too often this is our approach when it comes to showing concern and mercy and grace and forgiveness and care to others. "Where am I going to get the biggest bang for my buck?" we secretly ask ourselves. "Who's going to appreciate me the most? Who's going to give me the nicest thank you card? Who's going to tell everyone else what a great and glorious person I am? Where am I going to get the loudest applause?" Because a part of each of us wants to live a life of guaranteed returns on our investment — guaranteed returns on our investment in the lives of others.
For example, take the self-help section of your neighborhood Barnes and Noble. Dollars to donuts you'll see more than one paperback that will walk you through the logic and rewards and strategies of avoiding or eliminating all of those hard-to-get-along-with people in your life that drain you of energy or make your life so frustrating. You'll find books with titles like: "Twelve Steps to End Letting Others Take Advantage of You." "Your Right to Enjoy Your Life Your Way." and "How to Make Everyone in Your Life Appreciate You."
Yes, each of us have become a little defensive in our old age. We've reached out with love and concern for others and have been quickly disappointed or hurt.
And that's where God in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit begins to show us that there are no guarantees in this world of sin. There are no secret formulas when it comes to others appreciating the good we think we have said and done.
Because we too have been less than appreciative. We also have found ourselves unable or unwilling to give back — sometimes even a little in response to the good God has given us through others.
The Holy Scriptures shines the spotlight on the chilling reality that when it comes to a lack of proper appreciation — when it comes to a lack of responding to kindness with kindness and grace with grace and forgiveness with forgiveness and sacrifice with sacrifice, all fallen children of our first parents are caught red-handed.
We decide to un-invite Uncle Fred to our Thanksgiving Day dinner because he never stops complaining about his health conditions. We only go out to lunch with those who never criticize us or always laugh at our jokes. We neglect opportunities to cultivate a relationship with our neighbor down the street who once complained about our dog barking or the time we left the garbage cans out on Friday.
And then we hear the words of our Lord. Not only the words about the golden rule, but the words from the lectern this morning:
On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19 ESV)
Christ does the unexpected, unreasonable, illogical thing as he journeys to Jerusalem: he heals diseased people who had lost the ability to properly appreciate the Messiah or his healing work as a foretaste of the great healing he was to accomplish when he finally reached Jerusalem.
Christ comes and speaks a word of healing and restoration — independent of any thought about which among the ten would give back a goodly amount of praise and thanksgiving.
Why couldn't Jesus just have stuck with the playbook the fallen world and our old, fallen nature follows? Why couldn't Jesus just come and announce: I have come to give you a bit of forgiveness, a sprinkle of grace, and piece of salvation — to see what you will do with it. How much you will make of it. And then, if you appreciate me enough, I might give you a little more.
What does Christ give to unappreciative people? A trial size dose of salvation?
Thanks be to God that, as we hear in the Epistle this morning, even when we are unfaithful, Christ is faithful — to his heavenly Father, to his mission to redeem the world, and to his eternal promises.
Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem to give all. To give all he was and all he had not simply for those who might pay it all back.
Jesus laid down his very life for all. For all ten lepers. For you and me and every other unappreciative person who couldn't even begin to save themselves from the disease of not thanking God enough, not serving their neighbor enough, not trusting in our will-do-whatever-it-takes-to-redeem-us Lord.
Christ died for the sins of the whole world. Christ died for the sin of an unthankful heart, that he would resurrect proper appreciation in the hearts and minds of all who would believe.
Do you find a song in your heart for all the gifts given to you by Christ Jesus through his cross and tomb? Do you find yourself praising God for the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism? Do you find yourself hungering for his Supper from his altar?
Then give thanks for even that gift. Because it is Christ who gets credit for your ability to honor and bless and praise him.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit