Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Over a hundred fifty years ago, in the days of great tall sailing ships, an English sailor broke his leg. Friends told him to write to the Royal Society of Physicians and tell them what he did to heal the fracture. He did write and he told the Society his story. He broke the leg by falling from the top of the mast. He dressed the broken limb with tar and fibers from a hemp rope. He smeared the tar on his leg and used the rope fibers. In three days, the sailor was able to walk just as well as he could before the accident. Physicians at the Royal Society expressed amazement at the sailor’s story. No one had ever suspected that tar and rope fibers had such healing powers. They doubted and questioned the use of tar on a broken leg, but the sailor stuck by his story. The Royal Society of Physicians may have remained puzzled for years, except for a postscript in the sailor’s last letter. In the PS, he wrote: “I forgot to inform you, your honors, but the leg -was a wooden one.”
Laughter and humor are two powerful gifts in the process of healing. The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth wrote, “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.” Even Martin Luther who was leery of overly serious Christians, said, “If you’re not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don’t want to go there.” Laughter and humor, you see, are God’s gifts to help people cope with threatening situations. Author Serene West once wrote that, “Laughter is a melody, a concert from the heart, a tickling by angels, creative living art. Laughter heals and comforts, sometimes gentle sometimes bold. Laughter is a freeing dance, performed within the soul.” Looking at life with a sense of humor and laughter provides a perspective that helps you keep things in balance when life seems unfair. Perhaps that is why the 10 lepers were gathered together in the no man’s land of life. In the company of broken people, they could laugh and cry together.
In this morning’s gospel, we read that Jesus was crossing the frontier between the regions of Samaria and Galilee where no Jew nor Samaritan would choose to live. It was in this abandoned and neglected region, that the unfortunate ten souls had found for themselves a collective shelter. They were victims of a common disease and tragedy. Leprosy. In the ancient world, it was the C word. Cancer. But there was no cure, nor was there even a race for the cure. The misbegotten were sent away to live out their days alone. And there, united by their pain and humiliation, the lepers knew no distinction between race, status nor religion. They were all forgotten wayfarers. They no longer looked upon themselves as men. They were simply their disease. And so we read, that the ten lepers stood far off. “Keeping their distance they called, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’”
Of course, we could pity the ten lepers for not knowing Jesus or what to ask for, in simply pleading for mercy, but thank goodness, Jesus knew what they needed. That is the wonder of the story, and perhaps the element that should make us laugh. Jesus showed the men mercy beyond their dreams. He heard their voices, and he told the ten lepers to go and show themselves to the priests who had sentenced them to the “no man’s land.” And to our delight, they went. Now we could be a bit cynical, and say, “Well, why not?” In times of need, many people turn to God. In anxious times, when we do not know what tomorrow will bring, we turn to God. Yes, even though we may seldom pray or acknowledge God’s presence in our lives, when our lives are tottering for reasons we cannot understand, we turn to God. We’re reminded of the words of Garrison Keillor, “Sometimes you just need to look reality in the eye, and deny it.”
Yet, in spite of the past, and regardless of their doubts, the ten men took a chance, and went on their way and while they were going they were healed. Interestingly, the lepers were not healed while waiting. They were healed while they were on their journey. The gospel teaches us that if the first step to healing is calling out and seeking God for what we desire, then the second step is to do what is asked of us. They alone were responsible for taking the next steps. And that meant hitting the road.
A friend of mine, Rob Ruff, who suffered his own bout with cancer this year, once wrote, “Another possibility (for battling an illness is) is the metaphor of a journey. With this image, having an illness takes us on a trip, a journey that will be marked by twists and turns, ups and downs, unexpected detours, smooth stretches of roadway, seemingly impassable rocky paths, enemies that threaten us as well as loved ones who support us. One is often changed even transformed by a journey. We learn lessons along the way, lessons we may never have learned if we hadn’t been set on this challenging path.” The lepers were healed and transformed along the way. And at Jesus’ invitation, they took the first steps.
There is a saying, “When one door closes, another door always opens-but these long hallways are a real drag.” God uses many gifts to keep us on our journey and to keep our perspective positive. He uses laughter, humor and human touch to bring about healing. They are signs of hope. Perhaps it was the laughter and humor of the little band of ten lepers that kept them hopeful that one day a miracle, just might happen.
And God promises to do the same for you. As goodness was restored to the lepers, so it will be restored to you. As they returned to their families and communities, so you will return to yours. No doubt, they were laughing and crying as they departed from the unknown region, never to return. But, please note, only one turned back to give thanks. As it is so often in life, once men, women and children, have gotten what they want, they never go back. Thankfulness, you see, is rare. And yet, I am convinced that for Christian men and women giving thanks is not simply a gesture which waits for the conclusion of a great act- the victory over an enemy. But for the Christian, giving thanks is another gift and means by which you are changed.
My friends, giving thanks is the Christian’s daily discipline of seeking nourishment for the body and soul. It is as important as laughter and humor and the support of company. Giving thanks is also a sign of hope and encouragement in a troubled world. Yes, ten lepers were cured, but the one who returned giving thanks, was made whole. Surgeons may perform miracles; teachers may open the students’ eyes to new ideas; political leaders may create amazing military coalitions; and generals may win the battles, but it is God alone who brings wholeness and well- being to the anxious heart. Give thanks to God, and he will whisper to you as well, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.