Communicating the Gospel
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
11 October 1998
Luke Chapter 17:11-19
On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no-one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."
Ten men have leprosy, they ask Jesus to have pity on them, seek his healing power to touch their lives. Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests, which is something they would have to do to prove that they were well and could resume life in normal society. They go and they are cleansed from their illness. One of them returns to Jesus praising God in a loud voice, throws himself at Jesus feet and thanks him.
Jesus then asks where all the others are, they too were cleansed why have they not returned? Well you can probably guess why they hadn't returned, they probably all had good excuses. But this one man—actually a Samaritan—a foreigner, is one who does say thank you to Jesus and Jesus makes a fundamentally important reply to him. Jesus tells him
'Rise and go, your faith has made you well'
Throughout the episode the men had asked for cleansing, Jesus has stated that they were cleansed, but in this last phrase Jesus uses a different word. He doesn't say 'Rise and go your faith has cleansed you' but rather 'Rise and go, you faith has made you well.'
The word which Jesus uses for 'well' is the Greek word 'sesoken.' We would translate this better as 'Your faith has saved you'. The point is this- Jesus is not simply speaking about healing, this man has discovered something more than physical healing of his disease, he has discovered salvation. Healing of the body and not of the soul is useless, it is temporary, the healing which Jesus is much more concerned about, is salvation through faith. The man is not just delighted to be free from leprosy, he is aware that his healing is a blessing from God. The faith which he has discovered has moved him to enable him to be brought into Christ's kingdom.
Think how that man must have felt. He had lived with the stigma of a physical curse which alienated him from other people and now he was declared well. He had been given a life, which he never knew he had. Now think what it must have been like for him when he spoke with the other lepers—
'let's go and thank Jesus and praise God for all he has done for us.'
The other nine perhaps looked at him blankly,
'no need, we're better now, what do we need to go and do
This Jesus might want something from us, he might expect a gift, or want us to follow him.'
They receive their physical sight but their hearts are still far from God, their spiritual eyes are blind. For Jesus the miracle of making him the lepers better is great, but the greater miracle is the one of faith. This is a part of the tragedy of modern medicine, we can take people into hospital and do all manner of operations to restore sight, we can remove cataracts in operations which are like removing scales from peoples eyes, but we cannot remove spiritual blindness. To open our spiritual eyes is a whole lot more difficult—no wonder Jesus said earlier in this gospel in Luke 10:23
'Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.'
Jesus was not speaking about the physical pleasure of seeing and hearing him, but rather the spiritual discernment which was such a blessing. Do you ever feel infuriated by those around you who show no capacity to open their lives to discover God and thank him for their being? I hope you do, because I hope that you see it as a God given responsibility to witness to Christ in deed and word and to play your part in offering people the opportunity to discover God in the wilderness of unbelief. It can be infuriating to speak and deal with people who are completely and utterly unconcerned about the nature of our faith. To be confronted by the hollowness of lives lived without recognition of God. Jesus felt this himself, I think his words have an element of reproach in them to all those who have received the benefits of his healing and without any change of heart, any repentance or returning to glorify God. 'Where are the nine' he says?
If ever you get frustrated with your inability to communicate your faith. If you are surrounded by people who scoff at your faith and make fun of your naïve belief. If you struggle to think of answers to the criticisms which they make of the church, God, other Christians- then take heart. Even with his persuasive powers of healing, Jesus only had a 10% success rate!
And so nothing changes. People today are no different than they were with Jesus, pre-occupied with themselves, too busy to thank God for the benefits which surround them. One of the problems of having growing children is that you have to become increasingly more concerned with your language. The odd expletive to an inconsiderate fellow road user can be quickly incorporated into the speech of a developing child. Some word are called 'daddy words' because whilst better suited to a battle field than a convent they are occasionally heard but never to be repeated. But there is one word which is banned in the Royden household, it must never be uttered. The word is 'bored.' It is a word which carries with it a whole package of attitudes and I cannot abide it. I think that its use is indicative of an undercurrent which infects our children which has permeated society. As a society we have to be constantly indulged, in order to distract ourselves from a sense of boredom.
Jesus warned people not to become focused on possessions which are here to day and gone tomorrow and that is as true today as it was then, we need more and more shining baubles to distract us from the boredom of living. But we are also an increasingly hedonistic people, needing to be amused, but always missing the real pleasure of living. It is one of those contradictions of modern society, we live in an age of communication but people feel increasingly isolated, we live in an age of information technology but people have not discovered greater truth.
What am I getting at!? Just like Jesus, just like those early disciples who were martyred for their faith and proclamation of it, we are still surrounded by people who need Jesus but don't know it. They will still live desperately unfulfilled lives and seek all manner of amusements to fill the cavity but will go away empty inside. The message of Christ, faith in Him, is the only hope for our society, our families, friends work colleagues. But don't be deceived its not easy to get that message across to people who are pre-occupied with themselves.
I am often saddened by the responses of people I meet—but I think probably now never surprised. For many years, with some justification, people said that the reason that they never went to church was because of the church and the kind of place it is. Nowadays I think that is less the case. Frequently people who visit our church say to me on the door 'I am amazed at how the church has changed, we really enjoyed the service.' But only a small proportion come back. They go away and think of another excuse not to have to be bothered with God.
As a church we are in the business of faithful worship encouraging Christian service, obedience and and faithfulness. We are not here on a Sunday for self-indulgent entertainment or to make ourselves feel better. There is a price involved in being a servant of Christ. So that whilst as a church we are growing in many ways and we see new church members and we desperately want new church members, we must never be surprised that many people do not come back. Jesus is not surprised at slow church growth or reluctant worshippers. We make our service accessible to visitors, we are faithful in public worship and private prayer, we prepare our sermons thoughtfully and prayerfully,—BUT we are under no illusions, it is far easier to restore physical sight than to open the eyes of faith.
Today's sermon is in a way a reality check and I hope that it isn't depressing! It should have the effect of encouraging you—not to be despondent if you find that communicating the good news is not easy or apparently amazingly successful. I leave you with one other very positive thought. You today are like the man who returned to offer yourselves to Jesus, you recognise his role in restoring your life to you and you want to serve and follow him. But I am sure that for each one of us there are things which we should be grateful for, but for which we forget to say thank you. Don't leave church this morning before you recognise one thing for which you should be really grateful and thank God.