Nine Times Out of Ten
I feel like I should tell you that up front. Maybe it’s because our text deals with a cure for leprosy or maybe it’s our post-enlightenment, postmodern worldview, but I feel like I should tell you that I believe in miracles.
By this, I mean to say that I believe miracles are those moments when God intervenes in supernatural ways or unexpected places.
I believe in miracles, because I believe God is at work in this world.
I believe in miracles,because I believe we all have wounds and maladies and circumstances in need of healing.
A story like today’s can often lean us to focus in one of two directions. Either we become distracted by the seeming impossibility of Jesus healing leprosy, or we dwell on the one person who returned to thank Jesus. He becomes a model for us to be grateful for when God works in our lives.
But today I’m focused on the other nine we don’t ever hear from again.
If I’m honest with myself, when I place myself in this text, I’m more often than not, one of the other nine who left. I’m on to the next thing without noticing God has been at work in my life, or I’m so blown away that the excitement moves me into a different frame of mind altogether.
Or maybe put another way, 9 times out of 10 I don’t thank God, when God moves in my life or in the world around me.
I don’t think that makes me bad or ungrateful.
It means I don’t notice how often God is really alive and active in my life. Attuned to my concerns and attentive to my needs. In short, God might not heal leprosy, or cure cancer, but God heals all the time.
It just might not be how we are expecting it to happen.
“I couldn’t believe that somebody who had known me only two days would do this. It was almost like a dream.” Jonathan Pinkard was experiencing homelessness, was in need of a heart transplant, but was ineligible because he didn’t have a support system in place for after the transplant.
“I had no idea what I was going to do. It was a pretty scary situation to be in.”
A few months later he was back in the hospital again when he was introduced to his nurse, Lori Wood. Two days into his care, after she learned of his situation, being ineligible for a heart transplant, she “stunned him with a remarkable offer”
In short, she offered her home to him, and legal guardianship, so he’d have a support system in place.
“At some point, God places people in situations in your life, and you have a choice to do something about it.”
Since then, Pickard has received a heart transplant, and he continues to improve with the help of his “second mama.”
I believe in miracles.
How many times do we reference Teresa of Avila’s quote that Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands or feet or literal hearts but yours. When we love one another, we join in God’s ongoing work in the world, and we become partners in creating the world Isaiah dreams about in our first reading. We become healers for people in need of hope and resurrection.
Of course, the reality is that each of us is in need of that hope too, for ourselves. For our loved ones.
Some of you in this room think of healing often. Diagnoses, mental health challenges, financial burdens, chronic pain, messy divorces, fractured families, despair, meaninglessness, grief, loneliness, broken hearts, broken dreams, broken faith.
You may not be afflicted with leprosy, but it feels equally insurmountable.
Hear the words of God this morning:
God is still moving.
God is still active in this world.
God is still at work in you.
So often, that I would bet that 9 out of 10 times you don’t even realize it.
Which isn’t to say you’re bad or ungrateful, but that maybe you just haven’t had the eyes to notice. Not because you lack faith in God, but because you can’t help but doubt.
The leper who returned wasn’t healed because he was grateful. He was healed before that. The purpose of gratitude isn’t that it will heal everything; systemic racism will still exist.
Wars and cancer will still rage.
But gratitude will obligate you to remember the places God has been present in your life. And if God has been present that many times — every time — and been active all these times, then wherever you find yourself today or in two months or in twenty years, maybe it will be a reminder to you that the God of miracles will be there, then, too.
Which is a roundabout way of coming to this Pledge Sunday. A day when we corporately offer our lives to God, divvied up by our time and resources, for the coming year of ministries through this church. And we’re still going to do that. But before we can really do that well, authentically for ourselves, we ought to pause and reflect on what God has done and is doing in us and through us in our personal lives.
So, you have two index cards you should have received this morning. On the first card, I want you to spend some time these next few moments, reflecting on what you’re thankful for. Church-related, life-related, health, family, friends, whatever. And write that down. Some of you have already responded to me this week with what you’re grateful for.
On the second card, after you’ve written what you’re grateful for, write down how you will join in God’s work in this world through this church specifically. Maybe it’s a Pledge of money, we’ve certainly focused on the idea of committing more deeply over the past few weeks. Maybe it’s a Pledge of time, that you’ll join in some of our Transform and education work, or other outreach priorities or ministries in the church life. Maybe it’s a Pledge of your giftedness, musically or teaching or knitting or elsewhere.
Think about how the first index card might inform the second.
Finally, in a few minutes, for our moment of commitment, I’ll encourage you to do one more thing.
You’ll hold onto the first index card with what you’re grateful for. Let it be a guide to you to find God in the nine out of ten times we miss God.
You’ll then bring the second card, how you plan to commit to the church this year, along with your pledge cards if you brought them, and you’ll place them in the basket before you as a corporate act of worship and joining our lives to God’s work in and through this church. Think of it as our way of following the example of the one person with leprosy who returned to say thank you to Jesus.
Spend these next few moments in reflection, in gratitude, in commitment.
I believe in miracles.
As you begin writing, I bet you will too.
Sermon preached at First Baptist Worcester, MA on November 17, 2019
Isaiah 65:17–25; Luke 17:11–19