In the early hours of September 8, 1860, two boats would collide on Lake Michigan and become the greatest loss of life in the history of the Great Lakes. At approximately 2:30am, the Lady Elgin, a wooden-hulled side-wheel steamship was rammed by the schooner Augusta during a storm.
On board the Lady Elgin were over 400 people. Immediately, Captain Wilson ordered all the cargo tossed overboard and then lowered a lifeboat to inspect the damage. Inside, they worked to stuff mattresses in the hole in the side of the ship. Life preservers were never handed out and within 20 minutes, the ship broke apart and sank within minutes. Many of the passengers and crew went under and never stood a chance of survival. Others who went into the water grabbed anything they could to stay afloat.
Students from Northwestern University and Garrett Biblical Institute hear the news and swam out to look for survivors. One of the students, Edward Spencer, is credited with rescuing 17 passengers over the course of six hours. He continued to swim out and help until he finally collapsed from exhaustion and passed out. He ultimately sustained injuries that left him incapable of earning his degree and he became an invalid for the rest of his life.
While the passenger manifest was lost in the shipwreck, the final tally suggested over 300 lives were lost and just 98 survived. Edward Spencer was interviewed many years later. His final words spoke volumes when he said, “Not one of those 17 he rescued ever came back to meet him or even said thank you.”
In our scriptural passage today, we find a similar pattern of behavior. We begin in the 17th chapter of Luke, verses 11-19. Jesus had been on the road, teaching and healing the sick. He was headed towards Jerusalem, traveling on the boarder between Samaria and Galilee. Most Jewish travelers avoided going through Samaria because the two communities were enemies. As Jesus and his disciples approached an unnamed village, 10 men with leprosy saw him and they cried out to him.
Leprosy often begins with a small white patch on the skin, often on the face or hands, and then it spreads. It attacks the skin and the nerves and does extensive damage to the extremities. The disease can take as long as 30-years to run its course but it untimely leaves the person completely disfigured. It has been described as leaving the person with scaly or alligator type skin. Leprosy can also destroy the vocal cords.
Beth Moore, in her book ‘Jesus The One And Only’, tells of an occasion she was near a modern-day leper colony. While she wanted to minister to them, she said she walked by the entrance to the colony three times but couldn’t bring herself to go in. She saw those who were suffering. She longed to go inside but she could not. The reason? The smell overwhelmed her. The trip passed, she wrote, but she was not able to get past the smell and go inside.
Leviticus 13 gives the regulations about how to deal with skin diseases.
It was ultimately the job of the priest to inspect those with possible infections.
Verse 45-46 reads: “The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” As long as they have the infection they remain unclean. They must live alone; and they must live outside the camp.”
If those with leprosy lost their voice, they were required to wear a bell around their necks – and they were told to stand anywhere from 100 to 300 feet away from others. Their only contact was with others who also had leprosy. Touching someone with leprosy was akin to touching a dead body.
The word Leprosy in Hebrew means ‘to strike, to be smitten or to receive a blow’. The Jews believed that leprosy was caused by God afflicting the person because of past sins. It was, they believed, justified punishment and could only be cured by God alone.
The other thing I want you to notice is, that word of Jesus’ miracles and healings spread quickly, even to isolated groups like lepers. As these 10 men saw Jesus coming, somehow they knew who he was. They stood at a distance and called out in a collective loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
The disciples called Jesus Master or Teacher but what did it mean to these lepers? Master in Greek also refers to an important leader or official. Maybe they were expecting food or water – but they were most likely hoping for a miracle because they called him by name.
Notice, Jesus had not yet seen them but when he heard them he turned in their direction. I imagine his face softened and there was compassion in his eyes when he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” In other words, get re-evaluated.
But as they looked at themselves and each other, the disease was clearly still present. Maybe they thought this miracle of healing would take some time. Yet, they believed him and they left to do exactly as he said. It should be credited to them that they expected a miracle. Then as they were heading off to go to the Temple, they found that they were miraculously healed.
What must have been going through their minds as they noticed this? Joy? Relief? Excitement that they would see their families again? I imagine one of them saying, “Come on, let’s hurry and go see the priests so we can be pronounced clean!” At that point, they were no longer thinking about Jesus – but instead on what was ahead of them.
Have you ever noticed when something bad is happening we are often praying like crazy. But later on, more often then not, we forget to thank God for answered prayer.
It isn’t that we aren’t thankful; it’s just that we are so relived we kind of forget where our help really came from. Our attention has turned to something else.
As the ten men celebrate that they are now clean, 9 run off to go see the priests but one turned back to go see Jesus. He was oddly enough, a Samaritan, an outsider, the others were most likely Jews. Normally they would never be caught together – but disease, like sin, levels the playing field.
Albert Schweitzer calls that ‘The Fellowship of the Suffering”. It is a time when no barriers of race, religion, gender or nationality matter. All barriers are lowered.
The Samaritan who was healed wouldn’t need the declaration of being clean by the Jewish priest at the Temple. In fact, Samaritans were not allowed in the Temple, they were considered half-breeds since they were intermarried with gentiles. But surely, someone must have need to declare him clean. Still, this man did not run back home, instead, he ran towards Jesus. What did he know that the others missed?
While the Jews believed God alone heals, maybe this Samaritan really saw God at work in Jesus. I have to believe that is true – because of what happened next…This healed man comes back praising ‘God’ in a loud voice. Then, he threw himself humbly on his face at Jesus’ feet. And I imagine he was weeping as he thanked Jesus over and over again. Much like the woman who poured perfume over the feet of Jesus – and wiped it with her hair and tears, she was beside herself.
Then Jesus asked, “Were not all ten healed?” Clearly he knew the answer. “Where are the other nine? Has no one else retuned to give God praise but this foreigner?”
John’s Gospel begins with this sad observation, it reads, “He came to his own people and they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11-12).
Then Jesus looked down at the man at his feet and said, “Rise and go, your faith his saved you.” Some translations say, your faith has made you well but in this context it really refers to a deeper spiritual healing. This Samaritan had not only been healed in body, he also found saving grace and peace in Jesus Christ.
Evangelist Jack Hinton tells of how he was transformed ‘on one short-term mission trip’ to a leper colony. After he finished preaching he said, “I believe we have time for one more song, does anyone have a request?”
He said a woman ‘who had been facing away from the pulpit’ turned around and that is when he saw her face. He said, “It was the most hideous face I had ever seen. The woman’s nose and ears were entirely gone. The disease had destroyed her lips as well. She lifted a fingerless hand in the air and asked, ‘Can we sing, Count Your Many Blessings?'”
Overcome with emotion, Hinton left the service. He was followed by a team member who said, “Jack, I guess you’ll never be able to sing that song again.”
Jack replied, “Yes I will, – but I’ll never sing it the same way”.
We have so much to be thankful for. God never discriminates when he offers us his mercy, love and grace. It doesn’t matter what we have done, what we look like or how far we have strayed, he always welcomes us back home. How could we not offer him ‘real heart-felt praise’?
In our modern day world, we ‘too often give credit for healing to doctors, pills and treatments’ (not that they are bad) but fail to recognize the one who really heals. We tend to focus on what we can see and we miss the one who works behind the scenes. Everything we have comes from God.
William Ashley Sunday was an American athlete who, after being a popular outfielder in baseball’s National League during the 1880s, became the most celebrated and influential American evangelist in the early 1900’s. Most know him as Billy Sunday; he had a home here in Indiana and he often traveled to Chicago to preach. They say this is a true story about him…
In the early 1900s, a policeman was walking his beat in Chicago when he observed a man standing before a little mission. The man had removed his hat, and the officer thought he was acting rather strangely. Thinking the man might be drunk or ill, the policeman approached him.
He noticed that his eyes were closed, so he nudged him and said, “What’s the matter, Mac? Are you sick?” The man looked up and smiled. “No, sir. My name is Billy Sunday — I was converted right here in this mission. I never pass this way without taking the opportunity, if possible, to stand quietly for a moment and whisper a prayer of thanksgiving.”
Let me ask you this morning, “What are you thankful for?”
Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. once said, his mother told him to thank God in all circumstances and to especially thank God for ‘what he had left’. A friend later recounted that he want to Dr. King’s church after he lost his 2 sons (one was Martin Luther King Jr.) and his wife. He said that the Sr. Pastor King was preaching with tears in his eyes proclaiming, “Thank God for what’s left”.
I just wonder, Could you and I be thankful in those circumstances?
Your assignment is…. this Thanksgiving Season, thank God for what he has given you. Then, thank God for all of the things you have never had to endure. Next, thank God for all the future gifts ‘you have yet to receive’. And finally, thank God for everything you have left. (1Thess. 5:18)
Let’s be careful to thank God in Every season, for he is worthy of all our praise.
Happy Thanksgiving, Amen.