A Sermon for Covenant
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
October 13, 2013
Kyndall Rae Rothaus
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
“As they went, they were made clean,” so the story goes. Here is the thing about as-you-go healing: First of all, it is how most of us are healed. Not in the blink of an eye in a split-second encounter with God, but on the journey, along the way, going towards wherever it is God has instructed us to go. Along the path of fidelity, or what Eugene Peterson calls “a long obedience in the same direction”: it is in the going, as we plod along, that we heal. Even if we are a bit cynical or skeptical or reluctant as we put one foot in front of the other, we will often be surprised at what happens along the way.
Sometimes, or often, this as-you-go healing is gradual such that we hardly even recognize it is happening until we look down one day at our once-crusted skin and see instead it is fresh and clean and we don’t even know when it happened, the alteration from disease to glory. Like a piercing headache, you curse the pain when it is there, wanting it to leave you, but once the pounding begins to fade, you don’t always notice it is happening until suddenly it occurs to you, “I’m not in pain anymore.”
This is what I imagine happened to these fellows—lepers for years and years and then one long walk that gradually, imperceptibly cleaned them out until they looked down and were startled by the new look of their own hands and their own legs.
I wonder how long they stayed there, stopped in their tracks, marveling, running giddy fingertips over baby-fresh skin? After smelling of rotting flesh for far too long, did they now smell like infants? But I also wonder, how disappointed were they earlier in the day, having worked up the courage to call out to Jesus, then seemingly being turned away and told to go see the priest instead?
Another thing about as-you-go healing is that sometimes you forget to say thank you. You may feel the inner relief when you notice what has happened to you, but you may never express it out loud. You may even be feeling bitter that it took so blasted long.
But for those who do come back, who turn, praise, fall to their knees, and say the words, “Thank you, thank you, thanks be to my God”—for those who do that, well, that is when things get interesting . . .
When you return to say thanks, that is when you learn, there is more to heal. Notice how Jesus tells the already-healed leper, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well,” as if something else just happened other than the healing we already know about, the one we could see with our eyes. Was this man healed on the inside too? Did the power of God course through his veins a second time, rearrange his inner life in ways we’ll never know, in ways perhaps the man himself didn’t even know to ask for? That is what I think is happening right here: a second, further healing.
And notice how similar Jesus’ instructions compared to the first time, “Go on your way.” Once again, the command to go. Keep walking, keep traversing and who knows what else might heal along the way? A third, a fourth, a fifth miracle may meet you on the road.
As best I can tell, the healing we need from Jesus is always onion-layers deep because the pain and trauma and evil we have endured is layers deep too and in nearly every human case I know, healing happens bit by bit, layer by layer, as you go, and as you give thanks.
Did you notice how Jesus links gratitude and faith in this event? The man returns to say thank you, and Jesus calls this faith. “Your faith has made you well,” he says. Sometimes we think of faith as this daunting, difficult thing reserved for the doubtless; we could never attain it. But what if faith is gratitude? What if expanding our capacity for gratitude is an expansion of our faith?
The world can be a cruel place and I would never act as if gratitude is always easy. I would never be flippant about evil, or pain, or suffering, never naïve about the complexities of injustice, mental illness, strained relationships, chronic illness, etc. as if one can just feel grateful amidst the fatigue of distress.
We have no idea how that leper felt—for all we know, he was confused that Jesus sent him away or embarrassed that he was Samaritan or ashamed of his past—all we really know for sure is that he took his transfigured body back to the feet of Jesus and made himself open his mouth and say with his words what he was thankful for.
Gratitude changes things. It is not just a nifty trick for avoiding the reality of pain. It is a real tool for transforming perspective, unlocking further healing, and significantly increasing your joy.
I only have the guts to suggest this to you because I’ve literally tried it in my darkest hours and seen what it can do, the faith of being thankful. I’m not saying I got any instant fixes from stopping to say thanks. But I do think we can get a bit of tunnel vision when we are going through something hard and all we see is the negative with no sign of light at the end of it. Or sometimes we get the same tunnel vision just plain going through the mundane. Gratitude is something we have to wake up to; we’re rarely already wired with an alertness to the good. It’s an electricity we have to practice activating, but once we flip the switch, such a simple act is found to unleash power.
This does not mean grateful people always feel good. We still have bad days, want-to-stay-in-bed days, despair-of-consistent-happiness days. We all have hours or seasons where we crumple. But the lonesome hour does not define us, because by practicing gratitude, we escape the illusion that our lives are the sum total of our failures, disappointments, and the grievances against us. We are MORE than all the sorrows and evil we have born, and as we say thank you for the kindnesses we have known, those long-lived sorrows resurface in such a way that they might begin to be healed over time.
Gratitude, though it may sound easier to attain than the faith to heal, gratitude still requires intentionality, the energy to repent, to turn around from your self-focused walking and express to another, “I am grateful for the way you intersected my journey.” Maybe the other nine were grateful, at least as a fleeting thought, but they did not recognize that expressing it out loud would lodge the thankfulness and joy past the surface into a deeper place. And while they got their first miracle, they may have just sealed themselves off from further joy by their failure to fully appreciate what they had been given.
When we get stuck in a mucky place, there are ways we can begin to wedge ourselves forward into the healing light of God. Instead of making a mental list of all we still need, we can make lists of what we have. Instead of drawing a map of where we need to go, we can map how far we have come. Instead of complaining, we can make a phone call or write a note to someone who has done something we appreciate. Instead of despairing over how our lives are going, we can pay attention to someone else’s life long enough to say, “I am thankful for you.” Instead of scurrying ahead with a scowl, we can pause and smile. This is no quick-fix or easy solution; as-you-go healing may be for you a far longer road than you ever wanted it to be. But you can, by small acts of gratitude, keep positioning yourself in a place to receive some cleansing.
“And,” our text adds this footnote, “and he was a Samaritan.” I take that to mean, in part, that it matters not who you are or where you come from or how unlikely your healing. Anyone can experience healing and anyone can choose to rejoice. Perhaps because he had come from such a lowly place, gratitude was more readily his response
Whoever you are, wherever you’ve come from, however unlikely your healing, I suspect there is at least one thing—tiny as it may be—one thing worth thanking God for, or, if you’re mad at God, one thing worth expressing gratitude for, even if you don’t address the thanks to Anyone specific. Whoever you are, wherever you’ve come from you, however unlikely your healing, I pray this prayer for you today: that as you go along your way, you may heal. That however hard the journey, there may be moments where you can smile, and that with each smile, you would be watering the seed of faith, even if you don’t realize that is what your smiles are capable of. That as you walk along, Jesus or Miracle or Love would meet you on the road, not once, not twice, but again and again and again and that layer by layer by deep-buried layer, you would be made well. Amen.