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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Mucked Up

2016-10-09 Luke 17:11-19 Mucked Up

I had a sermon pretty much finished for today. It was a cheerful little ditty about being thankful even when 9 out of 10 around you are not. And then a natural disaster blew onto the east coast and a man-made disaster spewed out of a mouth and onto the election. It's my own fault for being surprised. Thanks to satellite radar and scientific polling, we could see both of them coming. It was just a matter of time. But you can never prepare enough for disasters. It's hard to know which storm produced the most muck. Let the raking begin.

De-mucking is what they call clearing a construction site, or mopping, sweeping, and shoveling the remnants of a hurricane out of your flooded house. Getting down to the original land, scraping out the layers of mess from your home is hard and expensive work. There's always a cost.

Politicians may be the most public examples, but there comes time when we all have to de-muck our lives, or our minds, or even our souls. There's a cost involved there, too. It's hard work.

In today's lesson, Jesus de-mucks ten people from the physical and social filth that has plagued and stigmatized their lives. He made it look easy. But even then, there was a cost.

Even in the Bible, it takes some work to pull yourself out of the muck. The hard work of gratitude – real, heartfelt gratitude – is costly. It can hurt. Almost like being born again.




There was a story on "This American Life" yesterday about a man who was really good at doing bad things. By day, he was a mild-mannered worker at a health club. On Sundays, he was an impeccably groomed church member, with Italian shoes and silk shirts. But he also had a horrible gambling addiction. Every night he'd go to the casinos and lose his last penny.

He also was very good at climbing. One day, he just happened to think of Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, where he lowers himself by ropes into a room to make a heist. (Do you remember it?) So, the man got the idea of climbing on top of strip mall buildings in his neighborhood, opening the skylight, lowering himself down to clean out the money in the safe, and then climbing out.

It didn't take long before he became kind of a local celebrity. The police nicknamed him, "Spiderman". The problem with his plan, or lack thereof, was that you can only rob so many small businesses in your immediate neighborhood before somebody catches on. Which they did.

Interviewed years later, Spiderman talked about how he got no joy at all from his exploits. He hated both his addiction and his burglary skills. It took several trips to jail, a steadfast church, and constant 12-step meetings to get to the place where he has neither gambled nor dropped in on any businesses for more than ten years. For his new life, he is grateful. But his healing came at a terrible cost.


It sounds like Jesus was pleased that at least the unclean immigrant Samaritan turned around to say thank you. Sort of. He was also kind of disgusted.

In the eyes of the majority Jewish population, minority Samaritans were the scum of the earth. Their real sin, which doesn't seem so awful to us, but was abhorrent to Jesus's society, was that Samaritans worshipped at the wrong place. Yep. That's pretty much it. It's like they went to the wrong church, or worshiped the wrong God, or, more correctly, worshiped God wrong. And for that they were classified as dirty, disgusting muck.

Samaritans didn't recognize the Temple in Jerusalem as the rightful place of worship. Instead, they worshiped the God of Abraham at Mount Gerizim. Outrageous. They were weird and they were dangerous. Stranger danger. Jesus seems glad the one Samaritan came back to say thank you, but, not that glad. It also sounds like he was far more disgusted with the nine out of ten, citizens of God's kingdom who didn't bother giving thanks.

There's always a sense of privilege that comes with being in the majority. If you think you're owed good treatment, getting good treatment is a right, not something you give thanks for. You get what you're owed and it's about time. Do you know how long I've had to wait? I'm busy, too, Doctor Jesus. And this waiting room is cold as ice. I think you should give me this visit for free. (Which, in fact, is what Jesus did. Whereas the priests made a handy living curing people, Jesus broke union rules and gave healing away at no cost. Well, sort of.)

What we glide over is that there was indeed a cost to the Samaritan. First was the cost of humility. He did, after all, have to turn around and remember to say thank you.

Don't you hate it when the wrong person does the right thing? Jesus did, too.

It says,  

Then Jesus asked, 'Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?'


So, yes, the Samaritan had to humble himself to remember the manners his mama taught him, but more costly was setting aside his own dogma.

The real cost of healing was the price of his own sense of privilege.

Look what he does.

It says,

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him.

Then the clincher:

And HE was a Samaritan.

To worship God, to praise God, not at the holy mountain but at the feet of a Jew? Everybody and everything in his upbringing would have been screaming, "Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!" That's the wrong way to worship God. That's the wrong healer. That's the wrong faith, the wrong belief, the wrong messiah.

But Jesus says, 'Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.'

Did you catch that? This isn't a healing story. The healing's only ten percent of it. It's not a healing story; it's a conversion story. It's a spiritual de-mucking. Jesus and the man in his faith shoveled out the fossilized layers of stale, stinking arguments about where to worship and how to do it right, and they had a holy communion of the spirit right then and right there. Praise the Lord, they saw the light.



It makes me wonder. How often do I stop and give Jesus thanks, without the black robe of privileged pride? Without my terms and conditions? Without thinking God is with me so I must be some kind of muckety-muck?

How about you? How bold are you to be healed of your pride, cleansed of your sin, of deciding you'll take Jesus, but only on your terms?

Do you do it ten percent of the time?

Like the Samaritan, your faith can make you well.

But we all have to dig out a few layers oof muck to find it.