Saturday, October 13, 2007

Red Dirt Ramblings: Where Are the Other Nine?

Where Are the Other Nine?
Lectionary Inspiration from Cameroon
Luke 17:11-19

I am preaching this Sunday at the International Fellowship in Yaounde, before a congregation of fellow missionaries.

Over the past week, I have found myself reflecting on Jesus’ question, “Where are the other nine?”

Good question. We reserve our praise and commendation for the one lone leper who returned to say, “Thanks!” to Jesus. And we heap our scorn on those other nine.

But to be fair, those other nine were following Jesus’ exact words … He told them to go and show themselves to the priests. Period. He didn’t say they should dilly-dally or spend extra time writing sentimental thank-you notes. He said, “Go!” If anything, they might have been a little legalistic, but they don’t deserve our scorn.

Besides, imagine their pure excitement over being healed. They couldn’t wait to tell their friends, their family, the neighbors, CNN, or whomever else would listen.

Albert Schweitzer, the great 20th century missionary physician, defends the nine in his Memories of Childhood and Youth. Let me quote him extensively on this story:

… I refuse to think that there is so much ingratitude in the world as is commonly maintained. I have never interpreted the parable of the Ten Lepers to mean that only one was grateful. All the ten, surely, were grateful, but nine of them hurried home first … One of them, however, had a disposition which made him act at once as his feelings bade him; he sought out the person who had helped him, and refreshed his soul with the assurance of his gratitude. In the same way we ought all to make an effort to act on our first thoughts and let our unspoken gratitude find expression.

In my sermon tomorrow, I plan to throw out the idea that all ten of the lepers became followers of Jesus, and went into “the ministry.” I speculate that some of them became missionaries to other lepers; others went to work for NGOs and humanitarian organizations to help the plight of their former peers in the leper colony. I can even imagine that one or two became popular inspirational speakers and authors, as they related the story of how they were healed dramatically by Jesus.

But I also plan to show that, according to the story, only one healed leper knew the secret of effective ministry … nurturing and maintaining an attitude of thankfulness.

So many pastors, teachers, bishops, missionaries and other church-related workers go about their work motivated by a number of different reasons, some of which can be good and noble, others of which are base, mean and largely subconscious. But I have become convinced that only gratitude truly greases the wheel of Christian service.

We can never DO the work of God in a dark world until we are motivated first by what God has DONE for us … We can never LOVE the world in the name of Christ until we are first filled with the LOVE of Christ for us …

Another great 20th century missionary, Lesslie Newbigin, put it this way:

The Christian is one who has forever given up the hope of being able to think of himself as a good man. He is forever a sinner for whom the Son of God had to die because by no other means could he be forgiven. In a sense we can say that he has given up the effort to be good. That is no longer his aim. He is seeking to do one thing and one thing only – to pay back something of the unpayable debt of gratitude to Christ who loved him as a sinner and gave himself for him. And in this new and self-forgetting quest he finds that which -- when he sought it directly – was forever bound to elude him – the good life.

The challenge to my own calling as a missionary is clear … am I motivated by pride in my work, by acclaim, by success, by guilt … or by an overwhelming thankfulness to the One who has brought me this far by his amazing grace?