Okay, certainly by now, after all we’ve been through in our political process, everyone knows about the 1 percent, and the 99 percent, and the 47 percent. But do we know about the 10 percent?
Given the fact that this is Pledge Sunday, somebody out there may automatically assume the preacher is going to lay on us a guilt trip sermon on tithing. You know, giving 10 percent of one’s income to the church. And while tithing is a good biblical thing, and while we do have people in this church who tithe, including both pastors — in the end it’s about gratitude, it’s about thankfulness. It’s about recognizing that what we give to the church in time, talent, and money is a significant measure of our gratitude, our thankfulness.
Our stewardship theme for this year comes from Psalm 116:12, “What will I give to (the Lord) for all his benefits toward me?” How do you hear that? One way to hear is to recognize the rhetorical nature of the question: Can we really return anything for all God’s blessings? Aren’t God’s blessings priceless? Is “paying God back” even a real consideration? I mean, when it comes to giving back, do we ever think of God as some sort of hired hand that we compensate for services rendered, whom we don’t have to thank?
Another way to hear this verse — “What shall I return to the Lord for all his benefits toward me?” — is to recognize that while it is a rhetorical question, it does in fact call for a response. No, we cannot repay God, but we can respond to God’s bounty with grateful, thankful lives.
That’s our call today, nothing more, nothing less. Gratitude, thankfulness — that’s what pledge Sunday is all about.
But still, the question persists, “What will I give to (the Lord) for all his benefits toward me?” If a life of gratitude and thanks is the answer to the question, then what does such a life look like?
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Jesus and the disciples were on their way to Jerusalem and traveling through an in-between sort of area. On the one side was Jewish Galilee, and on the other side Samaritan Samaria. Suddenly, ten lepers approach Jesus and cry out to him for merciful healing. They don’t get too close because they’re good rule followers and the rules state that you if you are a leper, if you are “unclean,” you have to stay a certain distance from people who don’t have leprosy, people who are (ritually) clean.
Jesus happily heals them and tells them to go show themselves to the priests who have to pronounce them clean. And like good little rule followers all ten start out on their way to the priests to get that priceless clean bill of health. And along the way, as they are walking, we’re told, their leprosy disappears! They’re healed! They all rejoice in their healing and they keep right on going to make an appointment with the priests. Well, all of them except one. One ex-leper turns around and heads back to find Jesus. And when he finds Jesus, he doesn’t try to thank Jesus by shaking his hand, or even by kneeling before him. No, this guy prostrates himself before Jesus as a way of thanking him, as of way of showing his gratitude.
Now, let’s think about this. By prostrating himself before Jesus, by laying his whole body on the ground, his face in the dirt, this ex-leper was actually engaging in an act of worship! It was a none to subtle profession of faith in Jesus as the Healing Word, the great I AM, as God in the flesh.
But Jesus has a question for the man, “There were ten of you guys. Where are the other nine?”
Now, part of me says, “That’s not a fair question, Jesus. You know where they are! You know what they’re doing! They’re on their way to the priests! They’re being good rule followers! THEY’RE DOING WHAT YOU TOLD THEM TO DO!”
But Jesus knows all of that. He’s just asking about the whereabouts of the other nine as a way highlighting this one, this one in ten, this 10 percent-er.
What’s unique about this guy is that he felt gratitude in his gut. He felt a deep and abiding need to go back and thank Jesus, express his gratitude, even if that meant not following the rules. This one loved God so much that obedience to the rules had become beside the point. This 1, this 10 percent-er was so grateful that he could do nothing other than give 100 percent of his thanks to Jesus.
Have you ever been that grateful? So grateful that it overwhelms you?
I have to admit the closest I’ve been to that kind of uncontrollable gratitude was when our son Alex was born (and then again when he left home!). But I’d like to think every day I am consciously grateful for the bounty God has blessed me with. I’d like to believe we, as church family — we are consciously grateful for the bounty God has blessed us with. But I’m not sure we’re all going to prostrate ourselves on the floor of the chancel as we bring our pledges forward. Then again, we might be surprised.
But we’ve left out one important part of the story that we desperately need to hear. The one who came back to Jesus, the one in ten, the 10 percent-er was a Samaritan! Jesus loves to throw that in to upset those who think they have an inside track to God’s gracious saving bounty; to turn upside down the idea that “rules” can somehow save you. And, of course, the reason this is important to us is that, well, we sometimes think we’re insiders too who deserve, or are entitled to, God’s bounty. What I mean is we live good lives, we follow the rules. So don’t we sometimes think God owes us a blessing or two for all our virtuous, upright behavior?
It’s always good to remember that God’s bounty is given in grace. In other words, God’s bounty cannot be earned or deserved, it is even showered upon the ungrateful. Because, after all, no one can force you to be thankful, to be grateful. I’m not even sure if anyone can convince or persuade you to be thankful, to be grateful. It has to come from the heart as you recognize the plethora of blessing, of bounty, that makes up your life. Only through faith are we able to see the gracious hand of God at work.
The one ex-leper who came back had such faith. Jesus even acknowledges it when he announces to that one, “Your faith has saved you.” Not only is he free of leprosy, but he has been saved by grace through faith!
“What shall I return to the Lord for all His bounty to me?” that’s the first question, and the second is like it, “Where are the nine? Where are the 90 percent?” Oh, but we know where they are, because sometimes “we” are “they.” Sometimes we can be found being nothing more than good rule followers inside and outside the church.
So maybe the most immediate question on this pledge Sunday is “Where is the one?”:
Where is the one who knows the depth and height and width of gratitude?
Where is the one who lives a life full of grateful response for all God’s bounty?
Where is the one?
Is that one among us?
Are you that one?
Are we the 10 percent?
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2012, Jeffrey K. London. Used by permission.