Back to Index

Where Are The Nine?
October 10 and 11, 1998

LUKE 17:11-19

"Where are the nine?" asked Jesus. Ten lepers were healed, only one came back to say thank you. "Where are the nine?" Leprosy is a horrible skin disease that eats tissue leaving deformed hands, feet, faces. Lepers were isolated. They existed by themselves. They were required to notify others when they were approaching so the "normal" people would have time to avoid them. In the Middle Ages, lepers wore bells, like cows, so the ringing of a bell in the distance gave notice that a leper was approaching.

When lepers in Jesus' day felt that they were cured, the procedure required them to be checked by a priest. If the priest gave them a clear bill of health, they could then return to society. So, when the ten lepers called to Jesus from a distance, asking for mercy, Jesus told them to go in faith to a priest. I imagine when you are a desperate leper, you are willing to try anything, so off they went. While they were walking, they noticed that their leprosy was clearing. They were miraculously healed!

Can you imagine Jesus looking over the shoulder of the one who said thanks, seeing no one else, plaintively, sadly, shaking his hand in continuing bewilderment with the peculiarities of people, asking, "Where are the nine?"

On the north side of Chicago is Evanston, Northwestern University, and Garrett Theological Seminary from which I graduated, all of which are located on the western shore of beautiful Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is usually a calm, blue, restful lake; but when storms strike, the lake can become fierce and destructive. Many years ago during a violent storm, a student at Northwestern University, Edward Spencer, personally rescued seventeen people from a shipwreck. When they carried him to his room, the exhausted young man kept asking over and over, "Did I do my best? Do you think I did my best?" Years later at a convocation in Los Angeles, a speaker was describing the shipwreck and Edward Spencer's heroic lifesaving, when someone called out that Spencer was in the audience. Now elderly and white-haired, he was invited to the platform and asked what he remembered of the incident. He said, "I remember that of the seventeen people I saved, not one of them ever thanked me." Where are the seventeen? Where are the nine?

A young man who was blind received new eyes from a donor, eyes that enabled him to see. He was so profoundly grateful that he wrote to the eye bank thanking them. It was only the second "thank you" the eye bank had received after giving out over 30,000 eyes! Two! Dividing by two eyes each, where are the 14,998? Where are the nine?

Someone has conjectured why the nine didn't return:

One waited to see if the cure was real.

One waited to see if it would last.

One said he would see Jesus later.

One decided that he had never had leprosy

One said he would have gotten well anyway.

One gave the glory to the priests.

One said, "O, well, Jesus didn't really do anything."

One said, "Any rabbi could have done it."

One said, "I was already much improved."

Oh, the rationalizations we invent so we don't have to express gratitude, so we don't have to feel indebted to anyone else, so we can perpetuate the myth that we can do it all by ourselves, needing help from no one, a rugged, self-made individual! Nonsense! Dare you name anything you did all by yourself, with no help from anyone, with no support or encouragement? What about the education you received? What about the advantages you had because of the color of your skin? What about the contacts your family had? What about the advantages you had because you are an American? What about the genes you inherited from your ancestors? What about the life you were given from God? What about the very air you breathe?

Where are the nine? This afternoon in Pinole, Dave and Patty Thompson are celebrating 25 years in ministry. Dave was pastor of our church for ten years. Those of you who were blessed by Dave's ministry have been asked to write a letter to include in a surprise scrapbook. Did you write it? If not, you can still write it and mail it to the Thompsons. I know Dave and Patty are not petty people, but you wouldn't want them to read all the letters, look wistfully in the distance, and ask, "I wonder why so and so didn't write!" Where are the nine?

Several months ago, I shared a letter of gratitude Ellie and I received from our son, Craig. Ralph Stevenson went home following that sermon and wrote a letter of gratitude to his parents. A few weeks later, Ralph's mother died. Back in Michigan for the funeral, neighbors told Ralph how much the letter meant to his parents.

Please take a pencil, a corner of the bulletin, or a card from the pew rack in front of you. I will give you a minute of silence. Please look back to a time when someone did something significant for you, and you have not yet thanked him/her. Parents, a teacher, a neighbor, a friend? Write the name down, and make a plan as to how you will express gratitude. Write a letter? Call on the phone? If he/she is in this room now, plan to talk during the Fellowship Time?

How about Jesus? Is Jesus looking off in the distance waiting for you to come and say thank you? Can you think of anything you have which isn't a gift from God, and deserving of your heartfelt thanks? Everything you have is a gift from God, beginning with your birth and your salvation. Your salvation is a gift from God. Salvation, redemption, justification, reconciliation are all wonderful Bible words that mean a healthy, growing relationship with God. When you have a dynamic, personal relationship with Jesus, setbacks, problems, shortcomings, grief are swallowed up in gratitude.

Some people think their salvation, their relationship with God, is not a gift from God, but something they earn. They spend their lives piling up evidence of how good they are. They construct a pile of achievements, and climb to the top to wait for their reward. Their lives are spent anxiously hoping they are good enough to be rewarded. The Christian life, however, begins with reward! Your salvation is awarded to you because God loves you. Your salvation is not dependent on how good you are, not dependent on how well you succeed, not dependent on how many A's you receive, not dependent on how rich you get. Your worthiness, your salvation, your reward is a gift from God.

What God expects in return is your thanks. You thank Jesus by offering thank you prayers. You thank Jesus by giving thank offerings. You thank Jesus by living a good life. You thank Jesus by serving God, by doing God's work with your time, talents, and money. Why did God save you? To be God's people and to do God's work. God's plan is simple. Paul laid it out in 2 Corinthians 9:10-11, (from The Message),

"This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing...abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God."

We thank Jesus by giving back, giving back to God our time, talents, service, financial offerings. God blesses us so that we may do God's work.

There once was a man who had nothing.

God gave him ten apples.

God gave him three apples for food.

The man ate the first three apples.

God gave him another three apples to trade for shelter from the sun and rain.

He traded the second three apples for shelter from the sun and rain.

God gave him three apples to trade for clothing to cover his body.

He traded the third three apples for clothing to cover his body.

And God gave him the tenth apple so he would have something to give back to God in gratitude for the other nine.

Then the man held up the tenth apple to examine it in admiration--it seemed larger and juicier than all the rest.

He knew in his heart that this was the apple God expected him to use as a GIFT IN GRATITUDE for the other nine. But the tenth apple seemed better than the others. And, he reasoned, God had all the other apples in the world--


and gave back to God the core.

Can you see Jesus, surrounded by apple cores, looking over the thankful leper's shoulder, asking, "Where are the nine?"

© 1998 Douglas I. Norris