“One of Your Best Words”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Fedderson:

Ruth 1:1-19
2 Timothy 2:8-13
Luke 17:11-19

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
…If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–which is more–you’ll be a Man,
my son!

Rudyard Kipling

The famous author gave us many words of value. At the prime of his career, a newspaper literally valued his words at 50 cents apiece. Some students at Oxford apparently saw that as an opportunity to poke some fun. They sent him 50 cents and the following request: “Please send us back one of your very best words.” Kipling immediately responded: “Thanks!”

It’s a great comeback. It’s also a great word.

At the close of a Thanksgiving potluck, a church group formed a friendship circle. The leader suggested that each person share something for which he or she was particularly grateful that year. One by one each told of that special thing until the turn came to a little girl. She hesitated timidly at first and then suddenly blurted out: “I’m thankful that I’m thankful!”

Let’s have a round of “ATTAGIRL” for her! Her counterpart is the subject of one of Winston Churchill’s favorite stories: A small boy once fell from a pier into a dangerous tidewater. An old sailor immediately jumped in to save him. After a fierce struggle through the stormy water, the two arrived safely, though exhausted, at the shore. Two days later, the boy’s mother came to the pier trying to locate the sailor who had rescued her son. Finding him, she asked, “You dove into the ocean to bring my boy out?”

“I did,” he replied.

The mother quickly demanded, “Then where’s his hat?”

Like Kipling, Jesus apparently thought that “Thanks” was at least a 50-cent word. In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, He is shocked to find that only one of 10 healed lepers returned to praise God. Somewhat in dismay, He asked, “Were not 10 cleansed? Where are the nine?”

The first question is rhetorical–Jesus knew they were all healed. He was sort of saying, “Wait a minute! I healed 10, not just one. Why are the others not giving thanks?” I’m confident that He knew the answer to that as well, but He didn’t share the insight. I have always contended that they were legalists. Jesus had told them to go and show themselves to the priests and they were not about to risk any detours from those orders. They weren’t ingrates–just “ungrates”! Great are the “grates”!

Sadly enough, the odds are pretty much the same today. About 90 percent of all people are “ungrates.” They take and take and take because, for whatever reason, they think it is no more than they deserve. Actually, it is probably far more honest and accurate to say that 90 percent of the time, we are all “ungrates.” If you take into account that America only dedicates one day per year to giving God thanks, then, at least where He is concerned, we are grateful less than three tenths of one percent of the time. In other words, if your calculator only shows two places after the decimal point, it rounds out to “No thanks.”

Both Luke and Jesus point out that the one grateful person out of the 10 who were healed was a Samaritan. The implication is that the remaining nine were Jewish. Although the Samaritans claimed Hebrew ancestry, the Jews rather vehemently denied that was true. This one “foreigner,” realizing that he had been healed by a Jew, may have felt a special grace in it. The rest might have even agreed– Jewish healers are for Jewish lepers.

All 10 had not cried the ancient prayer of Israel, Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy. They had said, Jesou, epistata, eleison, Jesus, master, have mercy. Nonetheless, God had touched them. The Samaritan saw the Word of God in the words of Jesus. He turned back, “praising God in a loud voice.” It is very important that Jesus zeroed in on this praise to God. He said, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Surely, such a momentous occurrence as being healed from that gruesome disease would cause praise to God to erupt in any person.

Years ago an excursion boat was wrecked in a storm on Lake Michigan, near Evanston, Illinois. Students from Northwestern University helped with the rescue. One of them, Edward Spencer, saved 17 people from that sinking ship and almost lost his own life in the process. When he was being carried to his room, totally exhausted, he kept asking, “Did I do my best? Do you think I did my best?”

Winston and Winnie Pearce told that story in A Window on the Mountain. They added that, years later, a speaker in Los Angeles referred to the incident and someone in the audience called out that Edward Spencer was there. The speaker invited him forward and an old man with white hair approached. When asked if he remembered anything in particular about the rescue, Spencer replied: “Only this, sir. Of the 17 people I saved, not one of them ever thanked me.”

I wonder if they thanked God. Did they ever respond by praising God with a loud voice? I am always dumbfounded by the fact that some people will sit silently (except, perhaps, to talk to a neighbor) through an entire worship service. They don’t sing. They don’t even appear to follow along in the liturgy. They don’t praise God with any voice, let alone a loud one.

At the same time, their presence, however silent, is a statement of recognition or praise. The sadder situation is the number of people who never darken the threshold of a church. Has nothing happened in their lives to cause an eruption of joy and praise to God? Are we so accustomed to having much that we go right on expecting more? Do we feel we have a right to all our blessings and every reason to get bigger and better ones?

After the Samaritan praised God with his loud voice and fell at Jesus’ feet, thanking Him, Jesus said, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well [whole].” The word He used could also be translated with a spiritual meaning. Physical health had come to all 10, but only one seems to have had an encounter with God. When Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you,” He may very well have been referring to a greater dimension of God’s grace that came to the man who recognized God in the One who had healed him.

Faith and salvation are God’s free gifts to us. Not earned or deserved, they are the result of His lavish love and generous grace. The One who took away leprosy also took away sin and death—more accurately–took on Himself our sin and death. His mercy on the side of the road is remarkable and praiseworthy enough, but His mercy on the cross surely will bring out one or two of our better words!

The story is told of a young Methodist pastor, but the situation could have occurred in any denomination. He was assigned to a small church where he and his wife were half the age of the next youngest member. One Sunday, a granddaughter and great granddaughter attended church with “Grandma.” During worship, something tickled the little one’s funny bone and she began giggling. It continued for only a moment before a rather stern-faced old codger, the head usher, started up the aisle toward the source of the sound.

The young pastor interrupted his sermon and said, “Leave her alone, Harold. That’s the first joyful noise to the Lord I’ve heard in this place in the two months I’ve been here!” To his surprise, someone said, “Attaboy, Pastor!” Someone else said, “Thank God!” And the entire congregation broke out in laughter. An ice was broken that day between a pastor and his people, who had not known how to take each other up to that point. An esprit was built and, more importantly, The Spirit built them up together. A little child had led them, and a good word had saved them. Attaboy, God, and thanks for everything!

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