Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sermon 7/26/09 “Uniquely Luke Part Seven: The Unfortunate Age of Entitlement”

Luke 17:11-19

Some of you may watch VH-1 on occasion. If you have, you may have seen the show, New York Goes to Hollywood. It is about a girl named Tiffany who goes to Hollywood in attempts a being an actress. As the show begins, the them song "The World Should Revolve Around Me" by Little Jackie comes on. The lyrics are interesting. It says,

I 've had enough failed relationships

I don't get far cause I'm not equipped

I believe the world should revolve around me

I'm to the point of a partnership,

It won't be long till I start to trip,

Yes sir-e the world should revolve around me,

"The world should revolve around me." In doing some research the past couple of weeks, I have seen a trend in many news articles about people believing precisely this. For example, in an ABC article one employer said this about the younger generation of workers, "They grew up with an 'everyone gets a trophy' sense of entitlement," "They are members of a generation that thinks it should get a trophy just for waking up in the morning."

Are we living in the Age of Entitlement? In some ways it seems this way. It seems that people feel that they are entitled to receive anything they want just because they exist. In the articles I read, there were several different answers given for why this is the case. Some suggest it is because those persons now in their twenties were raised by their parents to believe they should have the best of everything and were never told "no." Some blame the rise of technology, with instant access and communication.

I am sure all of this has given rise to the problem of entitlement. I do believe there is a story in Luke's gospel that deals with this very thing. While we may be noticing the fad of entitlement today, I am sure this has been a problem for a very long time.

We are going to be studying together Luke 17:11-19. Before we share this story together, it is important to give some background. Remember that Jesus was a Jew. One of the things that Jewish persons believed was that God had chosen them for a specific purpose. They believed that when God acted in the world, he would do so through them. By the 1st century, many Jewish persons had forgotten that they were chosen for a purpose and only remembered that they were chosen and special.

As the story happens in Luke 17, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. Just before this incident in Luke's gospel, Jesus gives a teaching lesson about faith. In verse 5 of this chapter, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. Jesus then tells them that if they have faith the size of a mustard seed, then they can tell a mulberry tree t to jump in the see and it would do so. A mulberry tree is a deep rooted tree with vine like branches that would take some work to move. He then illustrates the point that just because you do things to serve God you should not think that God then owes you something. Service is done for God is response to what God has already done.

Responding to Jesus

Then, Luke tells this story

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" 14 When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

Jesus is still on the move and he is between Samaria and Galilee, meaning that he chose to take the road that went through Samaria and not the one that went around it. He enters a village and ten lepers find him. Leprosy was a skin disease that was incurable, this it was very bad. When someone had leprosy they were actually banished from society. They also could not have physical contact with anyone for fear of spreading the disease.

What would often happen though, is that when anyone had a skin condition, it was named leprosy. Of coarse a normal skin condition would go away in time, but the person would still be unclean until they were examined by the priest and pronounced clean.

The 10 people in our story are said to have leprosy. They could have had the real thing, but more than likely, they would have had a skin condition. However, this skin condition would have caused them to be social outcasts until it cleared up. The reason I bring this up is because Jesus' healing of the 10 lepers is more about his restoring them to the community than his actual physically healing them.

Jesus has the lepers do what was custom. They had to go to the priest. What we are not told is whether or not these persons were all Jewish or Samaritans. All we know is that it could be either one. We know from later on that at least on was a Samaritan. Notice that Jesus does not interject where they need to go, just that they need to go to see the priest.

In this story, Luke tells us that one of the ten returns back to Jesus and falls at his feet and thanks him. Jesus notices right away that nine of the ten decided not to go back. We then find out that he was a foreigner. He was a Samaritan. Luke also says this as if there were others in the group who were not foreigners.

There are two questions in mind about this passage. First, why did the first nine refuse to come back? It could have been that once they saw the priest they were in a hurry to get back to their families. If my instinct is correct and most of these nine were Jewish, it could be that they had felt entitled to this type of healing because of who they were as Jews. The story does not ever really say. It also does not say that they were any "less healed" for not going back. They were "ungrateful" but they were still healed.

Luke tends to emphasize the second question I have about this passage, namely why did the one leper return to Jesus. Even if the reason the other nine did not return was to see their family, this one person went right back to thank Jesus. When he gets there, Luke tells us that he prostrated himself on his knees and thanked him. This is not a typical "thank you" His response is one of worship. The Samaritan is responding to Jesus with worship.

I remember when I was ordained an elder in the United Methodist Church a few years ago. The Bishop laid hands on my head and had a prayer. Standing with me was Al Bowls, who was our former District Superintendent, Charles Neal, our former Senior Pastor, and my wife, Melanie. When I stood up after being ordained, I immediately turned and gave Melanie a hug before I hugged the bishop, Al, or Charles. When I finally got around to hugging the bishop, we whispered in my ear, "You are a smart man for hugging her before me."

I did this because I owed Melanie a great deal of gratitude for all the support she had given me. If my parents were on the stage, they would have had the next hug. In a sense, this showed my priorities, at least I hope. The same is true in this passage. The Samaritan's first response was not to go home to his family, it was not to feel entitled and ignore Jesus, it was not to go and work in the field, his first sense of obligation was to Jesus, who had shown grace to him.

Likewise, I believe our first response should be to Jesus. That is what I believe worship is all about. It is about responding to the grace given to us. Through our worship, we show gratitude for God's graciousness.

Gratitude and Faith

If you remember at the beginning of the sermon, I mentioned that this incident is framed within the context of the disciple asking Jesus to "grow their faith." Hopefully we are here this morning because we are hoping to grow in our faith. If these passages go together the way I think they do, then Jesus is saying that one of the ways we grow in our faith journey is by expressing gratitude. Likewise, I see no worse way to grow in our faith than by feeling "entitled." When we are entitled, we believe God owes us grace and forgiveness, when we express gratitude we realize that God owes us nothing, but by his grace we have forgiveness. When we are entitled, we believe God owes us wealth and health, but when we express gratitude we realize that whatever income we bring in and whatever our health is, we realize every day and every dollar is a gift from God and too used for his purposes. When we are entitled, we believe God owes us happiness, but when we express gratitude, we realize that joy comes from God despite our circumstances.

The faith the size of a mustered can toss a sycamore tree into the lake or it can move mountains, but faith comes when we understand that it too is a gift from God. Notice that when the last leaper left Jesus, he told him that his faith had made him well. Jesus did not say that the other nine leapers were any less healed; he just told this one leaper that because he returned in gratitude, his faith had made him well. I believe that by his gratitude, his faith had increased.

Gratitude Conquers Entitlement

I believe this passage gives us a way to deal with our entitlement issues. Deep down I believe that these nine lepers that refuse to return to Jesus did so because they felt "entitled" to the grace Jesus had shown them. Somehow they believed they deserved to be clean of whatever condition they had. On the flip side, the Samaritan returned because he knew he had been shown grace that he did not earn or merit. After all, he was a Samaritan and Jesus in know why owed him anything.

When we feel "entitled" to the best of everything and we believe the world revolves around us, there is no need to show gratitude. However, when we recognize that we are where we are only by God's grace, all we have to give is gratitude.

Mary Grey, our children's director led one of our staff meeting devotionals some time back. She asked us to write down all of the things we were thankful for as a way of showing gratitude. I took her challenge and listed 16 things I was thankful for and then I took the time to thank God for them. It helped me see my life from a different perspective. Instead of seeing all of the ways that I think life is unfair it helped me to understand that I have been shown so much love and grace by God. Instead of thinking about all the negatives in life, it helped me be thankful. I believe showing gratitude is a way to help center ourselves and help pull us out of out feeling of entitlement.


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