Luke 17:11-19

At our Head to the Heart youth event on Friday night we looked at the first in a series of topics on Worship, this one was titled: Gathering.  We discussed various issues around worship, including the parts of the liturgy at the start of the service, the way we enter worship, who we worship with, and even discussed why we worship.  Today we’ve heard the story of the leper who returned to Jesus, he came praising God with a loud voice and prostrated himself at Jesus feet and thanked him.  That my friend was worship!

We aren’t really told why this one man, a Samaritan, comes back to Jesus, even before he has followed through with Jesus command to go and show himself to the priests.  He saw that he was healed and rushed straight back.  It appears that it was more important to him to thank and praise the source of his healing than to have it proven so that he could return to live in a normal setting in his society.

This man demonstrated a wonderful sense of gratitude to Jesus, and the best bit is that it was probably not his doing, it was in response to what Jesus had done, his faith, given to him by Jesus, had made him well, and the natural response was to give thanks.

Sometimes as you read a text like this one you start to make comparisons.  If one in ten people who had received healing from Jesus were called to respond to the incredible free gift of healing that he had given them, does that relate still today?  How many people who have received healing through Jesus have turned up here today?  I tried to find exact statistics on how many people who class themselves as Christians turn up on a Sunday in worship from the last census or National Church Life Survey, but failed.  My gut feeling is that of all those in Australia who claim to be Lutheran or any form of Christian only about one tenth would actually turn up at worship in any given week.

You might not agree with me making that connection, but think about it, how many people do you know, including yourself that have received a selfless, gracious gift from God?  Have you been baptised?  Well right there you received forgiveness of sins and eternal life!  That was easy wasn’t it, maybe it was too easy?  Maybe we don’t even realise we have been healed through forgiveness of sins, we want something a little more tangible, something we can grab hold of maybe?

Perhaps that’s why so few people who call themselves Christians actually attend worship?  Maybe if Jesus had told all of the lepers that once they’d been to see the priests they must come back and worship him there would have been a higher rate of return?  Is cheap grace the reason why there are so few people still attending worship in Gospel centred churches?  If we were told each week that we would all die and go to hell if we don’t attend worship every week it might make a difference…who knows for sure.

It is important to gather together for worship though.  On Friday night Carol Spike led a section of our Head to the Heart session where she used a Melway to give an object lesson.  I’m going to use the same here this morning, but use a phone book.  If I open to one page, what’s on it?  A list of names, in alphabetical order, by themselves they are weak, easy to rip out, but once gathered and bound together they are strong, that’s just like us, when we come together to worship, we are much stronger than we are by ourselves, you’ve heard the saying that there’s strength in numbers haven’t you, there is truth in that saying.

But most people don’t like to have their sins pointed out to them, they feel guilty, affronted, victimised, so coming to church on a Sunday morning and being told that they are sinners doesn’t sit well with them.  The lepers that came to Jesus that day came specifically to ask him to have mercy on them.  They lived with their disease every day, they were ostracised and rejected by their friends and neighbours.  They were fully aware of their need for healing, and hopefully so are we. 

That’s why at the start of our service each week we have confession and absolution, a common confession, said as one but in the presence of each other and before God.  We admit to God and those around us that we have sinned and need his forgiveness.  We hear those words of absolution spoken to us.

Then we come to the point where we, just like the lepers, call out to Jesus and ask for his mercy on us, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.
We are in need of Christ’s mercy and help, and he gives it to us.  Once again just like the leper who returned to Jesus and gave him thanks we come to Jesus and prostrate ourselves before him.  That’s why I like to have people sitting rather than standing during the confession.  It’s a bit hard to get you all to lay face down on the floor in front of the altar and confess your sins, and in years gone by we had kneelers so that we could kneel for that part of the service, but these days we’ve taken to standing up!

Admittedly there are valid theological arguments to standing up in the presence of the Lord, but prostrating oneself just seems like a more natural response.  We are truly undeserving of receiving the wonderful gift of forgiveness and salvation from God, it makes sense that we should throw ourselves at his feet and beg his forgiveness. 

Then of course once we’ve heard that forgiveness and healing spoken to us, just like the leper in the story it is only natural to come to God and give him thanks for that blessing.  Yep there are days we’re not going to feel like it, especially on a lovely spring day like today, we may not feel like spending the hour locked up in a cold building.  But God invites us to come anyway, he wants us here.

The leaders at H2H on Friday night did a short skit that compared the joy, knowledge and enthusiasm of a group of people at a football match to joy, knowledge and enthusiasm of that same group of people at their church on Sunday morning.

Are you as excited about coming to church as you would be going to watch your favourite team play football, or you could name any other activity that you really enjoy, coz I know that some of you don’t like football!

God has done great and marvellous things for us, wouldn’t it be great if we could turn back like the Samaritan leper did and fall at Jesus feet and praise and thank him.  Jesus invites us too, every time there is an opportunity to worship him, during the week in our schools, on the weekend in our churches, and during each day as we notice his presence and help in our lives there are opportunities to worship him and give him thanks.

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his steadfast love endures forever.