In a recent sermon I told the story of the ten lepers who were healed (Luke 17:11-19). Instead of placing the usual emphasis on the gratitude expressed by the one man who returned, I decided to use the story as a metaphor for the gospel. I traced the story of how people in Bible times contracted the disease, how the disease developed over time, the neurological implications, and the social and spiritual realities that lepers lived with. I then went on to identify the truth that we are all lepers who are shot through with soul rot. We are all sinners in need of Jesus’ gift of healing.
As I told the story of Jesus passing through the no man’s land between Samaria and Galilee (verse 11), I encouraged my friends with the good news that Jesus is coming our way. When I shared how Jesus saw these men (verse 14), I reminded my people that Jesus can see our struggles – even the things deep down inside no one else can see. When I shared the way Jesus healed these men and sent them into a process of re-integration with their families and communities (verse 14), I affirmed the truth that Jesus is eager to heal our soul rot and get us back to fullness of life. As I told the emotional story of the one man’s return and worship (verse 15), I encouraged my congregation with thought that when you have been healed from soul rot, the only thing there is to do is to throw yourself at the feet of Jesus in worship and gratitude.
I closed the message with the conversion story Bill Murray, the son of atheist Madalyn Murray. And then a member of the praise team sang the appeal song Fix Me Jesus, by Queen Latifah.
As we moved through the message of healing that morning, I could see the Holy Spirit moving across the congregation. But nothing could have prepared me for the conversations that followed.
Chad, a friend from Southern California visiting his husband’s family for the weekend, pulled me aside and said, “No one in Bible times could touch a leper, and yet Jesus touched this man. Can you imagine what it must have felt like to be embraced by Jesus and lifted back to your feet?” I was profoundly moved by the thought.
Then there was my friend Diana, who teaches kindergarten at our academy. “I grew up in Sierra Leone. My father worked as an engineer for the Peace Corp, and my mother was a nurse at the local leper colony. Your description of leprosy is just as I remember it.”
And then there was my friend Jack who stopped me in the hall to explain something. “You know that low, heartfelt hum at the beginning of the appeal song? That is an element of Black gospel singing that says, ‘Something from deep down inside is coming up!” That was a whole new insight into African American culture to me.
Our sermons on Sabbath morning are part of an important conversation shared between pastors, worship guests, and members of our congregations. While we pastors share from our hearts and research, our people have a lot to share with us from their experience. We need to be open to those conversations. We need to lean into them. We need to not be in a hurry to rush off to dinner or to the next church. We need to open up our time and our hearts to shared conversations that enrich our relationships, and our relationship with Jesus.
Dan Martella is the administrative pastor for the Paradise church in California, and he serves as the managing editor of Best Practices for Adventist Ministry