Leopards vs. Lepers

Wow, I typed that title and then realized what a terrible reality show that would make.  Brain, please: step away from that particular rabbit hole.  Step awaaaaaaay….

Oh no, it’s too late!  A quick Google search reveals that a song by this name has already been written by a band called Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead.  You can find it on their album, “The Sky Has Been Riven and Our Flesh Has Been Rent.”

I’m going to go in a different direction, if that’s cool with all of you.

..

After seeing a pretty awesome presentation by Michael Williams on Biblical Storytelling at the Festival of Homiletics, I got to thinking about just how many stories I remember reading and hearing in my childhood.  For corn’s sake, I cannot remember what I had for breakfast this morning, but I can remember bedtime stories my mom made up and told me and my brothers from when I was too young to read.

I also learned an impressive number of Bible stories through catchy Sunday school songs and children’s Bibles.  There are good and bad sides to this reality: it’s lovely and handy to be familiar with a number of Old Testament stories that, because they’re never preached on, I probably wouldn’t otherwise know (Brain, step away from the bitter tangent about the lack of OT preaching in Christian churches…).  It’s not such a pleasant surprise to read these stories as an adult and realize that I haven’t really revisited them since I was, like, six: “Oh, THAT’S how that story happened?  What, I don’t remember all this sex and violence being in my children’s bible!”

Um, anyway…. I’ve gotten to thinking that biblical storytelling could be a really awesome “in” for children’s sermons.  So I wrote the following story for this week’s gospel lesson (Luke 17:11-19–Jesus Heals Ten Lepers).  I must now go and hack it to pieces to make it fit into the five-minute time frame allotted for children’s sermons in my context, but in the event that you can use it, here it is!

Once upon a time, a tribe of lions roamed a land called Samarigal.  Do you know what a tribe of lions is called?

The wee children: “A pride.”

You’re right!  And that was a very good name for this pride of lions, because they were very proud.  They were especially proud of how beautiful they looked.  Each one of them had long, curved, white teeth, and velvet soft paws sheathing diamond sharp claws, and they all had eyes that shone like jewels when it was dark.

Photo by Kevin Pluck. Wikimedia Commons.

But they were proudest of all of their fur.  From the tip of every single lion’s nose to the end of each cub’s tail, every hair was thick, and sleek, and shone like gold in the sunlight, and like silver in the starlight.  Those lions loved how beautiful their fur was, and they spent all day grooming themselves (like your cats do), lest a speck of dust should ruin the perfection of their lovely coats of fur.

But one day, something terrible happened.  As the sun was coming up over Samarigal, ten of the lions in the pride woke up to find that, somehow, during the night, their beautiful, beautiful fur had developed…spots.  Big spots, like someone had taken four fingers and dipped them in awful black ink, and then had smudged them all over those perfect golden coats.

Photo by Tony Hisgett. Wikimedia Commons.

“Maybe we can groom them away!”  they thought, but the spots wouldn’t budge.  “Maybe we can wash in the river!”  But the river did nothing.  “Maybe if we licked harder with our sandpaper tongues!”  Nothing doing.  “Maybe if we used more spit!”  But those poor lions used up all the spit they had in them, and those spots wouldn’t go away.

At first the rest of the lions felt sorry for them, and there was much sorrowful roaring amongst the pride. (Optional: encourage wee children to sorrowfully roar.)  But then, the youngest of the spotted lions went up to his cousin and said, “I am entirely out of spit!  Will you please groom for me, and try to get these horrid spots to go away!”  But his cousin, whom he had known and loved since they were both cubs, leapt back like he’d been stung. “No no no!” he roared.  “I don’t dare touch you!  What if your spots are catching?”

And the rest of the pride took up his roar, and wouldn’t let the ten spotted lions stay with them anymore, and instead drove them off, and wouldn’t even call them lions, but called them leopards instead.

So the ten leopards lived sorrowfully by themselves, trying everything they could think of to get rid of those spots.  But nothing worked.

One day, a rumor reached the ten leopards about a hero-lion who was passing through Samarigal.  There were many stories about this hero-lion, about how powerful he was, but also how kind he was.  Lions said that he could command the weather, that he could make food multiply to feed everyone, and most of all, that he could heal sick lions.

So when the hero-lion passed near, the ten leopards came close to him—close enough that he could hear their roars, but not so close that the other lions would drive them off—and together they roared all their sadness and frustration and loneliness, and into their roar they mixed a question—would the hero-lion help them?  (Optional: invite wee children to explore the complex emotional vocabulary through roaring.)

And the hero-lion turned to look at them, and when he saw them he loved them, and he said to them, “Go and show yourself to your old pride.”

The ten leopards didn’t know quite what to do.  As far as they could see, the hero-lion hadn’t done anything magical.  They were afraid of going back to their pride just as they were, just to be driven off again.  But finally the youngest one said, “If he had asked us to do something impossible, we would have tried it.  But instead he’s asked us to do something very easy—just to go home.  Let’s just try it!”

And the rest of the leopards agreed, and they turned to go back to their old pride.  And as they turned around, their spots seemed to ripple in the heat and evaporate in the sunlight.  And in a moment, their coats were like their old selves!

Nine of the leopard roared with happiness, and rushed off quickly to their old pride, where their families welcomed them with surprise and delight, and they spent all their breath in telling of the wonders of the hero-lion.

But the tenth lion, the same one who said they should go home, turned around again, and instead of running home, he ran to the feet of the hero-lion, and threw himself on his back right in front of the forepaws of the hero-lion, in a manner quite undignified but very very joyful, and he said, “Thank you, thank you, and thank you, and praise to the God who gives you the power to take away those spots!”

And the hero-lion looked at him and said, “Were there not ten of you?  What happened to your friends?”

And the leopard-lion said, “They did what you said, and went to show themselves to our pride.”

And the hero-lion said, “They did what I told them to do, but you turned back.  Why didn’t you listen to what I said?”

The leopard-lion blushed to the tips of his whiskers and said, “My head listened to what you said, but my heart listened to what you did.  And it was so grateful that I thought it might burst if I didn’t first come back and thank you, and praise God who has done this wonderful thing for me.”

All ten of the leopard-lions had a moment where they felt God’s presence shining. But only one lion turned back, because his heart told him that it was shining not in the healing, but in the one who had healed him!

Where has God’s presence shined in your life this week?

 

 

 

 

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