Pentecost XXI – Proper 23 – October 9, 2016
Stewardship Kick-off Sunday
Love in the Land Between
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.
As Jesus is continuing his journey towards Jerusalem he is traveling through this strange land between two worlds. In this borderland ten men, who were shunned because of their disfiguring skin disease… were able only to know other leprous ones as their company, the ten were tired of living a marginal existence in the shadows of society. They were tired of being shunned in a land in which their citizenship as human beings was deemed “void.”
All ten, recognize Jesus. Word about the itinerant teacher and healer must have reached this borderland in advance of Jesus’ arrival. The forsaken men have nothing more to lose as they call out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus says no kind or comforting words. He bestows no healing touch. He offers no blessing. Jesus simply instructs the ten to go to the priests to obtain their certificate of cleanliness, to obtain proof that they were no longer lepers. The men obey and moved on as instructed, even before they notice that anything had changed. “…And as they went, they were made clean.” As they went, the ten probably experienced some strange sensations, maybe some tingling in their toes and in their fingertips, before they noticed that their sores were clearing up, and that their strength was returning. I can see their hoods falling back as their faces turn skyward. I can see them stroking their unblemished skin as their fingers stretch out into the light of day for the first time in many years… I can see them examining their hands as if seeing them for the first time. Though they couldn’t see their own faces they recognized, by looking at each other, that the disease was gone. The leprous ones were leprous no longer. They were welcomed back to the land of the living and all that was needed now was to have their “passports” stamped with a verification of purity by the religious gate keepers. Once they had shown themselves to the priests the ten could cross the border back into the land of the living. Their future had been restored.
The story of healing could have ended right there, with the ten being cured both of their skin disease and of their status as leprous outcasts. But the story isn’t over. I imagine that the moment that the ten saw and realized that their future was no longer a dead end… was a moment of pure relief for them all. But only one of the ten broke rank. With a heart full of gratitude and praise the tenth leper ran back to Jesus, fell down at Jesus’ feet and gave, as it says in the Greek: “Eucharisto.” He gave thanks. We don’t know the nationality of the other nine, but we are told that this tenth one, “was a Samaritan.” The one who returned was the one who knew compounded exile: he had been both a diseased, outcast leper, and a despised foreigner. His gratitude overflowed and he could do nothing less than turn around, return and give thanks.
At this moment, when the tenth leper was prostrate at Jesus feet, we hear Jesus respond only with questions about the others. He wonders why the others did not see… did not recognize what had truly been done for them. Jesus wonders why the other nine were not compelled to return and give thanks as had this Samaritan. The healing that the Samaritan experienced went much deeper than skin, flesh and bone. Depending upon the translation Jesus says to the Samaritan: “your faith has healed you, has made you well, has saved you, has made you whole.” “Your faith has made you whole.” Why was it the Samaritan who returned, and not the others? Was it the double dose of suffering he had known as a leper and as an underclass, outcast foreigner? In the story we are told that it was the Samaritan who “saw” that he was healed. All ten knew that their skin lesions were gone. It was only the Samaritan who “saw” his healing as being more than healing from a skin disease. In this land of ‘in-between” we are shown, that in the depths of pain, suffering and insecurity, even the most forlorn and dispossessed are invited to receive and recognize the deepest of healing.
Likewise, each of us is invited to return to the Source and be made well. We are invited to return and have our identities restored, identities that have been tattered and torn by life’s storms, and ravages of personal and cultural conflict. We are invited to return and be fully restored in the knowledge that we are forever and always beloved of God. All ten of the leprous ones followed Jesus’ instructions. They headed out to see the priests, and as they did so, all were healed. But only one of the ten, knew more than simple obedience. He acted on the fire of gratitude and love that was burning in the depths his own very human experience, in the far reaches of a life where pain and lingering wounds meet the healing light of God’s love and passion for us… the place where wholeness is called forth from the scattered pieces of a broken life and all is made new. The tenth leper could do nothing less than return and give thanks.
The Protestant reformer Martin Luther used this story of the ten lepers to illustrate the meaning of worship. Worship is the event, the gathering, the meeting place between worlds, where the faithful can dono less than return again and again. The faithful can do no less than to return to God who is known in praise, in prayer and in silence… in community and in sacraments. We are forever and always invited toreturn. We are not to come to worship out of a sense of obligation. We are invited to look deeply and to see and to recognize all that God continues to do for us… and then to return again. We come in response to God’s generous invitation and call to life. We come not when all is in perfect order in our lives… probably because most of us live in a messy reality feeling that our lives are reeling out of control. It is easy to forget that God is working in our lives even when we don’t feel it. There may be moments when we feel God’s love burning deeply in us… but, if you are like me, that is not a constant feeling. I often wander off and I forget. It is the sure rhythm of practice, the practice of prayer and worship, that brings me back to the place of remembering and feeling the big love. Sometimes we simply go through the motions, continuing the practice of prayer and worship, until we feel the spark turn into flame once again. The constant is that Christ is always with us, yearning for our attention and for our return. “Gratitude is not a command, it’s an invitation, one God never tires of making.” 1
On the first Easter day, after the women had run from the tomb to share the good news… Clops and his companion had their own experience of the risen Christ. As they walked on the road heading towards Emmaus they encountered a man who recounted for them the long history of God’s working in the world among the beloved. When the three arrived in Emmaus they went for supper. It was only when Jesus was at the table with them, only after Jesus took bread, blessed, broke it and gave it to his friends, that their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus in their midst before he vanished. The two said to each other:
‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:32-35)
Cleopas and his companion recognized Christ in their midst, but only once Jesus broke the bread. The two then immediately returned to Jerusalem to share the good news with the others.
This Sunday we kick-off our fall stewardship pledge campaign. The theme that the Stewardship Committee developed this year is “Hearts on Fire: Christ Alive in Us.” We are being invited to explore and feel Christ working in us, calling us to healing, wholeness and ever more abundant life… calling to us from deep inside, even when the passion feels as though it is but a spark, a spark that the Spirit’s breath seeks to ignite into flame and light. We are being invited to return in gratitude and then to go out into the world to witness, with our lives, the faith that is alive in us… to share the knowledge that we all belong. We are invited to share the great love that is the foundation and source of all creation… to come, as one author put it, “face to face with love that moves the sun and stars.”2
We return in response.
We return to gather in community.
We return to remember the deep roots of our faith.
We return seeking nurture and fulfilment.
We come to share.
We come to this place between,
…a wide open space where we are invited to encounter our living God.
We come to know silence.
We come to offer prayer and praise.
We come because we can do no less than return with all that we are, burdens and all, and to lay them down before the one who welcomes us home again and again.
“Now is the hour for us to rise from sleep…let us open our eyes… let us hear with attentive ears…[and] run while you still have the light of life.” 3
At St. Paul’s we continue the traditions of the ancient ones who recognized their deepest longing and sense of be-longing.
I would like to close with a prayer from the book “Hearts on Fire: Praying with the Jesuits.”:
You Have Called Us by Name4
Oh, Lord our God,
You have called us the sleep of nothingness merely because in your tremendous love
you want to make good and beautiful beings. You have called us by name in our mothers’ wombs. You have given us breath and light and movement and walked with is every moment of our existence. We are amazed, Lord God of the universe,
that you attend to us and, more, cherish us. Create in us the faithfulness that moves you, and we will trust you and yearn for you all our days. Amen.
1 Source unknown.
2 Krista Tippet interview with Margaret Wertheim referring to the end of Dante’s work The Divind Comedy, in Tippet’ book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Penguin Press: New York, 2016, pg. 214.
3Esther de Wall, Seeking God, Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN, 2001, pg. 28.
4 Joseph Tetlow, SJ, From Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits editor, Michael Harter, SJ