Saturday, 7 September 2013

Sermon Sept. 1, 2013, 14th after Trinity Luke 17:11 To Be Made Whole

One of the principles of reading and hearing the Gospel is that we should be surprised each time.  Now this may be a surprising statement to you.  After all we all have heard the four Gospels read in church all our lives or for many years in any case.  How can it be that we will be surprised when we hear a Gospel passage that we have heard many times before?   

I believe that this principle is valid because if we have ears to hear and eyes to see God’s truth will be revealed to us in new ways each time we hear the Gospel.  This will happen as we will be changed in some way each time we hear the Gospel proclaimed in our lives. This will not happen automatically.  As part of what God does in and for us it helps for us to be involved.  This may not be required but it does work better if we are open and to pay attention to how God is working in our lives and to listen and hear what the message is that God has for us and respond to it.   That is why there were many people when Jesus walked among the people of Judea who did not recognize Jesus as the messiah.  They were not open to his message.  They were not prepared to receive the truth he was offering - the truth of eternal life.

What then is the surprise for us in this Gospel message we have heard today?   You may have been surprised by any number of things in this passage.  It may be that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus then had his focus on what he knew faced him when he arrived in that place.  He was on his way to meet his destiny – everything that would be the culmination of all that he taught and had done in the last three years.  It could be that the lepers that he encountered only had to ask for mercy and they received it immediately.  Jesus did not always respond so quickly to those he encountered – such as the resurrection of Lazarus when he delayed responding to Lazarus’s’ death for two days.   It could be any number of aspects in this passage.  That would depend on your particular circumstances and how the Gospel speaks to you.

For me the surprise was that the tenth leper was a Samaritan.  Now I probably was aware of that previously but it had not made a lasting impression because it did surprise me.  Perhaps it is because this lesson comes directly after the story of the Good Samaritan and I preached on that passage last week at St. Alban’s in Souris.  You could say that this is the parable of the Good Samaritan part 2.

As you didn’t hear my sermon last week I will summarize what I said about Samaritans.  They were close relatives of the Jews.  However, there was no love lost between those two branches of the family.  They were engaged in a family feud that ran long and deep.  You know what a family feud can be like – it can be very nasty.  The Samaritans claimed to be direct descendants of the Northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who survived the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 BC. 

They continued to identify themselves as Israelites rather than descendants of Judah - or Jews.  They did not worship at the Temple.  There were in effect despised and seen as outcasts and not part of the chosen people of God.

So this man that Jesus heals has one strike against him.  The second strike is of course he is a Leper.  Lepers - those who suffer from leprosy - were also considered ritually unclean.  They could not participate in the religious life of the community and they would contaminate anyone they came into contact with.  They   could not worship at the temple.  They remained outcasts until they were healed of their leprosy – which was not the same as the disease we know today.  According to the Levitical code there were many things that made someone unclean such as a woman who was menstruating, or coming into contact with a corpse, or  anyone with a skin condition such as psoriasis which was considered Leprosy.  Someone who was unclean remained so until a priest declared he or she no longer suffered from the condition.  Therefore this Leper was doubly unclean – doubly an outsider and outside the covenant with God.

The next thing that was a surprise to me is the declaration by Jesus when the Leper returned to give thanks to Jesus for being healed of his leprosy.  Did you note what Jesus declared?  Well it easy to missed.  He declared, ‘Arise, go thy way, thy faith has made thee whole.”   Note that he did not say that the Leper was healed or cured – he said the Leper was whole.  All the lepers were healed of their leprosy.  They were made clean and Jesus sent them to the priests to fulfill the requirements of the law and enable them to reenter the life of the community fully. 

The central issue here is what does it mean to mean to be whole?  For this leper who was doubly outcast – a Samaritan and a leper – it meant that God’s grace was also available to him.  He was just as much a part of God’s kingdom – he was as much able to receive God’s grace as was any Jew.  He was whole because he saw that to live fully as a child of God he must know – truly know in his heart and mind and soul that he is loved by God and that love was shown to him through the person of Jesus Christ.  At that point he had been in today’s language saved.  We know that he knew that because he showed that in his action.  He showed that through the gratitude that he expressed spontaneously not on the instruction of the priests and not following the example of one of the other lepers.  He acted because he could not do anything else.  That expression of gratitude flowed from his very being.  It was an essential part of who he now was.

What does all this mean for us?   If we are to be able to live a life a gratitude  - to have a life that will truly be one that is grateful for all that God had graced us with  - we must truly believe in our hearts that that is true.  Does that mean that we despair if we don’t truly feel that at present and therefore that there is nothing I can do?  No – as I said at the beginning of this sermon – we can have ears to hear and eyes to see what God has done for us.  We can see and hear how God is working in our lives.  We can see and hear the evidence that we are children of God and that as His beloved children we have Jesus as our savior and redeemer.  We can respond to that.  We may not fully believe that but when we respond we will begin to see and hear the truth of that.  It does not have to happen is one great event as it did with the Leper.  It can happen little by little. One day it will be as natural as breathing.  Gratitude will be an integral part of who were are.  Thanks be to God.

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