Posts Tagged ‘10 Lepers’

Acclimation 10-13-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 17:11-19, I explore the way that the church has grown acclimated to a sense of complacency instead of feeling empowered to be the body of Christ carrying the gospel into places of exclusion.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/acclimation-10-13-19

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
(Note that the text will differ in some small ways from the audio due to changes that happened in the moment of preaching. I went off script in several different spots)

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours now and forever. Amen

Friday morning was one of those utterly blustery days.  And at one point, mid-morning, I watched the sky go from utterly cloud covered…to sunny…and back to cloudy again…all inside of about 5 minutes.

And in that moment, I remembered the time-honored phrase which we love here in Iowa…Don’t like the weather?  Wait 5 minutes…it’ll change. (pause) And wow…that’s been true the past couple of weeks hasn’t it?  We have reached the time of year when the weather is UTTERLY unpredictable.  We’ve had sun, we’ve had rain. We’ve had hot, we’ve had cold. We’ve had really nice moments…and we’ve had really cruddy ones…not to mention we’re in that part of the season when its not uncommon to turn on the heat in the morning, switch it to ac in the afternoon, and then back to heat again in the evening.

But if there’s one thing that I’ve come to expect around this time of year…and to be sure I’m guilty of it myself…is the observation that turns into a question…Why does 35-40 degrees feel SO cold in October…when it feels so warm in February? (pause)

In a word…Acclimation…its all about what our bodies are used to isn’t it?  Now that idea of acclimation is one that I think a lot about…I run into it every summer when I trek out to Colorado and spend the first few days heaving as my 1000 ft-lung capacity struggles with 8500 foot atmosphere…and of course…we see it here in the acclimation to temperature trends…since we’ve had a lot of 70s and 80s and even 90s not too long ago…these 35 degree temps feel pretty cold…but in about 4 months when we’ve been enduring sub-zero temperatures and get the rare warm day…40 will pretty nice won’t it. (pause)

Its funny what we acclimate to isn’t it? Because its not just weather…we can get used to a lot of different things…even a state of mind…or a condition…like exclusion or isolation…and that’s where we’re gonna jump into the gospel for today.

Because today, we’ve got Jesus on the move…encountering 10 people who have done just that…they’ve gotten used to something…they’ve acclimated to the sense of exclusion…As Jesus picks up his travels towards Jerusalem once more…we hear that he’s moving in between two territories…Galilee in the north, and Samaria…smack dab between Galilee and Judea…the region where Jerusalem is located.

Now maybe it goes without saying by this point…but if you’re not familiar, just know this. Galilee is Jewish territory…itself considered a little on the backwater side…but Jewish none the less…but Samaria…not so much.  The residents of that region have long been at odds with Jewish folk by Jesus’ day.  There was history of the divided kingdom about 900 years prior, not to mention the intermingling with foreigners during the period of the Assyrian rule a couple years after that.

And so these people have a lot of similarities…but there’s also a lot of differences…imagine cousins who live in neighboring towns and find themselves on opposite sides of a football game…and then multiply that by about a million…and that’s the sense of angst between these two cultures.

And in the gray area that lies between the two…that’s where we find Jesus today…so he’s really out in the middle of nowhere…and as he moves about…he encounters these 10 lepers…a batch of people who yell at him from a distance…something they were required to do…and they ask for mercy. (Pause)

Now, what’s going on here? Leprosy was terrifying in those days…its bad enough now with modern medicine but in Jesus’ time calling something leprosy covered the gambit of unknown skin ailments.  And if someone said you had it…you got kicked out of town…and you had to stay out of town until it cleared up…or you died.

Scary to be sure…but leprosy was scary…and really contagious, so they kicked people out of their communities in order to save the community…but, if the ailment cleared up…which it often did because sometimes it just a random infection…then you traipsed off to the local priest…he announced you clean…and you could join your community again…no harm, no foul.

But until that time, you were out…and the only people you could interact with…was another leper…and so seeing them grouped up like this…not that uncommon…they were unified by mutual exclusion…mutual isolation…except for maybe 1 of the 10…who ALSO happened to be Samaritan. (pause)

Think about this…we don’t know for sure…but Jesus instruction to go show themselves to the priests indicates that the other 9 are probably Jewish…so at least they’ve got that in common…but then there’s this 10th guy that isn’t…and you can bet, that even among this group of the marginalized…this guy gets shoved even farther to the outskirts…an outcast among outcasts.

This is the group that encounters Jesus…and to their credit…they go right to source…Jesus…Master…have mercy on us…and he does…just not quite in the way we might expect.  He tells them…Go show yourselves to the priests…which if you recall…is exactly what they are supposed to do…Jesus its telling them “hey guys, follow the rules.”  And they do…and its in the going that they are healed…on the way…its not instant.

Now the 9 guys…we don’t know what happens to them…but it stands to reason that they went to the priest like Jesus said…were announced to be clean…and then they all went off to their respective homes…rejoining their communities…which is great…but the one extra guy…the Samaritan…the one who couldn’t actually go to a priest in the first place due to his religious affiliation…he returns…he goes back out into the wilderness…back out into isolation and the place of exclusion…in short he goes right back to the place where Jesus found him in order to show gratitude…Jesus comments on his faith…throws a bit of shade on the 9 who didn’t think to show gratitude…perhaps indicating a group of people that thought they deserved the healing because of who they are…and then Jesus tells him to get up and go, because his faith has saved him.  (pause)

Now there’s a lot going on here…but its worth noting what Jesus has done…he’s intentionally gone into a place of exclusion…and he’s freed a bunch of people, including the one that the rules dictate shouldn’t be eligible…and Jesus brings the kingdom of heaven with him….offering freedom from exclusion…freedom from marginalization…freedom from isolation…and its given to everyone.

The only difference here…9 go on to the priests because they need someone else to announce…to tell them what God has done for them…and the other 1 is able to see for himself and give praise where praise is due. (pause) But all 10 were healed weren’t they? All 10 were freed and were invited back into community…and maybe, just maybe…that’s what the kingdom of heaven is all about…freedom from isolation…freedom from exclusion…and what else can we call that besides acceptance and community? (pause)

Now what’s this got to do with us today?  Maybe a lot more than we realize…because despite the fact that almost all of us have a device in our pocket that gives us access to the vast majority of all human knowledge…and not only that but connects with other people in every corner of the globe…not to mention, you can phone calls on it…but despite the fact that this is the single most CONNECTED time in human history…all studies indicate that we as individuals are feeling more isolated…more excluded…more lonely than ever…so much so that the British government has recently established a Minister for Loneliness in order to combat this problem.

We know isolation and exclusion don’t we?  It happens in so many ways…sometimes at our expense…and often times at the expense of others…just think about the various gates that we’ve built to keep people out.  We exclude based on race, economic status, gender, identity, sexual orientation, different faith tradition, even denominational differences…we exclude because of past criminal backgrounds or even odd behavior. These are just a few…

Now there are times when we’re the ones who get excluded…but I gotta say it…here in the church we’ve been so busy building the gates…putting up those fences or walls to keep people out because we say they are unworthy…we’ve been so busy doing that over the course of centuries…and we cite long standing tradition, rather than owning up and blaming our biases…for far too long the church has been so busy guarding the gates that we’ve missed the work that Christ has been doing…we’ve missed the ways that Christ has called us to carry the message of the kingdom out into those place of exclusion…to offer freedom to those who have grown acclimated to living in isolation…and in fact we’ve gotten so good at that, that the church has long become known for what we hate rather than the message of all in-sacrificial…UTTERLY grace-filled love and acceptance that Christ made possible on the cross.

We love to claim God’s grace for ourselves…and we should…because we broken too…but in hording it for ourselves we forget that it is freely offered to all people…because ALL people bear the divine image…and ALL people are loved right now…as they are…fully themselves, whether we like it or not. (pause)

Yes…God’s grace is for you…and we gather every week to hear that word of love and acceptance and grace…and often we partner that with the action of gathering around a table and receiving the body and blood of Christ which is given for you and for all people freely…but what do we do first? Before we do either of those things…we confess to our brokenness…we confess to the ways that we have failed our God and our neighbors.

And I think that’s something we need take note of…not just today when a story about a grateful foreigner smacks us upside the head and reminds us that all too often we’re among the 9 who needed someone else to point out what God has done among us…but we need to take note of this every day…

Because we are the church…and that means we are the body of Christ here on earth…and that means that WE are the ones called to carry the good news of the kingdom out into those places of isolation and exclusion…all of us…not just the ones wearing collars…not just the ones elected to a council or committee…all of us. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve done a really lousy job of that.

Is their forgiveness for our complacency? You bet…but we need to repent of it first…and then we need to take action, because that’s repentance means…to turn away…and the only way to turn away from complacency is to get off our butts and to go BE the church…instead of sitting around wringing our hands and wondering why it can’t be 1952 again. (pause)

Now is this a little harsh…yah probably…but look around…we need to hear it…because we need to be better…not to earn anything from God…but because we’ve already received it…and since we have, we’ve been entrusted with the most amazing…most wonderful…the flat-out best news in the world…this news that God has claimed everyone as children…and we are tasked with proclaiming it…but not just paying lip service to this good news…we are also called to be changed by it.
Because the mind blowing grace of God is way more life-altering that we give it credit for.  And if we start living THAT reality…well who knows what might happen…but I’d like to find out…because I’ve seen what the grace of God can do when its unleashed among those who have been excluded for one reason or another…and not only that but I’ve experienced it for myself.

Now some might say that living and proclaiming this type of radical inclusion that we are talking about is giving in to the pressures of the world…but I disagree…I believe that it expresses an openness to come alongside the work that the Holy Spirit…that GOD…is already up to out there in the world.

Now we can do that…Or we can just sit here on our laurels…show up on Sundays, hear a word of forgiveness…get our little Jesus snack and call it good.  But if we stay here I guarantee that’s not gonna change the world…because that’s a church that is either dying or its already dead and just doesn’t know it yet. Unfortunately here in the US that’s what the church has been doing for WAY too long now. We’ve done it for so long we’ve just gotten used to it…we don’t seem to know any other way…you could even say we’ve acclimated to it. (pause)

But if the scriptures show us anything…its that God is full of surprises…God’s even been known to raise the dead…and maybe, just maybe, God can lift us up too. Amen.

Did Anyone See That 10-9-16

This sermon is based on Luke 17:11-19. Jesus encounters 10 lepers and heals them, but only 1 shows any gratitude. That’s worth exploring.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/did-anyone-see-that-10-9-16

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

I think its safe to say that we as a society have a little bit of a fascination with seeing people crash and burn…not literally of course…but there’s something utterly fascinating about seeing someone fail, resulting in some sort of wipe out. A quick search on youtube will reveal videos beyond measure of someone trying to do something big, only to have it fail miserably.

And I know I’m as guilty of it as the next person…and there have been many times when I’ve seen a video like this, and I instantly share it with my buddies, usually with the tagline “You’ve got to see this.” (pause) Now again, its not that I want to see someone get hurt…far from it, but yet it almost mesmerizing to see some sort of trick go wrong.

But before you judge my strange fascination with epic wipe outs…rest assured that I’ve had a few of my own as well…and the biggest one happened back when we were still living in Minnesota, and it involves a bike. Though I don’t do much biking these days, there was a time when I would hop on my bike and ride through town to the gym that we belonged to, I’d check in there and then hop back on my bike to ride home. I’d get a few miles of exercise along with checking off a notch on my monthly gym tally, which was a requirement to get an insurance discount there.

But anyway, this one day I was riding, actually on my way home…and was going through an area full of businesses…at it was commuter time, so there were people driving around, heading to work…Now as I was riding, there were a few moments when I had to go from the street up onto the sidewalk, and rather than simply riding up at a crosswalk, I was trying to be fancy and pop a wheelie to get my front tire up over the curb. I’d done it a couple times already…but this time, I didn’t time it right…and my tire smacked into the curb, and the next thing I knew I was laying on the sidewalk…now I was ok, and so was my bike…but I figured I better let everyone around me know I was okay…so I looked and looked, trying to make eye contact with anyone that was concerned about this whole accident…and even though there were a lot of people around…no one noticed anything….they were all so busy with their normal day to day routine that they had completed missed this epic wipe out…they were too engrossed in their normal lives to notice something amazing happening in their midst. (pause)
Now, what’s this got to the do with the gospel? Good question…so let’s set the stage. Now if you’ve been paying attention, we’ve been moving Jesus towards Jerusalem for quite a while now. His face has been turned towards the end goal of the cross since chapter 9, but now it seems that he’s finally making some progress as he’s heading south. A good chunk of Jesus time and ministry happens up north in Galilee, so in order to finally make it into Jerusalem in chapter 19, he’s got to head south, which means encountering the region of Samaria…as we hear today, his in the borderlands between the two areas.

Now you’ve likely heard me talk about the relations between Jewish people and Samaritans before…they don’t get along…and even though they are distantly related to one another and share many cultural similarities…the Samaritans status as half-breed descendants from the Assyrians several centuries prior still causes issues. And so they are consider foreigners, uncouth…but ironically, being from Galilee, isn’t a whole better, as its considered pretty back water as well.

But here’s Jesus walking in the countryside between the two area…coming up on some unidentified village, when he encounters a group of 10 lepers…Now these 10 guys have it pretty rough…leprosy is a horrible disease…but back in Jesus day, leprosy actually meant a whole lot of different things…it wasn’t any single disease, but was pretty much assigned to any sort of skin ailment.

Now if you had some sort of unexplained issue…you were declared ceremonially unclean…and you got kicked out of town. You had to remain outside of town for a period of time…basically until the problem cleared up, or until you died…kind of an either or situation…but if the problem cleared up, well then there was a procedure to follow…periodically go present yourself to a priest, who would inspect your skin to make sure you were, in fact, okay…and if he gave you the thumbs up, well then you’d do a ceremonial washing, and you’d make a thanksgiving sacrifice…and then you were clean again, and you could rejoin the community.

But until that time, well you were out in the wilderness…required to cover your face and announce from a distance “UNCLEAN!” so that anyone who wanted to avoid contamination could stay away from you…but as misery does love company…fellow lepers could band together. This is why Jesus encounters a group of 10…10 guys…all kicked out of their local communities…hanging out together…and all of them seeking mercy…seeking healing…and apparently…aware of who this Jesus guy is.

For when they recognize him, even though they are following the rules and staying at a distance, they cry out “JESUS…MASTER…have mercy on us.” (pause)  And Jesus, being Jesus…does.  But…here’s the weird part about this story.  We don’t really hear about the healing itself do we?

Rather, Jesus just tells them…go show yourself to the priest. And…that’s it. We don’t actually hear about the healing itself do we? Only a passing comment that as they’re going, they are cleansed…Jesus doesn’t offer any fancy words…he doesn’t do any oddball actions as we hear in other instances…he doesn’t even touch them…he just tells them to go the priest…to basically do exactly what they would already do.  And its on the way that the action happens…the action of being cleansed. (pause)
Now I’m drawn to the notion of action here…because there are actually 3 different actions described within the story…while the 10 men are heading towards the priests…all 10 are cleansed…We also hear that they are healed…now one could argue that these are sort of the same thing…and they are certainly related…but there is a distinction…for their ailment is healed…but to be healed of something, that requires the action of nature…whatever it is that’s causing the sickness clears up, whether by itself or with the help of medicine or in this case with the help of God…but it is…a biological action.

Now on the other hand, to be “cleansed,” while referring to the healing of their leprosy, well according to the rules that we’ve already discussed, well this involves the judgement and action of a priest to say that “yes, you are clean.” And so this action is up to another person. (pause)

Now both of these actions happen to all 10 guys…essentially, even though it originates in a miraculous way…its still very much a part of the normal status quo…for this type of thing happened…someone would be called a leper…but after time they could be called clean and return to normal life.

And here’s where things get tricky…9 of the guys…we don’t really know what happens to them do we?  They believe Jesus enough to follow his instructions…and along the way they are healed…but after that, we don’t know. In all likelihood these 9 guys, who we can assume are Jewish, go to the priest, get the thumbs up, make the required sacrifice and head back to their community…

But 1 guy…the one who happens to be the foreigner…the outsider among outsider, he does something different doesn’t he? As we hear, he returns…praising God in a loud voice, falling at Jesus feet to thank him for the gift of mercy that Jesus had shown him…and we hear from Jesus that this man’s faith has made him well…it has made him whole…and in fact the Greek even says it has “SAVED” him.

Now we talk a lot about salvation don’t we…and we talk a lot about faith…last week’s sermon was all about that…but I find myself wondering what it is that was different about this guy…because out of 10 men who all experienced the same thing…this one guy experiences more…and Jesus commends him for it…pointing out his faith…his faith which apparently is on display through his action of returning with incredible gratitude for that which God has done in his life. (pause)
So what’s different about this guy? What is it that makes him respond as he does? What is it that makes him recognize the presence of something amazing in the midst of the regular day to day? (pause)
As we hear, it’s the presence of faith within him…the belief that God has done something…and that God is the source of this miraculous healing. (pause)
Say what you will about the other 9 guys…there must have been something going on there, because they were healed as well…but it would seem that they are so caught up in the regular…in the status quo…in the way things normally are that they have missed the presence of something more.

Just like all those people in Minnesota who were so busy with their morning routine that they missed me crashing into curb and wiping out…these 9 guys just go about their business…getting back to normal…but because of the presence of faith within this random Samaritan leper…this man who is not only an outcast, but is an outcast among outcasts…he is able to recognize just how enormous this gift of God is.

There’s a moment in Luke’s gospel when Jesus says that he who has been forgiven much loves much, and I think that’s on display here…One could argue that the Samaritan, even though the healing was the same, the blessing was a double measure…so perhaps he’s got insight that the other 9 guys lacked…and we see the same sort of thing on display with believers who’s faith came about in the midst of hitting rock bottom…and the turnaround in their lives is so blatant, because they recognize the enormity of God’s free gift of Grace.

Now, in our lives of faith, we all have moments when we’re one of the 9…and the incredible gift that we’ve been given, simply because God has chosen to out his monumentous love for us…gets missed in our ordinary day to day lives…but at the same time, faith gives us the ability to also be the 1…faith gives us the ability to recognize the presence of something amazing in the midst of the status quo…because through Christ, the kingdom has come near…through Christ, the miracle has already been done…through Christ God’s grace is already given to us, and because of what God has said about us…and what God has done for us…its already here…and it is through the presence of faith in the midst of our humdrum lives, that we recognize the enormity of this gift…and we respond with gratitude. (pause)

Interestingly enough I got into a discussion on social media this week on this very subject…and the question of how do we respond to this gift of grace…and how does faith manifest itself?  Do we respond by cheapening God’s gift and continuing to act like a jerk, holding onto our get out of jail free card…expecting to repent at the last possible second?

Or are we changed? Do we recognize the incredible gift that we have been given…not by anything we have done, but simply because Jesus does have mercy on us.  And in recognizing this, does our life reflect true gratitude…and do we praise God for this gift?

That’s what faith does…it allows us to see just how big of a gift we have already received in the midst of the normal…and our gratitude is reflected as we praise the one who has given us this gift. (pause)

All 10 men were healed…all 10 were cleansed…but only one was made whole…may our eyes be opened to witness the amazing gift that God has given us…and may our lives reflect that back as praise. Amen.

Confirmation Questions 10-13-13

This week I preached on Luke 17:11-19, the story of Jesus healing the 10 lepers. You can find the sermon here.

As usual, the confirmation students posed some great questions in their sermon notes. I’ll address them here.

-Are there still lepers?
Yes, leprosy still exists. It is a condition which we now know to be caused by a bacteria.  While treatments are available, there are still many places in the world where treatment is not administered and therefore “lepers” are common. India is one such place.

-Why take risks if you don’t know what you’ll go through?
Admittedly, I’m not quite sure what this question is asking, but I’ll attempt to answer it as best I can.  If the question is why would we take risks for our faith, I can only say its because our faith gives us the assurance that God will act. For instance, the 10 lepers believed that Jesus could heal them, and so that’s why they risked approaching him and asked to be healed. Other individuals in the Gospels did the same thing. Their faith gave them confidence regardless of the risks that they were taking.  Sometimes we take risks for our faith as well, which was something that the students discussed during confirmation small group on Sunday. In short, we don’t know what life holds for us. There are a lot of unknowns each and every day, but we risk the negative things because of what we believe.

-Why would people think that God wouldn’t accept them?
This is an excellent question, and there is no single good answer. I’ve known some people that have said “I’m too messed up.” They seem to think that because they have lived a certain way that they can’t go to church, and it seems like the misconception is that they’ll just go to hell. Or they think that its a lost cause.  What they fail to realize, or perhaps have never heard, is that Jesus came to save us all, because in our sinful condition…which includes everyone…we are all lost causes.

-Why did the other 9 lepers not go back to thank Jesus?
Another great question. Honest answer, we don’t know why they failed to return. Perhaps they had already gone a long way before the healing happened…the scripture doesn’t tell us. Perhaps they just didn’t think about it. Perhaps they were in such a rush to return to their homes and families that they skipped thanking Jesus.  Or another possibility is that they were trying to do what Jesus had told them, Go and show themselves to the priest.  It was the priest that had to announce that their leprosy was gone and that they could return home. It’s certainly possible that they were simply trying to follow the rules.  Regardless of the reason, the important thing to remember here is that we have the ability to thank God directly for the things that He has done for us…we can approach God directly through prayer. In the Samaritan’s case, he went back and spoke directly to Jesus…we do the same through prayer.

Odd Man Out 10-13-13

In this sermon I tackle another view on faith. It is based on Luke 17:11-19, the story of the 10 lepers.

Listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/odd-man-out-10-13-13

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here. Excuse the odd punctuation and indications to pause. I gotta remember this stuff somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…Amen
There have been a few times before when I’ve discussed my sermon preparation process…how during certain weeks things went a little odd…strange revelations…eye opening examples…or the dreaded Friday writer’s block.
Well guess what…this week was a bit of an oddball as well…mainly because when Friday rolled around, I was out of the office and home with my kids as the Underwood school system was out for the day. Over the course of the morning, the three of us were lazy, just hanging around the house. I was picking away at some housework while letting my sermon percolate in my mind…and the kids got into a music mode. They sat around listening to music together…but there was a bit of a catch. (pause)
When my kids get hooked on a song, they listen to it over and over again…now parents…I’m guessing that you’ve been hearing your kids singing the new song “What Does the Fox Say?” (pause) I heard it over and over for about half an hour…and then after a short while, the song finally changed…and I heard One Direction’s “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” over and over again.
My first inkling was to get a little annoyed at hearing the same songs again and again…but then something dawned on me…the light bulb went off in my head…as I’ve been working on the sermon for this week…I’ve been thinking over and over again…this sounds just like last week.
If you were here last week or if you happened to catch the podcast of my sermon, you know that I talked about Faith…what is faith…what is faith not…where does it come from…how do we get it…faith faith faith faith…and it’s a good topic to think about…but after thinking about it for a week straight…I was a little surprised when I sat down, last Sunday following worship to read today’s Gospel lesson for the first time…and the very last phrase was…your faith has made you well…FAITH!!! THERE IS IT AGAIN!!!!
I’ll be perfectly honest…at one point I had the notion that I would just come up here…read the Gospel lesson…and say “Hey, remember what I said last week? Same deal” and go sit down…but then I thought about it a little more…and I realized that while, it’s the same topic this week…the story line is a little different…and it reminded me of movie sequels.
There’s certainly a trend in Hollywood these days to take established movies…and crank out another one…and it works…I know, I checked. The current top 10 grossing movies of 2013 include Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, Monsters University, Fast & Furious 6, Oz the Great and Powerful, and Star Trek Into Darkness. 4 sequels and 2 prequels…6 out of 10…and if you are wondering, #”s 15, 16, 17, and 20 are all sequels too.
Now what’s the secret to a good sequel? Make the story line similar…use at least some of the same characters…but change up the perspective and the setting so its not the exact same movie as the first time around. (pause) So does that work for today’s Gospel?
Let’s see…we’ve got Jesus…and he’s the main character, so that’s good…but we’ve got some new people too…10 lepers including a Samaritan…check…the location has changed so we’ve got that going for us…and instead of the disciples asking for more faith, we see that healing happens because of existing faith…check…yes friends…its official…we have a sermon sequel…we might as well call this one Faith…Part 2.
As I read this story, over and over again…I found myself wondering about the presence of faith…this faith that Jesus recognizes and applauds in the life of the Samaritan…and I found myself wondering…was he the only one that had it?  There are many instances in the Gospels when someone expresses faith and Jesus applauds it…in fact, he uses this exact same phrase 7 times throughout the 4 Gospels…Your faith has made you well…and in each instance…its an unexpected person…its never the disciples…its never the religious elite…it’s the foreigner or the downtrodden…or the neglected…its those that have no earthly reason to be praised…to be recognized…its those that are at the margins…and today’s story is no exception.
10 lepers…and now leprosy…let’s think about that for a moment…leprosy is a horrible disease. Your flesh literally rots away while you are still alive…finger and toes…hands and feet rot away and fall off…and whatever caused it…it was wildly contagious…that’s why we find these 10 guys off in the wilderness…outside of the town that Jesus is approaching…because that’s what they did if you were a leper…they kicked you out of town until you either died or you got better…
You couldn’t come into town…and if you happened to encounter anyone…you had to announce your condition so they could avoid you…that’s why the 10 lepers call out to Jesus from a distance…and so we find these 10 men…utterly marginalized. (pause) But it goes farther than that…we find out that one of them…is a Samaritan…now if you’re not familiar with the social dynamics between Jews and Samaritans at the time…it wasn’t really great…they were like the neighbors that hate each other…the Samaritans were considered half breeds…remnants of a horrible time when the Jews were in exile and intermarried with the Assyrians…they worshiped God but not “correctly.” In short…they were a culture of outcasts…and so this one man…experienced even more marginalization…and outcast…among outcasts…on the outside of the outsiders.
Perhaps that’s why the Samaritan was the only one of the 10 men who returned to show his gratitude for being healed…perhaps it’s because this one man felt the sting of being marginalized just a little more than the others did. Maybe the reversal that Jesus created in his life was just a little bit bigger…a reversal of his condition, he was healed…a reversal of his exile, he could return to his home and family…but even more than that…a reversal of his exclusion…for Jesus himself…God in human form…chose to act in his life, regardless of his status…regardless of his culture…God acted, even if he wasn’t one of the chosen ones.
But maybe it goes a little beyond that…I wonder what was going through the minds of all 10 of these guys. They ask for mercy from Jesus…clearly they recognize him for who he is…but instead of just saying “Ok guys you got it” and healing them…he sends them on a road trip…go show yourselves to the priests.
What do you suppose they were thinking to themselves…or saying to each other as they left…still sick…still unclean…and started walking to the local priest… Umm, what’s going on? Jesus didn’t do anything for us…that’s kinda weird right? But then…in the midst of their journey…the miracle happens…the healing happens…the cleansing happens…and it happens for all 10 of them…(pause)
Yes, only one returns…the Samaritan as we’ve already heard…but all 10 were healed…and Jesus says that it was faith that made them well…so it seems…even though the other 9 guys failed to show any gratitude…that they had faith in what Jesus told them…that the other 9 guys also believed in what God had promised them. (pause)
But I wonder…did any of them have any doubts?  Did any of them feel like maybe, just maybe it won’t work? (pause) Well, maybe…just maybe…that’s how the Samaritan felt.  Maybe…just maybe he was thinking “It won’t work for me…I’m different…I’m not one of them…Jesus just didn’t recognize me for what I am.” (pause)
Doubts happen don’t they? (pause) I think at one time or another, everyone experiences doubt…doubt about who we are…if we’re good enough…if we know enough…doubt about our status in life…doubt about our place in life…and yes…even doubt about our faith…is our faith strong enough…do we really believe the promises of God…Will God really accept ME.
I’ve encountered a lot of people who say that they can’t go to church because they’re too messed up…or because they look different…or they act different…or because they don’t have their life all straightened out…a lot of people fall under that category…and unfortunately…they tend to stay away…they won’t even approach God because they’re afraid…or because they’re stubborn….or because they think they’ll be denied.
But people…don’t we all experience that?  Haven’t each and every one of us…at one time or another…felt like the odd man out…haven’t we all experienced the doubts…or the fears…or the exclusion…haven’t we all been on the margins.  Ever been to high school? You probably know what I’m talking about…ever sat in a class, or a meeting, and felt like you were in over your head?  Ever been called on to explain something, and felt like you didn’t know what to say, or what to express…or worse yet, you sat there questioning whether or not you even believed it yourself?
In our lives…whether or regular day to day activities or in the expression of our faith…doubt happens…questions happen…fear happens…it happens to each and every one of us at one time or another…and when we are honest with ourselves…it probably happens a whole lot more than we want to admit….especially here in church right?
And so we put on the brave face…or we sit quietly with our doubts and questions…or we stop showing up…because our doubts can get in the way. (pause) But you know what…God choses to work despite those doubts…despite those questions…God choses to work in our lives regardless of our own sinful shortcomings…its those sinful shortcomings that prompted God to work in the first place…
And maybe it’s those that recognize how much Jesus has overcome in their lives that creates such an extensive gratitude…look back at the story…the one man that came back…one man out of 10…was the one that experienced twice the miracle…Jesus gave him the same result as the rest, despite being an outsider among outsiders…and when the man realized what God had done for him, he felt the need to express that gratitude directly…and I think we can learn from that example.
Because we’re all outsiders aren’t we? All of our relationships are strained by the presence of sin in our lives…no relationship is perfect…because no person is perfect…and the most important relationship…the relationship that we have with God…the one that we all doubt at one time or another…is severed by sin…but God overcomes it anyway.
God tells us…go on…just like Jesus told the lepers to go…and the healing occurs as we go on in our day to day lives…its not the living that heals us…its not us that heal ourselves…its God that acts…even when our doubts linger…God’s promises still apply…and I believe that we need to show that same gratitude to God…that’s why we gather together in worship…to offer our praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for what he has done for us…but we also show our gratitude in our day to day lives by following what Jesus himself tells us to do…go and make disciples…go and share what God has done in your life…share your story…and don’t worry about having all the right answers…or having everything in line and straightened out in your life first…because when we’re honest…we know that…will never happen in this lifetime…but praise the Lord…because he doesn’t wait for us to get it all figured out…God acts…even when we aren’t paying attention…even when we, are the odd man out…Amen