On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."
Pastor Marc's sermon on the 21st Sunday after Pentecost (October 9, 2016) on Luke 17:11-19. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
Last weekend, I found myself sitting in a train car. The seats were green, comfortable, and looked like they did when this train car was originally made - over 100 years ago. The train was being pulled by an old steam engine, it's boiler pumping out white hot steam while a man shoveled coal, by hand, into a blazing fire. The train was traveling on one of the oldest still functioning rail lines, one established in 1832 to bring the vegetables and crops produced around Lancaster, Pennsylvania to the markets of Philadelphia and Harrisburg. As the train kept chug-chug-chugging along, we passed 14 different farms. Some of these farms used state-of-the-art tractors and harvesters. Others still used horses and plows, their homes lit by candles rather than electric lights. And I was there, with my two kids and spouse, trying to catch all of this moment, all of this intersection of the past and the present, by taking a group #selfie with my phone. Visiting Lancaster, PA is like being caught in two places at once. In one place, I’m experiencing the most up-to-date technology. In the other, I'm stuck in traffic behind a horse and buggy, looking out my window at houses with clothes drying on clothes lines and fields full of watermelons and soybeans being pick by hand. Being a tourist among the farmers and the Amish means walking in the space where two different ways of life meet. And in our reading from Luke today, that's where Jesus is. He's in that in-between space, with the land of Samaria on the right and his homeland, Judea, to the left. In this space, no one story or culture dominates. No one point of view is the only way of seeing the world. Jesus is walking in a muddled place, a place with no firm borders, and a place where anything can happen.
Now, these in-between places are not static places. They're dynamic, vibrant, and full of movement. When we run into one of these places in scripture, our job as interpreters is to notice the movement. It's like if you're having brunch in New York and sitting at a sidewalk cafe, watching the different kinds of people as they walk by. We wonder where they’re going, what they're doing, who they are going to see, and what their lives are like. These questions are the same questions needed for our text today. Jesus is on the move, nearing the end of his journey to Jerusalem and the cross. Jesus finds himself walking along the border between Samaria and Samaritans on one side and Judea, with Jesus’ Jewish sisters and brothers, on the other. In Jesus’ day, 1000 years of history, beliefs, and culture separated these two groups of people. Even though they shared belief in God, they saw God differently. They worshipped God in different ways and in different places. And their history made sure that division, rather than unity, kept the Samaritans and Judeans apart. Both groups didn't just dislike each other, they viewed each other as alien, foreign, and wrong. They were not supposed to speak to each other, associate with each other, or even live next door to each other. And no self-respecting religious teacher would ever find themselves hanging out in this kind of in-between space where they might, just might, interact with the “wrong” people. Jesus isn't supposed to be in this space. He's supposed to be with his kind of people, the ones who worship God the right way, and who look and sound like him. But Jesus’ mission requires him to go to the places we don't think God should go. So Jesus is walking in the place he shouldn't be - and ten lepers notice - and shout his name.
Now, did you notice that these ten kept their distance? They see Jesus coming but they don't run to him. They stand apart. They don't want to get too close. The diseases scripture calls leprosy isn't just a skin disease that might be contagious. It's a disease that pushed people out of their communities. The sick would be declared ritually unclean, forced to live on the outskirts of the village while waiting for a cure. Once the disease was gone, they could go to a priest who would declare them clean, and then, and only then, could they return to their community. The lepers in our story stay away from Jesus because they know the rules. They know that if Jesus gets too close, he might be declared unclean just like they are. These ten are following the rules, so they keep their distance, and ask for help. Now, they’re asking for more than just a cure; they're asking for wholeness. They want to be reconciled to their communities so that they can live a life full of meaning, relationships, and connection. So Jesus, in his response, follows the rules too. He doesn’t heal them, not yet at least. Instead Jesus sends them to someone who can declare them whole. And these ten have faith - they trust Jesus’ word. They trust his promise. So they go, heading out of the scene, away from these borders lands and into a safe place where a priest can be found. And it's on the way to this safe space that one notices he's well.
I've always wondered how this one figured out that their illness was gone. Did their skin just stop itching? Did that open sore finally close? Or, when they passed someone on the road, did that other person not run away because the sign of the their sickness, the sign of their being different, was finally gone? The text doesn't give us an answer but it does tell us that of the ten, 9 follow Jesus’ command. 9 keep heading to the priest. But one...one decides to break the rules. He, instead, comes back - he moves towards Jesus - and does an unexpected thing. He falls at Jesus’ feet. This healed man, a Samaritan, says “Thank You” to a Jewish rabbi because this Jewish rabbi, this Jesus, did the unexpected thing and healed a Samaritan. And this healing came without pre-requisites. Jesus didn't ask the Samaritan to change his beliefs, become Jewish, or prove his status as a “good Samaritan” before he was healed. Jesus just healed him. Jesus didn't ask the Samaritan to become like Jesus before a relationship was offered. And the Samaritan didn't ask Jesus to become a Samaritan before he said “Thank You.” In the in-between space where all kinds of people meet, in this space where Jesus should be, Jesus healed. Jesus encouraged community. Jesus brought wholeness. Or, to sum up, in everything Jesus did, he just loved.
[Today's text is more than a story about being thankful. It’s a text inviting us to see the In-between spaces in our world and in our lives. These are the places where we don’t think God is or maybe are the places and times in our lives when we can’t feel God’s presence by our side. In those places and at those times, our lives are anything but static. We can feel the tension, the energy, the emotions, the push and pull that keeps everything fluid, moving, and unsteady. We feel uprooted, off balanced, like trying to take a group #selfie on a bouncy, rickety, and moving old train. But even at those times when we can’t feel God’s presence, Jesus is there. Even when we feel off balanced, even when we don’t know the way forward - Jesus is there. When we find ourselves stuck, with our Samarias on one side and our Judeas on the other, remember that there is no place God will not go and there’s no place where Jesus will not meet us. No matter where we are, what we feel, or what we are experiencing - the inbetween spaces of our lives - can never get between us - and God’s love - mercy - and forgiveness. ]
[Now, confirmands, today is an awesome day because we get to affirm something that God started a long time ago when you were first baptized. Before you even knew what the Exodus was, before you ever recited your first creed, or learned that your pastor would ask you to take scripture and mash-it up with what we hear on top 40 radio, God knew that the church couldn’t be the church without you. Today might feel like a graduation but unlike a graduation from school, the next step for you isn't off to a new school or new grade or off to try something new. The next step after confirmation is...these pews..the places you were already in before your confirmation journey began. These last two years of classes, service hours, and discovering that there really is a book in the bible called Obadiah, wasn't only about giving you answers. It was about showing you where God is in your own personal story. It was about showing where we might find that God that says you matter each and every day. Each one of you is amazingly talented, compassionate, and authentically you. But your story isn't finished. You’re still becoming who you are supposed to be. That's a journey that will never stop. Everyone lives in that in-between space between where we've been and where we are going, between the things we've done and the things we hope to do, and between the story we've written and the story we’ve just started writing. And when life gets confusing, difficult, joyous, or even scary - when the in-between spaces become very real and we don't know what's going to happen next - know that God is right there, with you. When your Samarias are on one side, your Judeas on the other, and you’re stuck there in the middle - remember - there is no place God will not go and there's nowhere Jesus will not meet you. God doesn't run away from the uncomfortable spaces. God is already there. And when you find yourself in those places, and run into someone who is there too - maybe someone who is sick, or worried, someone who is different from you, or someone who you think is completely foreign to everything you believe and stand for - don't forget that being like Jesus and loving like God loves you - is always an option. ]
Keep Reading >>