Today’s sermon from Luke 17
Today’s sermon from Luke 17:11-19
When our parents told us that we would be leaving our favorite house in Roswell, GA to a more efficient, ranch style home in Alpharetta, I was not pleased.
I had already been uprooted from a beloved home once, in the move from Brazil to the United States. We had a brief meeting following the announcement and agreed to meet in the backyard for a ceremony of protest.
Armed with a bottle of acetone nail polish and a bottle of alcohol, I counted to three, poured the chemicals onto the earth and uttered curses over the ground so that nothing would grow there for 100 years.
We prepared for the move, and for another in-between state of being in the world, with all its uncertainties.
Of course, we came to love the Alpharetta house and, though so knew I wasn’t really that powerful, i came to regret cursing something God had made for all to enjoy.
We grew closer as a family there, opened acceptance letters to college there, and hosted many a Thanksgiving with family and with people who had no family to spend the holiday with.
The in-between of uncertainty became a place where it was safe to dream up new possibilities for our lives, a place to welcome people looking for friendship and family.
Change is one of those things that nobody loves, but everyone must go through. We all face changes of one kind or another in our lives in the in-between places where comfort and affliction sometimes cross paths.
In- between places are scary and stressful, sometimes sad and wrought with anxiety.
Moving to a new home, losing a spouse or a child, a serious illness, losing independence like the ability to drive, are scary and sad in-between places that feel like wilderness. We struggle to find the presence of God amidst the wilderness.
In the wilderness, our lives are pared down to the bare basics and we recognize our dependence on and need for God. Often in the the wilderness, we experience our most memorable encounters with Jesus on the road, like the encounter between Jesus and 10 broken humans.
Jesus is traveling the road between Samaria and Galillee, a stretch of land belonging to neither Jew nor Gentile. It’s a dangerous area with much potential for violence at the border, not many people travel this road.
Not many people, except a group of 10 who travel together in this outskirt area, completely isolated from the rest of society, banished from the temple and their communities of worship, suffering from a physically and emotionally painful skin affliction called leprosy.
They are unwelcome in the synagogue, they must declare themselves unclean when people approach them. Human touch and compassion are not theirs to receive at will.
Outcast, shunned and often blamed for their own affliction because of some horrible sin, they are forced to travel the in-between space of danger and social isolation.
They see Jesus here in this place, traveling the road they so often travel alone. Recognizing him, they beg him for mercy: the mercy of seeing them as humans, not as unclean vessels of rotting flesh; the mercy of healing.
Rather than heal them right away, Jesus tells them to go on their way and show themselves to the priests. Jesus often says this to people he has healed. But he says to go before they are healed.
The trust required to do this shouldn’t be understated. You can’t come near the temple or before a priest if you have leprosy.
For them to be welcomed back into the synagogue and be fully included in the community, a priest must see them and examine them.
After a priest declares that a person is clean from disease, they must be ritually purified by washing in the temple. This ritual cleansing signals their welcome back into the community.
Community is a central part of many faith traditions. Worshipping together brings people into unity. But what becomes of the compassionate community of 10 lepers who suffered together, traveled together and were healed together?
Nine of them are presumably proclaimed clean by the priest and welcomed to wash in the temple and be reinstated to their friends, family, and the temple.
One of them returns to Jesus, noticing that he is healed, to offer praise and gratitude. Who knows when he noticed he was healed, or if the others noticed at the same time?
I wonder if they all arrived together to the temple to show themselves to the priests, as they were lining up, noticing themselves the change in their skin’s appearance.
Maybe he noticed too, and simultaneously realized that as a Samaritan, a foreigner, he would not be welcome into the temple to see the priest and do the cleansing ritual.
With nowhere left to go, he turns back, alone, to head back to Jesus and give thanks and praise.
I wonder if the Samaritan, well versed in being an outcast, became something of a minister to the other nine, as they all suffered together; teaching them how to survive the wilderness and in-between places of social isolation.
How might that have made their suffering in the in between spaces a little more bearable? How does being a community, like this one at Scott Blvd make the in-between places in our own lives a little more bearable?
The Samaritan healed of leprosy returns to Jesus because he is thankful for his healing, full of gratitude. He also has nowhere else to go. He can’t show himself to the priest in the temple, so he shows himself to the only priest who has ever treated him like a human: his healer, Jesus.
Jesus becomes a priest to this Samaritan, and in Jesus, the Samaritan finds a blessing of healing and welcome into a community of grateful people who have had a life-changing encounter with Jesus.
Jesus gives us an example of what faith communities like ours can be in the kingdom of God: churches existing as the body of Christ.
The body of Christ is a community that welcomes everyone into their temples and into their fellowship, with open arms and inviting hearts; a safe place to dream up new possibilities and a place of welcome for people looking for friendship and family.
The body of Christ is a community that offers a haven amid the in-between places where people who are suffering can be with others who are suffering, or who have been in that place. A haven of compassion and wholeness, where Jesus is at the center always there to receive our brokenness and our gratitude.
The body of Christ is a community that heals and strives to bring about healing to all the complex facets of our human existence: ears to listen to another’s experience of oppression and open arms to offer healing embraces to those who suffer among us.
And as we become fellow humans to one another, we are reminded of Jesus, our healer, and we, like the Samaritan turn from what we are doing, fall on our faces at the feet of Jesus and give thanks and praise to God for God’s presence among us in the in-between places, for God’s work in us to make us a community of healing.
The great in-between place that we face right now as a community feels vast and great. It is invigorating and exciting as we look forward to possibilities in ministry together with First Baptist.
It is scary and sad to think about taking up an identity that is different from the one we have had for so long. If you are grieving through this process, carrying overwhelming grief in the in between place of wondering what it will look like and feel like, that’s normal and ok. We grieve together, and celebrate together.
And sometimes, like these days, we get to do both at the same time. In these moments, these liminal spaces where anticipation and grief walk hand in hand, we know that we feel all of these feelings as a community belonging to each other and to God.
We travel together in the in-between places trusting that along the way, we will have another encounter with Jesus where we will experience a healing moment, a call to be like Jesus in the world around us, an opportunity for praise and gratitude, and an invitation to be made well as a community, and in turn to become a community that offers healing and wholeness.
Thanks be to God.