Sermon for Trinity 17C (aka Creation Season)
Don’t be surprised if faith is found amongst those we don’t tend to notice, who are continually noticed by Jesus.
It’s a case this morning, not of the Good Samaritan, but of the grateful Samaritan.
Luke is often at pains in his gospel to highlight the universal nature of the Good News – it is, literally, for all people.
It is in Luke that we find Mary and Elizabeth, two women who get together to share their pregnancy stories, like women have always done, and through whom, in the babies they will bear, the salvation of the world will be set in motion.
It is in Luke that we find Simeon and Anna, two very elderly people whose longsuffering faith in the coming Messiah has been noticed by God, even at their great age.
And it is Luke who holds before us the Good News which is for everyone, which is not tribal, but universal; “the Universal Christ”, as Richard Rohr puts it.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, where he will arrive in chapter 19.
He is on the way – both literally on the road between Galilee and Samaria – and on the way of the cross, having set his mind upon a course of action that will result in his own self giving for the world.
As is the way of Jesus, he comes to a borderland area, between two places – Galilee and Samaria. Jesus often inhabits the liminal (in between places) and he calls us to do the same.
Boundary spaces are places where faith is possible, where the action of God may break in, where you’re between two worlds, as it were.
Any change or new situation calls for courage (I tell myself this every day). Change is the boundary between what we knew that was familiar, and what is emerging, which is unfamiliar.
I suppose we’re in such a season as a church. I certainly am, as a minister.
Maybe you’re in a season of change yourself, on the border between what you have known, and what you don’t yet know.
This could be due to uncertain health, aging, moving jobs, taking up a new course or post, facing a new challenge or facing up to something that’s gone wrong.
These borderlands are where our faith is particularly tested – where our faith can either stagnate or it can grow.
Be encouraged that the borderlands and the boundary spaces are Jesus’s speciality. You can be sure to find him there, watching out for you, inviting you, surprising you, calling you, waiting for you.
So here is Jesus, journeying through the borderlands between Samaria and Galilee, heading from life to death, as it were, on the way of the cross.
And he encounters ten lepers.
For cultural, religious, social and hygiene reasons, they keep their distance.
This is not going to be one of those miracles where Jesus touches people, where he lays hands on someone to make them clean.
Keeping their distance the lepers call out, addressing Jesus as Master – a term normally reserved for disciples.
“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
It is enough.
Jesus first response is “Go and show yourselves to the priests”. ‘And as they went’ (we read) ‘they were made clean’. It’s all very practical. The priests will rubber-stamp their entry back into the religious life of the community; they’ll become full members of society again, and they’ll return with joy to their families. Job done.
As dramatic shows of miraculous power go, it’s all a bit low key.
But that’s not the end of the story!
Because there’s always another part to healing, and that’s what’s going on on the inside.
It would seem that only one of them had any internal response to what had happened alongside the physical healing.
One of the ten saw that he was healed and turned back. He responds to the gift of healing with a recognition that God has been at work.
I hope we are a church that is becoming more and more sensitive to seeing God at work. There are ways to foster that seeing: I don’t know if you have heard of the Examen….
It’s a prayer where we take 5 minutes at the end of each day to review the day in the light of God’s Spirit.
We ask ourselves, where did I see God at work? Or, for what did I feel most grateful today? Where in the day did I sense the most connection, the most love, the most significance? Because that was where the Spirit might have been at work…
When we do a prayer like the Examen, and give permission for God to shine the divine light onto the events of the day, we discover all sorts of things.
- God is in the every day.
- God is concerned with reality, not what we think we should be feeling, but what we really are feeling. What we feel does matter, and is often different to the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ we were brought up on. Jesus is always into inner freedom.
- God is constantly at work in the world.
The leper who turned back had a light bulb moment. He saw that God had been at work – he “saw” that he had been healed. His healing wasn’t a tick box moment, which meant he could go to the priest and get just what he wanted, even though what he wanted (to be socially and religiously reinstated) was perfectly legitimate.
He saw that God had been at work inside him too. When we do the Examen, when we’re prayerful, and review the day in the divine light, or talk to someone else about the day, we see that God has been at work, and our faith is built up.
So the leper who’s been healed sees and turns back. He does an action, which puts him on a course directly towards Jesus. So there’s a direction in this story. The nine walking away; the one is walking back to Jesus. And he praises God and falls prostrate at Jesus’s feet and thanks him.
He sees, he turns and he runs back leaping and praising God, and worshipping Jesus.
And then Luke has a short dynamite-like sentence: “And he was a Samaritan”.
Luke is just getting that in because it is supposed to upset the apple cart. It is supposed to upset assumptions that everyone then knew who were the goodies and the baddies, the spiritual and the unspiritual. To the Jew, a Gentile was a pagan but a Samaritan was an enemy.
And humans like nothing better than to know who the enemy is. We’re no different. When notions of who the enemy is and who the good guy is get upturned, we feel extremely uncomfortable.
When I saw a picture in the newspaper of ISIS fighters being kept in crowded prison cells, body upon body so close together you could hardly tell them apart, I felt pity. And I also felt uncomfortable. They’re the enemy, right? One is not supposed to feel pity for the enemy.
Once I talked to a Christian who was considering voting UKIP in the next election and I wanted to label their faith as wrong and defective; I wanted to stop having a drink with them in the local pub; and walk out, but I couldn’t because he was my brother in Christ.
When I think of the Union Jack and how all the different colours of the flag represent peoples that the English have dominated throughout history, I am reminded that coalitions of countries rarely work for all parties, but only for the dominant group, of which I have traditionally been a part; being as I am, English, white, middleclass, educated and part of the Established Church.
So we have lost the shock of “And he was a Samaritan”, especially as we all love The Samaritans now; they’re so kind and caring on the phone when you have no one else to talk to.
Jesus draws attention to this “foreigner” – this Samaritan. “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God?”
The leper gives thanks – Eucharisto = I give thanks. He gives thanks using the same word from which we get Eucharist, the ultimate thanksgiving for Jesus offered for us. The Samaritan is held up by Luke as a model response to the gospel.
One commentator has asked, of this passage, “Who are the outsiders that reflect back God’s kingdom to us?” Because probably we cannot trust our own limited view of the kingdom.
What a good question for us church people who know the bible and who come to worship every Sunday.
“Who are the outsiders that reflect back God’s kingdom to us?”
As World Mental Health Day has been marked this week, I give thanks for “L” who worshipped in our church. She lived with bipolar disorder and had suffered for many years under a mental health misdiagnosis, which had led to some harsh drugs that left her worse than before.
As I turned up at my first village fete as a new curate, feeling pretty out of place and exposed, I noticed her because she was a bit different. I saw her fix her gaze on my dog collar, and I was that she “saw”. Most other people either pretended not to see, or couldn’t have cared less that there was a new priest at large in the village. “Are you our new vicar?” she asked in a loud voice.
She became a faithful prayer partner for a number of years, and was often the person who was able to “see” when others could not. She’d been on the edge and was therefore good at sensing when other were too. She couldn’t watch the news without crying. Frankly, hers was the right response.
Perhaps it’s the combination of being doubly outside – a leper and a Samaritan – than occasions this outpouring of praise and thanksgiving.
A bit like the woman who sinned much, who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears whilst Simon the Pharisee ‘intuited’ that Jesus couldn’t have been very spiritually switched on…
As we learn today from an outsider who encountered Jesus, may be we can pray for awareness of where God is at work amongst us, and especially in our community, as people come in weekly for the Café and related gatherings.
We are very lucky here that someone had the vision to join up church, school and community in this amazing building.
God is drawing people into fellowship with himself and sometimes we get to be involved – what an amazing privilege. Thank you to all of you who are here, willing to be involved in the work of God – the work of healing and wholeness – which is salvation.
Because if we are looking for neat demarcations between who is healed and who is saved in this story, I think we’ll be disappointed.
Jesus tells the healed Samaritan “go on your way; your faith (belief = pistis) has made you well, or ‘has saved you’.
The other 9 were also made well. But were they ‘saved’? I don’t think we can hope to have that neat detail wrapped up.
Salvation and healing are the same word in the NT, so we, against all our tribal instincts, are forced to embrace the God who embraces all – the outcast, the stranger, the one who is different.
In doing so, our faith and our vision expand. We find ourselves in the borderlands, unsure because God is upsetting the apple cart, and showing us that we are not the sole custodians of the Faith.
We are discovering a saviour who is walking the borderlands where things are uncomfortably alive, and where the stranger sees more than we do.
The grace to be able to follow Jesus there, among the un-noticed, amongst the stranger, is available to all of us.
Thanks be to God.