Lavish mercy

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Last Sunday

Luke 17:11-19

13Ten lepers approached him…saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Attendance was small on Sunday. When I began the announcements, there were only a few people scattered among the pews in the back half of the sanctuary. It’s always something of a shock when the crowd is especially small. Pastors can’t help but take it at least a little bit personally; attendance is one of the few numbers you can track easily and it is hard not to perceive it as at least some measures of success – which is challenging when you live in a culture that worships success. Ironically, the gospel reading on Sunday concerned the ten lepers who were healed but only one came back to give God praise. Jesus wasn’t exactly satisfied that only one came back, but I suppose there is some comfort in that though the numbers in our congregation were small yesterday, we did better than one out of ten.

You can find the message from Sunday at Jacob Limping and on this blog site among the “recent sermons.” It speaks to the heart of this powerful and important text. But, like most passages of scripture, there are other things to see in the narrative, not least of which is this: Jesus dispensed the healing of God freely and widely, without asking anything of those in need of God’s gifts.

We tend to be so concerned whether those who ask for help deserve it. I remember the story of the ants and the grasshopper from my childhood. The grasshopper played all summer while the ants worked diligently. Consequently, the ants had food for the winter and the grasshopper did not. Because he had not planned for the future, the grasshopper deserved what he got.

I understand the need to encourage responsibility. But I also recognize what a deadly spiritual disease it is to imagine that we deserve what we receive from God.

On a human level, there are consequences to our actions – though much too often those consequences fall on innocent bystanders. None of those who perished in the devastating railroad tanker fire in Quebec were responsible for the brakes that had not been properly set. The children of Aleppo are not responsible for the warfare that surrounds them. But responsibility does matter for so many ordinary things: driving responsibly, fidelity in marriage, spending quantity and quality time with our children, nourishing a spiritual life.

But we should not fail to recognize that the mercy of God is given freely and lavishly to the nine as well as the one. It is the character of God to cast the seed with abandon though some falls on the path or among the rocks. It is the character of God to make the sun shine on the just and the unjust (on those who show fidelity to God and to others and those who fail to show such fidelity.) When the disciples ask Jesus of the man born blind “Who sinned, this man or his parents,” the answer is neither.

God does not give what we deserve; God gives because it is God’s nature to give. It is part of what the scripture means when it says “God is love” and that “the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases.” God’s fidelity to the world is not conditional. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” “The Good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

In the healing of the ten lepers we should not miss the lavish mercy of God. And we who call Jesus our brother and lord should live with eyes and heart open to recognize and live that mercy.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAll-Saints.jpg By Sampo Torgo at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

One came back

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Watching for the Morning of October 9, 2016

Year C

The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 23 / Lectionary 28

Healing comes to the fore this Sunday, but much more than healing. Namaan, the Syrian general, enemy of Israel, yet sufferer, is told by a slave girl, captured from Israel, that there is a prophet in Israel who can heal him. The story is filled with humor and irony and the radical ways of God who is not impressed with the trappings of wealth and power but simple obedience. A God of grace beyond Israel’s borders, though Namaan himself is still bound by the idea that Israel’s God is like all the others: powerful only on his own specific bits of land.

And the psalmist sings of the mighty works of God – though he, too, doesn’t yet seem to fully understand that God’s mighty works are not just for his people, but for all.

The author of 2 Timothy knows that “the word of God is not chained”, yet his focus is on “the elect” not on the vast sweep of humanity – indeed of the created world, itself.

And so we come to Jesus. Ten sufferers stand far off, crying out from a distance because they are unclean and unworthy to come near to anyone but their fellow sufferers. They cry for mercy and Jesus sends them to the priests who are the ones appointed by God to judge whether anyone is “clean” and may go home. They scamper off, but one returns. One is captured by the grace he has received. One is driven to his knees in gratefulness and praise. And he is a Samaritan, a foreigner, one to whom God is thought to have no obligation or concern.

But Jesus knows this God of the creation and the exodus and the water turned to wine is the God of all: the sinners and the saints, the outcast and the inner circle, the broken and the whole, the lost and the found.

The nine scamper off to resume their lives – and who can blame them? But the one who turned back, the one with his face to the ground, the one with tears in his eyes and a heart bursting, knows that something much more than a village healer has come.

The Prayer for October 9, 2016

God our healer and redeemer,
stretch forth your hand,
touch us with your spirit
that, cleansed and made whole,
we may live lives of gratefulness and praise;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for October 9, 2016

First Reading: 2 Kings 5:1-19a (appointed, 5:1-3, 7-15)
“Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram… suffered from leprosy.”
– The commander of Israel’s hostile neighbor is told by a captured Israelite maid that there is a prophet in Israel who can heal him.

Psalmody: Psalm 111
“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.” – An acrostic hymn singing the praise of God from Aleph to Tau (A to Z).

Second Reading: 2 Timothy 2:8-15
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.” – Written by Paul (or, as some scholars think, in Paul’s name) from prison to his protégé Timothy, the author speaks to the next generation of leadership urging faithfulness to the teaching they have received.

Gospel: Luke 17:11-19
“Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?’” –As Jesus approaches a village he is met by ten people suffering from a dreaded skin affliction that excludes them from their families and community. They are sent on their way healed, but only the Samaritan in the group returns to acknowledge Jesus and give thanks to God.

Learning the language of heaven

Sunday Evening

Luke 17

Æbleskiver, Small Danish dessert dumplings coo...

Æbleskiver, Small Danish dessert dumplings cooked in a special pan, mostly served during the Christmas season. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.

I think this is the first time I have ever had bratwurst for coffee hour – left overs from the Oktoberfest on Saturday evening.  It’s interesting to me how those hors d’oeuvre size pieces brought to mind the warmth and pleasure of the party the night before.  A taste of the banquet that was.

Worship is a taste of the banquet that will be.  Yes, it is a taste of that last evening when Jesus broke bread and gave it to his followers saying “Do this to remember me.”  And, yes, it is a banquet of its own where God feeds God’s gathered community.  But this shared bread is not supposed to fill us with nostalgia for last night; it is to shape us by the promise of tomorrow.

I say that I would like to learn Danish – though I know I can never quite get those noises made deeply in the throat.  But it was the language of my grandparents’ home.  It was the language of great family parties, of akvavit and pickled herring, of roast pork and red cabbage and pickled red beets, of frikadeller and hakkebøf and those wonderful caramelized new potatoes, of laughter and song and toasting – and fabulous deserts.  In a way, that was my first taste of the banquet of heaven, my first taste of the world made perfect.

But I don’t learn Danish.  I haven’t sought out a class.  I haven’t tried a language course on CDs.  For me, Danish is the language of nostalgia.  If, on the other hand, I knew that I was going to go live in Denmark at some time in the future – then learning the language would be imperative.

The bread and wine of Holy Communion is a taste of the feast to come.  Worship is our language class for the future.  Here, we are learning the language of mercy and shared bread.  Here, we are learning the language of forgiveness and redemption.  Here, we are learning what it is to live free from guilt and fear.  Here, we are learning to trust the faithfulness of God – and learning to be faithful in return.

The Lord and Giver of Life

Watching for the morning of October 13

The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 23 / Lectionary 28

English: Lepers in Jerusalem 1913 outside Mary...

English: Lepers in Jerusalem 1913 outside Mary’s Tomb in the Kidron Valley. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Band-Aids exercise a magical power for small children.  There is a kind of terror that seems to overtake them at the sight of blood – as though the life force were leaking from their body.  The same seems to have been true of skin diseases in ancient Israel; several chapters in Leviticus discuss such diseases, their diagnosis, and their consequences in great detail.  We still share something of these ideas, or we wouldn’t spend however many billions of dollars on skin care lotions and creams.  We routinely say people look well or ill based on their skin condition.  And a certain pallor always strikes us with a deathly fear.

The laws in Leviticus governed blotches and discoloration on walls and fabrics, too, even as we react to the site of mold.  This is not about contagion and disease prevention; it is about that sense of the unclean.  In Israel, such a disease excluded you from family and community.  You become an untouchable.  It hints that you are under a curse, that God is holding your sins against you.

Ten such people cry out to Jesus for mercy in Sunday’s gospel.  What happens is not a medical miracle; what happens is a restoration of life.  Their bodies are made whole; their spirits are made whole; their lives are made whole.  They are restored to their life in their community.

But only the one Samaritan seems to understand that they have not met a mendicant healer; they have been met by the one authorized to dispense the gifts of the Lord and Giver of Life.

The Prayer for October 13, 2013

God our healer and redeemer,
stretch forth your hand,
touch us with your spirit,
that cleansed and made whole
we may live lives of gratefulness and praise.  

The Texts for October 13, 2013

First Reading: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
“Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram… suffered from leprosy.”
– The commander of Israel’s hostile neighbor is told by a captured Israelite maid that there is a prophet in Israel who can heal him.

Psalmody: Psalm 111
“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.” – An acrostic hymn singing the praise of God from Aleph to Tau (A to Z).

Second Reading: 2 Timothy 2:8-15
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.” – Written by Paul (or, as some scholars think, in Paul’s name) from prison to his protégé Timothy, the author speaks to the next generation of leadership urging faithfulness to the teaching they have received.

Gospel: Luke 17:11-19
“Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?’” –As Jesus approaches a village he is met by ten people suffering from a dreaded skin affliction that excludes them from their families and community.  They are sent on their way healed, but only the Samaritan in the group returns to acknowledge Jesus and give thanks to God.