Sunday, October 09, 2016

Five Questions about the Leper who gives thanks to God

         Sometimes, when we read a story so familiar, it is worth asking those 5 simple journalistic questions—
Who, what, where, when, and why?
Asking them of the story, and of our own lives.
Who-A Samaritan Leper
What-He Gave Thanks
Where-in the borderland between Samaria and Galilee
When-As Jesus headed to Jerusalem
Why-Because he was healed!

          A Samaritan Leper gave thanks in the borderland between Samaria and Galilee, as Jesus headed to Jerusalem, because he was healed!

          Who, a Samaritan Leper.
          Luke’s Gospel is chock full of Samaritans
—Jesus enters a Samaritan village,
He tells his famous story about the Good Samaritan,
and today, only a Samaritan responds with thanksgiving for the good thing Jesus has done for him.
          Remember, the Samaritans were the ultimate Other, the singular Stranger in Jesus’ world.
          The presence of Samaritans should be unsettling—scandalous even! Their presence in the Gospel ought to attack any stereotypes we might hold, attack any instance of prejudice we might participate in. The Gospel disallows it!
          Not only that, the Samaritan’s presence in Acts also reminds us that the Gospel is for everyone, it ought to go out unto all the earth!
After the resurrection, when the Disciples wanted to keep their faith in the upper room, God threw them out onto the streets.
When the followers of Jesus wanted to keep the Gospel as a Jewish only thing, God got Stephen and Cornelius and Paul involved.
When Paul wanted to preach only to people in Asia Minor, God sent him the vision of the man from Macedonia and he and Timothy crossed the Aegean Sea and onto his missionary work in Europe.
When the Gospel went wobbly in Algeria, God sent St. Augustine.
When it stalled in Gaul, God sent St. Patrick.
You get my point here—the Gospel is meant to be shared, with everyone!
          Presented with this Samaritan, representing an attack on prejudice, we ought to ask ourselves, “Who have I pre-judged?”
          Presented with this Samaritan, reminding us of the wideness of the Gospel message we ought to ask ourselves, “Who have I chosen not to tell about Jesus?”

          What? He gave thanks.
          Such a simple phrase, “Thank you,” yet profound in its power. Medical professionals suggest “Thank you” re-shapes our brains for the better, and heightens our level of enjoyment of life. Gratitude makes the things we are grateful for more valuable, it connects the giver and the receiver in a bond of kindness.
          For that matter, just listen to the thanks we give God during Holy Communion, “It is indeed right, our duty and our joy, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks and praise to you, almighty and merciful God, through our Savior Jesus Christ.”
          Surrounded with songs of praise and thanksgiving, observing the thankfulness celebrated in today’s gospel, let’s take a moment to ask ourselves, “What am I truly thankful for?”

          Where? The borderlands between Samaria and Galilee.
          The space between two peoples.
          Look, for a second, who lives there—Lepers, both Samaritan and Jewish—they are united in their misery.
This is a common thing, isn’t it?
People pushed to the sides of life find each other, misery loves company. They value one another beyond race or religion, because they see that spark of similarity in their common suffering.
          And yet, in these spaces—the in-between spaces, we also find Jesus,
Jesus entering in, finding, and healing.
Jesus in the crevasse where loose change settles and lost people find one another.
There they saw one another as humans based on common suffering
—there Christ calls them into a greater unity based on their common humanity.
          Consider a moment one of the tragedies of our modern life. These in-between spaces—what sociologists term 3rd spaces—are disappearing from society.
Places that are neither home nor work, are going the way of the Dodo,
we’re abandoning them in droves.
Spaces where you might safely meet someone very different from yourself, are disappearing. Elks clubs, Bowling Leagues, Churches… all places to run into lepers of all sorts and maybe entertain Jesus unaware. There is a dearth of them in our present culture.
          Brought to this borderland we might ask, “Where are my third spaces?” “Where have I found myself in unexpected company?” “Where has Jesus met me?”

          When? As Jesus headed to Jerusalem.
          As Jesus journeys to the site of his death, and his resurrection, he brings death and resurrection to these 10 lepers. Their designation as unclean, unable to enter society and mix freely with friends and family
—all this dies, and they rise anew, clean and changed, new people.
Jesus entered their social death and dragged them into a healed life!
          In the face of this dying and rising, we can ask ourselves, “When have I found death and resurrection in my life?”

          Why? Because he was healed!
          Many sermons on this story focus here, on this question, “Why” … but focus in a different way. They ask, “Why him, but not the others?” Sometimes the other lepers are accused of a ridged religious response, going to the priest without recognizing the Christ in their midst.
Other preachers ask the question, “Why didn’t the 9 return?” and shame congregations for lacking attendance
humiliating those who are not in worship, not there to defend themselves AND making the congregation in attendance feel bad for not having 9 times as many people in the pews…
          But that’s just silly.
The only question we can rightly ask is “why him?”
“Why us?”
          And even more importantly, the only answer we know is: “because he was healed by Jesus, Saved by Jesus!”
And that is our answer as well. A+A

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