October 13, 2019, the Rev. Carolyn Legg, Deacon
Sermon preached by the Reverend Carolyn Legg, Deacon
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (track 2 readings)
In the name of the God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.
My mother wanted to make sure that my sister and I had manners so she taught us this saying to help us remember them; she said. “Remember mice your thank you and your please, there never were such magic words as these”. My sister looked at my mother and said, I am not a mouse.
Our gospel this Sunday opens with some lepers calling to Jesus; there are many stories of lepers in scripture. For instance in Leviticus 13 there is an outline for specific procedures for a person suspected of being infected with leprosy. The person was to be sent to a priest who would inspect the lesion, and after a period of monitoring and observation, if the condition did not improve, the person was declared ritually “unclean”. Leprosy was considered contagious so these individuals were condemned to live ostracized from their community. They were left homeless without the support of family and friends and many formed their own communities where they lived on hand outs and begging. They carried a bell or they would shout, unclean. In approaching Jesus, the lepers were in violation of the law. In healing the lepers, Jesus was defying the law because the disease was considered a curse from God.
According to our gospel, these 10 lepers did not ring a bell or shout unclean. Instead they called to Jesus to have mercy on them. It is not surprising that Jesus, loving all people had mercy on them and said something so simple, “Go and show yourselves to the priests” and as they walked they were cured. The rest of the story is familiar; only one returned to give thanks to Jesus. The one who returned to give thanks to the Christ was a foreigner; a Samaritan. We know that the Jews and Samaritans did not get along. Again, Jesus asks a simple question of the person who returned to give thanks, were there not ten? But the other nine where are they? This appears to be a rhetorical question because he follows it with, Go your faith has made you whole. The other 9 lepers had much to be thankful for, so where were they? Did they take it for granted, did they share their healing with family and friends or give thanks to God as they were pronounced clean by the priests we don’t know. In our story it is the foreigner, the Samaritan who returned to give thanks. Some scholars think the other 9 were Jews. Luke appears to put this here to show the increasing rejection of Jesus by the nation of Israel, whereas this foreigner receives not only healing, but also salvation. The message is that he is showing that the way of salvation is open to all.
It is easy to be thankful when things are going good and joyous when really good things happen. A baby is born healthy, or someone gets a raise or a child makes the honor roll. God is good, God is great and we offer praise and thanks. What happens if the baby is born blind, or someone is fired or a scholarship is not awarded. Is God given thanks and praise or are backs turned on him and unbelief sets in.
Jesus you have blessed us and waited for us to run back to you with thanks, but we’ve gone our own way. We’ve taken you for granted. Not to live with an attitude of gratitude towards God is more than being impolite – ingratitude is ugly because it’s positively unjust. Gratitude, on the other hand, is one of the most beautiful flowers in the whole garden of virtue. It directly contradicts self-centeredness, self-indulgence, and self-absorption. It builds bridges, unites communities, and softens hearts. It encourages and inspires. Statistics prove that people who are grateful are happier and healthier. Gratitude allows for differences to be forgotten and to love every person as a gift from God. It helps fulfill the baptismal covenant of respecting the dignity of every person.
Every person we meet is a gift from God; although I have to be honest; I am able to think of some gifts I would prefer not to know. Jesus healed a foreigner because he loved him and had mercy on him confirming that Jesus loves and saves all. The word foreigner means not only people who are like us but all of God’s people. To follow Jesus means we are to take all the love he gives us and share that love with everyone, even those who we consider foreign to us. Foreign means unfamiliar or different from others in a community. Our brothers and sisters have been treated like lepers. Legislation has been unfair to our black brothers and sisters, our LGBT brothers and sisters have had to fight for their dignity and our Native American brothers and sisters had their land stolen, their children kidnapped and their scalps paid for by the governments in CT. NY and MA. And yet these same people have given back to us; they have not done to us what we did to them.
It doesn’t take much to detect the moral leprosy affecting our world; it only exacerbates the poverty and sickness that afflict so many people. Fill my heart with your love that I may see and relieve my neighbors’ suffering. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart more like yours… let me forget that all that I have and all that I am is a gift of your goodness. Teach me to live with the attitude of humble wonder and gratitude that you praised in the Samaritan. Put thankfulness into my heart and soul. Let me speak it, sing it, and most of all, live it, that I might be an example to others.