Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost – October 13, 2013
* The first part of this sermon is somewhat of a paraphrase of a reflection by Steve Phifer, a Worship Arts Evangelist
“They found each other, these ten lepers…They drifted from garbage heap to garbage heap finding only rags to wear and scraps to eat. When the wind was right, their collective odor announced their approach and people scattered before them.
The sight of healthy people running in such terror from this rag-tag mob was ironic. The ten lepers had no strength; they were practically starving. There was no cure, no prevention except to keep it away and pity the poor ones who had it. So they had each other and that was it. But somewhere along the way they heard about a man who did not run from lepers. He was a healer and he was coming their way. As he approached the village, they met him at an appropriate distance and begged, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’
When Jesus looked at them he didn’t see their disease. He saw wives without husbands, homes without mothers, and important work that was not being done. He saw people whose dreams had crumbled within them as their bodies crumbled on the outside. He saw helplessness and absolute despair. And he told them, ‘Go show yourselves to the priests’ and as they went their way they were cleansed, cured. Crippled feet began to sprout toes where stumps had been. They began to strip away rags they no longer needed to cover the sores.
Nine of them ran on to the village, but one stopped and looked at his former colleagues as they disappeared into streets that led them back to life. This one turned and looked back to Jesus. Slowly this man realized that before he ran to meet his future, there was something else he had to do. He fell down on his face at the feet of Jesus, giving thanks. And he was a Samaritan.” *
Where did those nine others go? What kept them from doing the obvious and turning back like the Samaritan to Jesus to express their gratitude and amazement. Did you ever wonder about that? The text seems to want us to focus on the one who turned back and praised Jesus but what happened to the other nine?
Perhaps one was a mother who couldn’t wait to see her children. Another may have been in such shock that he just forgot to say “thank you.” Maybe one was a nonbeliever and thought that there must be some freak reason for his cure.
Or where they just being obedient to the Healer and doing what Jesus told them, knowing that it was the priests who would pronounce them clean? But we really don’t know what they did or where they went.
This Gospel has been used to preach a number of themes and I have used most of them myself. It clearly lends itself to a message about gratitude for God’s grace and mercy as it does to a sermon about the God’s healing power and desire that we be made whole. And it can easily be fodder for preaching about the isolation of people who are marginalized by Society.
And Luke’s inclusion that the tenth leper was a Samaritan, a double outsider—not only by virtue of his leprosy but also by his non-Jewish—shows his own sympathy for outsiders and makes the point that God’s mercy extends even to those we might consider unworthy. So this is a rich story with opportunity to teach many valuable lessons about Gospel values.
I would like to veer slightly and add another slant on the text. I wonder if we might see in this story the gift, maybe the miracle, of the encounter with another person or community that can effect a major life change, gives us a new and refreshing perspective about ourselves, even, perhaps, open up a new world to us.
That’s really what the experience of the lepers was all about. They suffered from a disfiguring contagious disease that created great hysteria among the people. They wore bells around their necks to warn others of their approach. Beyond their physical deformity was the pain of utter loneliness and isolation from the community. They lived in exile.
I wonder if we don’t all have a little leper in us. Have there been times in our lives when we felt isolated from the mainstream, disregarded by individuals, society, even the church? The world can be cruel to us if we don’t have the right body type or if we have obvious flaws or are a member of any minority group or somehow different. We may be type cast and undervalued. And it may sting. It may hurt deeply.
There is no doubt something to be understood here about the people who live on the margins of our communities, who are treated as invisible or unlovely because of how they look or who they are or where they come from. Jesus is telling us plainly through this story that he notices and loves them and calls us to do the same.
Have there been times along our journey, when we may stumble upon a savior, a deliverer or liberator, in an unexpected encounter with someone or some community that affirms our goodness, helps us to see God’s desire for our wholeness, and sends us off to show ourselves to the world, reconciled, healed, and restored? Like the ten lepers?
No matter where they ended up, I’ll bet each of them had a story to tell from that day they met up with Jesus. And, whether told by the nine who seemed ungrateful or the one who turned back, I’ll bet those stories were full of profound gratitude and a great sense of awe.
Story-telling is a powerful tool. We have been inviting you to tell your story about life at St. Paul’s during a coffee chat in the Chittim-Howell House in between the two Sunday services. Last week’s session was amazing. Then, during the announcement time over the next four Sundays, members of this community will share a very brief story about the importance of this faith community to them. Story-telling is a powerful thing. The stories we take away today have the power to turn things around in our lives.
The final words: “Your faith has made you well.” I suspect that Jesus was not just speaking about leprosy when he said that—at that point the man was already cured—but rather about a different kind of wellness. He was teaching us that deep-rooted human divisions and the failure to recognize one another as unique and beloved children of God are a much more serious dis-ease. This grateful Samaritan would have understood that even better than the other nine.
“Your faith has made you well.” Jesus offers those words to us this morning. He is not talking about a specific doctrine or commitment to a belief system but simply that faith, understood as expectant trust in God’s love and grace, is related to God’s healing power, a power that transcends all ills and wrongs.
We may not bear the scars or deformities of those lepers, but there may be parts of us that are hidden in the borderlands of ourselves where we may least want to be seen and most need to be touched. Jesus, who is not afraid of borderlands, does not mind meeting us in those places, and it may be that by recognizing him there, we will find in ourselves a new outpouring of the grateful love that makes all well. For that we give deep thanks. For that we give deep thanks.