Oct. 13, 2019 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Oct 13, 2019 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The 18th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23C)

October 13, 2019 

Like the ten lepers in this Gospel reading, we’re moving through life’s challenges and something draws our attention, makes us pause. The lepers saw Jesus walking through their town, and it was enough for them to call out to him. They saw or had heard he was worth asking for help. So, keeping their distance (as was required of those with leprosy) they call out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 

We might do likewise, turning towards one we think might help us; if we’re ill, it’s usually urgent care or a doctor, career challenges – a life coach or headhunter, car break down – it’s a mechanic, but their disease was one that isolated them, forced them out of their family homes, synagogues, market places and other places people gather. What do we do when we feel disconnected or isolated? When we long for the warmth of community or the spirit of new life? You might head to where people of similar interests gather, and hope to find your way into a conversation, you might go shopping or hiking, or we might find our way to a church, perhaps St. Michael’s. First, we check to see if there are people we think we could relate to; are there any kids, singles, retired people, avid readers, singers, parents, grandparents? Are there opportunities to serve? Is the service prayerful and engaging? Does it all feel right? Often, we keep our own distance emotionally, and although we come looking for a sense of the Holy One, or are drawn to it, we likely even avoid talking directly about the very faith we might have in common! If we feel comfortable enough, we risk letting down the guarded distance wall to inquire a bit, come to receive Communion, afterwards sign the guestbook or stay for coffee, and hope not to feel too awkward as we hope for a conversation to start. To long term members these seem like nothing – but to someone here for the first time it’s a risk. In a culture that values personal and competitive triumph, seeking and finding a God-connection can be cause for the sort of judgement those ten experienced. 

Jesus sees the ten approach and in that ‘seeing’ there is a spiritual welcoming, an inward discernment of spiritual need, and he says to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” So off they go, and as they do they are “made clean” or ‘cleansed’ of their leprosy. It is gone! And I imagine they hurry off as they realize they can now rejoin society, family, friends! Except for one, one who when he sees he is healed, stops and turns back. What did the other nine think? That maybe they didn’t really have leprosy, or had already been ‘getting better’? They may even have been like the commander Naaman in our other reading, expecting some great fanfare, an ordeal, or heroic deed to have to precipitate their healing. Maybe they were simply unprepared to receive so remarkable a gift – all but one that is.   

Only that one makes the leap of recognizing that this healing is God’s doing, that God is good and to be thanked and praised. Thanks is a word we need to pay attention to here. He falls at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. I count at least fifteen words in biblical Greek for “thanks” and yet the one chosen here is quite specific; εὐχαριστέω or “eucharisteó.” This means more than a simple word of generic gratitude, it means actively grateful (as in an act of worship), it denotes being thankful for God’s grace working out what is eternally good, and also ‘grateful,’ which literally means “grace-ful,” or thanking for God’s grace. As eucharisteó-thanks is about action, about God’s fullness, and about grace, it is no wonder that it is what we use to describe Jesus’ sacred meal, the Eucharist.  

How appropriate that right here is the only place in the gospels where this word is spoken by a person other than Jesus. It is spoken by one recognizing what has happened is greater than mere physical healing, one who returned to come into the fullness of Jesus’ saving grace. Our Holy Eucharist is Christ inviting us into saving wholeness, and in this reading that one man out of the ten returns and is invited into it by Jesus himself. 

Then Jesus said this kind of blessing to him, “Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well.” Doesn’t that seem odd, to now say the man’s faith has made him well, when Jesus had already “made well” him and nine others? Why is this added, or how is it different from what he did? The Greek word (one more) σῴζω or sózó (pronounced sode-zo) that we translate as “made well” has stronger meaning than simply ‘healed from illness.’ It means “saved” as in from life-threatening danger, to deliver, protect, heal, preserve. This is the root word for savior and salvation. Often sózó is translated as “made whole” as in complete, brought to the fullness of who you were always meant to be.  

Earlier we heard the ten were ‘cleansed’ (meaning something physically or spiritually washed away) but only one saw the greatness of what was happening; that in Jesus’ blessing he was made whole, saved, brought to fullness of life. Ten were made clean, just as they had asked Jesus to do, but only one recognized it, returned, and gave thanks — and in giving thanks he entered into that wholeness, that salvation (sózó) which is the fullness of what God had intended for him, for us, all along. 

I believe this is one of the great powers in life and faith; active gratitude. Looking for God’s grace and stopping to give thanks, noticing extraordinary goodness and pausing to dwell in it, praise God for it. Things small and great—in thanksgiving to God they all make us different, they all draw us closer to God and into the fullness of what God calls us to be. It doesn’t mean we always get what we want, or that the gratitude is all about goodness coming our way. The miraculous thing is that taking this action of noticing and giving thanks to God for the graces we see (ours or other’s) is also our way deeper with our Lord, deeper in our faith.  

I love how one might complain about the Northwest rain, while another gives thanks for it watering the earth! This week opportunities for thanksgiving are in the people planting and the choir’s day-long singing, in the children on the playground and the altar guild team setting up. It’s in our health and work and rising, and in a visit with someone too fragile to go out, the hospice bed, the phone call about baptism, in our gathering here today, and in our Eucharist together, and in our energized inspired going out into the world afterwards to look for more to give thanks and praise for. 

This eucharisteógratitude heals us, restores us, transforms us, and makes us whole in ways we forget we can be, but God doesn’t. God will heal ten and still rejoice over the one who ‘gets it’ and comes closer. I doubt Jesus was angry with the other nine, but I think he ached to draw them into the wholeness they could have had. I imagine them as glad to be well, but not yet having learned to be grateful or ready to be the people God knew they could become. Were their dreams so small that they couldn’t yet hope beyond mere healing, unable to imagine that greater gift of a life that was grace-filled?  

It is a risk to step forward towards the living God, it takes courage to bring ourselves and our weaknesses to Christ, and then intentional strength to return to give active thanks and praise. Yet I think we were made for such gifts and thankfulness, and perhaps that is why such eucharisteógratitude is where God’s wholeness is fulfilled in us.  Amen. 

© 2019 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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