Penultimate Sermon/Discussion at CT

LECTIONARY READINGS: 

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c

5:1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.

5:2 Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.

5:3 She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

5:7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”

5:8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”

5:9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house.

5:10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”

5:11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!

5:12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage.

5:13 But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”

5:14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

5:15c Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”

Luke 17:11-19

17:11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.

17:12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance,

17:13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

17:14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.

17:15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.

17:16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.

17:17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?

17:18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

17:19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

OPENING PRAYER:

  a handmade liturgical prayer, with this repeated response:  

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

On a bright, beautiful day, with sharpness in the air and leaves turning on the trees, we are grateful for this wide world.

 “We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

In the middle of an elegant and incredibly vast universe, we find a safe and fragile home clinging to this blue ball.  

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

During these frightening times, with an uncertain future ahead, and chaos seemingly increasing all around, 

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

You are faithful to us, God, walking with us through triumphs and troubles, bearing our burdens and sharing our joys.  

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

We are grateful for these sisters and brothers with whom we gather, relying on their wisdom, humor, and friendship to guide our lives. 

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

At the same time, we are losing friends, to ordinary departures but also to death.  We grieve, we carry the burden of remembering, and it is difficult.  

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

We are losing this community, and it’s frustrating and confusing and complicated and embarrassing and very sad.  We know we will miss one another, and at the same time we feel ourselves pulling away already. 

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

We are afraid, of so many different things that we aren’t even sure what is scaring us anymore, or exactly why we are so anxious. Please help us to be free of fear. 

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

We are open, we are filled with your love, we deeply desire to support, love, and encourage one another this morning.  

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

We come together today, ready to be honest and to listen to your stories and instructions, Lord.  We pray that you will support us and show us your way forward. 

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

Amen. 

SERMON/DISCUSSION:

Here we are again, off the map.  

Once again, Jesus is in the wrong place, consorting with the wrong kind of people.  

Luke says he is “on the way to Jerusalem”, which is important for Luke’s larger literary theme, but for his purposes in this story, his current location is key.  He’s chosen a route that will take him through Samaria, the bad place where all of the bad people live… (it’s so convenient to scapegoat all of the people, and all in one place!)

It makes all the sense in the world to walk from rural Galilee to the holy city of Jerusalem in Judea, but it makes zero sense to choose the most direct route through… SAMARIA.  Where inbred people practice dark religions if they practice religion at all. It’s the dark area on the map, the place where you avoid if you can’t and if you can’t you lock your doors and turn on the air conditioning.  

So he’s in the wrong place.  He’s also with the wrong kind of people. 

‘Lepers’ show up in both readings, these outcasts of polite — and even impolite Samaritan!– society.  They have an infectious, debilitating skin disease. 

So note that the text very carefully mentions that they come up to Jesus “as he entered a village”.  They don’t live in town. They are outside.  Outsiders.  Outcasts.  People with no means of interacting with society or economy or kindness.  They stay outside the village, and they keep their distance, and they hope that someone will take pity on them and throw them some food or money.  This is their lot in life, often understood to be related to their own poor choices, their sins.  They are lepers.  They are untouchables.

I love the Lectionary.  I love the way it sometimes crams together disparate texts, and other times (like today) it lays out a thread of history, of references between one story and another several hundred years later.  In today’s readings we are reminded in a profound way what a dead end (Pun Intended) it was to catch leprosy.  It would cover your skin for everyone to see, and consume your flesh until your fingers and toes were no longer attached, and you eventually died.   Putting these two readings together forces us to sit in this uncomfortable place.  

One of my most favorite side-gigs ever was related to the Lectionary (and interestingly, at a time when CT didn’t use the Lectionary!).  I was one of a group of writers who were tasked with looking at two of the weekly readings and finding ‘The Hardest Question’.  Not a sermon, not a suggestion, but the most challenging question that the text raised for us.  The pieces were brief, so they were intense.  It was so much fun to supply desperate procrastinating preachers, not with a shortcut, but with an invitation to dive deep and do their own work (even if it was 11 o’clock on a Saturday night).  

When the three-year cycle of Lectionary readings came to a close, the group of writers all rubbed our hands together in excitement.  Round One was over; what even better stuff would happen in Round Two?  Would the editors give us different readings, or would they present the Next Level Challenge of making us go back to the same readings, to find new questions, BETTER questions, HARDER questions?  This was getting really good! 

The publishing house who was funding the project, though, had a different idea.  They signed the last checks, thanked everyone, and pronounced the project ‘Complete’.  “Mission Accomplished”. “We now have an archive for all of time!  Thank you writers and editors for your excellent work!” 

Completely missing the point that, though the texts stay the same, WE CHANGE.  We see things differently.  We move, and have new perspectives from which to view the same old stories.  If you read the same text the same way three years later, something is very wrong.  And if you preach the same sermon, may God have pity on your soul.   😉  (okay, maybe overstated)

I’m sure I looked at this text three years ago.  And many times before that.  But something is different this time.  

This time, I’m not focused on Jesus, wondering how he does all of this… how does he convey healing and forgiveness?  What is he trying to teach?  How do we follow his lead? 

This time, I’m not walking with Jesus, cheering his overturn and upending of religious conventions; his zingers against the religious powers that be; his subversion of nuanced religious norms.  

This time, I’m not shaking my head at the townspeople, who are scapegoating these poor innocent people suffering from a disease that might well strike them… 

No, this time, I’m feeling like the outcast.  Lonely.  Forsaken.  Bereaved.  

I feel broken.  Like a failure.  

I’m a pastor who loves his church (which is less common than you would think), who couldn’t save his church from death.  

I’m losing something that we built, together.  

Over the past few weeks, there have been times when I hid inside.  The sun was too bright, and I couldn’t bear to drive by all of the successful churches on my way to visit a successful business and feel the gaze of successful people.  

I felt like they could see the failure on me, on my skin. I just wanted to hide.  

…so “as he entered the village,” still outside, these destitute, sick, helpless, hopeless people get Jesus’ attention.  The text actually reads, “They shouted.”  They are desperate.  They have no shame.  They have probably heard of Jesus, and they have reason to believe he can help… that he is a powerful healer.  And yet even in spite of that, they do not exercise decorum or propriety.  

They are too desperate for that.  They SHOUT.  

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

And what happens in response is unusual.  It was normally required that a person who had been (miraculously) healed from leprosy would immediately present themselves to the priest.  This would happen *after* the healing, of course (since you couldn’t go into town if you had leprosy).  This was a way of certifying your healing, and of giving homage to God.  

Jesus mixes up the order.  

17:14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.

They have still not even come before Jesus.  He sees them from afar and says, “Hey, just go to the priests”  As if to suggest that they are already healed.  No need to make a fuss about it.  The text says they were healed as they walked.  They had faith in Jesus’ healing such that they took it as a given before it even happened.  By the time they got to the priest, they were healed.  

But that’s not even the best part of the story!  

17:15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.

17:16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.

17:17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?

17:18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

17:19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

This is such a beautiful moment, written with such economy and directness by Luke.  They are still on their way to the priest, and when one of the men notices that he has been healed, instead of running forward into town and to the priest and to a whole new life, he STOPS.  He turns around, and he “praises God with a loud voice”.  

Again with this lack of decorum!  He cannot help himself.  

Luke makes a very pointy point about this:  17:16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.”

Even this Samaritan knows that he should thank Jesus.  

I love this verse, verse 15, “…he looked back, and praised God with a loud voice”

I’m sad at what we are losing, but more than that I’m grateful.  What’s ahead is grief, but what’s behind us is gratefulness.  

I want to look back, with gratefulness.  To praise God for what we’ve been given.  To thank God for our healing. 

Yesterday morning we had Swedish pancakes.  My dad’s recipe, my dad’s tradition that he started with his kids, which now lives onto our kids and nieces and nephews.  Making pancakes is a ritual.  Like my father before me, I’ve taught my kids the recipe.  And like me, they’ve made it their own.  …Miriam uses a whisk and bowl that are too small, and she knows it!, but that’s okay.  I get out the perfect ladle, and my favorite flipper.  Casting aside tradition, we don’t use fake  Aunt Jemima, we use real maple syrup now.  And we make them gluten-free, which makes them even better!  

The banter is all about our favorite bowl, favorite tools.  There are three cast iron pans now, collected from the corners of the earth, stripped, and seasoned.  Three griddles for three daughters, collected on eBay by their frightened dad as he recovered from cancer surgery.  

I like to use a half cup measure for the flour, then use it twice for a cup of milk because it’s one less dish to wash, and that’s the way I’ve always done it.  Miriam prefers to use a dry measure for dry ingredients, and a liquid measure for wet ingredients (and really, that make sense, because we have a dishwasher now).  

The butter we always melt in the pans.  

The ritual is all about ‘remember whens’ that span all the way from last week to almost fifty years ago as I sat on the yellow lucite countertop watching my dad work.  

My kids jokingly ask for chocolate chip Swedish pancakes, because they know I would never make them that way, and they wouldn’t want to eat them that way either. 

But it’s so good to look back, even as we move forward.  To remember. 

I’m sad at what we are losing, but more than that I’m grateful.  What’s ahead is grief, but what’s behind us is gratefulness. 

I want to look back, with gratefulness.  To praise God for what we’ve been given.    To thank God for our healing. 

DISCUSSION >>>>What are you grateful for?  What do you remember about Common Table?  What do you want to thank God for? 

–talking to the Bishop about being shaped by community.  

–Mike Croghan, incensed that his other church family wouldn’t host a funeral, fired up and finding an alternate venue.  

–getting a sweet gig talking smack at a Methodist church, and meeting Ali and Doug.  

— doing a book promotion, and meeting Emmaline.  

Jesus’ final words:  “Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well” 

That’s for you, too.  Get up!  Go on your way.  Your faith has made you well.  

The kind of faith we talked about last week, that activist faith that involves moving forward, making decisions, doing the best you can and then doing it again.  

That’s what got you Common Table.  You made this magic!  You built it and sustained it.  And you can do that again, wherever you go.  

“Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well” 

mikestavlund

Mike is a solid, stand-up guy that enjoys writing poetry and prose, hanging out with family and friends, and long walks around a Weber kettle grill.

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