Sunday, October 9, 2022
First Congregational Church
October 09, 2022
18th Sunday after Pentecost
“Thin, Sacred, and Healing Spaces”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Sermon and Scripture
Mr. Santa Claus had started feeling like he was losing some of his mojo at one point, so he had taken to periodically stopping during his annual Christmas Eve present run to take in words of wisdom from spiritual leaders from various backgrounds all over the world, hoping that someone could re-ignite that spark for him that made Christmas special.
Eventually, he realized that it wasn't just him; the reindeer were tired, his sleigh was starting to look a bit run-down, and even the magic that kept him alight wasn't as strong as it used to be. But then, he discovered that the diversity of the world - itself a wonderful thing - was just what he needed. Each part of the world seemed to have an affinity for a different part of his operation. And so on his journey, he would periodically pit-stop and recharge, tune up, and re-energize before taking to the skies again.
Northern and Western Canada he found to be full of tundra-dwelling First Nations shamans who would lovingly tend to his reindeer. In various locations in the Orient, he found the peaceful tranquility of zen meditation to be just the healing salve his weary soul required. In the Middle East, he found amazing storytellers who were just as good at listening, for those times when his journey seemed so lonely. And the craftspeople of Germany were experts at getting the best performance out of his sleigh.
One Christmas Eve, after getting his sleigh blades sharpened, and his sleigh seat re-upholstered, master craftsman Sven joined him in a prayer: "Bless this sleigh, and bless the man who will use it to bring joy to children all over the world." Then Sven stopped abruptly, as if realizing something he had forgotten. "Santa!" he asked, "You want us to check your steering apparatus?” "Nein, my good Sven. I bless the reigns down in Africa.” (For those who are wondering, that last line is a lyric from a song called “Africa,” by a group named Toto.
Most of the time, before we get to the actual reading of the scripture passage, I try to set it up, with connections to time, place, and sequence; whatever points might help in understanding and embracing, getting the fuller picture in our minds. This morning, that setup is even more necessary.
The passage will say that Jesus is traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee. When we hear it, it can go by quicker than we might catch, so I’m making the point now. Galilee was in the north and Samaria was right next door to the south. We could spend hours on the attributes of these two countries and peoples, but if you think of the difference between a small country farmer in Texas compared to a New York executive, you get the picture.
I could point it out on a map for you, but the bottom line is that this specific area carried psychological, social, and cultural residue of people with the same history to a point, slightly different faith practices, who would have nothing to do with each other, going to great lengths to avoid one another. The land between Samaria and Galilee was neither one nor the other, and with the unknowing of who belonged where, it was an uncertain place, un-trusting, and even a little fearful.
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" 14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."
Thank you, Jim. Lena’s doctor said, “You took quite a tumble! You’re going to need to take it easy and definitely avoid stairs for several weeks while you heal.” Lena said, “I suppose I could sleep downstairs, but what if I realize I need something and it is upstairs?” The doctor said, “Do you have a neighbor you could ask that could help you?” Lena replied, “Well, I suppose I could ask a neighbor”.
Six weeks later she visits her doctor for a follow-up. The doctor said, “You are healing nicely, but be very careful on stairs from now on, ok?” Lena said, “That is good news, doctor, so you mean I can start using stairs again?” The doctor replied, “Yes, but be careful so as not to take another tumble.” Lena said, “Oh, that is wonderful! My neighbor lent me a ladder but it has been quite an ordeal climbing it with this hip!”
The Greek word traditionally translated as leprosy was used for various diseases affecting the skin, and the mentions of that disease in the Bible are not the Hansen’s disease we know today. So think psoriasis, eczema, acne, shingles, even hives - would put a person into the group with a leprosy label. It was a lonely disease so that the ten were together - makes for more understanding.
If you didn’t notice all the “yelling” going on in this passage, check it out. The fear of contamination and infection required that such labeled lepers had to stand away from people and announce their presence with a bell.
And if you lost contact with people, including your family and where you lived, you likely lost your work and your place in society, and you became poor and destitute.
If we were to create a hierarchy of people and class from Jesus’ day, right or wrong, the men would almost always rank above women, people of means definitely rose above the poor, and the sick were definitely on the bottom.
Should you have one or more “conditions,” that would send you lower on the imagined hierarchy. The only thing the ten Samaritans really had going for themselves is that at least they weren’t women. After all these years, it seems unimaginable that we are still fighting the stigmas that are so difficult to take down.
While we don’t know how many feet they were apart from each other, when the men asked for healing, apparently there was no hesitation on Jesus’ part as the very next thing is his direction to get their clean bills of health from the priests. That was a normal requirement, that someone would have the authority to allow people back into society should a disease be healed.
The one sentence that would really rile up a whole lot of people from Jesus’ day was, “And he was a Samaritan.” Stark words loaded with implications. The one tainted by Gentile blood when non-Jews occupied Samaria, not only came back to thank Jesus, but threw himself at Jesus’ feet. Whether he touched Jesus or not, the Samaritan man crossed the line of separation, and Jesus didn’t say a thing about it, like that wasn’t even a thing.
I know a lot of time has been spent on this scene, but it’s for a point. There was a lot of energy in that place of distrust, impurity, fear, and separation animosity. The writer of Luke - in the whole gospel - put a lot of energy into pointing out that the “other” is the one who is close to the heart of God. Places with a lot of energy are called “thin places,” where the veil between this world and the eternal world is thin.
Often, we will hear about thin places during the church season of Epiphany, just after Christmas, the season that calls us to look underneath and beyond the ordinary to discover the extraordinary. Francisco J. Garcia, at working preacher.org, put it all so beautifully.
“The healing encounter between Jesus and the ten men with a skin disease, a condition that relegated them to a life of physical and mental suffering and isolation, and economic deprivation as a result, converts the borderlands between Galilee and Samaria from a forbidden wasteland to a sacred place, perhaps even a thin place where the veil between the material and spiritual worlds is lifted, and an awareness of their interconnection is more deeply known and felt.”
Mr. Garcia also said, “Healing is not a spectator sport: the ten men readily approach Jesus with a faithful and expectant posture, as if they could sense that their healing was at hand in Jesus’ presence. That amazing pastor over there at First Congregational Church of Frankfort, MI says, “How do we approach people - those we know and don’t know? Might the ones we least suspect become the agents of healing, community and belonging?”
In speaking beyond the one man, or the ten men, but perhaps to all the Samaritans and Galileans, even all of us, Mr. Garcia said “A just and comprehensive healing cannot happen in isolation—it requires direct participation and community. Dinah Haag says, “Another reason we need to go to church is that you may be part of someone else’s healing, knowingly or unknowingly. And why deny yourself being such an important part of someone’s life?
There’s a website called thinplacestour.com that has some interesting statements about thin places. “Thin places aren’t perceived with the five senses. Experiencing them goes beyond those limits. A thin place pulsates with an energy that connects with our own energy – we feel it, but we do not see it. We know there’s another side – another world – another existence. Truth abides in thin places; naked, raw, hard to face truth. Yet we also find the comfort, safety and strength to face that in those same mystical spaces. You can look for thin places, but frequently they will find you.
Thin Places are ports in the storm of life, where the pilgrims can move closer to the God they seek, where one leaves that which is familiar and journeys into the Divine Presence. They are stopping places where men and women are given pause to wonder about what lies beyond the mundane rituals, the grief, trials and boredom of our day-to-day life. They probe to the core of the human heart and open the pathway that leads to satisfying the familiar hungers and yearnings common to all people on earth, the hunger to be connected, to be a part of something greater, to be loved, to find peace.
Be aware of where you are. Look for the Samaritan in your midst. Expect healing. So we pray.
Almighty and Holy God of all places and all people, thank you for those moments of connectedness that can catch us off-guard. Energize your Spirit to infuse ours to be more attuned to you - right in front of us. Urge us to set aside the not-as-necessary to make room for the more necessary, that we might be more full and rich in spirit and therefore able to pass on those riches to those in need of them. And all your people say, Amen.
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