October 13, 2013
21st Sunday after Pentecost
"Traveling thru the Land Between"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A delightful book was shared at last Wednesday's Lectionary Study Group called, "10,000 Things To Praise God For." Part of the delight of the book is the randomness and another part is the simplicity. And what a cure-all for what seeks to suck us into darkness - to praise God for seedless grapes, finding a parking space, porch lights, and street lights and candle lights. When was the last time you thanked or praised God for those who know what to do in a power failure, for sailing lessons, for feeling up after feeling down, and honest automobile mechanics? I so can't wait to see how such a book will undoubtedly change - at least my focus and demeanor.
Our scripture passage for this morning sort of deals with thankfulness, as in "giving God praise" for this, that or the other. Prior to this morning's passage, Jesus had been teaching, according to Luke, on various topics from lost sheep and coins and sons to shrewd managers and the raising up of a dead man from death. This morning's passage finds Jesus taking a little trip to Jerusalem. We don't know if the disciples were with him at that moment in time, but the action really has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with us.
Luke 17:11-19 (NIV)
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 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Thank you, Signe. As we chatted about this passage at the Study Group, it seemed that there was/is appreciation that this is one of those reminders to be like the one, rather than like the nine. (I do wonder, however, if any came back after that immediate incident.) But there are some other things in this passage that should be highlighted, too.
All the men were lepers. In Jesus' day, that meant being an outcast in the literal sense of the word. Leper colonies or gatherings were common enough, and they mostly lived in the more unforgiving places. People with the affliction were allowed to travel through towns or groups of people if they announced themselves first. Maybe thats why there was a lot of "loud" and raised voices in this passage. Regardless of all the noise, the ten were all definitely marginalized, alienated, discriminated against, and sidelined.
The one who came back, tho, was doubly marginalized. He was also a Samaritan. At one time, there was a group that broke off from the Jewish people, around 600 BC. This break-off group claimed that they were the true worshipers of the ancient Israelite religion. The Samaritans and Israelites were so much alike, yet considered themselves so very different from each other - sort of like fans of Michigan State and the University of Michigan. (Now I'm not saying one is better than the other - you can duke it out on the street. But I think you are beginning to get the drift of animosity that was greatly jacked up, because it had to do with religion, ya know.)
Besides the healing of a doubly marginalized man, there are some other points that have high degrees of relevance - like the "go" and "trust" of the ten, when they were sent - while still plagued - to present themselves to the priests for a pronouncement of being cleansed. There's a sort of "build it and they will come" goofiness about Jesus' direction here. But goofier yet is that the ten went. They literally had to step out in faith, one step at a time, not knowing what the end result would be.
Perhaps some of our greatest prayers may be for those who need to or have to step out in such faith - even if it doesn't feel like faith to them. I've been thinking about those whose spouses or significant persons have died, and there is the need for stepping out in faith - into the lake of grief - that maybe, just maybe, there might be a lessening of the pain - if nothing else. And I've been thinking about those who step out into a particular plan or program of dealing with a disease. These days there are a lot of options in treating various maladies. How to know which one to chose?
Ironically, it was a sermon by a pastor named Rev. Dr. Janet Hunt that got me thinking about this stepping out idea. Except that she latched onto the idea way back at the beginning of the passage. "Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee." She pointed out that it is that land between Samaria and Galilee where we find Jesus today.
Rev. Hunt said, "For the land between Samaria and Galilee is neither one or the other. By its very existence, it is a place where it is impossible to forget that the two had once been one. It is a location which causes one to remember how things were before long before the experience of exile left its mark on both kingdoms. It is a place where one might find oneself unsure of who belonged and who didn't, where one might be uncertain, un-trusting, even a little fearful. It is a place where the accustomed rules might not apply - where one would not fully know one's place. It is the place where Jesus travels today. It is a place where, it seems to me, if we are where we are called to be, you and I are traveling every day." I didn't look at the date of her writing, but I can't help but wonder if it was about our country she was writing.
Rev. Hunt went on to tell about meeting with a family at a funeral home, to pray with them before the visitation, and two young men leaning against a car in the funeral home parking lot. She said that she nearly nodded and walked by, but for some reason, stopped to ask them how they were. She knew that their world was not one she knew at all, a world foreign to the anger and despair that really took the life of their young friend. It was pausing, to recognize these friends who had been asked to speak at the funeral of their lifelong friend the next day, it was then that she saw beyond their nonchalance - to their grief and fear - to their place in the land between.
It was Rev. Hunt's thoughts that got me to thinking about people any of us might know - that are traveling thru the land between. (pause) Maybe some of those people you know in that place are in this very room. And aren't there are a lot of "between places?" Disease and ease, illness and health, grief and peace, seen and unseen.
There is a novel by Anne Tyler called "Ladder of Years," that tells the story of Delia Grinstead. Delia is one of the lovely, lovable, utterly giving wives and mothers who give their level best to keep the household running smoothly. But as her children grow up, they become "great, galumphing, unmannerly, and supercilious creatures" who ignore Delia and who flinch from her hugs. What's more, they expect that their favorite foods will always be in the pantry or the fridge, but they never thank Delia for purchasing these sundries (though they will complain loudly should she forget one day).
Meanwhile Delia's husband is so wrapped up in his medical practice that he, too, brushes past Delia day in and day out, regularly failing to notice the spic-n-span house, the clean laundry, the warm food set before his distracted face each evening.
After years of this neglect, Delia begins to feel like "a tiny gnat, whirring around her family's edges." Their ongoing lack of gratitude has killed something in Delia--not all at once, mind you, but day by day Delia dies a little, wilting like a flower that receives too little moisture. She doesn't even realize how dead she has become until one day she meets someone who is kind, who thanks Delia for a little something. This stranger's kind gratitude is like a few precious drops of water applied to her soul - a few little thankful droplets that reveal just how dry, cracked, and barren the landscape of her soul had become.
Finally the day comes when Delia just walks away from her family. She's taking a stroll on a beach and just keeps on going. Once her family realizes she is missing, they have a curiously difficult time describing Delia to the police. They just can't seem to recall the color of her eyes, her height or weight, what she was wearing when they last saw her. Of course, they'd never really seen her to begin with. They had been blinded by ingratitude.
There are people that travel thru the land between, and for whatever reason, they get stuck there. Sometimes people get stuck in the land of fear or anger or cynicism or ingratitude, or wherever it is that promises something better, or at the very least, something different. Sometimes we can walk with people through those between places, but for whatever reasons, our humanness can get in the way, and the traveler can find themselves alone again. Except that they aren't alone. We aren't alone.
Jesus has been there, in that place where the goofiest thing seems to be taking a step - in any direction. Jesus is there, to heal and give us promise of healing, even before we can do anything. And if it doesn't seem crazy, taking a step toward healing and promise, then it probably feels scary or uncertain or even ridiculous.
And yet, ours is the Lord of healing, and guiding, even when the way seems foreign. Perhaps there was more to Jesus' proclamation - to the grateful Samaritan - and to us. "Rise and go; your faith has made you well." Seems like good prayer material to me.
Great God of all knowledge and understanding, we are grateful for leading us thru foreign places, and for giving us the courage and strength to take another step forward. We are well aware that there are many in our world that have to look up to find bottom, and may not see your healing and leading so easily. So for those hearts, we pray for your blessing - to give them enough fortitude and moxie to take just one more step. Help us - and others - to "understand and see" those who are in these between places, that we may pray for them, and should you so inspire us, encourage them. Grant that the pains of our journey may not obscure the presence of Christ among us, and may we be reminded often - constantly - of the goodness of praising you - for all your mighty and gracious acts. For these prayers and all your answered prayers, all your people say, Amen.