11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the border region between Samaria and the Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten people who had leprosy approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Lord, have mercy on us!” 14 When Jesus saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.
15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 The man prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.
17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then Jesus said to the Samaritan, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has saved you.”
Please pray with me this morning, church:
God of healing,
We’re acutely aware of all that distresses us
In our lives and in our world.
Make us bold to call out to you in need.
But give words of praise and thanksgiving, too.
Remind us who and whose we are,
and of the joy it is to live in your presence.
One of the things I enjoy most in ministry is also one of the things I feel like I have the least amount of time for. I really enjoy praying with people. Especially I enjoy being and praying with people in some of the more difficult moments in their lives, whether it’s before a surgery, before a procedure, something that lands them in the hospital, or something that has gone way far off the rails in their life…that’s really holy space to me.
I enjoy that space. Because of the raw and unvarnished nature of it. We get to cut through the b.s., get to talking about what really matters.
Some of the most honest prayers I’ve ever heard have been spoken in that space. When I ask people how we can pray together, I hear a lot of anxiety, a fair amount of fear and trepidation, a kind of resolve and trust, but a deep, deep reliance and dependence on God and an outcome left very much up to whatever God has in store.
On really special occasions I’ll get to pray with folks on the other side of those moments, as well. After the surgery, coming out of the procedure, beyond the resolution of the crisis moment. And I enjoy those prayers, too. Those prayers reflect a deep gratitude, an honest thankfulness, a feeling that God had somehow been active in guiding them and those around them through this ordeal, and kind of a renewed sense of God’s action and movement in their lives and a reawakened awareness of a God who keeps God’s promises, especially those promises to remain with you and walk with you, not just through challenging ordeals, but in the in-between times, as well.
Prayers of pleading and crying out to God for help and comfort.
Prayers of thankfulness and appreciation and a renewed awareness of God’s closeness.
The first kind of prayer feels close to our lips and our tongues in our times of need and distress. The second, I think, comes up less often, or isn’t quite as close to our lips and tongues, especially when things are going well for us.
Pretty good at asking for what we need when we need it. In general, less good at offering a word of thanks when we’re not in crisis mode.
It’s like we forget our manners or something.
We could be more mindful of what we say. We could watch our words.
Which is, coincidentally, what I’d tell Jesus in this morning’s gospel reading from Luke, “Watch your words, Jesus.” After the Samaritan leper comes back praising God in a loud voice, Jesus sort of openly wondering aloud to the crowd that was following along with him, “Weren’t there 10 people who were healed? Where are the other 9? Did no one else come back except this foreigner?” You can almost hear the disdain dripping off the word.
It’s worth mentioning here, we know that Hebrew people and Samaritan people did not like each other. In fact, they hated each other. “Hebrew people and Samaritans did not have anything to do with one another,” we hear from the author of the Gospel according to John. So Jesus is traveling in the in-between border area, this area between the Galilee and Samaria—where one would totally expect to encounter a Samaritan…think about who you would expect to encounter in and around the border areas—Jesus cleanses this group of lepers, consisting of Jewish people and at least one Samaritan, though I would venture a decent guess that it would have likely been more than one, and drops this “foreigner” word out there for just anyone to hear. Like, that’s something that could get you in pretty big trouble pretty quickly in this border area.
This is not the only time Jesus says something like this, by the way. Jesus has some pretty choice words for the Pharisees and scribes and the religious elite, some pointed and colorful ways of talking about the Roman Empire and the Caesar and the religious puppets of the Empire, and in the Gospel of John Jesus calls the Samaritan woman at the well a dog. So it’s not like Jesus is always and forever some pristine model of civil dialogue. Clearly there would be more than once that I’d take issue with the way Jesus is reported to have talked about people. Clearly I think Jesus could also watch his words.
This is not where I thought this sermon was going earlier this past week, by the way. I was pretty well set to talk about thankfulness and gratitude and stewardship, and giving thanks, and expressing our appreciation for all God has done for us. But that’s not where I’ve ended up.
I think Jesus could watch his words.
And too, what we say matters.
How we say it matters.
We…could watch our words.
It’s something we’re working on over at our house, too. Recently the resident 3-year old has picked up phrases like, “I don’t like you.” or “I don’t love you.” or even “I hate you.” I’m not sure where he picked this up, maybe a show, maybe even something I’ve said, or heard at school. But the convicting thing for me is to realize that this is out there. There’s some level of exposure in the world we live in where a 3-year old can learn something like “I hate you.”
And that breaks my heart.
But I’m also not surprised.
Because I’ve watched for the past 7, 8, 10 years or more how the way that we talk to and about one another has completely deteriorated. I mean, like, in society, in our discourse, in our politics, in our civic engagement. We casually throw these words and phrases around without a thought to the fact that we’re talking about actual living breathing human beings.
Just this week I heard from two close friends and colleagues in Fort Bend County about political signs for this candidate or that that had been destroyed or defaced or ripped to shreds. So not only now do we think and say things about those who aren’t of our own political persuasion, but somehow now we believe the way to resolve these differences is through the destruction of property and the “sending of messages.”
I believe there is a hatred in this country. And I believe it’s closer to our collective surface than ever before.
It’s a disease. And it puts us at dis-ease.
It’s a chronic condition, but I do not believe it is a terminal one.
But it is one from which we need an extraordinary, and frankly, miraculous healing.
We could watch our words. We should watch our words. And our actions. And our thoughts. And our emotions. We could and should be more mindful of all it, and more mindful of what we’re transmitting for our children and grandchildren to see and hear and pick up on and learn.
I think the way toward that extraordinary and miraculous healing is actually through our words. I think we get to that collective healing through talking. Through dialogue and conversation and civil engagement. I think 2-plus years of a pandemic isolated us from one another and we forgot how to interact with one another, at least we forgot how to interact with one another apart from being mediated through a screen or a keyboard.
I think the way toward this collective healing is to take a cue from the Samaritan leper…you know, the one Jesus called “foreigner”… This instance in the Gospel of Luke, interestingly, is the only time this word comes up in the entire New Testament. But in the Hebrew scriptures, the word for foreigner or stranger or immigrant or sojourner comes up a lot, and the Hebrew scriptures are really clear about how God’s people are to treat sojourners among them…as one of their own…”…for you were once strangers in a strange land.” What if we treated those we so vehemently disagreed with as one of our own, as a member of our own family? How might that turn down the heat?
The Samaritan returns to Jesus, falls on his face, praising God. The words of thanksgiving were just as near to his lips as his cries to Jesus for help. What if our words of gratitude and thanksgiving were closer to our lips than words of hatred and division?
What if it was as easy as that?
Naaman’s servants asked him, “If the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all the prophet said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?’” So often we think the thing that we have to do in order to be good, right, and acceptable to God is something difficult. when all God asks of us, really, is what Elisha said to Naaman, “Wash and be clean.”
We are washed in the waters of our baptism and so are cleansed. Every time we remember and are reminded of our baptism, we are reminded that God has already put us in right relationship with God. Through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, God has already saved us, our command is to remember that we are saved and in right relationship with God, and then to live that way.
If God had asked you to do something difficult, would you not do it? How much more, then, church, when all God asks is to remember who you are—remember that you are washed in the waters of baptism, remember that you are named and claimed by God, remember that you are saved by God through Christ.
Bishop Mike said last week, when has there ever been a time—within the Bible and throughout Christian history—when has there ever been a time when God has asked God’s people to do something easy? Living as God’s people is and can be difficult, but I think it’s only difficult because we think that it should be. Living as the people God has called us to be is difficult, I think, because it doesn’t necessarily come naturally for us. We expect the requirements to be numerous and hard.
But all God asks is to trust…have faith…remember…remind others…worship…praise…and give thanks.
Wash. Be cleansed. And remember.
It is faith that saves you.
Your faith. And God’s faith in you.
Watch your words. Be mindful of your words.
Call out to God in need.
But also call out to God in thanks and praise.