21745 fans currently online (342 members and 21403 guests)
Sunday Sermon 10/14/07
LIVING OUT OUR CORE VALUES - PART VII "Gratitude, Praise and Wellness"
From the get-go, let's acknowledge the potential stumbling block(s) in the gospel text before us. What non-essential point(s) might we obsess on in this text and therefore miss the true meaning within it. It is good to deal with our baggage before we open the gift within this gospel. What is it that makes it hard for us to get our 21st century head around this gospel lesson?
1) ...that Luke states that Jesus passed through a region between Samaria and Galilee on his journey to Jerusalem when, in fact, there is no geographic region between Samaria and Galilee?
2) ...that the RSV translation of the bible refers to "ten lepers," thus limiting their multi-dimensional natures to emerge, whereas the sensitive NIV version of the bible refers to "ten men with leprosy," which implies there is more to these men than their leprosy?
3) ...that you are aghast with the fact that Jesus would lift up a Samaritan as a model for faithfulness? Jesus knew that his listening audience possessed great ethnic disdain for Samaritans. Lifting up someone or some group who are politically unpopular might incite the listeners to the degree that they would miss the point of what is being said.
4) ...that this story includes the physical healing of ten men with leprosy in what seems to be a miraculous manner that has never been a part of the modern, much less, post-modern experience?
What is it that makes it hard for us to get our 21st century mind around this gospel lesson? Is it number 1, 2, 3, or 4? If it is #1, cut Luke some slack since he was a Greek and was not from the historic Israeli area, and move on with the point of the text. If it is #2, then read the translation that is most helpful for you to get to the meaning of the text. If it is #3, then understand that part of Luke's agenda in writing this gospel is to challenge its' readers to move beyond their petty prejudices through the foreign references he places on the lips of Jesus. If it is #4, please remember that the focus of this passage is not the physical healing of the ten men with leprosy, but it is the Samaritan's praise of God and expression of gratitude to Jesus. If the reading of this text throws you off because of the physical healing then toss the cure of the leprosy to the side and read the text as follows so you can focus on the purpose of the text. "Jesus bestowed a blessing upon ten men but only one of them praised God because of the blessing and thanked Jesus for it."
Having addressed any mental stumbling block we might have had when reading/listening to this text let us move to what the gospel is trying to say to us here and now. Isn't that the reason we read the bible, to get a meaning from it for our place and time and not critique it's outmoded cosmology, particular errors, or other hindrances. The key to this gospel text is the last word of verse 19 (well) over against the last word of verse 14 (clean). Let me lift up those two verses and we will proceed from there.
Verse 14: "When he (Jesus) saw them (the ten men with leprosy), he said to them, 'Go and show yourselves to the priests.' And as they went, they were made clean."
Verse 19: "Then he (Jesus) said to him, 'Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.'"
The ten were clean of their disease but only the one, who returned with gratitude and praise, was made well. "Clean" refers to the cure of a disease, whereas "well" refers to wholeness a person can experience in life. The focus of Jesus' activity was not one dimensional, bringing forth blessings to persons in need, but it also aimed at bringing forth healthy relationships and a spirit that is filled with vitality. Jesus aimed at bringing about wellness, that is, helping each person to be whole and complete.
The dialogue in our gospel indicates that Jesus was disappointed that only one of the men who received his blessing, the Samaritan, responded with praise for God and gratitude toward the one that bestowed the blessing. The faith of the Samaritan, that Jesus says "made you well," has nothing to do with the cure but focuses in on the Samaritan's praise of God and expression of gratitude. Jesus seems to be saying that we do not fully experience all the goodness that this life has to offer if praise and gratitude is absent in our lives. Within life, there is the experience of the self, the other, and the sacred. Let's break those three factors down and see how each aspect enhances our life experience.
* The Common Experience; The Self
Jesus infers that the nine men, those who don't return, have limited their life experience to that which is found within themselves. As they go on their way they experience the good fortune in their life. They are happy with the health that they are experiencing. That is good, in and of itself. But since they do not credit another or others for the outside contributions that enabled the good fortune to be experienced, they miss out on the rich relational aspect of life. In addition, since the nine men do not credit the nature of the universe that can provide the possibility for such good fortune to occur, they miss out on the rich spiritual dimension of life. Jesus seems to be saying that we can experience the goodness of life but our reaction to our experience can exclude us from experiencing the further excellence of life.
There is the old story of the pastor who decides to play hooky on a Sunday morning. It is a beautiful morning when he wakes up. Much like last Sunday, early October, sunshine and the kind of warmth that won't be experienced too much longer in the year. When the pastor sees the beauty of the day, at the crack of dawn, he decides to go golfing in a town down the road, about an hour away, where no one would know who he is. He devises a plan so no one will know that he is playing hooky. He calls his associate pastor, acting sick, informs the associate that he is too ill to come to church. He tells the associate to give the sermons and care for the other Sunday morning activities. To make sure he is not caught, he tells the associate that he will unplug his phone so he can get undisturbed rest. St. Peter, up in heaven, brings this matter to the attention of God as the senior pastor drives to the other town to golf. God informs St. Peter that the pastor will be properly punished. That morning, the pastor shoots his best score ever, in fact, he makes a hole-in-one on the last par three. The pastor is ecstatic. St. Peter looks at God in shock and asks "What kind of punishment was that?" God smiles and says "Who is he going to tell about his best round of golf that included a hole-in-one?" The experience of the self is good but it is limiting. The nine men who do not return to Jesus, in our gospel lesson, limit their experience to their selves.
* The Relational Experience; Including Others.
Experiencing the full richness of life is tied in with our acknowledgment of others who contribute to the good fortune or blessings we have. The Samaritan in our gospel text not only recognizes his good health but also understands that another's action contributed to his good health. As he returns to Jesus and expresses thanks he moves beyond his self contained experience of good health and expands his experience to include another. On one level the Samaritan was grateful for his good health but on another level he was grateful that Jesus had not dismissed, ignored, or avoided him as the vast majority did. Leprosy in the ancient world was much more than a medical diagnosis. Leprosy, as biblical scholar Fred Craddock put it, was "a social disease...into every culture sooner or later come diseases so mysterious and so threatening that they are met primarily with fear and ignorance." By ancient law and custom the leper was expelled from the town, forbidden physical contact with the healthy; the leper was shunted aside, avoided. As noted earlier, the term, "the leper" stripped a person of their greater identity. Samuel, the father, brother, spouse and shoe maker, became simply "the leper." Miriam, across town, the widow, mother, aunt who wove such fine fabrics before the disease attacked her fingers, became simply "the leper." The disease attacked their bodies, but it was the response of society that attacked their identity, de-personalized the individual. It was the response of society that turned Samuel and Miriam with whom you did business or shared meals, with whom you laughed at parties or with whom you worshipped at the synagogue, into "the lepers" with whom you had nothing, nothing whatsoever, to do.
Except possibly to toss them a few coins. That is where Jesus met them. "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." Although they probably were hoping to get money, they probably were looking for so much more. They were looking for mercy. They were looking for compassion. They were looking for someone who would look at them and see them, see Miriam, see Samuel, see real human beings with dreams and fears, with hearts longing for love and hands longing for simple human touch. They were looking for someone who would look at them and see more than just "the lepers." The Samaritan understood that Jesus saw them as whole persons, that is, more than individuals defined by a particular ailment. The Samaritan's expression of gratitude gave thanks to Jesus on many levels.
Gratitude moves us beyond ourselves as it acknowledges the fact that our accomplishments, blessings, and good fortunes are a result of the combined efforts of others and ourselves. What a thrill it is to help another person in life and what a gift it is when another person acknowledges our assistance. One of the draws for participation in team sports is the relationships developed and the ongoing expressions of gratitude between teammates. A good team has players that work together and make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. I noted last week that this past Tuesday marked the first practice for the basketball team I am coaching this year. I am happy to tell you that the talent level on this team is much higher than I had on the team I coached last year. In addition, I sensed more of a team spirit during our first practice than I saw on the team last year. I was especially proud of our most talented player, Jimmy, as he not only played well but he also gave ongoing words of encouragement to the other players. A couple of times Jimmy passed up shots as he passed the ball to some of the less talented players to make sure they knew that he knew that they were part of the team. Teamwork is step one to success.
I saw teamwork and success on the Burke softball team this Fall. Since the Burke High School softball team was doing so well and since three of the girls on the team are St. Luke members I followed them in the paper and even got a chance to see one of their games. The softball diamond, especially the infield, is relatively compact. Most of the action happens on the infield, with the good teams the pitching is so dominant, most hits do not make it to the outfield. Therefore, whenever a fielder makes a play and throws the runner out, all the infielders gather at the mound, high five one another and prepare for the next batter. I saw that expressions of gratitude are instant and the importance of relationships are clear on a winning softball team.
The Ultimate Experience; Open to God
The common experience of life is the self. The relational experience of life is with others. Finally the ultimate experience of life includes the sacred. The Samaritan who returned to thank Jesus also understood that the actions and attitude of Jesus was an expression of God's mercy and grace. As persons of faith, we give thanks to others because we understand that their care or support are expressions of God's mercy and grace in our life. The goodness of life, good fortune, and our accomplishments are possible because of the nature of the universe. Praise to God, found on the lips of the Samaritan in our gospel text, is making the ultimate connection in life.
A lifestyle that includes church, synagogue, mosque, temple or other congregational gathering in a space dedicated to God is intentionally moving beyond self as it engages others and the sacred. I was asked at a membership exploration class why we have a time of greeting in the middle of the 10:15 a.m. worship service. I did not have an eloquent answer at the time the question was raised but upon reflection I saw a few reasons we greet one another at the time that we do. We greet one another, in both services, after the gospel reading and before the sermon. In the 9 a.m. service it is near the beginning of our gathering since we have no liturgy or music, and in the 10:15 a.m. service it is in the middle of worship because it is our liturgical service. The greeting is not just a greeting but it is passing the "peace of Christ" with one another.
The "peace of Christ" is about hospitality, amends, and embodiment of the spirit. Let's break those pieces down. Hospitality is at the heart of the Hebrew faith, which is the foundation of Christianity. The wondering nomadic Hebrews moved through lands with rough terrain. Receiving and providing hospitality for Abraham, Sarah and their descendants was often the difference between life and death in the desert climate. Therefore, hospitality was a sacred rite of life. Extension of hospitality was a basic tenet of their faith. Therefore, in the spirit of our historic faith, just in case you were not greeted at the door when you enter the building or you were not greeted in the sanctuary before you were seated, we greet one another as a sign of hospitality. It is not a matter of life and death but it is a warm gesture of care. Sometimes we need to be reminded that a primary purpose of Christian worship is hospitality. A couple of weeks ago I had a member share with me that he usually attends the 9 a.m. with his family but that particular week he was alone so he thought he would sit in another section of the Great Room. He saw a table open and sat in one of the available seats. The person at the table quickly informed him that their family members sit at that table. He relocated himself. An opportunity for hospitality was missed. I would hope that if a stranger, be it a member or more importantly a visitor, chose to sit at an open seat where our family sits that each of us would choose to say, in the spirit of hospitality, "So glad to see you. My name is Scott. I would like to know your name so I can introduce you to my family when they arrive."
"Passing the peace of Christ" is a time to greet those who might not have been greeted or a time for us to provide a greeting to another if we have not done so. Beyond hospitality, "passing the peace of Christ" is about making amends with persons. Jesus encouraged his disciples to make needed amends with the folk before they mediate on a passage of scripture. Growing in God's love is built upon acting in God's love. Therefore, we can use the greeting time to share words of reconciliation with...
-our spouse if we had some harsh words in the car on the way to church;
-the person we aced out of a key parking spot before worship;
-the members of the committee that we treated rudely earlier this week;
-the pastor we interpreted last week with an intentionally loud yawn!
Such words during the greeting time prepare our spirit to fully integrate what we are about to hear from the gospel lesson. Finally, the greeting is an affirmation that we are in this together, as a group, we are ones who will embody the spirit of Christ if anyone is going to take it from the printed page and make it a living reality.
Praise and thanksgiving not only connect us in vital ways with others and God but they also make us immune from that which is unhealthy and destructive in life. One legend tells the story of a man who found the barn where Satan kept his seeds ready to sow in the human heart. The man found that the seeds of discouragement were more numerous than all the other seeds and that they could be made to grow almost anywhere. When Satan was questioned, he reluctantly admitted that there was one place in which he could never get them to thrive. "And where is that?" asked the man. Satan replied sadly, "In the heart of a grateful person." The sincere words of praise and thanksgiving that we utter connect us in meaningful ways with God and others and those connections provide us with a wonderful immune system.
The nine men in our gospel lesson illustrate that we can settle for the common experience of life, which is the experience of the self. It is good but it can leave us wanting. Within the last month, since September 11th, the value of relationships and God's presence in our life has come into clearer focus. The Samaritan in our gospel story illustrates that through gratitude we can upgrade the common experience of life to the relational experience and through praise we can have the ultimate experience, with the sacred in our midst. God's created order provides us with the freedom to experience life as narrow or as broad as we might choose. Praise be to God. Amen.