Reading: Luke 17:11-19
Sermon: God’s people are a thankful people.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Many years ago I had the very great privilege of spending some time working with the Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia, US. The Open Door is a large house, just a few miles from the centre of the city and is modeled on the houses of the Catholic Worker Movement. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it for now – what you need to know is that the people there are modern day disciples of Jesus who are seeking to live out the Gospel, right there, right now. Most of their work involves feeding and clothing Atlanta’s homeless people. Every night, they open their yard, (we would call it the back garden), and give out blankets to the folks that come seeking the relative safety and comfort of a place where they will not be moved on or face violence and scorn from others. They also have use of a bathroom – no small thing in a city with no – and I mean no, public toilets.
In the morning, from about 5.30 am; fresh coffee is brewed and given to the assembly to mark the start of another day of life on the streets. 3 mornings a week, the house opens for breakfast – a high protein, nourishing and balanced fare – a sample of which would be grits, (maize porridge), sausage, eggs, which most folk mix up all in the small bowl and smother with hot-sauce – yuk! Followed by lots of fruit and bread and tea.
Being part of the Open Door’s team is no small task. There is a lot to do and prepare and lots of people to look after. You have to be up at 5.30am – earlier if you’re the one on coffee duty – and then you’re up and running all day long. It’s hard work – but it’s not thankless. The people who come in, inevitably greet you with smile and a kind word. Their presence is a real blessing to those who serve.
One of the long time volunteers, (I’ll call him), Willie, used to come to cook. Willie was a veteran campaigner – he’d walked alongside the Rev’d Dr, Martin Luther King, back in the 60s; and every time he came to cook, he’d preach the Gospel to those of us in the kitchen. “You gotta have an attitude of gratitude.” He’d say. “Every day, in every way, an attitude of gratitude!” “It don’t matter if you feel like it or no – the good Lord loves you! Praise the Lord!”
Words of wisdom – words to live by.
For all of us who would live the abundant life that Jesus speaks of, an attitude of gratitude is essential.
In our reading from Luke today, we meet up with Jesus who is, once more in the margins – the borderlands – crossing boundaries and moving into places where he probably shouldn’t go. This time, he encounters not just one, but ten people suffering from leprosy; ten unclean, outcasts. They call out to him – they call because they cannot come close. Their experience has taught them to keep their distance – by now, doubtless they expect little from others, knowing that they belong in the margins; cast out from the people to whom they long to belong. So they call; plea; and hope.
And Jesus responds – he tells them to “Go.” To go and show themselves to the priest – in effect to act as if they have been healed, as if a miracle has already taken place. Imagine then, their surprise, their amazement when, as they travel they discover that they have, indeed, been healed!
One of them notices. The Samaritan; and he turns back, falls at Jesus’ feet and offers his thanks. A perfect illustration of that attitude of gratitude.
A word here about Samaritans: Samaritans were descended from the Jewish people who had not been deported or killed when the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom, about 700 hundred years before Jesus was born. The Assyrians forced them into marriage with colonists from Babylonia and so they were regarded as blood traitors by other Jews. As such, they were recipients of more scorn and hatred than any other group.
So, here Luke tells us about this man who is both a leper and a Samaritan – how much more of a hate-figure could he be? Here he is doubly cursed – until he meets Jesus and becomes fully blessed; for not only has he been healed – he has been fully restored. He is now free to return to his friends and family – no wonder he thanks Jesus!
But what of the other 9? Well, they didn’t do anything wrong did they? They did exactly what Jesus told them to do. As unlikely as it may have seemed to them, they did as he told them, and they found healing too.
So, what’s really going on here? Well, this little story is a part of a much bigger whole. Over the past few weeks, if you’ve been following the Lectionary, you will know that Jesus has been teaching his disciples some very hard lessons about faith and what it means to be a disciple. Since Chapter 9, when Jesus set his face to Jerusalem, it seems he’s been trying to prepare them for a tough road ahead. We’ve had stories about the Good Samaritan; persistence in prayer; strong criticisms of the religious leaders and cryptic parables about money and possessions along with dire warnings about ignoring the teachings of the prophets. But here, in these few verses, we get just a glimpse of the sun peaking through the clouds and right before their eyes, the disciples witness a real-life parable in the form of a healed man who comes back to say, “thank you!” Whilst the disciples have been following Jesus; listening to him; learning from him; they have been struggling to understand what this man; this man with an attitude of gratitude grasps straight away. The old life; the crippled body; the scorned man – all gone! For here stands a man, as any other. A man free to return from the margins to the mainstream; to live as any man might; a man restored, made whole – and as he feels healing and wholeness move through his body, he can also feel his heart, rising in gratitude to the One who has restored him – he knows who the true priest is; and so he returns to offer his thanksgiving to Jesus.
Time and time again, Luke shows Jesus confounding expectations. Right from the beginning of his Gospel, when we hear Mary sing her song of God bringing down the mighty and lifting up the lowly, we get the message that Jesus will be turner of tables. The world as we know it rewards the mighty and pushes the lowly to the margins. The poor are despised whilst the rich are celebrated. But in God’s world, things are different. No one is to be outcast – all are invited to take their place in the Kingdom of God.
Yes, really. That’s why it’s called Good News.
Sometimes though, we have trouble accepting that. We might think, well, surely not so and so, because he/she is this or that or says this and that… and when that criticism sometimes turns inwards to ourselves we cast bits of ourselves to the borderlands because we’re afraid to have them seen or touched.
We think that we couldn’t possibly be good enough for Jesus because….
Well there is no because. Jesus already knows you – inside and out – and Still loves you! Jesus is no stranger to the borderlands; he can cross into them – to heal; forgive; transform any situation. We just need the courage to call out.
Back in Atlanta, the Open Door is still hard at work. There are many homeless people on the streets and to be homeless in the Land of the Free is to be something of a modern day leper. Those who have lives which are well resourced tend to ignore the homeless; casting them to the margins. Yet, that’s where Jesus is today.
In the margins of the hungry; the outlands of the poor and in the hearts of the thankful, Jesus makes his home.
Let us pray: Loving God, may you stir us up to work for you and bless us with an attitude of gratitude. Amen.
with grateful thanks to Meda Stamper and David Lose over on Working Preacher – you guys rock!