Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost - 10/14

God’s Gift Invites A Response

Time after Pentecost; LWF Sunday
October 14, 2007       
Luke 17:11-19
Bethany Lutheran Church

If you are like myself, one of things I sometimes like to do while reading the Bible or upon hearing a Bible text proclaimed is to imagine myself as one of the characters in the story. It is a sort of “where do I fit” approach. With what character do I most associate? I have listened to some pastors preach on this text in other congregations. What they have sometimes suggested is that those of us gathered here are like that one Samaritan, here to give thanks. The other nine, then, are all those people in our community who did not step foot into a church this morning. We would like to think of ourselves as good and honorable Christians, responding like that one Samaritan. If you had stepped into some other churches this morning, they might even tell you that. But I am not going to suggest that we are the Samaritan in the story because we are not. And if we were to think of ourselves as the Samaritan, we might become proud and arrogant people, leaving here today full of a pompous attitude that we have done good by coming to church. We are good Christians. But that, my friends, is works righteousness and is one of the reasons why we disagreed with the Rome 500 years ago. And not only that, but last time I checked Jesus was not in the business of rating Christians as if we were in some sort of competition. (Point to various people in the pews as if to rate them.) 8.7, 9.1, 9.6, a perfect 10 for you.

Ahh, but there is another reason why we cannot be the Samaritan in the story. You see, we ourselves, have not yet reached the part of the story where the Samaritan is identified. If we simply claimed to be the Samaritan, it would be like reading the first chapter of a book and then skipping ahead to the last chapter, and if we do that, we loose the middle of the story. Our gospel text this morning is not only about one person who gave thanks, it is about ten persons who were living in complete and total agony.

We do not know a whole lot about the peculiarities of this skin disease, what it looked like or how sick it made a person feel. But what we do know is that those who were said to have leprosy would have been declared unclean. The next thing they would have heard would have been a message of “get out”. Get out of this community, get out of this town. There is only one place for you to go: outside the city gates and to the dump full of trash and feces. If you had leprosy and were unclean, you would have been regarded as no more than simple trash. And if anyone happened to stumble in your direction, you would have had to warn them by shouting “unclean… unclean…”

If we are going to associate ourselves with any of the characters in the story, well then, I think we are the ten lepers. We are the ones in pain and agony, living at the dung heap. We are the ones suffering from illness and disease. We are the ones who are picked on and teased at school, made to feel self conscious, fearing the bullies that roam the halls. We are the ones suffering from our own guilt over a sin we committed. We are the ones who stand at the dung heap and cry out “unclean… I am a sinner… unclean.” We are the ones who begin our work here together each week confessing our sins before God. Keeping our distance, afraid to get too close, afraid to approach the altar rail for communion, we cry out in need of healing. “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” God’s response is “Go and show yourselves to the priest” for he is the one who can declare you to be clean, just as Pastor Geier again this morning declared that our sins are forgiven.

The other nine lepers often get a bad rap, but they were doing precisely as Jesus had instructed. “Go and show yourselves to the priests” he said, for the priests were the ones able to declare a person clean. They went on their way to the temple, seeking the priest, as Jesus said. These nine lepers would have certainly noticed that they too had been made clean. Their lives would now drastically change. Peter Marty tells us however that “What they miss is the acknowledgement that this gift of healing has come from someone in particular.” It is only the one complete stranger, the one from Samaria, who responded contrary to the culture by not going to see the priests. It was only he that recognized the source of this gift of healing. Nine lepers went to the temples to praise God, the Samaritan praised God at the feet of Jesus, lying there prostrate with his face in the dirt.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the source of our healing flows from the first gifts we received by God when we were baptized. Born into sin, full of leprosy even as babies, our old self was drowned in the waters of baptism. Full of the spots and stains of sin, we were immersed into those waters and when we came out we were clean and full of new life. Having been made clean, let us not become boastful when we return to our communities. Let us not start pointing out others who are diseased and covered leprosy.

The story of the ten lepers is not about the one, but about all ten. It is a story that reminds us about the gifts of God that we received first at our baptism. Those gifts invite you and I to respond. How we respond is entirely up to us. Will you be like the nine who returned to the temple to see the priest as they had been instructed? Will you be like the Samaritan by lying prostrate, face down when you come to the altar rail to receive communion? Perhaps some of you will respond by being a witness to these healings.

There are many lepers throughout our world who are in need of hearing words of healing. There are many people who live at the dung heap outside our city gates. There are many people who are marginalized and alienated because of their ethnic race, their social class, or their sexual preference. Go to those people and be the voice of God, offering to them words of healing, inviting them back into the fellowship of the community. Go meet these people who live on the fringes of society because they are interesting people and they have unique stories to tell. Do not be afraid of them if they are different than you in some way. God does not send us on our way to judge others, but rather to sing joyful praise as witnesses to what God has done.

God did not ask the lepers about their social status or sexual orientation before healing them. Neither did God charge you a monetary fee or ask you if you were gay or straight when you were baptized. We are all lepers, blemished and marked in some way. But we have all been made clean despite our many differences. Who we are is God’s gift to us. We are all unique and yet we have all been baptized as children of God. Our response to this wonderful gift is our gift to God. So my fellow lepers, now that you have been made clean, what gift will you gift.

Vicar Luke Smetters

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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