Sermon 13th October 2019 – 18th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 17:11-19 – Unity through suffering
Border Security is a major political divide in many countries.
Whether it’s the wall being built on the border of the USA and Mexico – or the sending of those deemed to be “illegal immigrants to detention centres or being deported.
We have even had disputes with our near neighbour New Zealand over the sending back of New Zealanders who have made their home in Australia but have committed crimes and we don’t want them anymore.
But it seems New Zealand doesn’t want them either.
So border security and citizenship is a massive issue in many parts of the world.
And it was also a massive issue in Jesus’ time particularly regarding Jews and Samaritans
But Jesus breaks down those barriers which we see in a couple places at least.
2 important ones include in John chapter 4 with the Samaritan Woman at the well:
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans).
Then there is the parable of the Good Samaritan who stops to help a Jewish national who has been attacked and left for dead.
Jesus says this is the greatest example of loving our neighbour and tells us to go and do likewise.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus again shows that he breaks down barriers in that he heals ten lepers which included 9 Jews and one Samaritan.
But there is something that has struck me this time.
As the Samaritan Woman said – Jews do not associate with Samaritans.
Something that is easy to miss here in this reading as we focus on the miraculous healing is that these 10 lepers seemed to be living together in community.
Whereas once their nationality and religion divided them their suffering united them.
In their suffering they didn’t care about the things that previously divided them.
The things that they objected to were no longer of significance.
And so it would appear that in their suffering their eyes have been truly opened.
Just as the Good Samaritan who, in seeing the suffering of an enemy, was able to set that aside.
And here too 10 lepers – Jews and Samaritans – have set aside their differences that had divided them and come to Jesus united as one:
Note what they say to Jesus: they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"
Have mercy on “us”.
There is no individual here;
There is no “us and them”.
Have mercy on “us”.
Not have mercy on “me”.
Suffering, however, is something we don’t like.
Suffering is not something we desire.
And yet we see that in suffering there is a mystery of blessing.
Would those 10 in our Gospel reading ever have come together without their suffering?
St Paul likewise speaks about his own sufferings and even goes to the point of that he rejoices in his sufferings.
And as we read his 2nd letter to the Corinthians he explains the mystery of how that can be.
He says: I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
In his suffering Paul grew to trust in God’s grace and mercy.
Paul’s suffering made him realise that he could not manage life on his own strength.
Unfortunately, sadly perhaps, we live in a world where we don’t see suffering as a positive thing – and I can understand that – no one likes to suffer – no one likes to see a loved one suffering.
And that’s why there has been such a push for Voluntary Assisted Dying – because we don’t understand the ministry of suffering.
Even in the church, as we go through our bouts of suffering – we struggle to see God’s blessings.
One of the understandings that led to Luther’s renewal was what we call “a theology of the cross”.
A recognition that behind suffering is the glory of God.
In fact Luther likened that glory of God to when Moses was granted his request to see the glory of God.
God said to Moses: There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock and when. my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”
A theology of the cross understands God’s blessings in suffering.
Unfortunately because of our sinfulness and human nature we always want more.
Just like Adam and Eve who were created in the Image of God and fell to the deception of Satan to disobey God with the promise of “you will be like God”.
It sounded tempting but was actually a step down in glory from being in the Image of God to being “like God”.
And so we continue to see that human nature in the 9 lepers who failed to return to Jesus to thank him.
So what is the difference between this one Samaritan and the other 9 Jewish lepers?
It was in how they saw their relationship with Jesus.
When Jesus sends them on their way they hurry to do what lepers are supposed to do when they're healed: go to the temple and show themselves to the priest.
While they're still on the road, they look at each other and they're already healed.
One of them, a despised Samaritan, turns around and goes back.
He's so full of joy and gratitude that he throws himself on the ground at Jesus' feet to worship him
So what of the other nine Jewish lepers?
They are obediently doing what Jesus told them to do and what they know the Law requires of them.
They're being good, observant, faithful Jews.
They’re not doing anything wrong but following Jesus’ directions.
So what this goes back to is what is at the heart of their relationship with Jesus.
Is it love or is it obedience.
Both are important but what motivates the relationship with Jesus?
Is it love or is it obedience?
This outsider, this Samaritan, this "them," in the “us and them” relationship is so overwhelmed by gratitude and joy that he turns back to Jesus to show his love.
But why didn’t he first do what Jesus asked him to do?
It’s because he knew that the Temple isn't a place he'd be welcome even if he is cured of his leprosy.
Whilst he had been cured of being a leper there is no cure for being a Samaritan – an outsider.
So while he knew the temple would not be welcoming of him he knew that with Jesus there was no border control.
Today, our churches are not struggling with the Jewish-Samaritan question but who are the “them” in the “us and them”.
Are we welcoming?
Are we inviting?
Are we breaking down “us and them” boundaries?
Are we more like one of the nine lepers trying to be good and religious who obey the religious authorities and Laws?
Is that our starting position?
Or is our starting position that we are saved sinners who have experienced the love and grace of God and have been asked to “go and do likewise”?
To love the Lord with all our heart and our neighbour as ourselves.
I don’t think this story is always about remembering to say thanks but rather why did the Samaritan say thanks before he did what Jesus asked him to do.
This Samaritan leper did not disobey Jesus but because of his love for Jesus he was able to see the true temple.
Remember what Jesus said:
“Tear down this Temple and in three days I’ will rebuild it.” They people were furious: “It took forty-six years to build this Temple, and you’re going to rebuild it in three days?” But Jesus was talking about his body as the Temple.
And YOU are the body of Christ.
You are the new Temple.
Do we need rebuilding?
The Samaritan Leper did return to the temple and he reported to the priest – the true priest – Jesus Christ – prophet, priest and king.
And not just any priest - For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
So what is at the heart of our worship?
What is at the heart of our relationship with God?
What comes first – obedience or love?
Both are important.
If obedience comes first then it is a relationship of obligation.
I won’t commit murder because God forbids it.
I won’t commit murder because I love God and my neighbour.
Same outcome but different motivation.
Or, I won’t commit adultery because God’s commandment forbids it.
Or, I won’t commit adultery because I love God and my wife.
That’s what we see at the heart of this Samaritan Leper.
He obeyed Jesus’ command but he did so through love at the true temple presenting himself to the true high priest.
And that’s why, when Jesus was asked, what is the greatest commandment he responded – love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself.
He didn’t need to recite all of the 10 commandments but cited the one – the only one needed that motivates all or actions.
Isn’t that interesting – 10 lepers, one returns because of love.
10 commandments – one greatest commandment to love.
And we love because God first loved us.