October 9, 2022

The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost

October 9, 2022
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7; Psalm 66:1-11; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

From Psalm 66, “Come now and see the works of God … how wonderful God … is toward all people.” I
speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our reading from the Gospel according to Luke with its portrayal of one in ten or 1/10 th
returning to give thanks and praise to God is an enticing image to capitalize on during this time
when many continue their discernment concerning Stewardship and how one might pledge their
time, talent and treasure for the coming year. I mean, really, could there be a better illustration of
tithing than that in today’s gospel reading?
Yet, there is something deeper in all of today’s readings that I believe calls to us especially as we
prepare for our Country Fair. So, as a sigh of relief rises towards heaven this morning, please know
that today’s sermon is not about stewardship or tithing at all. (Can I get an “Amen”?)
One of the intriguing things about the Bible is that it is filled with stories about people in
transition, those who are “in between,” who haven’t quite yet arrived. The early Hebrew people
were wanderers. They spent a generation in Egypt. Followed Moses through the Red Sea not sure of
what awaited them on the other shore. Spent forty years in the wilderness, and lived for an entire
generation as exiles in Babylon. The disciples, hiding in that upper room after Jesus’ death and
burial, heard a knock at the door and didn’t know whether to open it or to hide, didn’t know if what
awaited them on the other side was good news of hope or disaster and arrest. St. Paul moved from
place to place ministering to gentile converts unsure if they would ever really be welcomed into the
Christian Church and find a place of honor and inclusion at God’s table.
Our own lives present us with times of transition – times when we are clearly “in between.” In
adolescence we are between childhood and adulthood and yet, we are neither. Teenagers balk at
being treated as children and yet they aren’t adults, although they might insist that they are.
Couples who are engaged are not a “married couple” yet, but they can’t be described as “just
dating” anymore. And then there are those mid-life crises or when we are nearing retirement, or
deciding if we need assisted living and perhaps nursing care. These are all times when we are “in
between,” where things don’t quite fit. In my own journey of faith just as I am sure such has
happened in your journeys of faith, there were times when I have asked where am I going, was this
change in direction really of God, what awaits me at my destination, and will I ever get there?
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus is in one of those “in between” places. He has left the land of the
Samaritans and is heading home to Galilee, but he’s not there yet. Luke tells us that in this “no-
man’s land,” as I would describe it, Jesus encounters 10 lepers. They know enough not to approach
Jesus as, no doubt, any time they sought help from folks in the past they were chased away or told
to keep their distance. So, they, too, are in between, desperate for help and yet unable to find or
receive it. They call out for mercy and Luke tells us, “Jesus saw them.” Saw them in their illness, in
their bewilderment, in their hopelessness, in their need. Jesus responds by telling them to go and
see their priests – a reference to participating in the rite of purification at the local synagogue. And
in faith, off they went. Luke says that on their way they were suddenly made clean. They received
what they were seeking but, their journey was not over yet. They were healed but still “in
between.” They knew what they once were but remained unsure of how they might be greeted at
the synagogue and by their priests.
This story of the ten lepers is sometimes called “the one grateful leper” and often cited as a
judgment against the nine who didn’t return to thank Jesus for their healing. I think that is rather
unfair. Jesus told all ten to go see their priest and it looks like nine of them did exactly as they were
told. But one – a Samaritan – a foreigner - broke rank and didn’t do as he was instructed. He
returned and thanked Jesus and praised God, and in giving thanks and praise he received a further
blessing that went beyond physical healing, a blessing that touched his very soul. Jesus said, “Your
faith has made you well,” made you whole. There is a tension in this story because all ten lepers
took a risk in asking for mercy unsure if they would receive it, if they would find nothing, or be
touched by God. And one in their midst – the Samaritan – is really “in between” because he doesn’t
fit in with the other lepers in the first place. He is an unwelcome foreigner. But whether all ten
eventually returned to thank Jesus or not, the reality is healing abounded in this story. But
gratitude? Well, not so much. And that is what keeps gnawing at my heart.
The truth is that in journeying to Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, and wandering in the wilderness,
the Hebrew people were shaped into the nation God desired them to be. Being slaves in Babylon
reshaped them once more and in the process helped them recapture their identity. Through the
words of Jeremiah like we heard in today’s Old Testament lesson, they came to realize that God
cannot be contained by borders. God is always present even in foreign lands, even in times of exile,
and they grasped that being people of God has nothing to do with geography, but rather,
everything to do with the commitment and attitude of one’s heart. Paul, in risking everything in
order to bring the gospel to gentiles paved the way for us to embrace the promises of God’s
forgiveness, mercy, love and grace in Christ Jesus and take our place as welcome members in the
Church. The disciples, in daring to open the door heard the good news of the resurrection and it
changed their lives and the course of human history. And in returning to thank Jesus, this healed
gentile, outcast Samaritan leper, received not only the healing that others received, but also the
blessing that comes from recognizing, from seeing, God at work in us, and giving thanks.
You know, the Psalmist reminds us to take time in the midst of busy everyday life to “see the
works of God – how wonderful God is toward all people.” Jeremiah and the Psalmist urge us to
remember, to open our eyes and behold God among us even if we are “in between,” in transition …
and be thankful.
St. Paul urged the early Church, “Remember Jesus Christ.” Stay focused on the good news of the
gospel and don’t be distracted by the quirks of people around you, especially church people. Paul
knew all too well that even good and faithful people can get caught up pointing at other’s shortfalls
and be blind to the ongoing transforming work of God that is forever reshaping hearts and minds.
Paul says Christians get enough grief from those outside the church. We don’t need to hurt each
other. Instead, choose to see – really see each other as God sees each one of us: beloved, children
of God worthy of redemption and healing, worthy of wholeness and restoration. Remember Jesus
Christ, Paul says, and be thankful.
Jesus was so aware of the presence of God even in the midst of a no-man’s land that when he
heard the calls for mercy from ten hopeless “in between” lepers, he saw beyond their physical
illness and recognized them for who they truly are: beloved creations of God, worthy of grace and
mercy just like anyone else. In fact, I think Jesus saw God already at work in these strangers. God
brought them into his path and Jesus saw them and their needs, and acted to bring them to
wholeness, to bring them to that other side of the Red Sea, to open that upper room door, to
welcome them to the table. And while only one returned to give thanks, nonetheless, all were
healed. Such is the grace of God in them and it is the experience of God’s grace in us.
And therein lies a challenge for us a parish, as individuals, and as we prepare for The Valle
Country Fair. I think many here would describe themselves as dwelling in a time of transition, not
quite where they hope to someday be. No doubt many of the thousands who will grace this valley
this coming week are also at a place in their lives where they feel “in between,” that they no longer
fit in with their families or communities. So much so, they are desperate to experience grace and
mercy and yet, like lepers, are afraid to speak honestly about their needs. Our scripture lessons this
morning urge us to remember the redemptive power of Jesus Christ that transforms lives and offers
hope to a weary world; and remember the presence of God forever at work in and around us. And
perhaps, in our remembering, somehow through a gentle smile, a kind word, a friendly welcome,
we might encourage these fellow, beloved creations of God, and each other, in the words of the
Psalmist, to “Come. Come and see the works of God … how wonderful God is toward all people” –
even people in transition, people “in between” … And be thankful. O God, may this be so for us, and
in us, and through us. Amen.