October 13, 2019: The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost

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 the 2nd Letter of Paul to Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ.” I speak to you in the Name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Amen.

     I have to admit this morning that today’s sermon has been recrafted not once or twice, but five times. (When I’m finished, some of you might wish I’d recrafted it yet again!) See, when I first read over today’s lessons, particularly our Gospel reading with its story of the 1 in 10 Lepers returning to give thanks to God, I immediately thought of the biblical practice of Tithing. Given the announced shortfall in financial pledges for next year, I thought it providential that these particular readings would appear today. But then, the news out of Germany this week where yet another religious and political extremist attacked a Synagogue on the holiest of the Jewish calendar year, and here at home with all the vulgar wrangling over impeachment inquiries and the treatment of immigrants and so on, the more I realized our lessons go far deeper than tithing. In fact, they hold before us an incredible challenge: a challenge captured in three words “Remember Jesus Christ.”

     At the Battle of Naseby, probably the most decisive battle in the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell is said to have prayed, “O Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not Thou forget me.”

     Cromwell’s prayer is not uncommon. People often call out for God to remember them especially in times of trouble. The Old Testament is rife with examples of where people in dire straits called out to God: “Remember your covenant with Abraham, remember your promise of mercy, remember we are your creation and have mercy on us.” We hear in Psalm 25, “Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions …but remember me according to your steadfast love.” In the New Testament, we hear the thief on the cross call out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

     But St. Paul, writing in his second letter to Timothy says it is we, not God, who need to remember: to “Remember Jesus Christ.” Well, I think that most Christians hear those words and say, “Oh, remembering Jesus is easy. We do it in every celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Remembering is natural for us after all we are called by his name.”  But those words trouble me because I believe Paul is urging the Church to grasp a deeper understanding of what it means to remember Jesus Christ.

Previously, Paul has spoken of Jesus as being faithful in all things even to death on a cross. In today’s reading, he reminds us that even if we are faith-less, God always remains faith-full. God does not need to be reminded of anything. Again, it is we who are called to remember. But what does it mean to remember Jesus Christ? Paul says to remember Jesus is to stay focused on the good news of the gospel and not be distracted by the quirks of people around you, especially church people. See, Paul knew all too well that even good and faithful people can get caught up in nitpicking at each other’s shortfalls and be blind to the ongoing transforming work of God that is forever reshaping our hearts and minds. Paul says we get enough grief from those outside the church. We don’t need to hurt each other. Instead, choose to see – really see one another as God sees us and every human being: In and through Jesus Christ, God sees everyone as beloved children worthy of redemption and healing, worthy of wholeness and restoration, worthy of justice and mercy, worthy of forgiveness and grace. All that God asks is that we remember God, remember Jesus Christ.

     Jeremiah, in today’s Old Testament reading, brings the word of God to the exiled people of Israel who have been carried off to Babylon. We might recall that in last week’s lesson, we heard their deep grief and anger towards God and one another for having become slaves once again. They called out to God, “Remember us. Remember your promises.” In today’s lesson from Jeremiah, God tells the people “I do remember.” (I always do because I never forget my promises!) It is you who need to remember, remember that I am always present with you regardless of circumstances. God tells the people I do remember. It is you who forgot me. And in this wonderful passage that affirms how the promises of God’s presence and blessing go with us wherever we are, that God is not limited by geography, the underlying message is that true people of God remember God twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And that is where people of faith tend to get mixed up.

See, I believe we do remember God. So much so, that we pray to God and in God’s name all the time. Every gathering in this sacred place begins and ends with prayer and praise to God. We do remember God. But to truly remember God, beloved, goes deeper than just recalling God’s name. It means to embrace and demonstrate all that God has taught us and shown us especially, everything revealed about God and one another in the person of Jesus Christ. To remember God is to allow God to change our very being, change us so deeply and completely that we always uphold God’s values, God’s ways, in every aspect of daily life. To remember God is a conscious decision, a choice, to actively seek justice and mercy, to be forgiving, to seek and speak the truth no matter how difficult it may be. To remember God is to be humble, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, bind up the wounds of the sick, house the homeless, visit prisoners, and uphold and demonstrate everything God said about how we should treat one another. When scripture says that we “forgot” God’s ways and values, such does not mean a lapse in our memory. To forget is to consciously choose to ignore God’s values and ways. God says to the exiled people of Israel, “You forgot me” Nevertheless, I will forever remember you, remember my promises. Oh that you would do the same.” 

    In today’s gospel reading, Jesus meets ten lepers who call out for mercy. He sees their need and tells them to go show themselves to the priest. On their way, they experience healing and one of them returns to thank Jesus. Heremembers Jesus Christ. We tend to read this passage as if the other nine healed lepers were ungrateful. But, according to Luke, they were following Jesus’ instructions to the letter by continuing on their way to see the priest where, no doubt, they participated in a rite of thanksgiving for healing as was the Hebrew custom. So, this text is notabout being unthankful or ungrateful. It’s not even about tithing. It is about obedience. All ten Lepers followed Jesus’ instruction. But, one of the ten broke rank with the others in order to come and personally thank Jesus beforecontinuing on his way to the Temple. See, this text speaks about maintaining perspective – everything we do – everything we are - must be based in the teachings and life of Jesus Christ so that our lives draw attention to Christ. Otherwise we become another social services agency, a quaint picture on a postcard – but we will demonstrate nothingabout faith priorities and keeping life in perspective, about upholding in how we choose  to speak, think and live God’s ways – every one of them. The fact that this young leper in our gospel story was a Samaritan, a foreigner, as Jesus calls him, affirms that God shows no partiality, and neither should we. God is faithful to all who put their trust in him regardless of whom they are or where they live. Jesus Christ has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Remember Jesus Christ.

    Our task, and our struggle, is to remember Jesus – remember and then demonstrate everything he said and did - at all times. Whether our days are filled with anxiety like the people of Israel in today’s Old Testament reading, or filled with tangible examples of God’s healing presence among us as we read in today’s Gospel, remembering Jesus Christ is always – what? - Our choice.

     As we look to the week ahead and all the work that goes into the Valle Country Fair the proceeds from which will serve hundreds of needy people, it will be all too easy to get so caught up in our work and activities that we forget why we are doing this work together. We need to remember Jesus who is in our midst and whose body, whose hands and feet and voice we are. For it is Jesus Christ who has urged us to so serve and it is Jesus Christ who continues to shape this community of faith.

     And if, like Oliver Cromwell, we somehow do forget God in the busyness of our lives, today’s scripture readings and the testimony of patriarchs and matriarchs, prophets and martyrs, apostles and saints, and all people of faith from generation to generation, assures us that God will not forget us – no, not one. Even if we are faith-less, God is faith-full. Thanks be to God.

     Let us pray.  “Lord, you know how busy we must be this day, this week, and in the months and years to come. Help us to always remember Jesus Christ. Remember him so deeply and completely that we choose to be like him this day and forever.” Amen.