IF I PROCLAIM

Isaiah 40:21-31, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Mark 1:29-39

Nathan Hosler

Directly before our passage is Paul’s discussion of meat sacrificed to idols. Though there is freedom to eat, this freedom is qualified by the higher priority of the spiritual well-being of others. Jenn preached on this last week. In this the Apostle considers food sacrificed to idols. Paul asserts that though Christians are not constrained in what they can eat should always have the spiritual well-being of others in mind and as the highest priority. Though you are free in relation to God, you must be constrained in relation to your sisters and brothers who may be spiritually upended by your action.

A commentator writes, “Those who truly know God and are known by him will employ their freedom and knowledge for the sake of building up others in their faith, even when this entails denying one’s own legitimate rights as a believer (Hafemann, Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, 166).”  In light of this we turn to chapter 9. Though this may feel like a digression it is part of the same (though somewhat expanded argument). The chapter opens— “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle?”

Paul provides an example of this freedom in his giving something up for the sake of others. Paul forgoes legitimate payment for preaching.  In this he demonstrates the absolute priority he gives to others and for his calling in a ministry of proclaiming the Gospel.

He asks rhetorically in verse 18 “What then is my reward?” “Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.” We often think of rights in relation to commands to act justly towards the poor and immigrant. This is why our denomination participates with the National Farm Worker Ministry (www.nfwm.org). For example, Proverbs 29:7 “The righteous know the rights of the poor; the wicked have no such understanding.” Or Deuteronomy 24:14 You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns.” In this Paul is referring to rights of a worker that are parallel to his work in ministry. As a worker in a vineyard or field has a right to the material resources needed for survival so to does the Apostle who engages in the work of ministry.

Paul argues that those who labor expect to gain sustenance from it. One does not pay for one’s own service in the military, nor keep a vineyard without eating the fruit. He quotes and then interprets figuratively the command that oxen should be allowed to eat while they work as an example of God’s concern for the human worker (sorry oxen). He makes a strong argument that he has the full and legitimate right to make a living from his preaching and then says—despite this right to pay, I have decided not to use this right. He goes even stronger, asserting, “Indeed, I would rather die than that—no one will deprive me of my ground for boasting.”

While we could deduce much from this on the topic of labor, Paul’s main point is as a demonstration and illustration about freedom. Though he is free and entitled to being supported for his work of ministry, he has, for the sake of the community, offered this service free of charge. Furthermore, he asserts, “For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.” (9:19). This sounds very heroic and high-minded, however, he asserted a few verses earlier that “If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! (9:16)”

9:17: “For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission”.  If done on his own he would be rewarded but since he is compelled—he is “entrusted with a commission” he is simply fulfilling what is required. There is a reward—of sorts—he is able to make the proclamation without charging. This seems like a strange reward but indicates that his greatest concern is for those to whom he proclaims the gospel. He says, (9:19) For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them

There is #1 priority of proclaiming the Gospel 

Paul’s top aim is proclaiming the gospel. This focus is mirrored in Mark. In 1:38 we hear Jesus answer, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” The proclamation of the message is Jesus’ task. This is not only preaching in the form of saying words. Clearly this proclaiming is connected to the healing and in other passages to feeding and setting free. In Luke 4:18-19 at the beginning of his ministry Jesus defines his ministry by quoting from the prophet Isaiah, he reads

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Absolute focus on the calling of God. Absolute focus on proclaiming the Good News. All else conforms to this. Of course, this does not mean that our callings are the same as the Apostle’s or a pastor’s or missionary’s or something else that sounds like what we expect the extra-called to sound like, but this calling is definite and not to be taken lightly or as a side hobby.

I’ve heard analysts, and even a peacemaker or so, make an assertion that goes something like—a strongly held spiritual conviction puts one, almost necessarily, in the intolerant and dangerous camp. I don’t doubt that this can be the case but living radical peacemaking in the face of the violence of the world is not for the half-way committed. To live simply. To conform one’s life to spiritual disciplines in the face of infinite pulls on our attention. To live hopefully in face of repeat catastrophes is not for the half-way present and half-way committed. This call requires sharp focus. It requires a thoroughgoing commitment as well as the inner life and community to sustain it.

Proclamation of the Gospel—in all its facets and in all parts of our lives—is the #1 priority

Secondly, proclamation requires Spirit power

Eberhard Arnold, founder of the Bruderhof intentional communities in Nazi Germany, writes,

“Today we must emphasize it once more: our capacity for work is sure to become exhausted and mechanical—our strength will be sapped at the core—if no deepening is given to the inner life. As soon as inner stillness and quiet are lost, the holy springs of the inner world that bring life-giving water to our spiritual life are bound to fail at the very source (Eberhard Arnold, Innerland: A Guide into the heart of the Gospel, 2).

Isaiah 40:28-31 “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Thirdly, Proclamation requires flexibility

These verses show the Apostle as surprisingly flexible about some major theological and ethical controversies. Jenn discussed this last week in regard to eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. He asserts “I have become all things to all people,” In context it reads,

9:20-23 “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.” 

In this congregation we more regularly preach and talk about being with people, in solidarity, or challenging injustice as part of joining the struggle for peace, justice, or inclusion of the excluded. We are perhaps more prone to assert with the theologian challenging oppression that:

“Through the praxis of solidarity, we not only apprehend and are moved by the suffering of the other, we confront and address its oppressive cause and shoulder the other’s suffering.… (M. Shawn Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being, 94).”

Though this solidarity is not excluded here, it is also not quite the same as Paul’s becoming “all things to all people,” This seems like it could be deceptive. A kind of trickery to blend and make an argument. However, when we keep it in the context we see that Paul is forgoing certain freedoms so as to not cause offense or distract unnecessarily.

Here is my one, perhaps obligatory, football reference on the Sunday which also includes the Super Bowl…If you know Jess or have been around here on any of the same Sundays you will likely have noticed that she is a Patriot’s fan. She is a fan in a way that is beyond my comprehension. During the Christmas eve service while she was up front reading scripture, I happen to notice that she was wearing Patriot’s shoes. So, the Apostle not creating a barrier is like me not wearing an Eagles jersey this morning or perhaps even joining her.. (I was going to say that, of course, Paul’s is dealing with things of religious significance…but then I realized that for many, this game, may be of that degree of seriousness).

In these passages we see proclamation as first priority, proclamation needing Spirit power, and proclamation requiring flexibility. In this we place others above ourselves, testifying to the reconciling work of Christ.

CIRCLES OF LIGHT

John 9:1-41, Ephesians 5:8-14

Jeff Davidson

When I started working on this sermon I ran across this reflection from Dr. Rachael Keefe on her blog “Write Out of Left Field.” (https://rachaelkeefe.wordpress.com/) She’s writing in part about our gospel reading from John, and she says, “As for myself, I have been the recipient of social judgments. I’ve heard the whispers and the not so quiet voices naming me as undesirable because I’ve been divorced twice. Because I’m a woman who is an ordained minister. Because I am bisexual. Because I have a history that includes treatment for an eating disorder and depression. I’ve been ignored and dismissed because of who I am and where I’ve come from. It’s painful and it’s ugly. As a result, I so identify with the marginalized folks of scripture – the Samaritan woman (who is not in our scripture reading today) and the man born blind, especially.”

That might strike home for you. Maybe you’ve been excluded sometimes because of the kinds of things that Keefe mentions. It happens a lot when we’re younger. As a fat kid, I definitely knew what it felt like to be excluded, to be out of the circle sometimes.

Perhaps you or I have excluded somebody at some time because of those kinds of issues. Perhaps it hasn’t been those issues but other issues that have led us to leave others on the outside of our circles. Whatever the issue is, it doesn’t feel good to the person on the outside, and it affects them down the road.

There are a lot of things that strike me in the story of the man born blind, but one of them is how many times he is pushed outside the circle, how many times he is pushed into the darkness by the people around him. Not physical darkness, of course, but emotional darkness, spiritual darkness. It is amazing how many times in this passage that people draw a circle that excludes the man born blind for one reason or another.

First the disciples draw the circle of exclusion. “Who sinned that this guy is blind?” His condition has to be the result of sin. Not sin in the generic, original sin sense – in that sense anything bad is a result of sin. No, they mean a specific sin committed by a specific person. He’s blind not just because of the same reason we all have faults and frailties; he’s blind because of something that may have been in his control.

Next it’s his neighbors. “Is that the blind guy? Nah, couldn’t be.” And when the blind man, or I should say the formerly blind man, insists that it is too, him, the neighbors don’t buy it. They leave him on the outside once again.

Then it’s the Pharisees putting him on the outside. It says that the Jews decided that it wasn’t the same guy, even though he insisted he was. They didn’t believe he was the man born blind that everyone knew. They’d walked by him a hundred times, maybe a thousand, so you would think they would have recognized him, but they either didn’t recognize him or they didn’t believe their own eyes. (I think there is a good sermon waiting to be preached on that fact.) So the Pharisees call the man’s parents, and they say “Yes, it’s our son” and “No, we have no idea how this happened.”

So the Pharisees call the man back again, and they go through the whole thing again, and you know what? They still don’t believe him. The man pushes back, but the Pharisees keep him out. The word the scripture uses is “reviled” as they said, “We are Moses’ disciples, but you are his disciple.” 

The man who has been healed is persistent, and he is not willing to be silenced, until finally the Pharisees just give up arguing and drive him out physically. Now the man is not just on the outside looking in emotionally or spiritually, he’s literally, physically being excluded.

The man meets Jesus again, and believing that it is Jesus who healed him he worships Jesus, and Jesus accepts his worship. Jesus lets him into the circle. And in a final twist, some of the Pharisees overhear all of this and Jesus excludes them because of their sin and their unwillingness to believe.

I find that dynamic of inclusion and exclusion running through this reading fascinating, and I know I haven’t done it justice with this little summary. It’s worth a lot more thought and reflection.

Back on February 17, conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan wrote a piece in New York magazine. (http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/02/andrew-sullivan-the-white-house-mole.html) I’ve read Sullivan for a long time, and I don’t always agree with him but I always find him interesting and thought-provoking. This piece resonated with me because as I read Facebook and comment threads on newspaper articles I see a lot of people who are angry at their opponents. I see a lot of liberal or progressive folks referring to Pres. Trump’s supporters as racists or morons. I see a lot of conservative folks referring to their ideological foes as libtards. I saw a lot of gloating over Pres. Trump’s victory, and I have seen a lot of gloating over the failure of the Republicans to pass healthcare reform this past week. 

Here’s what Sullivan wrote in a portion of a column after Pres. Trump’s aide Stephen Miller had made the rounds of the Sunday morning talk shows earlier in the week. For those of you who may not know him, Stephen Miller is a senior advisor to Pres. Trump. He is very conservative, but grew up in the very liberal Santa Monica, CA and went to Duke University, where he was among a minority of conservative students.

Sullivan writes, “I feel like I know Stephen Miller, the youthful Montgomery Burns who lectured the lügenpresse last Sunday morning in his charm-free Stakhanovite baritone. I feel like I know him because I used to be a little like him. He’s a classic type: a rather dour right-of-center kid whose conservatism was radicalized by lefties in the educational system. No, I’m not blaming liberals for Miller’s grim fanaticism. I am noting merely that right-of-center students are often mocked, isolated, and anathematized on campus, and their response is often, sadly, a doubling down on whatever it is that progressives hate. Before too long, they start adopting brattish and obnoxious positions — just to tick off their SJW peers and teachers. After a while, you’re not so much arguing for conservatism as against leftism, and eventually the issues fade and only the hate remains.

Think of it in some way as reactionary camp. Think Ingraham and Coulter and Yiannopoulos. They are reactionaries in the classic sense: Their performance-art politics are almost entirely a reaction to the suffocating leftism that they had to endure as they rose through the American education system. As a young, lonely conservative in college, I now wince at recalling, I threw a champagne party to welcome Reagan’s cruise missiles to Britain. Of course I knew better — and could have made a decent argument for deterrence instead of behaving like a brattish (well, I won’t use the word Sullivan does.) But I didn’t. I wanted to annoy and disrupt the smugness around me. If you never mature, this pose can soon become your actual personality — especially when you realize that it can also be extremely lucrative in the conservative-media industrial complex. I think of Ann Coulter, whom I met recently, backstage at Bill Maher’s show. What struck me was her sincerity, searing intelligence, and grasp of the facts. In another universe, she could have become a reasoned defender of a sane conservatism. Instead she ended up writing “In Trump We Trust.” In exactly the same way, Miller really is a product of Santa Monica and Duke — their living, breathing, raving antibody.”

You don’t have to know Stephen Miller or Ann Coulter or any of the other folks Sullivan mentions to know what that part of the column is about. It’s about people who are excluded, people who are put down, people who are mocked or demonized or treated badly for their political views and the reaction that kind of treatment can lead to. There are liberal political equivalents of those folks. It’s the same dynamic that you see in the radicalization of some very small group of Muslims who have lived in the United States for years, even decades. They feel demonized, mocked, excluded, attacked, and they react by fighting back. That’s why General McMaster, the National Security Advisor, tells people not to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.”

People have probably excluded us from their circles at one time or another in our lives. We may or may not have been acutely aware of it at the time. We may have forgotten it by now, or the pain may still linger and be real. We have probably excluded others in our circles in the same way. Sometimes the exclusion is intentional and sometimes we’re not aware of it at all. How have we been wounded or scarred? How have we hurt and wounded and scarred others?

There is a little poem by Edwin Markham that has been repeated so often it is a cliché to some, but it is still good. ““He drew a circle that shut me out- Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle and took him In!” 

As we work through Lent and approach Easter, it’s a good time to think of what kind of circles we are drawing. Are we drawing circles that include others, or circles that leave others out? Are we even aware of the circles we are drawing? Are we trying to include others but missing the mark somehow?

Now in all of this I’ve talked a lot about circles, but I haven’t talked much about light. In our gospel story there are two obvious movements from darkness to light. The first is literal, as the blind man begins the story in the darkness of blindness and ends it able to see and live in the light. The second is spiritual, as the blind man begins the story in spiritual darkness, and ends the story walking in the light spiritually as well as physically, proclaiming and worshipping Jesus.

We are all at different points along that spectrum at different times. There are times when we are in darkness, lost in our sin, not feeling God’s presence, not open to or aware of God’s light. There are other times when God’s presence and joy is so real that we feel we are surrounded by light.

There is, however, a specific way in which circles of light play a role in our scripture readings. That’s in our reading from Ephesians. It’s a short passage, so let me read it again. Ephesians 5:8-14. “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

I was struck by the phrase, “everything that becomes visible is light.” One of the commentaries I read said that people of Paul’s time believed that ordinary objects gave off their own light. Maybe not a lot of light, but at least a little. I couldn’t confirm whether that’s true or not. But we do know that some objects give off light. Candles. Light bulbs. 

You can’t see the light from the candles up here real well, but if you were to walk up to the communion table and look down on them you would see that they radiate their light out in a circle. When you get home if you light a candle in the dark you’ll see that. The light forms a circle around the flame, unless there’s wind or something.

The same thing is true for light bulbs, at least traditional light bulbs with a filament in the middle. When they are lit up, the light goes all around in a circle. That’s why we use light shades, to direct the light to places where it may be more helpful.

As a Christian, you give off light. Not just the radiant glow of motherhood, like Faith (an expectant mother in our congregation) but light. Spiritual light. God’s light radiates out from you in a circle, just like from a candle or a light bulb. When we think about including people, it involves getting close enough to them that they can be in our light. It involves being aware enough of them that we can place ourselves, live our lives, in a way that puts them in our circle of light, as opposed to leaving them outside the circle. It’s almost like Markham’s poem, except that we don’t just draw a circle to take others in. We live a life that takes others in. We live a life that radiates light, the light of Jesus Christ.  We shine that light on the lost and the lonely. We turn that light on ourselves sometimes, and examine the dark places within us and bring light there to help cleanse us of our sin. Christ, living through us, becomes the light of the world.

This week and throughout Lent, think about the circles that you draw. Think about the light that you give off. Invite others into the circle of your light, and move closer to God so that the light shines more brightly through you. Amen.

SAMARITANS, LEPERS AND US

Luke 17:11-19

Jeff Davidson

When you’re reading something in the Bible and trying to figure out it’s meaning and how that meaning applies in your life, it’s often a good idea to put yourself in different positions in the Bible story. Read through it once as you are, as a Christian in the Washington, DC area in 2016 in whatever work or family situation you’re in. Read it through again as one of the disciples. Read it through again from the point of view of one of the nine lepers who went on to the high priest. Read it through again as if you were the tenth leper who came back. Try it again from Jesus’ point of view.

Another thing you can do is to think about who those persons would be today, who they would be if they were alive right now. I don’t mean literally – I know there are literally lepers in the world and there are literally people from what was once called Samaria, but who are those people in our own context. I don’t know anyone who literally has leprosy, so I have to think about who it is in my life and in my little world that is in a comparable position.

A third idea is to look for differences in how Jesus reacts to people or differences in how people react to Jesus or differences, especially subtle differences, in how the text describes the people that are in it.

It’s a little bit difficult to do the first of those with this particular passage this morning, because there are so many different people in it. There’s Jesus. There are the disciples, who although they aren’t mentioned are still there travelling with Jesus. There are the nine lepers who went on to the high priest to demonstrate that they were ritually clean. There’s the tenth leper who came back to thank Jesus. There’s the high priest – what did he think when these lepers showed up and told them what had happened? There are the families of the lepers. As you can see, there are a lot of people who are in this story, even if they aren’t all visible at first glance.

But we can pick out at least a couple and put ourselves in their positions. Take the lepers. What did they feel? What did they know? Who were they? We can tell they knew their station in life, because they kept their distance from Jesus. They knew that they weren’t to approach others, not just because of their disease but because they were ritually unclean and anyone who came into contact with them would also be unclean, whether they contracted leprosy or not. The lepers knew who Jesus was; that’s why they approached him and asked for mercy, even as they were keeping their distance. They were also devout Jews who cared about the law, about the rules governing the Jewish religion. Not only did they keep their distance, but they obeyed Jesus and left to show themselves to the high priest in order to show that they were clean.

In studying this story I ran across a blog post by Alyce McKenzie that reflects a little bit what it might feel like to be Jesus in this situation. You see, people didn’t thank Jesus every time he did something for them. When Jesus cleanses a leper in Luke 5:12, the response of people is to crowd around him wanting healing for themselves. When Jesus heals a man with a withered hand, the response of his opponents is to be filled with fury and begin plotting his demise. That’s Luke 6:11. In Luke 7:16 when Jesus raises a widow’s son, the response of the crowd was to be filled with fear and to glorify God. When Jesus casts out a legion of demons from a tormented man, the locals ask him to leave because “they were seized with great fear,” as it says in Luke 8:37. When a woman is healed by touching the hem of his garment, he quickly sends her on her way.”Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” That’s Luke 8:48.

When Jesus heals a boy with a demon Luke 9:43 says that the crowds were astounded at the greatness of God. When Jesus heals a blind beggar near Jericho, the man “followed him, glorifying God and all the people, when they saw it, praised God,” according to Luke 18:43.

These aren’t necessarily inappropriate responses; being astounded at the greatness of God is perfectly fine and natural. So is praising and glorifying God. But that’s not thanks. Praise and thanks are not the same thing.

McKenzie tells about one of her students teaching a second grade Sunday School class who asked the kids, “How do you think Jesus felt when only one person came back to thank him?” One boy raised his hand. “I think he would have felt happy that one person came back and thanked him.” Does all of that give us a little bit of a window into the perspectives and feelings of the lepers and of Jesus?

So who are the lepers and the Samaritans in our own lives? If this story were set right here, right now, who would the lepers and Samaritans be? It was interesting to look up leprosy and learn a little more about it. It’s a long-term skin infection, and it can take anyplace from 5 to 20 years to show up. It’s not highly contagious, and these days it is fairly easily curable.

As for Samaritans, they were a variant of Judaism in Biblical times. Samaritans claim their ancestry from Ephraim and Manasseh, two of Joseph’s sons, and believe that mainstream Judaism is a variant of their own Judaism, and that theirs is the true Judaism. There are around 800 Samaritans alive today, almost all of them living in two cities in Israel or the West Bank.

We could pick out a lot of people to be our lepers and our Samaritans. I have friends for whom those folks might be same-sex couples. I have friends for whom they are Clinton or Trump supporters. I have friends for whom they are Communists, or conservatives. I think those are all kind of easy, though, and to be honest I think we know how we are to respond to people like that. We are to do as Jesus did. We are to offer love, healing, hope and salvation. We are to offer reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ. We are to seek to atone for the sins of Christians, sometimes us, who have acted in ways that separate them from God’s love and mercy.

Joshua Brockway is the Director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship for the Church of the Brethren. Joshua did some preaching here when he was a student at Catholic University, and he is also one of the people who really makes me feel old, because his parents were at Bethany with me and Julia and Joshua was just a little, little boy then.

Anyway, Joshua shared an article last week on Facebook from Commonweal magazine called “Christ’s Rabble” by Roman Catholic scholar David Bentley Hart. Here’s a quote from that article. “Throughout the history of the church, Christians have keenly desired to believe that the New Testament affirms the kind of people we are, rather than—as is actually the case—the kind of people we are not, and really would not want to be. The first, perhaps most crucial thing to understand about the earliest generations of Christians is that they were a company of extremists, radical in their rejection of the values and priorities of society not only at its most degenerate, but often at its most reasonable and decent. They were rabble. They… cast off all their prior loyalties and attachments: religion, empire, nation, tribe, even family.”

Let me state this another way. When we think about who are the Samaritans and the lepers in our modern society, perhaps we shouldn’t try to name other groups that might fit that role, but ask ourselves why we as Christians do not choose to fit that role. Why don’t other people look at us as lepers and Samaritans? Why are people who at least claim to be Christians – and I accept their claims, because I can’t look into their hearts – why are people who claim to be Christian the vast majority of the ruling class of this nation? What is there about our lives, whether it’s our life together as a congregation or our lives as individuals, that says to the society at large that Christ is our Lord, that we care more about Christ than we care about anything else?

Let’s think for a moment about the third technique I mentioned – to look for differences in how people react to Jesus or vice versa, and differences in how the scriptural text describes people.

There’s obviously a difference in how nine lepers responded and in how the tenth leper responded; the tenth leper came back to thank Jesus. There are a couple of other things we might notice.

The first is that the tenth leper is both a leper and a Samaritan. We don’t know about all of the other nine, but we know for sure that this guy was doubly cursed by his society. He was an outsider and unclean not just physically, but spiritually as well.

The second thing that I notice is that something else happens after the tenth leper returns in thanksgiving. In verse 14, Jesus tells all ten lepers to go and show themselves to the priests because they have been made clean. In verse 17 he says to the Samaritan that his faith has made him well. The word translated “well” literally means “saved.”

The first nine were healed of their leprosy, and went to take care of the ritual obligations of their religion as Jesus suggested. The tenth, though, realized that worship and praise and thanksgiving to God were more important that ritual obligations. Praise and worship are an expression of faith, not just of religious ritual. Religion is an institution, a structure, a set of practices, an organized community of some sort. Religion can be an expression of faith, but religion is not faith in and of itself. The first nine lepers were taking care of their religious obligations.

Faith is something deeper than religion. Hebrews 11:1 says that “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That verse fits what happens in our reading today. The ten lepers asked Jesus to heal them. Suddenly, they were healed. Did Jesus do it? Well, it seemed to happen at around the same time but Jesus didn’t actually say “I am healing you.” Even if he had, it could all be a coincidence. One of the first things you learn in logic is that correlation does not imply causation. In other words, just because something happens just before something else doesn’t mean the first thing caused the second.

So when the tenth leper comes back while the others go on, that’s faith. There is no physical evidence that Jesus has healed him, nothing he could see, but he thanks Jesus and praises him anyway. That’s faith, the conviction of things not seen.

So, what do the Samaritans and the lepers have in common with us? Well, if we’re at our best as Christians all of us are outcasts of one kind or another. All of us need to have faith in Jesus, faith that is stronger than religion and stronger than ritual and custom. And all of us need to remember to thank Jesus for all the good things in our lives. When we do these things, we may or may not be healed, but we will be saved and made whole. Amen.