Sermon; Proper 23C; Luke 17:11-19
Joelene and I love spending time at the beach. For years while we lived in Spokane we would spend a week every August in Cannon Beach, OR. I had been there several times before we met, and then began taking her with me.
Cannon Beach is a cute little tourist town about an hour due west of Portland. It's home to two famous rock formations – Haystack Rock and the Needles. It has “singing sand,” sand that squeaks when you walk. It's home to the largest and longest-running sandcastle contest in the Northwest. And it is the official terminus of the Lewis and Clark expedition. For me, it's a place of quiet healing and rejuvenation. Walking through the surf, flying a kite, exploring beach and stores, watching the sunset, and late night bonfires, along with the smells and sounds of the ocean, always did my soul good. And Joelene has her own memories and special places there.
The interesting thing is that neither of us grew up by the beach. I moved around a lot as a kid, and my parents liked to camp and hike. So we spent time at various campsites in the Cascade Mountains. Joelene grew up in Wenatchee, surrounded by the Cascades. But we both find ourselves drawn to the beach. This is actually typical of people out west as we often say, “People from the mountains escape to the beach, and people from the beach escape to the mountains.”
There's some truth to this. It's not that we don't, or stop, seeing the beauty around us; but that it becomes oh too familiar. When you see all 14,410 feet of Mt. Rainier on a daily basis it tends to lose some of it's majesty. Or out here, where we are surrounded by the history of our country, how many of us have stopped to read the plaque about the Battle of Funkstown?
Sometimes it takes an outsider to remind us of the beauty around us. We either want to show off our neck of the woods, so we play tour guide, finding a new beauty ourselves; or the visitors point us in new directions that re-open our eyes so we can see what's around us.
Today we have the healing of the lepers. Jesus, in the Lukan procession of events, is on his way to Jerusalem and his Passion. A group of ten lepers approach and beg for mercy. Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests, and it is while they are on their way to do so that they were made clean. One, a Samaritan, returns to give thanks.
Before I get too involved, here are a couple of things for you to think about in your own personal studying/reading of scripture: 1) Did the instruction to go to the temple priests apply equally to the Samaritan foreigner as it did to the other nine Jews? And, 2) Why does Jesus seem upset at the nine Jews for doing exactly what he commanded? As I said, you can ponder those on your own.
One of the things I want to point out here is that all ten were healed, but only the Samaritan returns to give thanks, and only the Samaritan was “made well.” Jesus tells the Samaritan that his faith has made him well. The word that is translated here as “made well” shows up in a few other places in Luke and is translated as “saved you.” For the Samaritan, his return to Jesus has literally saved him.
This story of the nine Jewish lepers and the one Samaritan leper is the story of the mountains and the beach.
By virtue of being Jews and descended from Abraham, the nine lepers were part of God's chosen people. They were the beneficiaries of God's presence and grace that were poured out upon them. The Samaritan foreigner, according to Jewish law and custom, was not. He was outside the requirements of Judaism, and as a foreigner, was generally despised by the Jews.
The Jews, despite being lepers, lived with God at the beach. When Jesus brought the healing presence of the beach to those ten lepers, nine of them were oh so familiar with it that it was almost expected that God would do this for them. Like the rich man from two weeks ago, they had become blind to the majesty and presence of God.
The Samaritan, however, had lived his whole life in the mountains. When Jesus healed him, it was as if he saw the beach and ocean for the first time. His eyes were newly opened to the splendor and majesty of God. And it is that first experience of God working in his life that ultimately saved him.
As Christians and Episcopalians we just might be in the same boat as the nine lepers.
As Christians we have been adopted by God through our baptism. To paraphrase Paul, “We have been grafted onto the tree of God.” Through being called by Christ, our faith, and our baptism, we also are part of the family of God. As Episcopalians we are part of a particular branch of that family tree. We are overly familiar with the liturgy and the BCP. And we may have become oh so familiar and blind to the majesty and presence of God in our lives. We've been at the beach too long.
But every once in awhile we can have our eyes opened. A visitor to the church who experiences the beauty of this place for the first time. A seeker who finds a dignified beauty in the liturgy, or becomes moved by everything that goes on here. Those people are the Samaritan of today. Those are the people who see the beach for the first time. And those are the people who, because of that first beach experience, are not only healed but saved.
The stories of both the rich man and Lazarus and the ten lepers of today remind us that it's oh so easy to become blind to the world around us. The rich man was blind to the needs and presence of Lazarus. The nine lepers were blinded by a comfortable familiarity with God.
This is our beach. These are our mountains. Today's story is reminding us that the presence of God is right here in our midst. Let us not, like the nine lepers, become so familiar with the presence of God that we become blind to the majesty of God. Instead, let us be so present in, and so aware of, our Worship, Welcome, Service, and Encouragement that we, like the Samaritan, have our eyes opened to the majesty and presence of God that we are not only healed but are made well.