Sermon – 10 October 2004

There is a lot going on in the story of the 10 lepers being healed by Jesus in this morning?s gospel.

Often this text is preached about as though it were all about thanksgiving, One might even get the idea that the Lord is grumpy that only one out of ten have come back and said thank you for what he has done for them.

However, there is more, much more going on than this.
Ten lepers approach the Lord. They know well to keep their distance. At this distance indeed, all that he can know is that they are lepers and that they are in need. They probably came to the village hoping for food. They hear that the healer is in town and realise that this is now their chance. They call out ?Jesus, Master, have mercy on us?. And he tells them to go and show themselves to the priests ? and in going they find they are well.

And then it starts to get interesting. For one turns back.

For why does that man turn back? The obvious answer is to say that he turns to say thank you, as is right and proper for a well mannered person who has been done a good deed. However, to assume that is to misunderstand the story.

I have no doubt that it is right and proper to say thank you when something good is done to one. However, that is not really what this story is about. This is one of the many stories which Luke tells which have a sectarian undertone. You see, this man is a Samaritan. The others, presumably were not.

When the lepers came to the village, they were lepers in need. They kept their distance. No-one, not even Jesus would have noticed that they did not come from the same sectarian group. Indeed, they seem to have been a united group ? finding unity in their need and misfortune ? unity which would have been denied them if they had all been well in the first place.

For Jews and Samaritans did not mix. Mixing with Samaritans could make Jews unclean. But, what did it matter? They had leprosy ? they were all unclean anyway. The normal rule of things was broken. They were united in their misfortunes. It is only as Jesus brings them one kind of healing that we, and he, realise that there was more wrong than just the leprosy.

He tells them to go and see the priests. They turn. They begin to go. They realise that they are healed.

And one of them realises that his cover is blown. He can no longer associate with those he has been with ? for he is a Samaritan. Furthermore, Jesus has told him to go to see the priests in Jerusalem. He cannot go ? for he is a Samaritan. And as a Samaritan, he will not be allowed over the threshold of the temple.

And he stops in the road and turns. That moment when he stops and turns is what I want us to remember and think about this morning. The others go on their way ? they know what they will do. They know where to go.

He stops.

He turns.

He knows he is healed. He feels thanks welling up in his heart ? literally eucharist welling up in his heart. And he knows that he has been told to go and show himself to a priest.

He stops.

He turns.

And he makes his way back to the one who has been priest to him. And he praises God and offers his eucharist, his thanksgiving right there and then. Offers it to Jesus. To Jesus the healer. Precisely, to Jesus the Jewish healer.

And his offering, which would not be acceptable in the Temple in Jerusalem is accepted here on the road.

As I stand here this morning, I know that there are many in this world who fear that their offering may be unacceptable in the temples of the Lord. There are plenty of people who have had an experience of God, or who pray to God or who want to explore what it means to know God who are frightened to approach the temples of the Lord. For they fear that they will be unacceptable.

Unacceptable for all kinds of reasons. Ethnicity. Social Class. Lack of Knowledge. Not having the right clothes. Knowing that you face does not fit.

All these are reasons why people fear coming into the courts of the Lord to make their eucharist even today.

In the worldwide Anglican Communion at the moment, the communion of which we are a part, there is a row going on at the moment. It is a row that is going to explode next week, and I know I will not get the chance to comment on it here at the time, so I will do now.

The Church is divided over whether it can fully accept gay people at all levels of church authority, from lay people down to bishops.

There are many who are looking on at this argument from afar ? from outside the boundaries of the church. What will the church folk do. Will they accept the offering, the Eucharist of gay people or not?

Remember that the leper who turned to thank Jesus had already met God. It was as he became whole he had his dilemma.

He was in relationship with God. He was healed. He was whole. He was, once more, thought of by others as fully human. And he wants to offer his thanksgiving somewhere.

And on the road he realises that it will not be acceptable within the Temple in Jerusalem.

There are plenty of people who are in relationship with God. People who are healed and healing. People who are whole and wholesome. People who are thought of by others, at last as being fully human. People who want to offer their Eucharist to God.

What will the church do now? How will it behave? Will it be like the Temple priests in Jerusalem who kept sectarianism alive. Or be like Jesus, who stands in the road with open arms and an open heart. Not just a healer now, but a God who says ?If no-one else will have you, come directly to me.?

It is the same Lord who faces us on the road. The same Lord who offers us healing, whether we are Samaritan or Jew. The same Lord who offers us dignity and hope without regard to whatever myths of otherness the world constructs.

The same Lord who offers us acceptance, wholeness and love ? this day and every day.


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