Proper 23C: Grateful

healing-of-the-leperOLD TESTAMENT:  Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7

Read the passage from Jeremiah

The prophet Jeremiah probably lived and prophesied through two great events in Judah’s history.  The religious reform of Josiah (622 bce), during which Josiah eliminated all non-Yahwist cults and practices and centralized worship in the capital city and its temple.  He invited all of the priests in outlying areas to come and reside in Jerusalem. The destruction of Jerusalem and Judah signified the beginning of the exile of many of its leaders and citizens.  The prophet Jeremiah was one of those that actually remained in Jerusalem.

So, this passage begins with the words of a letter sent from Jerusalem by the prophet to those who have been forced to leave.  The focus of the passage is to relate to the exiles the need for them to accept their fate and know that the God who has brought it upon them is at work for their ultimate good.  He also warned them against listening to false prophets while they were in exile.  But more than anything, he’s reminding them of the promise that is so much a part of their lives, so much a part of who they are.  He’s essentially saying to the community:  “Do not resist; carry on your lives; learn to come to terms with your situation.”  The exiles are enjoined to find their life—their REAL life– now in this new and difficult place, to, essentially, seek the peace, the shalom, of the place that they are.  Perhaps this was Jeremiah’s way of telling them that the exile was going to last beyond what they thought, that their lives and the lives of generations to follow had changed forever.  But they were not in this alone.  This was their chance to connect to God in a new and different way.  Keep in mind that this letter is followed by the 31st chapter of the prophet’s writing, in which the people are promised a “new covenant that is written on their hearts.  (Jer. 31: 31-34)  It is a promise that they will never be overthrown again.  But it is also a promise that this will be a new and different way of being.

This is similar to the Benedictine monastic vow of stability—the call to live in the “now”, to be present to this moment whether pleasurable or painful.  Now this is sort of contrary to the teachings of our “quick-fix”, independent society.  God is not here as a vending machine to make all of our hopes and dreams for this world come to be.  God is here to give us life if we just rely on God to do that.  What does that say about our dependence upon God?  The theology of exile (whether during the time of Jeremiah or today) is the belief that one is called to depend solely on God.  Essentially, through history, people in exile have stayed more true to God than those who are tied to empires.

Stability lies in slowing down, being willing to wait, going on with the sameness that is an inevitable part of being human and refusing the quick-fix alternative.  One of the desert fathers, asked by a young monk for a word to help him on the spiritual path, replied, “Go to your cell and your cell will teach you everything.”  Be where you are.  Refuse the fantasy world of “if only”.  Remember that discipleship is about faithful living, not visible success.  Be prepared to wait, sometimes a long time, to hear the word of God that tells you it is time to move on(From Heart Whispers:  Benedictine Wisdom for Today, by Elizabeth J. Canham, p. 110-111)

 

  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. How difficult is this for you in your life?
  • How does this message relate to our world today?
  1. Why is it so difficult to live in the “now”?
  • Why do you think it is sometimes more difficult to stay true to God when

            one’s life is going well?

 

 

NEW TESTAMENT:  2 Timothy 2: 8-15

Read the New Testament passage

Remember that the pastoral epistle of 2 Timothy is focused primarily on establishing the “right” personal character of believers.  This week’s epistle passage makes the point that the focus and reason for the hard work is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The passage exhorts its readers to “keep on remembering”.  This passage, like the Old Testament reading, speaks of “enduring”, of holding firm.  For the writer, this was probably more of an entering the suffering of Christ, rather than enduring one’s own suffering for Christ’s sake.  Being a Christian means identifying with Christ in his vision.  It does include suffering, but it also means the presence of faith in sharing in Christ’s future.

And as we enter Christ, even if we have times of unfaithfulness, Christ will not deny us (even if we deny Christ), because Christ cannot deny himself.  Christ’s loving is a constancy of compassion.  So the writer exhorts his readers to do their best to present themselves to God and not get wrapped up in distractions from the heart of the Gospel.  Essentially, we are told to do our best—not anyone else’s best, but OUR best.  (Remember who you are.)

The directive to “study” (as in “to show yourself approved”) is probably sort of mis-translated.  In Greek, this verb is not restricted to mere study.  It involves the whole person—heart, soul, and mind.  It is closer to the Jewish notion of “understanding” as coming from the heart rather than the mind.  (In the Old Testament, David once asks God for “Lehb Shomea”, or “an understanding heart”).  Additionally, by translating it as “study”, it also implies that the “word of truth” are the words of Scripture rather than the totality and truth of the Gospel.  Thomas A’Kempis said “Change your ways, give yourself a fresh coat of paint, convert yourself.  Do all this and you’ll find the cross before it finds you.”

But character is hard.  After all, what is the “right” way of living?  In his weekly sermon illustration on this passage, Frederick Buechner quotes an excerpt from “The Birth” (originally published in The Magnificent Defeat and Secrets in the Dark).  It goes like this: (available at http://frederickbuechner.com/content/weekly-sermon-illustration-die-him)

”And now, brothers [and sisters], I will ask you a terrible question, and God knows I ask it also of myself. Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him is the only life?”

So what is our calling?  According to the writer of this passage, it is to do our best to be who God calls us to be, to do our best to live our life.

 

  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What does it mean for you to “remember who you are”?
  • What is that like in the society in which we live?
  1. What, then, does it truly mean to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

 

GOSPEL:  Luke 17: 11-19

Read the Gospel passage

The Gospel passage for this week marks the beginning of a new unit in the Lukan version of the Gospel.  There is a change in geography as well as an introduction of new characters.  The disciples play no role in the story.  Traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus would have been traveling from north to south.  There’s really no “region” between Samaria and Galilee, because Galilee lies above Samaria, so perhaps it is the border between the two.

Anyway, he meets this group of lepers that, according to law, were required to live outside the camp and to warn those who might approach them by crying out “Unclean, unclean.”  If a leper recovered, a priest has to certify that the person was clean before he or she could return to the community. (So don’t be too hard on the ones that did not return to Jesus.  They were doing exactly what they should have done, what their culture, their laws, and their traditions expected.  Maybe that’s a lesson to us too.) The healing of these lepers is not a simple healing story, but also functions as a Kingdom of God story as it is spread to all the world.  There is also the lesson on gratitude in the passage as the one Samaritan returns to thank Jesus, exhibiting a deeper and more abiding faith in God and what God has provided.

Keep in mind that the Jews and the Samaritans were totally dismissive of each other, often to the point of violence.  The Samaritans were not, as many portrayals of them represent, pagan worshippers.  They worshiped the same Yahweh of Jewish faith but had a different interpretation of where the temple and worship should be conducted.  Their “Jerusalem” was Mt. Gerazim.

So, we can probably say that there are two key points made with this story:  The first has to do with “seeing”.  Jesus saw the lepers and knew that they needed healed. He then told them to show themselves to the priests (for cleansing)  Then the leper saw that he was healed and returned.  The second has to do with gratitude.  The one leper saw and recognized that he was healed and then responded.  An attitude of thankfulness and gratitude must begin with an awareness of what we have been provided.  The grateful person reveals a humility of spirit and a sensitivity to love expressed by others.  The grateful person regards kindness as experiences of God’s grace.  Life itself is a gift.  In this way, gratitude becomes an act of faith.

 

“Weren’t there ten?” he says, sounding a little playful.  “Where are the nine?”  Well, it’s perfectly obvious where the nine are.  The nine are doing what Jesus told them to do.  They are literalists, God love them; they are doing their duty.  They have taken the road as commanded, found their cleansing on it, and seemed to think that staying on the road is the thing.  Like Forrest Gump with a football, they have crossed the goal and go right on running, clear out of the stadium, where the celebration happens without them…

 

Barbara Brown Taylor says that the question among us is not “Where are the nine?” but “Where is the tenth?”  Where is the one who followed his heart instead of his instructions?  Doesn’t the church resemble a dutiful procession of cleansed lepers who are “doing the right thing by the temple”?  Where is the one who wheels round to return the wildness of love?

 

Obedience is needful for the cure, but not all of the cured are whole.  The whole are those whose hearts break into praise, who fall with abandon at the feet of Love to improvise their own love’s unnecessary answer.   (From “Down the Road and Back”, by Paul D. Duke, in The Christian Century, September 27, 1995, available at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_n27_v112/ai_17582529, accessed 10 October, 2007.)

 

So, what does this all mean for us?  It’s simple. Live your life.  Live this one incredible gift that God has given you and only you. It will bring you joy and sorrow, grief and delight.  Some days it will feel like God is right next to you.  And other days you just have to rely on the memory of what that felt like and know that God is there anyway.  Learn to love and dance.  Learn to soak up the sun and bask in the rain.  Just live. “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

 

  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. How thankful are we for what we have?
  • What gets in the way of our expressions of gratitude?
  1. How can we develop that awareness in our lives?

 

 

Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

Just being awake, alert attentive is no easy matter.  I think it is the greatest spiritual challenge we face. (Diana L. Eck)

The present moment delights us.  We see it as an opportunity for grace and mystery.  It is our source of holiness.  (Mary Margaret Funk)

Gratitude is the intention to count-your-blessings every day, every minute, while avoiding , whenever possible, the belief that you need or deserve different circumstances.    (Timothy Miller)

 

Closing

 

Sing a joyful song to the Beloved all the earth, and praise Love’s name; Sing in glorious exultation!  We say to You, “How magnificent are your ways:  So great is your power that fear and doubt vanish before You;  All the earth worships You; the people raise their voice, they sing praises to your Name.”

 

Come and see what the Beloved has done; wondrous are the deeds of Love.  Remember when the seat turned to dry land?  There, we did rejoice in the One, who rules by the mighty Spirit of Love forever, Whose eyes keep watch on the nations—let not those who strive for power exalt themselves.

 

Bless the Beloved, Heart of our hearts, let the sound of our praises be heard.  You keep us attuned to life and guide our feet on solid ground.  For You, O Love, have tested us; You have tried us as silver is tried.  You have allowed us to fall into the net; You have watched us reap all that we have sown; we went through fire and through water, Yet You have brought us through our pain and into your dwelling place.

 

I enter your house with gifts; I commend my soul into your keeping; all that my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble and pain, I offer up to You; I abandon myself into your hands.

 

Come and hear, all you who reverence the Most Hight, and I shall tell what the Beloved has done for me.  I cried aloud to the Silent Watcher of my life; from my tounge came forth words of praise.  Had I cherished greed and power, I would have separated myself from Love; the voice of my prayer was hears.

 

Blessed by the holy Name of the Beloved, Loving Companion Presence, who has embraced me, and renewed my life.

 

(Psalm 66, from Psalms for Praying:  An Invitation to Wholeness, by Nan C. Merrill)

 

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