On The Way

Sermon –  Oct. 13, 2013
Christ Lutheran Church – Duncannon, PA
Luke 17:11-19

On my way to check on the garden in my yard, I looked over the stone wall and saw them – laughing and singing and eating…such happiness! These people were getting together almost every weekend. There they were, gathered together in the yard, adults sharing stories and hugging each other, children running around screaming in delight, music playing. The food smelled so good, I could almost taste it. It was a celebration. It seemed they were always celebrating. And I wanted to join in on this celebration too. I wanted to be a part of it all.

But I couldn’t. I wasn’t part of that family. I didn’t even know them. I was in my own yard, with my own problems, my own isolation – longing for new friends, but knowing it wasn’t possible. They were on that side of the stone wall. That stone wall that separated me from them. That stone wall that I didn’t dare cross over. I was young and insecure. I wanted to go near them, to say hello, but…..I just waived, and kept my distance. Just like the lepers in today’s story.

They knew their place too. They were the outcasts of society, only it wasn’t just in their minds. It wasn’t from a lack of self-esteem. They were rejected. They were the outcasts. They were “dirty, unclean.” Everyone in the village and in the surrounding towns knew who they were and made sure they stayed far away. Lepers lived together in small groups by themselves. They had no outside friends. No one even wanted to look at them. They didn’t want to catch that illness. Certainly those people, those Samaritans were sinners. Why else would God allow their bodies to be so ridden with disease? And that’s probably how the lepers felt themselves. They knew their place in society or should I say outside of society. Their shame made them feel less than human so they kept their distance.

They had heard the whispers of Jesus and the miracles He performed. So on that day, they ventured out from their dark caves into town. Maybe….just maybe….there was a chance, a chance for….cleansing? They didn’t know, but they had to try. What did they have to lose? Their lives? What kind of life did they have? So when the lepers had Jesus in their site, they shouted from across the road, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They didn’t dare cross over. They kept their distance. It didn’t matter that everyone was staring. They only cared that Jesus saw them. Would He look in their direction or would He turn away like everyone else and keep going? Their usual downcast eyes were now wide with anticipation.

There’s a lot of downcast eyes in our society today. Have you looked at people while you’re walking down the street and said hello? Sometimes someone will smile and look back and other times they just keep walking, their heads down to the ground. They’re not lepers, but they suffer from isolation too. In a society that’s connected to the world-wide web, in many ways we’re more isolated than ever before. We need that human contact, the smile, the hug, someone to listen. And yet there’s a distance between us. We don’t know one another. When someone says, “Hi how are you?” the response is often “good”, or “fine.” But the truth is sometimes, “no, I’m not fine. I’m terrible. My son or daughter hasn’t talked to me in years. My parents don’t understand who I really am. I’m overworked and exhausted. I just lost my job. I just lost my house. My spouse just left me. I’m working as hard as I can and yet I can’t keep up with the bills. I’m homeless. There are homeless people, and people suffering around us all the time and often we don’t even know it. There are people around us every day who are on the verge of a breakdown, or even worse, close to ending their own life.

There’s a leprous epidemic today too, only we can’t see it like in ancient times. It’s hidden behind smiling faces, and friendly greetings, but it’s there. Loneliness, isolation, and a feeling of total unworthiness. And all of us at one time or another have felt it, haven’t we? Yet as much as we want to be healed, we keep our distance because we’re afraid if people knew the truth about us they’d never even look at us. Deep inside we yearn for people to see us. Yet there’s a part of us that keeps that distance, because there’s a danger in getting too close. There’s a danger in being that vulnerable. What if we get rejected, again?

And we keep our distance from God too. Do we cry out in our prayers, “God, I’m so angry!” “God, I can’t take it anymore!” “God this seems so incredibly unfair!” Do we pour out our hearts to God or do we keep a silent distance? Because we don’t even want God to know how “unclean” we really are. There’s a wall, a divide, that we don’t dare cross. How on earth do we get to the other side? How do we bridge that gap?

For me almost thirty years ago, the birth of a baby made all the difference. I had just had my first child and the neighbor across the yard, on the other side of the wall, had just had a new baby too. As I held my daughter in my arms, I walked to the stone wall and commented to the neighbor how beautiful her new baby was. She in turn, commented on my baby, and as they say…the rest is history. A tiny baby bridged the gap between stranger and friend. My new friend invited me into her yard and soon I became part of that family. We’ve remained friends ever since and no matter how far apart we are in distance our friendship is as close as ever. Who knew a tiny baby could make such a difference!

There’s another baby who made an even bigger difference. A baby who was sent into our broken and sinful world to bridge the gap between us and God. To bridge the gap between isolation and communion. To bridge the gap between forsakenness and salvation. I’m talking about Jesus – the Word of God made flesh – who was born to bring healing to all people.

And in today’s text we hear of this baby who is now grown and on His way to Jerusalem, on His way to suffer and die on a cross in order to restore us to a close relationship with God. Jesus was on His way to finish what He came on earth to do – to take away the sin of the world and make us whole again. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem when a group of lepers called out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Their eyes were waiting in anticipation, and Jesus saw them! He was on a mission, but He was not too busy to hear them. He was not too busy to see them. This is why Jesus came into the world – to set people free. Jesus, the rejected one, will never reject us.

So Jesus called back, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean! They did what Jesus told them to do – His Word healed them and as they went they were made clean. That’s the power of God’s Word – the Word of Life!

The lepers allowed themselves to be vulnerable and they cried out to Jesus for healing and in doing so Jesus heard their cries and answered them. But I don’t think they noticed right away. I don’t think they heard. Except, for the one leper. He saw what Jesus did, because he heard the words of Jesus. It sunk in. “Go, and show yourselves to the priests.” Why would Jesus say that, unless……unless, he was already healed. And looking down, the one leper saw that he was indeed cured of his leprosy. And he ran back praising God. Jesus said the leper’s faith saved him. It was the leper’s faith in the Word – the Word of promise – that saved him. It was more than a physical healing, it was this faith that transformed him. He was made whole – body, mind, and spirit.

We too are saved by grace through faith. It is our faith in the promises of God that heals us too. It is this faith that bridges the gap between isolation and community. Through the waters of baptism, we too are not only made clean, but transformed, and brought into the family of God. We are no longer alone. We are no longer strangers without a home. We have a new identity in Christ and we do not have to be afraid to cry out whenever we need to feel the presence of God. We no longer have to keep our distance. God has come close to us through Jesus. Jesus has spoken the Word and we are healed.

And because we are healed we too, like the leper in today’s story, can lead lives of gratitude. We can praise God! We no longer have to hang our heads in shame because Jesus has seen our sinfulness; He has seen our uncleanness and claimed us as His own anyway. Because of the cross we can join in this joyous celebration! We no longer have to hold our heads down in shame. We are beloved children of God. What a gift of grace! What a gift of love! What a gift worthy of proclaiming to all people – people who need to hear that they are loved and forgiven and treasured too! There’s a lot of people longing to be heard and seen. They wonder if God even loves them. God is waiting to answer their prayers through us. Let’s get up, go on our way, and tell them this wonderful news! Amen.