A sermon for October 9, 2016
Today’s Gospel is not a story about healing. Through reading the Gospels it is quite clear that one of Jesus’ most prominent and perhaps most important ministries in his time as prophet and teacher was the gift of healing that he was able to provide, healing that surpassed much of the healing that was offered by the mystical healers of his time. And today we hear of Jesus healing ten lepers at once. An astounding feat for sure, and yet, this story is not about the healing act. Today’s Gospel is about an unexpected witness. Today’s Gospel is about our own reaction to the saving grace of God. Today’s Gospel is about how we accept God’s blessings in our life, and to whom we give the credit for those blessings.
We all know that the samaritan man is an outsider. Jesus refers to him today as a “foreigner” which is likely the nicest thing a Jewish religious figure has ever said about a samaritan. And yet, here we have a samaritan man prostrating himself, laying down on the ground completely laid out, completely vulnerable, as the ultimate sign of praise and respect for this Jewish healer who has looked down upon him with kindness, grace, has offered comfort and peace, even to a “foreigner.” And the samaritan man praises God with a loud voice. The samaritan man is not shy in hiding his gratitude. The samaritan man is not shy in hiding his praise and honor to God. The samaritan man is made whole through his faith, and in turn, expresses that faith as a thanksgiving for the healing that he has been afforded. The samaritan man is an unexpected witness to the glory of God and yet it is he who praises God with a loud voice, it is he who turns to Christ and lays himself at his feet, it is the samaritan man that must make us ask ourselves, what is our own response to the grace, the healing, the power of God in our lives?
I feel like I talk about evangelism a lot. Perhaps it’s because I really am just that jazzed about sharing our church that I want to inspire you all to do the same. Maybe I focus so strongly on evangelism because I see it as a necessary (and perhaps only) tool to keep the doors of the greater Episcopal Church open, because this Church is important for this world. Oftentimes, my conversations with you on evangelism involve some sort of shameless plug about an opportunity for us as a community to witness to the power of God at work in our collective lives. I have plugged the new video project about the ministries of St. John’s (speaking of which: the first in the series, on the St. Monica’s Guild, is airing now on the Cathedral facebook page), or I push you to go out into the world and speak truth to the power that is found through following Christ. But, when I read this passage I am reminded what evangelism is really about. I am reminded that evangelism is not about being evangelical. Evangelism is not about developing an elevator pitch to sell someone on the Episcopal Church. Evangelism is not about hitching ourselves to the latest trend in liturgy or music or social media. Evangelism is about being that unexpected witness, that unexpected witness that praises God with a LOUD voice.
And if practicing evangelism means turning back to Christ, to praise God so all can hear, to offer thanksgivings for our healing, even when that healing was assured us through our faith, then what stops us from living into that reality?
This is a question we have to ask ourselves as we reflect on the other nine who are healed by Christ. The other nine remain healed, Christ doesn’t take back their healing because they don’t turn back like the samaritan. These other nine lepers are healed of their illness through the power of God, but we hear no word of their witness. I think the likely various reactions of these nine can shed some light as to why we ourselves can have such a hard time living into the simply reality of evangelism that is modeled for us today by the samaritan.
The first reaction of those amongst the nine is a simple lack of understanding. Understanding how a healer can simply look over them and they would be healed. It cannot possibly have come from this man. The power through grace exhibited is simply too great to comprehend, and as the other nine venture out to the priests to be made well, they simply do not understand how it is they have been made whole.
The next reaction I think would have occurred amongst these nine is a lack of accepting that the healing has come from God. Why would God look down upon these absolute untouchables of society and grant them healing? What good could possibly come from that? How could they possibly be worthy of such tremendous grace and blessing? No, through some mystical mystery they have been made better, but the words of Christ cannot possibly have been the catalyst through which healing has been realized.
And finally, I see the other nine going one of two ways in coming to grips with the reality that they have been healed: ignoring the reality and the truth that comes with it, or being afraid of the tremendous power that has worked through them to make them well.
I think these emotions resonate for me in these other nine, because they are the emotions I think we most experience when we try to grapple with the reality of the work of God in our lives. The power of God, the power of Christ at work in these Gospels, and at work in our daily lives, forces us to face our faith and choose how we will respond.
Now, this is not to say that the other nine never told their story, eventually coming to grips with the reality, but in the moment of realization, only the one “foreigner” a most unexpected witness was able to praise God with a loud voice, accepting and living into the new reality he had been afforded, and letting all know what had happened for him. And, we have to ask ourselves, if we don’t turn back, if we don’t evangelize for Christ, for God, are we the other nine who are healed and walk away, never to be heard from again?
So, in considering this one and our draw towards being one of the other nine, we must ask ourselves what expectations must we make for ourselves in regarding the sharing of our faith with a loud voice to the world. We have to consider the praise that we must offer, and what offering that praise even looks like. We have to ask ourselves how can we serve as that unexpected witness? What impact can we make on this community? What impact can we make on this world? What do we share in order to have that impact? What is the truth that must drive us to turn back to Christ constantly and declare our praise with a loud voice? We have to ask ourselves, what truth of healing do we want to share with this world and in turn give praise to God for giving that healing to us, to this world?
I think that we can be that unexpected witness in this world. We can praise God with a loud voice. I think, no I trust, we all have the ability and knowledge to do so. But the reality remains we sit here frozen in our pews, petrified of what it might look like to talk to someone about our faith, about our experiences. And, this is where I will remind you again of this samaritan man. The samaritan man is a model of evangelism not because he is out spreading the word of God, the teachings of Christ to this world, to everyone in the streets, rather he is declaring his praise for God in a loud voice for all to hear as he turns back to the source, as he falls at the feet of Christ. It is in this that we must be moved and motivated, it is in this we must recognize that true evangelism is about praising God no matter who is listening, it is about praising God with your whole being as you come before Christ, present here each week at the altar, and give all of yourself in receiving Christ in the communion, in offering to Christ all that you have in the offerings and gifts we bring to the table each week.
Each and every one of us here today can practice evangelism for this church, for Christ. We simply have to follow the example of an unexpected witness who recognizes the gift that he has received and simply proclaims his praises with a loud voice. Ignoring all else, ignoring who might hear him, ignoring who might judge him as he prostrates himself at Christ’s feet, this unexpected witness does more to spread the Good News of Christ’s message then the other nine who simply accept the healing and go about their lives. We cannot be like the other nine. We cannot simply accept the healing here at this altar week-in and week-out and then go about our lives as if nothing has changed. You are changed at this altar each and every week. You are healed at this altar each and every week. And to be an evangelist, to spread that Good News, simply requires your praising of God for this weekly blessing with a loud voice (out in public, mind you) regardless who might hear or see you doing so.