turn back

A sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Luke 17:11-19

The congregation was encouraged to shout out answers at the beginning of the sermon to two questions, some of the answers are recorded here…

I come to you in the name of one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I have 2 questions for you today:

  1. Why are you here at St. Stephen’s?
  2. What does St. Stephen’s give/provide/offer you that nothing else in your life does?

And, I want answers.

Today is not going to start like a typical sermon you’ve heard from me in this past year, because we as a people have a lot to say to answer these two questions, and in naming what we are about to, we may begin to connect to this story of the one leper out of ten who turns back to Christ.

So:

Why are you here at St. Stephen’s?

Answers included: God’s Word & Fellowship, Community, Love God, Follow the Way, Church Family, Music, Giving Back, Understanding, Hope, Peace, Faith, Forgiveness, Reaffirming, Bounden Duty, Acceptance, Courage, Communion with Friends, Connection, and more…

What does St. Stephen’s give/provide/offer you that nothing else in your life does?

Answers included: Church family, community, peace, joy, feeding the hungry, creative thinking, acceptance of all, inner warmth, freedom to be different, home away from home, liturgy, challenge, service opportunities, connection to specific people, and more…

We ARE here. We are HERE because St. Stephen’s provides us with all of these things…

And, I sorta lied at the beginning of this sermon, because I do have one final question for you:

When was the last time you thanked God for that thing that is offered, thanked God for this place?

In today’s gospel we have a story of turning. A group of lepers know that Christ can heal them, and through their faith that they will be healed in what Christ instructs them to do, they are healed. Now, perhaps, the other nine don’t recognize that they have been healed already and are so devoted to following the instructions of Christ that they go to fulfill what has been instructed. Or, perhaps, they are so overjoyed in being healed that they rush off to tell their friends, their family that the miraculous has happened, that Christ is truly the healer they say he is. We don’t know what happens with them, but we do know the story of this one.

This one turns back to Christ. This one recognizes the blessing that he has received from Christ in his healing. He turns back to offer his worship for the holy that is present in Christ, offering thanksgiving for the healing power that has been afforded to him, offering thanksgiving for a new path in life. This healing will give him an ability to rest, for he now exists in a healed state, no longer ostracized, no longer shunned, no longer looked down upon, feared for his difference, his poverty, his appearance, the company he keeps. This powerful healing that will provide all this to him, leads Christ to give him a call with his new life: to GO! In the power of the faith that has made him whole once more.

This is our call today. Not just to go forth in the power of Christ, rejoicing in his Spirit, rejoicing in all of the blessings we receive, but to turn back to Christ and recognize the source of all of these things we seek in our lives, the source of what we can only find in our expression of Christian community together.

If we are able to connect to Christ with recognition for all that has been done for us, how does that recognition inform our faith and how we practice it, how does that recognition inform our understanding of stewardship?

Stewardship is a great church word to serve as a catch-all term for a lot of elements of what we do at church, but at its heart, stewardship is about taking care of something, and when we talk of stewardship of the church, how do we take care of our church: our buildings and grounds and operations, and our ministries, our people, our worshippers, our neighbors, and more.

In the context of annual stewardship campaigns, stewardship is about the financial resources that are necessary to take care of our church, to continue to get out of church what we seek, and to enable the church to continue growing to help more and more people find what they are seeking too. Stewardship is our chance to turn back to Christ, as represented through this place and its work, to offer our praise and thanksgiving for the blessings we receive, for the worship we experience, for the rest we covet, for the prayer that sustains, for all that we learn so that we know we are fully equipped to GO! In our faith into this world.

For what else is our call in today’s gospel but to recognize Christ’s healing work in our lives, to turn back to Christ offering praise and thanks for what he has done, and to know that it is our faith that provides the healing if we open our eyes to it.

If we live into the story of this leper, then we move past a static house of worship to a dynamic, active, engaged community of believers that cannot help but spread the Good News of Christ through our words and actions. Being honest, I already see St. Stephen’s in that place, and we must continually remind ourselves how we got there. When we do that work, of reconnecting to what inspired us initially, we see that in this place, in this community of believers, we have the power to change the hearts of our community. 

We have the power in our faith to bring the shining power of love that is found in Christ into the lives of all those who are currently shrouded in pain, in darkness, who are wandering lost, adrift in this world. In our stewardship then, we enable this place to continue being that beacon, but not just a beacon or a lighthouse on the cliffs, but rather a home for well-trained guides who spread out into the world to lead the lost home, hand-in-hand.

We all love this place and find things here that we cannot find anywhere else in our community and likely anywhere else in the world. We are called in our stewardship to celebrate this reality so that this place can fold more and more into our community, strengthening not just our own faith, but enabling this place to grow in its call and enact real change on this community. I invite you to consider how you too can take care of this church, of the people of this church, through your offer of stewardship this upcoming year, and together we will celebrate with Christ the blessings we have in our faith, and the call we have to GO! In that faith out into the world.

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