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Boundaries - Sermon on Luke 17:11-19

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Many things happen in border towns. Many boundaries are crossed when people find their way to Jesus' side 

 This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The sermon notes which are included for convenience.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

October 9 - 21st Sunday after Pentecost 

"Boundaries".  Text is from Luke 17:11-19

Click here for sermon audio 

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

Boundaries may be invisible lines in the sand, that prevent us from going from one place to another. But have you ever seen a boundary from a plane? Sometimes, you may spot them...particularly if one place contains a park that ends at the lines of the boundary while there is farmland on the other side, but for the most part, when I'm flying, I can't tell where California ends and Nevada begins, or Utah, or Colorado...

There are boundaries in our narratives too. We have a couple of months left in the gospel of Luke and most of the time after Pentecost takes place during Jesus' journey from Galilee to Jerusalem which is a good portion of the Gospel of Luke. And so it seems odd to find this particular miracle here in the middle of the journey, on the borderlands between Galilee and Samaria. All the time he's spent walking and he's only gotten to the first border to be crossed? Or perhaps it's that our time and God's time are so different... indeed we celebrate the voyage of Jesus from Galilee into Jerusalem and all that it entails any time we wish.


Here we have ten lepers he encounters at this crossing, who desperately want healing, and without even approaching him, they ask for the healing. Jesus tells them to do something that seems absurd: to show themselves to the priests! But they comply, and along the way they are healed. 

One of them, a Samaritan, turned back once he was healed and came to praise Jesus and follow him. Jesus asks a passing question about who was being made clean and where are the remaining nine, remarking on how this Samaritan was the only one who came back to praise God. He then sent the Samaritan on his way, letting him know that his faith has made him well. 

Now, while it seems on face value that this is basic instruction from Jesus uplifting this single foreigner while chastising these nine others, I cannot help reading this text over and over again and seeing new and different things as I read it. 

It's a remarkable thing that this takes place on the borderlands between Galilee and Samaria. Boundaries being what they are, we should not be surprised that there is a Samaritan among the 10 lepers but Jesus still refers to the man as a foreigner. For a bit of instruction, to understand Samaria and Samaritans, the original Israel was divided, after the death of Solomon into two kingdoms, Israel and Judea. The kingdom of Judea maintained the temple which had the ark (until it vanished) and was the center of worship for people. The kingdom of Israel, on the other hand, was a different place.

Therefore, the Samaritans were less worthy children of God than the Jews, despite their similarities to outsiders. Cleanliness and holiness laws being what they are, being Samaritan was an extra layer on being a leper. One could miraculously be cured of being a leper. Being a Samaritan, however, required considerably different rituals to change. Boundaries being what they are then, the text becomes that much more interesting as we move forward. 

Jesus sends this entire group to visit the priests, knowing it would be dangerous for any of them to prostrate themselves before the priests, however, and so the reason why the Samaritan upon finding himself clean, decides to turn back and praise God, effectively disobeying Jesus's order to show himself to the priest. By the same token, in asking aloud "Where are the other nine?" is not Jesus restating the obvious? Have not the other nine been told to show themselves to the priest as Jesus has commanded in order for them to be made clean? 

Boundaries are constantly being defied in this text. The Samaritan himself turns and decides to turn, praising God and following Jesus. Jesus sends him on his way, telling him he is made well. Notice the change in words. He has already been made clean, but as we know, his Samaritan identity cannot be cleansed from him. Now he is made well as well. 

Knowing all of that, I ask you to ask yourselves, do you identify yourself with the nine or the one? Think about that for a moment. I think the first time I read this text, I would immediately identify as being the one, the Samaritan, but coming to the conclusions that I have about the deeper meaning that I have found, I may see myself as one of the nine, following the orders of Jesus, showing myself to the priests and not even thinking about turning back and giving my thanks. 

The one thing I'm certainly not willing to assume about this text is that Jesus is casting judgment on anyone, be they one or nine, Samaritan or Judean. The boundaries that exist in the country there make things different for people coming from different directions. 

So what do we do when we are healed in the presence of Christ. Do we follow as Christ commanded or do we go where the spirit takes us and heap praise and joy? It makes me think of the first encounter with Mary and Martha, where Martha is doing everything she can to prepare for Christ and the dinner while Mary is defying convention and lying at Christ's feet, basking in his glory? Did Jesus condemn Martha for doing the right thing, or was his gentle chastisement simply a reminder for her not to take away Mary of her portion. 

We remember also Jesus telling us that the one from whom most is forgiven will be the most grateful. That we come to Jesus from different places and it's also important to acknowledge those places.  

For instance, for many of us, who are healed, we find ourselves comfortable in this, our home. But what about the guest in our midst? When we say "all are welcome", how are we making them truly feel welcome? 

Jesus commands the ten to come before the priests, but the Samaritan is clearly not comfortable doing so, and chooses to turn back and worship Jesus instead. Is it possible that we fail to see the boundaries that keep people from fully participating in the lives that we participate? When we do things the way we're comfortable doing them, could we not be missing the way that others find off-putting? 

We incorporate healing into our worship at the kneeler when we give our wine and bread. Is everyone coming forward to be healed that needs to be healed? Does everyone know they are welcome? Are there boundaries here in our space that prevent people from fully experiencing the joy that we do in worship. 

Take some time to think about how you come to God, and how we, as a community, come to God. Think about what it is about our way of doing things that fulfill you. Where do you find God here? And if you think you can be drawn into relationship with God more, think about those things to. Feel free to take a pencil from the pew in front of you and write on your bulletin, if you wish. 

As we think about these things, also think about what it is that gives you the power to proclaim God's good news in the world. How, delivered by the power of Jesus healing, we overcome the boundaries that society has set forth and, in the great love of God for we, God's people, we work, filled by the Holy Spirit, and strengthened by Christ's promise of salvation to model the glorious kingdom, here on earth.


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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on October 15, 2016 8:03 PM.

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