Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Whispering sweet news

Blue Christmas/Longest Night
Memorial Lutheran Church
Luke 2:8-20

Grace and peace to you this longest night.

The Christmas story, when sung by choirs or portrayed by children or depicted in art and nativity scenes usually sets its focus on the holy family.  The young mother Mary, the serene looking Joseph and that cooing baby in the manger.  Off center, looking on are the wise men, some barnyard animals and the shepherds.

Those shepherds, understated, often overlooked for their place and experience of the Christ child’s birth.  I think those are our guys for a night like tonight. This space and this night is for those who do not feel so merry or bright, but instead are experiencing the heaviness of grief and the sadness of the season.  Whatever your reasons, whatever your story, this space and this night we gather together just like those shepherds standing vulnerably in the open, darkened fields. Their story begins out in the field in the middle of the night, they are working their lowly work of watching sheep.  They are as vulnerable to the elements and wildlife as anyone and right there, in that open, dark place the angels of God show up.

The presence of God, mysterious and often terrifying came to lowly, vulnerable people in the dark.

Without logic or explanation the shepherds travel to Bethlehem to find the an unwed couple that may or may not have birthed a child in a stable.  They certainly do not know exactly what they will find there, but they believe they have just encountered something holy and true.  So they go with haste and trust the word of God that speaks the unbelievable.

And then the shepherd do something we do not ever see in our nativity sets.  The shepherd speak to Mary and Joseph and tell them all that the angels said.  These terrified shepherds tell the exhausted and confused young couple that their Messiah has been born and is laying in their arms. And that though everyone is pretty shaky those angels said this birth is good news for all people.  I wish I could find a nativity set that included a shepherd leaning over and whispering in Mary’s ear, for this act of speaking comfort to struggling people is a holy, beautiful moment in the Christmas story.

And what did Mary do? She pondered all these words in her hearts.

Ever since this first middle of the night birth and pilgrimage our world has been celebrating the miracle.  The traditions of this celebration have taken on all sorts of forms and rituals, in our time and place the celebrating of Christmas usually includes travelling, shopping, giving and receiving, feasting and toasting and making memories to cherish for years. And these strong celebratory practices can drown out the reality of it all, can’t it?  

The truth is many people experience death and loss during this time of year.  The truth is that seasonal depression is on the rise during this time of year.  The truth is that not all families get along, we miss those who have died.  The reality here on December 21st is that the darkness is long and we cannot be sure when the light within with dawn again. There is a particular pain to being out of step with the broad mood of the rest of our communities, especially the strong spirit of Christmas which we are told is “the most wonderful time of the year.”

The rhythms and traditions of Christmas have grown and grown and taken on a life of their own.  Tonight, I invite you to hear that the essence of the Christmas miracle has not changed and cannot be drown out by our culture’s consumerism or even our own heavy hearts.  Instead, let us dwell in the shepherd's field, stand in the dark of our confusion and wonderment. For our God is certainly as present and as loving there as in the manger stall.

The essence of Christmas is the miracle that the love of God just had to enter into the lives of real people; lowly shepherds, unwed mothers, you and me. Perhaps carol singing and present opening will be too much for the grief you carry or the heaviness of your soul.  Maybe the mere thought of the whole host of heaven showing up in that shepherd’s field is simply too loud and brash for the quietness your heart is asking for.

Instead, know that the meaning of Christmas was also whispered in a barn from a nameless, unimpressive shepherd to a terrified, exhausted young mother.  The good news was whispered and then, pondered quietly by heart. The promise of Christmas is that good news has indeed dawned upon the earth and graced us with love, peace and promised life everlasting for our dearly departed and for us too.  This promise is for you, whispered into your grief and sorrow and will also be there if you experience moments of joyful remembering.

For tonight, on this longest night, we remember the good, quiet, pondering news of Jesus this Christmas and that is enough.  Amen.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

An Opportunity to Testify (one Christian lady's response to the Trump election)

Below is my sermon for today. Preaching after the 2016 Presidential election is an odd experience.  I heard from many fellow preachers that they were nervous about this particular task of preaching.  For some reason (arrogance? stupidity?) I did not share that same batch of nerves.  The task of preaching the gospel, diving deeply into the assigned scripture text and connecting it to the lives of the people I serve is the task before me every week.

I am struggling with the results of this election.  I profoundly disagree with the hatred, prejudice and objectifying ways of our current president-elect.  I am grieving the deep, deep division of our communities and heard from many church members this morning that they feel isolated from neighbors and family members. 

And I am struggling with the reach of the seems like the intensity of discipleship is rising, the voice of the advocate needs to be louder.  This whole week I carried around a small notebook that said "If you change nothing, nothing changes." The task of preaching and discipleship seems the same...but I cannot get rid of the gut feeling that the church's actions (or inaction) needs to change. Brilliant answers and insights welcome...

Luke 21: 1-13
He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’
 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’ They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.
‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. ‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.
This will give you an opportunity to testify.

When you walk into a new place, what do you notice? What is important enough for you to observe, evaluate? Think for a moment how you report back to your spouse or friends about new places you might check out.  When leaving a restaurant do you review the food or the ambiance first? When you visit a church do you notice the building or the people first? What is the nature of the lasting impression left on you?  I invite you to reflect on this because I think it says something about what we value or what we are truly seeking.  

In our gospel story this morning we are eavesdropping on Jesus in the temple.  He has finally entered Jerusalem where he headed straight for the temple and got to work cleaning it out.  Jesus then teaches for a lengthy time about civic duty, the resurrection and he, of course, challenges the scribes and Pharisees of that community.  Then Jesus looks up and observes rich people giving an offering in the temple and one poor, widow giving two coins. While others are looking all around the building commenting on how lovely and beautifully adorned the temple was. Now the lectionary started right with the people complimenting the building, but I think it’s really important to back up a couple of verses and so we know where Jesus’ focus is.  Jesus isn’t just saying don’t compliment structures that will one day be rubbish...Jesus is also telling the people where their focus should be residing, and he does this while watching a poor widow donate all she had.  Who we see, notice and talk about says a lot about what we value.  And who we do not see, notice and talk about says just as much.

Then Jesus turns his teachings to the tension filled political environment and the religious anxiety that followed him wherever we went.  He begins talking about nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom...hate speech, ground shaking, persecution and intolerance of those most wretched kind. So let’s pause for just a moment and let our hearts grieve that this scenario is too close to home, too familiar, too constant throughout the centuries of the human story.  And then Jesus says this, “This will give you an opportunity to testify” So much more important that our reviews of gym facilities or restaurants or church buildings (and we’re all guilty of that, going to a house of worship and come away talking about the decor)...we have an opportunity to testify.  And opportunity to tell our neighbors about the eternal ruler of the nations, the creator of the earth as it shakes, the teacher of the Holy Word, the healer and miracle worker that is our Savior...we have an opportunity to talk about forgiveness, love, welcome and peace beyond even our own understanding. Discipleship hasn’t changed much in the last 2000 years. Following Jesus still means testifying to our trust in God in the midst of circumstances that test our confidence and our hope. So we keep going on, with endurance as a hallmark of what it means to be a believer.

Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you?

Pray that I might have the grace to let you be my servant, too.
We are pilgrims on a journey, we are trav’lers on the road.
We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.
I will hold the Christ-light for you in the night time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.

That hymn is beautiful, one of my very favorites and one that I want to sing all the time to everyone I encounter these days. Yet, I want to be careful and not romanticize the power and solidarity of the words of that hymn or the scene from our gospel.  There is nothing easy or romantic about the poor widow who gave two coins in the synagogue.  She did so relying on the strength of her faith, but because she was not attached to a man, her place in her society was vulnerable, dangerous and a promise of poverty for all her days.  I can just imagine Jesus’ disciples sitting in the synagogue, listening to their incredible rabbi and when they saw a women in need and they knew the rules of their society would keep her in need and keep them from really changing her life’s’s no wonder they quickly became distracted by the decor of the synagogue.  Because who wouldn’t rather compliment something beautiful than have their heart torn open by an unsolvable, ugly reality?

Nor should we romanticize the “opportunity to testify” as Jesus put it.  The opportunity that Jesus spoke of was persecution, war and division -- these would not be cozy faith stories shared in the church youth room, these would be life and death situations in which the power of God’s wisdom and words would be the salvation of the disciples.  And yet, Jesus tells the disciples that these ugly realities would be the key opportunity for them to continue God’s story through their words and their lives.

What we, the body of Christ have to say is important.  What and who we notice and pay attention to matters to God.  What and who we ignore and neglect also matters to God.  Now, I have never ever preached about politics and I’m not about to start this morning...however, I have felt such grief in this past week, perhaps you have too? I have felt grief over the tremendous presence of division and fear that has led us to this presidential election and filled the days that follow.  But least we think ourselves too precious or unique, may I also point out that our gospel story is filled with a tremendous presence of division and fear too. And

Jesus responds in two clear ways…

First, Jesus takes notice and honors the poor and neglected in the synagogue and tells his disciples to do the same.

Second, Jesus tells of difficult days and ugly realities ahead and tells his followers they will have the opportunity to testify.

I do not have clear answers as to how to be an agent of healing and hope in this world, I do not have clear answers to the Christian response to these difficult days and ugly realities. But I believe, strongly, that following Jesus’ lead is where we, the baptized and called people of God, can begin. These are opportunities to testify, to be embodied love: fierce loving protection for those who suffer—immigrants, black and brown people, Muslims, LGBTQ people, women, our planet!—and radical agape love that Jesus embodied that prays for enemies, persecutors, and the hate-filled with hope that humanity can indeed be transformed by love.I pray for all of us—for this broken country, for those scared beyond belief and for our church.  May we learn new ways to be prophetic, to repent, to build bridges, to embody love that transforms. In the words of MLK, Let us be extremists for love.
I will weep when you are weeping, when you laugh I'll laugh with you.

I will share your joy and sorrow till we've seen this journey through.

What would it mean for you to notice the poor and neglected among you? Would this mean a change in your schedule? In your volunteering? In your advocacy? In your spending and supporting?

What would it mean for you to tell your neighbors and our nation about this God who believe in and worship? This God who promises to be present and to be stronger than fear and division, this God who brings redemption to deep pain and hope to impossible circumstances.  What would that sound like?

Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you?

Pray that I might have the grace to let you be my servant, too.

Let us pray...Holy One, give us the eyes of Christ that notice the poor widow and we pray for your wisdom to seize the opportunities To PROCLAIM the Gospel of Jesus Christ through God’s Word, the sacraments and loving service; To BE a loving and caring community where each person feels genuinely loved; To PROVIDE opportunities for spiritual growth through prayer, worship and study; To MINISTER to the needs of the congregation, the community and the world as the Holy Spirit empowers and leads us; To WELCOME without exception; LISTEN without judgment; and SUPPORT without prejudice all people, and in this way, TO BE CHRIST FOR OTHERS! Amen.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Political Prayer

Sermon 10.23.16
Luke 18:9-14 excerpt

That bigger picture is much harder to grasp when we only get one tiny slice of the pie on a Sunday morning -- God’s redemptive work is cannot be encapsulated in the simplistic teaching to “be humble.”  Keeping the greater context in our hearts and minds this morning I want to work with the short gospel scene and consider how it would sound coming from a Christian person in our time and place...

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”

The Lutheran stood by herself and prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: I don’t want to be a democrat for they are reckless and naive.  I don’t want to be a republican either for their selfishness and fear-mongering is tiring. Thank you God that you clearly bless my political leanings so I can celebrate the line between us and them and never have to cross over.

God, thank you that I am not another sect of your church because I like not having to worry about good works and I like the way we interpret the bible and I’m pretty sure other churches get it wrong and so I’m happy you’re here with us and not over there with them.  

God, thank you that I am not like other people who have criminal records that will haunt them all their days no matter how much corrective work they have done.  Thank you that I do not come from a broken home which would make it harder to come to church every week, thank you that I fit the perfect little model of the family you intended -- a real, one-size fits all family is what you meant, right?

Thank you God that I am not like the tax-collectors or other people who serve corporate greed, oil companies or any other evil structures on this earth.  I’m a self-made human, and would never be complicit in injustice never mind where my clothes come from or the fact that I guzzle so much gas each day without a second thought.  God, I thank you that I am not like other people but rather am here, in your house on a Sunday morning (unlike the heathens who stayed in bed or did other activities on this holy day), I am righteous because I’m so darn good, a shiney Christian in my nice clothes and upright living.  Thank you God that I don’t even need to ask you for anything because I’ve got it figured out -- the answers to faithful living are so black and white, I’ve made all the right choices, I’ve kept your law to the very letter, I attend worship every week and tithe the perfect 10% of my income to support the church.  God, I thank you that I am not like other people.  Amen.

Now, this contemporary take on the Pharisee’s prayer is laced with an exaggerated smugness. We know we are not to pray or think like the arrogant, independent Pharisee -- he is clothed in religious hypocrisy! But who among us hasn’t ever thought, “I’m glad I’m not like….” and then we can fill in the blank with the people group or label that is irritating or threatening us most at any given moment.  And in that phrase, “Thank God I’m not like other people” I believe we hit on the deep sin of this prayer.  The Pharisee, and so often the contemporary Christian celebrates the lines between us and them. Even though this scene from Luke’s gospel is very short, the author took the time to tell us exactly where both the Pharisee and the tax collector are...the Pharisee is “standing by himself” set apart from the whole community to his self-righteous prayer.  And he thanks God for the distance between himself and those who are not like him -- especially calling out those that society has deemed dangerous and wrong. From the Pharisee’s vantage point on his high-moral pedestal, God was with him, he was righteous because he had earned it through proper living and good choices.

This very religious man drew lines around himself, drew lines to divide the worshipping community and tried to draw lines around God Almighty.

In this election year our country has become obsessed with line drawing. Social media posts are filled with self-righteousness and opinions, political rallies filled with moral superiority and smug attitudes. It seems to me that the citizens of the nation have allowed themselves to be drawn into tiny corners and taught to celebrate the lines that divide.

As God’s children, as people of the cross, we have a unique and important voice in our nation.  We get to share a story that God began and continues to write through the lives of all God’s children -- we get to share the story of a God who absolutely cannot be contained to a political party, or to a moral box that is black or white, we get to share the love of God that is blurring the lines we celebrate and working salvation in the lives of those we call dangerous and wrong.

In sharing the story of God’s love we are called to be marked with persistence, humility and reconciliation. And in the next few weeks our neighbors, no matter what sign they have stamped in their yard or how humble or arrogant we may be...our community and our very souls will hunger for a story like the story God is telling here today.

I saw this story take on flesh and blood this week.  On Monday night nine people gathered in our fellowship hall in front of the fireplace.  Five people were from this church, four people were from the Islamic Society in Woodbury.  I heard about the beauty and mutual appreciation that was born out of the “Meet Your Neighbor” even that happened here last summer.  Two very different faith communities came together to celebrate something, and it wasn’t the lines that divide (and there are lines that divide) but instead the celebration lifted up all that unites! I heard about fear of the unknown, but also about the comfort of knowing our neighbors.  Lines were blurry and community was cultivated.  

So we, the Lutheran church of Memorial will continue to attempt to tell the story of our God.  We’ll tell it to our neighbors and we’ll tell is alongside our neighbors.  And lest we believe that our righteousness will come from our own good works or thoughtful behaviors, we must remember the prayer of the tax-collector as well this morning.

The prayer of the tax-collector from our story is this, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” and if we were to set it in our contemporary setting, making it unique to every political, racial, religious, moral situation we all find ourselves would sound like this...“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”  

The prayer of the tax-collector is timeless, the prayer from mortal to Divine speaking the truth of our nature to the truth of God’s nature.  “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”  With a repentant heart we learn more about the unfolding story of God’s love and unfailing mercy that we are called to share and so we say, “Thanks be to God.”  Amen.

How do I find a Gracious God?

*Wow! This was pure joy, preaching the power of the gospel while reflecting on the history of my church tradition after having heard incredibly talented musicians present Bach's 80 Cantata.*

Oratory Sermon
Psalm 46

This is going to be quite a year to be a Lutheran.  In a few weeks we will begin the 500th year since Martin Luther began his critical, painful, passionate struggle with the church.  And for the next year the Twin Cities may be the proudest metro in the country as we celebrate Protestant Pride -- we’ll wave our team colors, chant our team slogans and sing our fight song long and loud,  (A Mighty Fortress is our God…).  And if this is all the church does, if one raucous hymn sing after hymn sing is how we remember and celebrate all year...well, we’d be seriously missing the spirit of the movement we so often label “The Reformation”.

It would be easier, of course, to drown out the intense spiritual struggle that haunted Martin Luther.  The chains of God’s law that bound him, the confines of his own humanity that bound him. What we commemorate in this coming year is the freedom from this bondage, the liberation Luther uncovered through a life of study, hours of daily prayer and painful schisms with the church he vowed to serve.  Luther discovered that the law which he failed miserably to fulfill was not the gospel in itself, but the law led him to the merciful promises of Jesus that brought liberation, redemption and reconciliation all on their own.  Luther discovered not law as gospel, but the law and and the gospel fully present in God’s Word.

Psalm 46 is always the psalm used for the festival day of Reformation.  This psalm is the inspiration Martin Luther used to to compose Ein Feste Burg, or A Mighty Fortress is Our God. The psalm does what we might expect and paints images of God’s strength and ever present help and protection...and there is also an intimacy to this psalm of praise as over and over it speaks to where our Almighty and Holy God can be found.  

Psalm 46 says that though the mountains tremble and waters foam, God is present, very present.
The holy habitation of God is in the streams of a river that flows through the city, moving and nourishing the people of the city though they are subjected to cosmic chaos and perverse political powers.
The Lord is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.
God is exalted among nations and in the earth.

Deliverance through destruction, salvation through steadfast presence, God is more than a wall that surrounds and wards off injustice and oppression.  This mighty fortress is also coming near, making glad, inhabiting, in, with, among and in again...God is here working redemption for the injustices and oppression that is at the core of every internal, spiritual battle that would besiege God’s people.

Today’s music is such a gift...we are able to hear Bach’s cantata that sings and illustrates the fullness of promise in a psalm like psalm 46 and also sings the soulful intimacy.  This cantata is one of Bach’s most complex and intricate, we would all need to study and hear it many more times (if ya’ll would be up for that?!?) to even begin to hear the themes of repentance, longing and victory interwoven throughout.  

The full chorales sing of the power of the reforming movement and echo the mighty fortress themes, and arias like that of the soprano’s also gives us the advent pleading for Christ to “come make home in my heart”. We can hear the close relationship between Bach’s lyrics and the text of Psalm 46 which answers the advent plea again and again with the reassurance that our God is a God who comes especially near to the lowly and pleading.  And Luther discovered this sweetness of God through these words. The reforming movement of the church did not begin as a religious power grab or competition over who exactly God’s fortress was surrounding...rather this movement began with one, lowly, tormented heart seeking divine redemption for his soul.

Five years ago Pope Benedict poignantly articulated this balance between powerful, Divine promises and still the inner struggle of a faithful man. Pope Benedict commented,

“What constantly exercised [Luther] was the question of God, the deep passion and driving force of his whole life’s journey. How do I find a gracious God? This question struck him in the heart and lay at the foundation of all his theological searching and inner struggle. For him, theology was no mere academic pursuit, but the struggle for oneself, which in turn was a struggle for and with God.
How do I find a gracious God?”

“How do I find a gracious God?”
After much angst Luther did find the answer to his heart’s question in the treasure of the gospel of Jesus.  And the years that followed were filled with initiatives that would put this treasure in the hands of those who had not heard for themselves. The translating and mass production of scripture and accessible teaching tools like the small catechism, the leadership that told people of faith that their faith ought to be practiced first and foremost at home to raise up children whose would be able to hear the gospel promises right from the start.  The reforming movement of the church moved through violence and mistakes and power struggles and division on every human level imaginable...but it did continue moving.

499 years later and that foundational question of Martin Luther’s heart is still an intimate and soulful question for humanity today, “How do I find a gracious God?”

In our contemporary context this question has nuance, of course.  Schisms are sexy, we hear of political, racial, economic and religious schisms every day...division and disappointment is so commonplace we have come to expect it.

We seek righteousness through accomplishments and glory, we place ourselves in the place where God should be, we define ourselves, we label our neighbors and just like Luther we find ourselves in bondage to laws we will never be able to fulfill.

Spending our lives climbing and commenting, striving and straining -- even the quiet, earnest questions of our faith and existence become drowned out…”How do I find a gracious God?”

In the repentant spirit of Luther I think it is fair to say the legacy of the church has not always been as prolific at helping people answer this question as we are called to be.  Our propensity toward division, proper order and self-righteousness has so often distracted the mission of the church and we forget to turn to the treasure we have been freely given.  Meanwhile, the world around us continues to ask, “How do I find a gracious God?”

In order to continue the honest, critical movement of the reforming spirit, we must not only be comforted by the loud rousing of our team song and waving our team colors and rallying to celebrate the Reformation.  We can go deeper, to a quieter, introspective place of repentance.  These words from the center of the cantata we just heard help us to go there...

Do not let your heart, God's heaven on earth,
become a wasteland!
Repent your guilt with pain,
so that Christ's spirit may firmly bind itself to you!

Come into my heart's house,
Lord Jesus, my desire!
  Drive the world and Satan out
  and let your image, shine forth renewed in me!

Through repentance and the work of the Holy Spirit we find ourselves held tenderly and eternally by our gracious God. This is most certainly true.

My first pastoral call was to Holden Village, a lutheran retreat center that saw a different preacher climb into the pulpit nearly every day.   Each person brought their own gifts and failings, their own agendas and proclamations.  Some were amazing and some were not.  But no matter the gifting of the preacher, they stood in a large wooden pulpit that had these words carved into the front, “We have this treasure.” In four words the truth of the gospel of Jesus was shared and named -- it didn’t matter how long I rambled on, or how ineffective any sermon was, if nothing else could be grasped during the public proclamation there was a constant, sure promise.

“We have this treasure.”  We have the living Word of God made available to us.  And that Word drives us to despair in the law and carries us into the light of Christ.  And that sure and eternal promise is our treasure.  

We have this treasure...this did not suddenly become true 499 years ago. it was true as the spirit moved over the waters of creation, it was true 501 years ago and every year since.  It the promise we hold onto today, on November 8th and on November 9th...for the distractions of our living cannot push away the nearness of our God.  And for the sake of this treasure we have been called to let Christ’s image shine forth renewed in us!.  

For the sake of the world that lashing out and cries out and asks, “How do I find a gracious God?”  We turn to one Lord, one baptism, one body of Christ and together we will say, “We have this treasure.” Amen.

Turn, posture, praise & thanks

MLC Sermon 10.16.16
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean.15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’ (Luke 17:11-19)

Ten people are miraculously healed and only one says thank-you.  This is a bible story every parent can stick in their back pocket to really hit home that lesson on the importance of saying “Thank you” Whether or not one’s heart is really in it when one is being forced to say “Thank you” is of course, an important point of consideration.  But I do believe that words matter and help to shape our character and ritual is also a power force in our lives.  When we practice saying words of gratitude we are changed, as the words become easier and easier to say and the spirit behind them is strengthened.

Saying “Thank you” or taking a posture of humility and gratitude is exactly what that one healed man did in our gospel lesson today.  This man’s ritual of gratitude was four-fold; first he turned back -- turned from rushing away and doing what he wanted, he turned back to his healer.  He praised God with a loud voice, we are not told exactly what his words were but whatever they were he was yelling them boldly and praising God for this healing! Third, he took a posture of humility, prostrating himself at Jesus’ feet because his words were not enough, he used his whole body to show his gratitude for new life.  And lastly, the healed man thanked Jesus.

Turn, praise, posture and thanks.  
Turn, praise, posture and thanks.

As you may have expected, I believe there is much more to this story than a simple “Say Thank you” lesson. This short story opens with a line that sets the stage for the radical healing we heart about.  The story begins by telling us that Jesus is in the region between Samaria and Galilee and when he approached the edge of the village he then saw the ten lepers.  It is important to note that the lepers are not in the town square, or in the synagogue, these lepers had been cast out to the village edge.  At this time, when a person was diagnosed with a contagious, feared disease they were set away from their homes, living in packs on the edge of their communities and forced by law to keep a wide distance between themselves and healthy people.  To make matters worse, the lepers were also asked to call out a warning to anyone that was passing by yelling “Unclean! Stay away!”. Their words, rituals and postures certainly gave this group of 10 a new identity: unclean, dangerous, sick and alone.

Throughout the gospel of Luke there is a clear, dangerous pattern of rule-breaking and boundary crossing.  This story picks up on that pattern, Jesus is radically, dangerously going outside the bounds of what is socially acceptable to bring mercy and healing to this group.  
He crosses the village lines and hangs out on the edge of town.
He crosses social law and approaches the sick group that is typically obliged to keep a distance.
He crosses ethnic boundaries and heals Jews and he heals a foreigner.

I don’t know what the exact modern day equivalent to this story is, but the news this weekend had me thinking a lot of those we label, disregard, disrespect, undervalue. From this painful presidential campaign to the overshadowed suffering of Haiti to the continued horror of Syria.  And to be honest, I found the news around the presidential campaign so disturbing this weekend that I wrestled greatly with a gospel response to such ugly, disrespectful attitudes and what systems are at play that allowed these voices to brought to the top of a presidential ticket. What is the Christian response? What is the church’s posture here?

Today’s gospel story reminded me that Jesus is on the move, and Jesus is moving to all the places I’d rather not go.  Jesus is on the move speaking redemption in the face of abuse and calling beloved that which we cast aside.  Systems of abuse, power and inequality are strongly at work in our lives, and so is our God.  Could we fill the world with a ritual response such as Turn, praise, posture and thanks? Could the foreigner of this story be the modern day model of Christian response to abuse and corruption?

Jesus goes to the margins of the world and there breaks in the kingdom of God into the lives of ten hurting and isolated people who are sent back to their communities as visible signs of God’s mercy and presence in our world.  And note where this in breaking kingdom was at work -- God’s kingdom broke open there in a group of people that had been labeled as sick, unclean and abandoned and that is exactly where Jesus is so often bringing the power and mercy of our loving God.

That is what God is up to in our scripture story today; messy, scandalous, healing miracles.

Now let’s turn and consider what the healed people are up to in our scripture story.  Nine of them are obedient, doing exactly what Jesus commanded and most certainly what their hearts are so happy to do which is run back to their communities and show themselves to be walking miracles!

But the tenth guy, he crossed even more lines.  He broke out of his isolated, unclean, ethnic prison to “Turn, praise, posture and thanks”.  Jesus doesn’t really talk to the man, rather looking around for others to follow suite Jesus calls the man and foreigner, the wrong person did the gracious act to turn, praise, posture and thanks.

The foreigner teaches the disciples, the foreigner teaches the status quo what a grateful heart looks like and moves like and worships God like.  The foreigner is a reminder that GOd’s promises know no boundaries or borders.  God’s grace will not abide by the arbitrary lines we draw between one another.  The foreigner consistently finds the most unlikely proclaimers of the good news to be the best choice to announce God’s mercy.  The outsider continues the in-breaking of God’s kingdom and he does it with gratitude. What a powerful force!

Turn, praise, posture and thanks.

That pattern of our Christian worship services enacts the healed man’s ritual.  We begin with confession, the spiritual act of turning towards God and away from self and sin.  Turn.

We worship God with our singing, “worthy is Christ the lamb who was slain whose blood set us free to be people of God!” praise.

We stand or sit, moving our bodies with heads bowed, or eyes closed, or maybe hands up or hearts open to hear God’s word read.  Posture.

We give God our thanks.  Through more singing, through offering a portion of our financial gifts to God, through serving each other and forgiving each other with a sign of peace.  And finally, we celebrate the Eucharistic feast.
Eucharist is a very churchy word -- more often we call the eucharist holy communion, or the sacrament of the table.  But this morning I want to use the word Eucharist because this english word comes from the Greek word Eucharistia and that word is the very one found in our bible ready.  The man prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and Eucharistia, he gave thanks.

When we come to this table week after week we come to celebrate what scandalous redemption we have been given by God through Jesus Christ our Savior.  We come to celebrate that the table of mercy is set for us despite our diving lines and sinful nature.  We come to the table at the invitation of Jesus who knows our sickness, our labels, our division and our pain...and we receive mercy anyways.
Turn, praise, posture and thanks.

So how will you turn, praise, posture and give thanks?
How has God broken into your life to bring mercy and healing? What foreigner has revealed to you a measure of Divine goodness you had not already known?

Turn, praise, posture and thanks.
Thanks be to God who moves beyond our lines.
Thanks be to God who turns our messy stories into walking miracles of healing and grace.
Thanks be to God who claims us as helpless infants and washes us in healing waters and promises to be with us forever.
Thanks be to God who is ever turning towards us and who alone is worthy of our praise.