Proper 23, Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, Psalm 55:1-12, 2 Timothy 2:8-15, Luke 17:11-19
Please notice that Jesus does not heal the ten lepers on the spot. They have to obey his instructions first, and in obeying they discover they are healed. Right here we are reminded of something important about what God offers and what God expects. In their obedience is their healing.
The purpose of healing is not that you feel good. The purpose of healing is that you can carry out God’s word, and in carrying out God’s word you are healed. It’s circular, isn’t it. So, if you experience any kind of healing in your life, it’s for the sake of your answering God’s call on you. We’ll come back to this.
Only one of the lepers came back, the Samaritan, but let’s not be unfair to the other nine. They could say they did not come back because they were heading for the priest as Jesus had told them to. Actually, the Samaritan disobeyed the instructions. Of course, no Jewish priest would have examined him, so what could he do?
You can hardly blame the other nine for racing back into life, and making up for lost time. How long had it been since they had seen their wives and kids and villages? In the words of Jeremiah, they had to go build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat the produce, take their wives back, have sons and daughters, and seek the welfare of their communities. Ordinary things, perhaps, but precious if you’ve been denied them.
Ordinary things, but what if you’re suffering the shock of war, the destruction of your nation, or the misery of ethnic cleansing, as many people are today. Many people today would hear the instructions of Jeremiah as close to hopeless.
It was a challenge to the Jews back then, and only the first time, being rounded up and carted off against their will. Shouldn’t you rise up, should n’t you resist? Shouldn’t you boycott, or demonstrate, or fight to get back home? How could you be at home in Babylon, take wives, have babies, and seek the welfare of the city of your enemies?
How could you do it? If you accept that the whole ordeal had been God’s will. If you could reconcile to your exile and your punishment as fair and just, and, though a terrible trial, a purgative, a discipline, a refiner’s fire, a flood that washes clean. If you could accept your situation as a challenge for new obedience.
Jeremiah is instructing them to be healed, be whole, start serving God in Babylon, witness to God in Babylon. That’s how the prophets understood the exile, as a cleansing of Judaism. The exile was an opportunity to be a blessing to the nations.
Cleansing is what God offers and expects, when what we ask for is healing. Yes, cleansing is a kind of healing, but we tend to want to feel good, but getting right is what God expects and offers. In the story of the lepers, healing is not the main point, cleansing is. And cleansing is to get right with God. It’s not just getting back to our homes and families, it’s getting right with God, which makes us able to enjoy God, and glorify God. And to glorify God and enjoy God is what it means to be a fully human being.
It’s possible to be a human being who’s not a fully human being, it’s possible to exist in the flesh, but to be a fully human being is also to be fully spiritual, in order to glorify God and enjoy God forever. And that is what God calls us to.
That’s what distinguished the tenth leper from the other nine. He completed the transaction, he carried it all the way through to its purpose. He achieved what he was made for. He was restored not only to the positively physical, but also to the spiritual. He became a fully human being. He ended up giving thanks to God.
The word in Greek for his thanksgiving is "eucharist." We still use that word in the Christian tradition for the Prayer of Thanksgiving at Holy Communion, the climax of our service every week. It’s for Biblical reasons we do our service this way. It’s a similar process and transaction as in the story of the lepers.
It’s not coincidental that it’s ten lepers. Ten is what constitutes a minyan, in Jewish terms a quorum for prayer. They cry out with a Kyrie, Lord have mercy upon us. Jesus responds with his word, which is like the sermon. They believe him and go, which is implicitly a Creed, and they are made clean, which is an absolution. When the one returns, he kneels before Jesus and offers his thanksgiving, which is like Holy Communion. Jesus ends it with a benediction, "Rise up and go, your faith has saved you." In other words, "Go in peace."
When we come hee to worship every week, it’s not just to hear a nice sermon and some music, it is to go through a process, a transaction. We come here to cleanse what makes us guilty and ashamed, to refresh our spirituality, and to renew ourselves as fully human beings, in order to glorify God another week and to enjoy God another week.
To be a fully human being is to be able to thank God. It is both our privilege and obligation "always and everywhere to give thanks to God." This is one of the main themes of the Bible and it’s one I keep repeating at Old First. When I say thanksgiving, it’s not just happy feelings, I mean the art of thanksgiving, the work of it, the task and burden of thanksgiving, even in exile and ordeal.
It takes rehearsing, it takes training, it takes discipline and commitment. It changes the way you live your life. It changes the way you spend your time and how your spend your money.
The gospel claims that to be a fully human being is to be a thanksgiving-maker in the world, to be able to interpret the world as giving thanks to God.
And just that kind of life is a healing life, even when we get sick and die. "Holy and right it is, and our joyful duty, at all times and in all places, to give thanks to God." And it takes faith to be able to do this, because sometimes you just can’t see one thing that is good. It’s usually when we are looking back.
It took faith for St. Paul to be reconciled to the suffering of his imprisonment in Rome, when he so much loved to travel and engage the world and visit his congregations. He had to reconcile to his chains as enhancing his mission. He had to serve his missions from afar, like a mafia don in the penitentiary. He spent a lot more time in writing and in prayer.
Every human being has both a particular and a general mission. Your particular mission is your individual vocation, your calling in the world, for which you have your talents and your gifts. Your individual mission is your privilege and your obligation, both.
Some of you are very clear on what your particular mission is, but for most of you it’s not a specific definition but a broader field of possibilities. Some of us change vocations midstream, and some of us take years to settle on what we should do, or to accept it, and we struggle against it, but the process of acceptance is an important part of healing.
That healing often comes with choosing not to obey many voices in our heads, typically the voices of our parents or some other early influence, but rather heeding the voice of God in the present, from the Christian community, or from those we serve. That obedience is healing.
Your general mission is the same as every other human being, which is to glorify God and enjoy God forever. That’s what people are for. That is our common obligation and our privilege. In Biblical terms, to carry out that mission is to be a fully human beings, and in order to carry out that mission we are called to spiritual wholeness.
That leper was called into spiritual wholeness and he was called out of shame. That is the greatest healing that God offers, to bring us out of shame and guilt. We can be open, we can literally be out. We can stand before God and enjoy God. And that means we can be at home where we live, and at peace with the community. That is what God offers and expects.
Copyright © 2007 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.