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Return and Give Thanks

18 Pentecost Proper 23C

9 Oct 2022

Jesus is nearing the end of his journey to Jerusalem just as we are nearing the end of our church year. November 20th is the Sunday we call Christ the King, or Reign of Christ.

Today we find ourselves in the borderlands. We are weaving in and out of a sort of no man’s land between Judah and Samaria. We are neither in nor out of the land belonging to either. It is the Korean DMZ of its time, a place of real danger for us, but also a place where we might experience something new and different, something you would not find in either Samaria or Judea. As we walk with Jesus, for we are among those who still cling to the words of the rabbi, we encounter a group of people with some sort of disease that is referred to as leprosy. The term is used to describe a host of skin conditions; they well could have had nutrient deficiencies that resulted in skin problems. Regardless, it was all called leprosy and it all led to ritual impurity. You were an outcast, an outsider, a pariah. Have you ever been marginalized? If so you can understand very well what they are feeling and experiencing. If you were black you could not share anything in common with white folk, from a drinking fountain to a school. If you were Irish you could not apply for a job. If you were Mexican you had better stay on your side of the tracks. You get the picture; you can be a leper for many reasons and be forced into the no man’s land.

And so it goes. You are with Jesus, who is headed into an unmamed village. Ten men on the outskirts came closer but kept their distance. They yelled at the Master and asked for pity. What were they thinking? They must have recognized the power that Jesus had. Isn’t it ironic that those with the most resources and the best educations are not able to see the heart of the Gospel? But you watch these ten men, all keeping a respectful distance. It gives you a sense of relief that they stay away; you do not want to become like them. Yet it is clear Jesus does not see them in the same way as you do. His words amaze you: “Go, show yourself to the priests.” You instantly understand that they are cured of their leprosy and can be restored to the community. And you watch them all go and rejoice, doing exactly what Jesus commanded. Then something strange happens. One of the ten stops and turns around when he realized that he was truly cured. He heads back towards Jesus and falls at his feet and says, “Thank you master.” And of the ten this was the only one who was not a Jew; he was a Samaritan, an outsider. You hear Jesus give him a blessing, “Your faith has made you well.”

He was not only cured, but made well, whole.

Why is this? Jesus’ words are, “Your faith has saved you, healed you, preserved you, rescued you, delivered you.” Why is the one different? All obey Jesus, all revere him and call him master, all do what he says. So what is different about the one who returns? In fact, he disobeys Jesus’ command when he comes back. Bingo. He comes back and give thanks. That is the heart of this passage.

As I read this passage, I thought about how much I take things for granted. I have had times in my life that were bleak and, when they were better, I asked myself did I return to God to give thanks and praise. Not nearly enough.

Luke makes a big issue of this: the shepherds returned and praised God. After the ascension the disciples returned to Jerusalem and gave praise to God. The prodigal son returned and gave thanks. Nothing is hidden here. God proclaimed creation to be good and wanted to share this wonderful thing with humankind. God does not want to be alone, but God does want humans to be thankful, thankful to God.

We are hardwired to appreciate beauty and sometimes just stand in awe and wonder. We are also hardwired to turn and give thanks. Yet we become so separated from God and from one another that we forget the sacred purpose of being human. That purpose is to turn, rejoice and praise God. The miracle of this story is not the healing, but the response of the Samaritan who was healed.

The great command to Jews is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. It is the same for we who call ourselves Christians. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

When things are bleak in our lives it becomes hard to praise and thank God. It is so much easier to ignore God, to think God is missing. To realize that God is with us, at all times and in all places, is not an easy task. When Jesus began his journey to the cross, he told the story of the Good Samaritan, the one who obeyed the law to love your neighbor as yourself. The Samaritan is the unexpected one. And now, the one who returns to give thanks and praise God is the Samaritan, the unexpected one. He us the one who saw that God’s mercy touched his life. Seeing means much more that physical sight; the better word perhaps is insight; seeing combined with understanding and, where God is involved, awe. We can all notice the leaves change color in the fall, but when we combine that with true awe at the beauty and majesty of God’s creation, we have true perception.

When I was young my mother asked me what kind of cake I wanted for my birthday. One year I asked for a pineapple upside down cake. I have no idea why. She bought a special pan and made the cake for me and I was absolutely delighted. I understood how she had gone above and beyond just to give me what I wanted.

May be the heart of the Gospel is this: love God with all that you can, give God thanks and praise, and make sure you send that thank you card. And while you are at it, send the thank you card to the friend who mowed your lawn when you were ill. Then remember to treat your neighbor as you would want to be treated. In fact, treat your neighbor better than you would want to be treated. The heart of thanking God is to thank one another. Jesus said that those we expect to do the right thing often do not (the priest, the Levite, etc.) and that it is those we marginalize who become both the Good Samaritans and it is the Samaritans who return to give thanks. Jesus never points to the kings and high priests as the ones who obey the law, but rather the ones you would least expect are the most faithful. It is a pineapple upside down cake sort of world.

Our job then is this: reach out and do good whenever and wherever you can; then turn and give all the thanks you have with song and prayer to the God, who makes all good things possible

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