Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sermon; Proper 23C; 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15; Luke 17:11-19

I actually only preached at the early service today.  At the main service I was supposed to be with the Sunday school kids as they heard about Moses in the wilderness, manna from heaven, and then we were going to put together individual food packets.  So my deacon had the honor of preaching today while I was off doing that.  Here's the sermon that everyone at the second service didn't hear.

What connections do you hear between our first reading from 2 Kings and the gospel reading from Luke? Unlike last week, today is relatively easy. Connections include leprosy, healing, faith and grace.

In these two readings we hear that a man and a group of ten people are suffering from leprosy. Naaman, commander of the Aramean army, was told to go wash in the Jordan. The ten lepers were told to go show themselves to the priests and they were cleansed on their way. In the bathing and in the walking the lepers were healed. Naaman finally broke down, did what was asked of him, and his faith in that act helped heal him. The lepers believed Jesus could heal, and their faith in his directions helped heal them. And in both stories, it is really through the grace of God that they are healed.

But there's another connection here that we need to pay attention to, and that is the connection of the outsider.

Jesus mentions the healing of Naaman and the widow of Zarephath early in his ministry (way back in Chapter 4) in his hometown. This is the, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown” incident where the people want to toss him off a cliff. The problem back then was a resentment that Jesus was taking his ministry and God's favor to people beyond Nazareth.

This resentment spreads when the leaders of Israel realize Jesus is proclaiming God's favor and welcome to those not only beyond their borders – Gentiles and Samaritans – but to those to whom they have deemed beyond God's grace – women, tax collectors and sinners. What they resent is Jesus pointing out, and living out, that their own scripture and tradition welcomes those very people whom they have condemned as outsiders and beyond God's grace. And they eventually resort to violence – the violence of the cliff and the violence of the cross – in order to maintain the status quo of their own positions and power.

In our lessons today we hear very vivid examples of welcoming and including the outsider to participate in God's grace. This isn't just a peace-love-joy hippy Jesus thing. This is a God thing. In today's lessons we are shown in no uncertain terms that there are no outsiders when it comes to God. All means all.

I've heard people wonder aloud, “Why can't we all just get along?” and then in the next sentence use derogatory terms to describe Those People. What I’ve noticed happening is that some people see “Why can't we all just get along?” as another way of saying, “Why can't people be more like me?”

Why can't Those People have the same values, listen to the same music, have the same orientation, vote the same way, have the same skin color? We seem to be all for getting along – as long as they are like me.

This goes to our religious life as well. We understand that we are saved and healed by God's grace, but we aren't so sure about Those People beyond our boundaries. We aren't so sure about Those People with different religious beliefs.

Take prayer in school for instance. Many people have bemoaned what they see as the Supreme Court kicking God out of the schools, and they think that the first step to getting us on the right track is to allow public prayer back into the public schools. That is, as long as it's explicitly Christian prayer. I have a feeling that the people advocating for prayer in schools wouldn't be so happy if the schools allowed for Muslim Mondays, Taoist Tuesdays, Jewish Wednesdays, Buddhist Thursdays and Christian Fridays. Prayer in school is fine, as long as it's from my religion and my denomination.

When we are asked to consider people like Naaman, the Samaritan, the widow of Zarephath, sinners and those different from us, we get nervous. We also begin to pick and choose who is in and who is out. We decide which people or groups of people we want to defend and which people or groups of people it's okay to ignore or stand idly by as they are abused.

If we say, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You,” then we need to welcome everyone. All means all. It means the Aramean commander. It means the widow from Zarephath. It means the Samaritan. It means all those different from us. And it means respecting the dignity of every human being.

If we welcome the outsider, then we must also stand up for the outsider. We must be the voice of the voiceless. And it means we must be willing to have stones thrown at us for standing up for those whom society labels Other. Because if we stand idly by while Those People are being persecuted, then we are complicit in their persecution. 

The connection of today's stories is that God cares for the outsider, those people who are not like us. The question we need to ask ourselves is this: If God cares for and is connected to the outsider, how are we connected to God through the outsider?



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