Sermon: Proper 23 RCL C – “Moments”

In Budapest, a man goes to the rabbi and complains, “Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?”

The rabbi answers, “Take your goat into the room with you.”  The man in incredulous, but the rabbi insists. “Do as I say and come back in a week.”

A week later the man comes back looking more distraught than before.  “We cannot stand it,” he tells the rabbi. “The goat is filthy.”

The rabbi then tells him, “Go home and let the goat out. And come back in a week.”

A radiant man returns to the rabbi a week later, exclaiming, “Life is beautiful. We enjoy every minute of it now that there’s no goat — only the nine of us.”

Being thankful sometimes means recognizing the gift of the present moment.

From the time of Moses, it was the priest who decided whether a person was clean or unclean and the priest followed the mandates of the Law of Moses. To us, much of the Law may seem silly, but we are looking at it through the lens of some 6,000 years of modernization. Today’s Gospel provides an example.

Leprosy was a catch-all category for any number of skin diseases. Anything from dandruff to – at the time – a deadly disease. The Law stated that the priest was to examine the afflicted person and determine the variety of Leprosy and the prescribed outcome. If the priest determined that it was not a life threatening or contagious type of disease, the person would be considered “clean” and was allowed to remain in the camp; however, if it was a contagious variety the law was very specific: Leviticus 13:45-46 – “Those who suffer from a serious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed. They must cover their mouth and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp.” The afflicted did all these things, the tearing of clothes and unkempt hair, not as a sign of their uncleanness, but as a sign of remorse. Grief at not only being separated from the community, but more importantly they were separated from God, because they could no longer go to the Tent of Meeting or Temple, which was the dwelling place of God. After being sent out, if a person is thought to be healed, the Law states that the person “shall be brought to the priest; the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall make an examination.” If determined to be clean, the person would be allowed back into the community, if not, they remained outside.

It was ten of these unclean lepers that Jesus encountered in our Gospel reading today. From a distance they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus response was to set into motion the requirements of the Law, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” All ten demonstrated their faith in Jesus by immediately going to find the priest, and as they were going, they were all healed, yet only one, the Samaritan. returned to Jesus to give thanks to God. The implication of naming the one who returned as a Samaritan is that the other nine were Jews. The word Judah – Jew – means praise, but the nine who should have returned to give praise and thanks to God, kept going, while the Samaritan, the one who was considered unclean even before he became sick, was the one who returned and gave thanks.

The Samaritan ran and literally laid, face to the ground in front of Jesus praising God. Because of his thankfulness, Jesus blesses him a second time by telling him to “get up.” That may sound insignificant, yet in the era of the gospel writers, the people would have associated that phrase “get up” with resurrection. One who is dead lies on the ground with their face in the dirt, yet Jesus declares to the Samaritan, “Get up,” and gives him new life.

There is a wonderful lesson here on gratitude and giving thanks to God, but there is also a lesson on seeing the blessing in the moment and the work of God in our lives. And not only recognizing these things, but being transformed, given new life, by them.

Imagine that you are that Samaritan. Because you have been healed, you may now return to the community where possibly waiting for you will be your wife, children, your job, your entire life. Because your life has been given back to you, you may return to all these things instead of living in isolated exile.

Imagine, as you run with the other nine to be examined by the priest, you look and see the expressions of joy on the faces of the others as they realize they have been truly healed. And in that moment, you realize that it was not family, friends, priest, your job, your status in life, your abilities, your gifts, or your money that has brought about this healing. It was God and it was God alone. That is truly one of those defining moments. A point in time where you gain clarity and when you have the opportunity to consciously choose to do something or stop doing something. It is an event that forever shapes or changes the course of your life.

As the Samaritan ran to the priest to show that he was clean, he had his defining moment. He could continue in the direction he was going and get his old life back or he could return to the One who had given him the opportunity of new life, of transformation. Anyone have a poem going through their head at the moment?

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

God places these moments in everyone’s life. For Moses it was the burning bush. For David it was standing in front of Goliath. But it is not always something so dramatic. For Elijah it was a still small voice and for Matthew it was a look and those two simple words, “Follow me.”

We as a Christian people are defined by how we respond when that moment comes for us. Like the nine who continued on, we can declare that our lives, our wants, our desires are good enough and then just keep going or, like the Samaritan, we can have the courage and the faith to return to God and give thanks for his gift of new life.

The incident with the ten lepers is about gratefulness towards God, but it is also about recognizing the gift of those moments of blessing, having the strength to take the road less travelled, to return to God, and receive new life in Christ.

In his Revelation, John tells us that one of the elders in heaven came to him saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?”  John said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to John, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

We were the ones that were forced to cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” But through the blood of Christ we have been restored, no longer exiled from God; therefore, let us recognize this great gift, give thanks, and sing praises to His Holy Name.

As a concluding prayer, would you please turn to page 837 in your Book of Common Prayer.

Let us give thanks to God our Father for all his gifts so freely bestowed upon us.

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea.
We thank you, Lord.

For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ,
We thank you, Lord.

For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends,
We thank you, Lord.

For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
We thank you, Lord.

For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
We thank you, Lord.

For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity,
We thank you, Lord.

For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
We thank you, Lord.

For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
We thank you, Lord.

Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;
To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

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