My friends, it is great to be back with you all again! Being away always serves two wonderful realities. Getting away opens one up to more and new ideas through seeing how people in different places respond to their lands of origin, life choices in work and relationships and just the pure and simple beauty of the land. The other reality is returning home to all that is familiar and dear and re-engaging with life—refreshed! Being away did both for us; so here we are!
Today, we are called and challenged to practice two very important values in our faith that come directly from what it means to be human. The values are compassion and gratitude. As human beings, our very natures call us to be our best and we know that life in community flows along so much better when we are respectful of others and their needs as well as our own. Furthermore, if we can show gratitude for the good that others do for us, life becomes so much better.
Unfortunately, some people in our age and time have more of a sense that life owes them something and they bullishly move through their days and years trying to claim “their rights” while giving little if anything in return. In our faith as Christians, as followers of our brother, Jesus, the Christ, whose life was all about love and service—especially to those in society considered, “less than” others, for whatever reason; we must be people of compassion and gratitude and take it to a new level.
In two of our readings today, we hear of the dreaded illness, leprosy. Known medically as Hansen’s disease and thought by most to be eradicated, is, says the World Health Organization, a major health concern in the developing countries of our world.
That having been said, in both the First and Second Testaments of the Bible, the term, “leprosy” covered a multitude of skin diseases, psoriasis and eczema among them. There was so little understanding of what caused illness at this time, that it is understandable that people would fear being around folks who they might contract illness from, and a despicable one at that. Any affliction that included weeping sores was considered leprosy and made the person ritually unclean or unfit for worship.
So then, enter Jesus who as we know, always called his followers to more goodness, to more character. He always tried to work within the law and he understood how the people thought, thus his instruction to show themselves to the priests who would then OK them for worship. And then there was the added piece—that this affliction was no doubt caused by a grievous sin—again, because they didn’t know how it was caused, this seemed plausible and was reinforced by the clergy of the time. Jesus, our brother didn’t let it stop there knowing that the common practice was to shun them from the community when really what they needed was good food, good care—to be kept clean, so that they could heal—basically, to be loved and that is why he cured them.
Then, we meet Naaman, a non-Israelite in the First Testament reading from 2 Kings. In both this reading and that of the Gospel of Luke; we see two people whom we might think , given their status as outcasts, might not be grateful, if in fact we can make the case that those on the lower rungs of society would have no social skills either. We see that the one who returns to thank Jesus is a Samaritan, and even though a Jew, is still considered “less than” even within his own group of people.
Naaman shows us the way when he sees what has happened—he praises the God of Elisha and takes it up a notch, wanting to gift Elisha for his goodness, his compassion toward him. Because Elisha will take no reward for what God has called him to do, Naaman makes a strange request—that he be given two mule loads of earth. It makes sense though, you see, when we learn that Naaman not only chooses to now follow and believe in Elisha’s God, but he wants to take some of the ground of Israel back to his own country where upon he can praise this God who was so gracious and compassionate as to cure him of his affliction.
This is much the same notion that travelers, such as Robert and I—yourselves and others have in mind when we bring something back from the places that we visit to keep the good of our experiences close by and to not soon forget what we experienced in a new place and culture.
Part of my desire to go to Prince Edward Island was to experience the land and places that writer; Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote so delightfully about in Anne of Green Gables. I was introduced to Anne first through the public television series and only now am reading the stories and finding myself pleased with how faithful the movie version is to the written form—in many places, word for word! Prince Edward Island is a lovely, green place as are many of these Northern provinces, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick where the “colors” were at their peak last week.
The Samaritan in today’s Gospel, who in many ways, can be called, “good,” even though his society looked down on him, was the only one to return and give thanks for what Jesus had done for him. The others went off to show themselves to the priest which was part of the law that they followed—in fact, it was what Jesus told them to do.
The point of this story friends, is not to criticize people for following the law, but to challenge theirs and our thinking around the fact that if following the law ever gets in the way of making the compassionate response–that of being purely grateful for what was given–moving perhaps out of our self-centeredness, then our response should be clear. We must always remember that Jesus our brother, calls us to more—more goodness, more character.
With this new month of October, I have begun to consider renewing my commitment to the Rochester Franciscans as a Cojourner, which I originally made three years ago. As a Cojourner, I am choosing to try and walk more closely with these Sister followers of Francis and Clare. I will put together a ritual that will lift up the fact that I am better and the Sisters are better in we can walk together—sharing, each from our God-given gifts, for the betterment of all. Interestingly enough, one of the candidates asking for the privilege of leading our country this year has been saying the same thing! “We are better when we stand together!”
The reading from 2 Timothy finds Paul in prison; yet he is able to continue to believe and trust in Jesus, the Christ, who saved and allowed him to live in a way that would save others. Faith is another important piece in the stories we are given today. It took faith for Naaman to jump into the river—it took faith for the 10 lepers to go off and present themselves to the priests, believing that indeed they had been cured.It takes faith my friends for each of us to trust and believe that God will be true to God’s word—that Jesus’ words toward the end of his physical life with us, “Don’t be afraid; I will be with you, always,” are true.
During the second week of our recent trip, I was called to reflect on Jesus’ words here when my body was more of a hindrance to me then a help as I had a bout of sciatica in my left leg that made itself known in the early hours of each morning. My spirit was tested as I implored God to be with me. Our good God sent my dear husband Robert for comfort and in the days since home, I am treating the symptoms.
We cannot leave these readings without lifting up one more key point that they make clear, and that is God’s over-the-top love for each of us–no exceptions! Once again, Luke’s Jesus makes it clear that Abba God’s love is for everyone—no one is less than anyone else.
Jesus additionally challenges all of us around the thinking of his day which is still with us in our day to some extent, and that is the idea that God punishes us with illness because of our sin. Jesus choosing to be with the afflicted in his earthly life certainly put the lie to such thinking. My bout with sciatica could certainly have caused me to wonder where God was, had I chosen to go there.
As I stated earlier, God was present in the love and support of Robert as I would have been for him were the tables turned. This is something we simply must always remember, our God is with us in all the love that surrounds us—we must always believe that for it gives us so much hope. Our faith, my friends, our belief in Jesus always calls us to more, to be bigger, better people, to name lies as such whether they come from Church or State demanding the very best from our leaders, including the “wannabes.” Jesus pulls down the walls of power that we humans construct saying that a certain culture, gender, lifestyle is better than any other.
Pope Francis, a breath of fresh air for our Church is doing the same—once again calling our nation to the need that each of us let go of control and grab onto love as the way to face and embrace our world. He is coming at the “woman issue” a little bit slower than many would like through the issue of women deacons, but at least he is allowing some conversation and engaging in it himself.
A book that a friend introduced me to a few years back that Robert and I have been discussing lately, The Creation of Patriarchy, by Gerda Lerner is one that Francis and all church men need to embrace so that they can let go of really ignorant statements such as, “women can’t be ordained—it can’t be done!”
As Lerner spells out so well, it’s a move of power against women from earliest times—that simple, born out of power and it can be changed whenever the men decide to do it—end of story! To ever give the reason that somehow God would be offended if leadership roles were given to women, is absolutely absurd coming from a God who created us all as equal. Maybe from a male, chauvinistic god, this would be understandable, but not from the God that I know.
On a positive note, this past week, Francis has been talking to the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby about the ways the two groups are alike pointing to some movement forward.
We must all begin to look at God’s people—everyone as God looks at each of us—with love, nothing else, just love. Presently, we are holding on our hearts and minds the people of Haiti, especially those in Jeremie, whose town was flattened by the ravages of Hurricane Matthew. This particular place has special meaning for our family as our son Isaac served for 2 years in that area while in the Peace Corps. And certainly the people along our Eastern Coast as well should be remembered.
The terminology around Hurricane Matthew speaks of “storm surges” and “walls of water”—devastating to say the least. If we were to take this terminology and apply it to our world in Jesus’ name—letting our compassion for others be that big—letting each of us strive to be all that we can be—can you imagine what a force that would be? Let’s give it a try in our own backyard going forward. Amen? Amen!