Category Archives: Sermon

The symbol of the Ashes still matters – an Ash Wednesday Sermon

GOSPEL: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Jesus said to the disciples:] 1“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven….

*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video

The ashy cross smeared onto a forehead on Ash Wednesday still holds a place of symbolic meaning in our world. You may have already seen a few folks out and about today bearing their ashes still on their foreheads. You might see some TV personalities who will wear their ashes on their news programs or late night variety shows. Today is that day when Christians can be seen out in the world with that black smudge on their faces, a visible sign that they have been to church in the middle of the week as Lent begins. 

Just a few days ago we were up on the mountain of Transfiguration, followed by the mountain that is our Annual Meeting. Places and moments to look around and survey the world around us, to see the paths that we have travelled and hopefully see the route of the journey ahead. 

But as Jesus and the disciples and us come down from that mountain top moment, we enter back into the fray of the valley and we soon encounter the symbol of the Ashes.

The Ashes that are imposed on our foreheads and their meaning transcend time and space. Even without knowing much about Ash Wednesday or Church or Christianity, the image of an ash marked face seems to say something profound, something important.  Something about impermanence and mortality, something about our limits and our finite nature, something about just how we live lives that constantly run parallel to death. 

Ash Wednesday not only reminds us of our mortality, but reminds us that death takes many shapes in our lives. From the small deaths of sin, conflict, division, suffering and strife to the way death is imposed our on emotions, our bodies and very beings. 

In this way, there is a discomfort that comes with Ash Wednesday. We work so hard to avoid thinking about and considering our own mortality. We strive to sanitize death, to make it clinical and distant and remote, very unlike the meshy smudge of ashes that will be stamped onto our foreheads tonight. We want to keep death far from our minds and experience for as long as we can. 

For many of the funerals that I did early on as a pastor, funeral directors would come prepared for the committals at the grave. They would often bring vials of sand for the moment when I would commend the deceased to the ground saying, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” As I said the portion of the prayer of committal, I would mark the casket with the cross with the sand. The little metal vial would make it easy to produce a cross in sand as it poured evenly onto the caskets. It was the correct liturgical action, yet it seemed careful and contained. The symbol was muted by the neatness. 

In more recent years as graveside committals have become more rare, funeral directors have mostly stopped bringing the vials of sand. So I have been required to go back to the traditional means for marking caskets with the symbol of the cross – I have been using dirt. Dirt from the grave itself, usually piled nearby under a green turf carpet attempting to hide the fact that this grave is a hole in the ground. 

The symbol changes when you go from holding a carefully filled vial of sand to grabbing a handful of dirt and marking a clumpy cross on a casket. The sand usually blended into the finished wood the casket, while the dirt feel like dumping a handful of soil onto a carefully set dinning room table. The dirt doesn’t feel like it belongs. And yet as the words are said, “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” it becomes a proclamation of defiance. Defiance against our attempts to contain death, to keep ourselves detached and removed from the messiness of death. Caskets and graves are not little condos in the ground, but in that moment we are returning a person, a loved one to the impermanent and mortal place from where we were created. 

Dropping those clumps of dirt on caskets and marking foreheads with wispy palm ashes are moments that go hand in hand. Symbols that say something more than words about them can, they are the very thing from where we come from and to where we return. As God took the dirt and formed the Adam – the dirt creature in Hebrew – God brought human beings into existence. Our bodies are destined to return to the same dirt and mud, the same dust and ash. And as we make that proclamation at Funerals and on Ash Wednesday, the dirt and the ashes bring us close where we came from and to where we return.  

And yet, the ashes aren’t just reminders of our mortality, they aren’t just the embodiment of our fragility and finitude. 

The ashes remind us that the God who first created life out of the mud and earth, dust and ash has now taken on our flesh, our dusty finite flesh. And in that earthy flesh destined to die, God will do again what God did in the beginning. From the ashy cross and the dusty grave, God will breath life in to these earthy bodies of ours. Even from the ash that we bear tonight, even from the clumps of dirt that will be place on our graves, God will create new and resurrected life. 

And so on this first step into the season of Lent, on this night of Ashes, we also are reminded of God’s promises made to the Adam, made again in the waters of Baptism, reinforced tonight and kept at the end – Remember that you are dust and even in the dust there is life. 

The End of Advent and the Beginning of Christmas – A Christmas Day Sermon

John 1:1-14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…

*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video

And the Word became flesh. 

This morning, on this feast of the nativity, we have made a long journey to be here. 

Through the dark places, searching for the light. We have journeyed through Advent. We draped our sanctuary and our selves in the deep and rich blues of Advent, we let our eyes adjust to the dark until the distant starlight began to peek through the darkness. Our Advent waiting and wondering led to this moment of celebration at the birth of Christ. 

We began 5 Sundays ago with Jesus announcing the end of time, imploring us to Keep Awake. To open our eyes to the world around us. 

We continued on with John the Baptist, who was preaching in the dark wilderness to “Prepare the way of the Lord,” the Lord who will come to straighten our crooked paths.

We then followed John to prison, to the dark night of the soul, wondering if all these promises of the Messiah were in fact true. 

And finally, last week, we heard the announcement. Mary would bear a child named Jesus. And our darkness, the darkness of the entire cosmos was placed in contrast to the tiny baby growing in one young woman’s womb… and we wondered if this indeed was God’s plan to push the darkness back and keep it at bay. To bring light, THE LIGHT of GOD, into the world through a tiny baby born to insignificant people in a forgotten corner of the world.

And then last night, we walked with Joseph and Mary across country, to the town of David called Bethlehem. We submitted to the Emporer’s decree to be registered, we were denied place to rest our heads, we squatted like refugees in animal barns, we heard the angels with the outcasts and we found out that God was indeed born into our dark world, bringing real light. 

We also discovered, that this 2000 year old story is a story for 2022. That if Jesus was born into a world full of darkness back then, one where tyrants ruled, soldiers killed, people lived in fear, that certainly the darkness of our world is not too much for God. That Jesus does come into our darkness too. Messiah is born today, just as 2000 years ago.

But today, the Gospel of John pulls us back from the details of the story. John gives us the Christmas story again, but without shepherds and angels, barns and journeys, without even Mary or Jospeh. 

John takes us to the heart, to the meat of the story. 

And the word became flesh. 

John’s story of incarnation is hardly one we could reproduce with a Sunday School pageant. John expects that we can separate the details of the story from the meaning of the story. What does it mean that the God of all creation has chosen to become incarnate?

Incarnation is one of those churchy words that pastors tend use, but that actually has a very earthy meaning. 

The flower with a similar name, carnation, gets its name from its fleshy colour.

Carnivale, the South American Mardi Gras festival is related to incarnation too. The great festival where you eat all the meat in the house before fasting during lent.

And carnivore, the scientific word for meat eater. 

Carne means meat. 

So that church word incarnation literally means”to take on meat.”

And the Word became flesh. 

The birth of Christ is the moment when God puts on the meat of humanity, the flesh of our bodies. If you want to know what God looks like, look at the people around you, look at their skin and eyes and hair. When Mary and Joseph and those Shepherds looked into the eyes, of the christ child, they would have seen there all of humanity contained in flesh.

When the disciples and the crowds heard his voice, they would have heard the voice of the God. 

When the lepers and the lame and blind were touched and healed by Jesus, they would have felt the touch of God. 

When the soldiers nailed feet and hands to a cross, they would have pierced the Body of Christ. 

But putting on our meat isn’t just about our physical bodies. 

The incarnation is also how God puts on the flesh of our humanity. The darkness of sin and suffering and death. The flesh of the human condition, of limited, fragile creation. God takes on what it means to be human, to be created, to be us.  

John’s Christmas story omits all the details that we tend to think the story is all about in order to bring us to heart or the meat of the matter. God has taken on our flesh in order to bridge the unbridgeable gap between God and a fallen, broken creation. God has become one of us in order to come near to all of us. 

Sure, John’s version of the Christmas story might be missing a few of the familiar parts of the story, but fleshiness of the story, of the incarnation reminds us that of all the Christmas traditions we hold this time of year, the most true of them all is the one carry on with week after week. In the Eucharist as we share in bread and wine, we partake in God’s fleshiness. And we are reminded again and again that God takes on our flesh AND we take on God’s. That God’s light and life comes near to us again and again. Given and shed for us. 

And as God comes near, as God becomes incarnate, God begins to reveal the light that has been missing from our world. We begin to see just how pervasive the darkness was. We begin to see that even the smallest bit of real light coming into life through a young woman giving birth in a barn is more light than we can handle. We begin to see that God comes and comes in small space, because even the smallest light pushes the darkness away, but the darkness can never diminish even the smallest amount of light. 

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 

As we began in Advent seeing the dark places of the world, making our way from the end of the world backwards to the beginning, to the announcement of the coming Messiah, to going with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and with angels to shepherds, John tells us that our destination was here. Here with the Word in the beginning. Christmas is where God begins creation anew. 

Christmas begins all things new, because the darkness of sin and death will no longer have hold over us. Because the old order of things has ended, and now the Christ born into flesh has come today. 

Christmas according to John might not have all the details we think are normally part of the story, but John does take us to the heart, to the meat of the matter. John strips the details back to open ears to hear, our eyes to see, our hearts to know that this story of a babe being born to virgin in a stable in Bethlehem, is the story of God coming into our world, coming in order to be near to us again. 

Hear John’s final line in the Christmas story again:

Today, the Word becomes flesh and lives among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Do Not Be Afraid that Christmas isn’t what you expect – A Christmas Eve Sermon

*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video

Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered….

You may be expecting a story tonight.

For the past three years, the first here in person and then the past two years online, I have told stories, modern versions of the Christmas story. However, tonight will be a bit different. Rather than something that sounds like a Vinyl Cafe story, we are going to tell and hear the Christmas story with new ears to year and new eyes to see. As the angels said to the Shepherds:

Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people

2022 has been another rough year in a succession of rough years. In the fall of 2021, we were heading into 2022 hoping that it would be finally a relief from pandemic and a return to normalcy. Instead we got more pandemic, and then war in Ukraine and not long after refugees landing in our homes and neighbourhoods, there were convoys and debates over public health measures, there were supply chain issues, rising price of gas and inflation. It feels like we have been battered by one thing after another this year. 

As we arrive at Christmas this year, we are reeling from all we have lived through again this year and stumbling into what comes next.

So maybe for you Christmas is just the same old, same old time for family, traditions and memories this year. 

But it is probably NOT the case that for most of us. Christmas may be lacking something this year. It feels a little more like a struggle than it is supposed to. The magic just isn’t there for all the reasons that these past years have been so difficult.

And we think that Christmas is supposed to have that special quality, that feeling of being different than the normal and mundane things of every day life. Christmas is supposed to lift our spirits, remind us of better things, be a time for sentimentalism and warm fuzzies. It is like that Christmas Card with Mary gazing lovingly down at newborn Jesus – it should melt our hearts. It should feel like that special moment when we all sing silent night to candlelight, – glowing faces all around. 

But this year it hasn’t been those things. Maybe tonight was supposed to be the chance to reclaim what Christmas is supposed to be… And certainly being here in person for the first time since 2019 is wonderful…. But it isn’t the same, it is NOT just picking up from the world of 2019 as if the past two years haven’t happened. 

But here is the thing about all of that. 

The Christmas story that we know, the one that goes along with silent night, kids dressed up in cute costumes for the pageant, family traditions waiting at home and presents under the tree… that isn’t exactly the real version of Christmas either.

All the nostalgia is less about Christmas than we think. In fact, all those things that we listed earlier that made 2022 such a hard year… they speak more to Christmas than we know.

When we hear that familiar story from Luke that we just read… it is easy to imagine the Christmas pageant or TV version.

But the very first line of story takes us to something a little more 2022 than we might be comfortable with. 

“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.”

Today, we know what it is to have our political leaders make declarations that turn our life upside down. Whether it is soldiers marching across borders into neighbouring countries, or central banks increasing interest rates, or public health orders affecting how we work, study or travel.

Mary and Joseph too had no choice but to get up and go, when ordered by the empire. Baby on the way or not, inconvenient to life or not – their lives were thrown into chaos by the order of the Emperor.

Today, we bear witness to poverty around the world and here in our streets, on the TV and in our bus shelters. Mary and Joseph too had no safe place to stay. No safe place to give birth, but rather the part of a house or cave used to shelter the animals. This is where the mother of God was forced to give birth.

Then once the ordeal of child birth is over, a gang of Shepherds showed up. Not the cute ones wearing bathrobes that we imagine. But shepherds who were the dregs of society, more like drug dealers and addicts, not good and polite neighbours bringing casseroles, not well meaning aunts who stop by the hospital with flowers. Rather is was misfits and riff riff who are the first to worship this newborn child. 

Today, we know the stories of violence against women and missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Mary is a teenage mom with an older man looking after her and her child despite not being the baby’s father. Jesus is born into the kind of situation where would we expect child and family services to intervene. Yet, this is the family that God chooses to care for the Messiah.
 

Once the baby is born and somehow the holy family has survived everything…Mary and Joseph are left on their own, left to escape corrupt Kings and authoritarian regimes all by themselves.

None of this sounds like the familiar Christmas, does it?

Except this IS the Christmas story. 

And it is IMPORTANT that this IS the Christmas story.

Because the warm fuzzy version is not what our world needs. The shopping and carols and movies and lights strung up might make us feel good, they may even bring a certain joy and hope to our dark December…. but the TV version of the Christmas story will not save the world. It will not save us from all the things we need saving from.

Instead in Mary and Joseph’s story we can connect to elements of our own, that we can see the ways in which our world has not changed. 

This fact means that if God can be born to a teen mom and a step dad in 1st century occupied Israel, surely God can be born in our world. 

That Jesus is found in families fleeing Roman or Russian soldiers.

That Jesus is found in Bethlehem mangers and Winnipeg bus shelters.

That the holy family is found in those struggling to put food on the table, struggling to afford Christmas presents,  struggling to just hold it all together when this supposed to be the happiest time of the year. 

As much as we want the magic of Christmas,

The world needs the Messiah to be born, 

The Christ who is willing to go and be found in real Christmas places. 

God in Christ is willing to be born among us in order that we can see that God has come near. Near to us in the ways and places that we need most. God comes near, God joins in creation, taking on our flesh to show us that we are not left alone to sort out this crazy world. That we go into the night with God along side us, that God is facing the dangers with us, that surviving our world, that confronting sin and death is precisely where God is with us.

2022 might not feel much like Christmas as we know it, but it just might be the closest to the first Christmas we have ever been.

The story that we tell tonight is so much bigger and so much deeper than the feelings we try to recreate at this time of year. The real Christmas story, the real story of Jesus’s birth in our world is about all the feelings that we don’t want to have this time of year. It is about the fact that God comes to into a world that needs joy and hope and light. 

So just as those Angels proclaimed: Do not be afraid. 

Do not be afraid if Christmas doesn’t feel like we think if should this year…. because it is precisely into this world of ours full of difficulty, hardship and struggle that Jesus is born. Born in the city of David, born here among us this night.

Don’t pray like either the tax collector or pharisee

Luke 18:9-14
Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video

For the past several months, we have been hearing Jesus’ thoughts about discipleship. We have heard parables and stories that Jesus has been telling his followers about what it means to serve, about what it means to trust and about what God is up in the world. As we round the corner toward the final few weeks of this liturgical year, Jesus provides a parable seemingly about humility. About two very different people and their prayers to God. Prayers that maybe sounded a bit like this:

“God, I thank you that I am not like other people: proud, haughty, self-righteous, or even like that on-fire-for-Jesus Christian. I bow my head when I pray silently, and I cover the amount on my envelope with my thumb when I slip it into the offering plate”.   

Have you ever prayed that prayer? Or had those thoughts? 

“God, how could you love someone like me. I am not like those other people who have it all together, who give more than I do, who volunteer more than I do, who are better people than I am. Have mercy on me, because that’s all I have”

What about this prayer and these thoughts?

It is easy to hear this parable and think that it is a lesson about the value of humility. There is the Pharisee, incorrectly dividing the world into categories. Thankfully we are not like him. And there is the tax collector. He knows what this is about, he is a good Lutheran. All sin. The only hope he has is for God’s mercy.

To our ears listening centuries after this story was first told, the details of this parable can just fly over our heads. We don’t know what it was like to stand in the temple of Jerusalem, the grand centre of Hebrew religion and power. The term Pharisee in our world is a derogatory, not a position of honour and importance. Imagining a haughty religious type praying this prayer in an opulent setting can make it seem easy to identify the villain. Yet there is so much we don’t know, images and symbols we miss, we have not heard the standard prayers of the Hebrew faith.

Understanding the context, as always, is very important. The temple of Jerusalem would have been grand sight to behold. It was big and it had rules. The people believed that it was where God lived – in the inner sanctum, the holy of holies. The temple was the place where you had to earn every inch of God’s favour. Whether you were a Pharisee or tax collector, you knew where you stood in the eyes of God when you were inside the temple. 

The Pharisee knows that he is righteous. He prays a Benediction that every Jewish man was to pray each day. Thank you God that I am not a Gentile, a sinner, or a woman. The Pharisee modifies the prayer, but the point is still the same. He is genuinely thankful for who he is. The pharisees sees those around him and looks down on them because they are truly less righteous than he. 

The tax collector, on the other hand, knows that he cannot expect anything from God. His job requires him to break the rules of Judaism. To charge interest, to handle money with graven images on it, even to steal or assault. He is not righteous and his only hope is God’s mercy. The tax collector is so wrapped up in himself, that he doesn’t see the world around him. 

But both the Pharisee and the tax collector are quick to divide people into categories. It doesn’t matter if one places himself in the good category and the other in the bad 0 the effect is the same. Both are acting as judge on God’s behalf. The Pharisees judges himself righteous, the tax collector judges himself unrighteous. 

And when slow down and look at ourselves honestly, we are often guilty of the same.

Whether we are thanking God for not being thieves, rogues, adulterers or tax collectors, or whether we are thanking God because we are not arrogant, self-righteous, or prideful, the issue is the same. We divide humanity into categories, justified or unjustified, saved or unsaved, loved or unloved. 

In fact, being divided into tribes and factions has become so pervasive over the past few years that we argue about everything, politics, culture, science and more. 

Human beings are constantly looking for the ways that we can identify who is in and who is out. We might not be standing on the street corner, boldly thanking God in prayer for our certain salvation. But have we looked down on others, the homeless, those in financial trouble, those hold differing views about the pandemic, about the war in Ukraine, about climate change and even those who are sick, and we thank God that we are not them. “Therefore by the grace of God, go I”. 

But we are also often the ones thinking that we are worthless compared to those around us. That we unworthy, while everyone else seems so perfect. We are certain that no one has it as bad us, or that others have their act together while we are struggling to get by. 

Whether we are intentional about it, or whether we do not know that we are doing it, we too place ourselves in the same categories that the Pharisees and the Tax Collector do. 

Now, here is the problem with that kind of thinking. It is a trap of our own making. 

One that the parable today gets us to fall for again. 

We so easily identify ourselves with either the Pharisee or the tax collector, or both. But this parable is not about pride or humility, and it is just as much not about pharisees or tax collectors. 

The parable is about the storyteller. 

The parable is about Jesus.  

While we are busy trying to make things about us, God is reminding us that it is God alone who justifies. God alone decides who is good enough for the Kingdom.

According to the law, the Pharisee came into the temple righteous, and left the temple righteous. But Jesus says something about the tax collector that should grab our attention, 

“I… tell… you,  this man went down to his home justified”. 

There is nothing that the tax collector did that earned his justification. His prayer did not make him righteous. 

Rather, it is Jesus who says that the man is justified. It is Jesus who decides. 

In the world of the Jerusalem temple, there were those were in and those were out. But everything changes with Jesus. 

Through birth, life, death and resurrection, Jesus comes to tear down the categories we try to build. Whenever we try to make categories, God will stand on the other side, because God wants all to be included, all to receive grace, all to be loved. God has only one category – the Kingdom to which we all belong. We are God’s beloved children. 

The parable that Jesus tells is not a parable on how to act, or who to be like or how to pray. This is a parable about God. A parable that shows us God’s motives and shows us the way that God chooses to act in the world. That shows us that God wants to be with and care for the least, the lost, the sinners and the alone. God wants to care for us… because we are the least, the lost, the sinners and the alone.

Neither the Pharisee, nor the tax collector, nor us, want to see or admit, that being justified, that being saved is something that God does for us. Yet, that is what is told to us today.  The trap is laid that we try to divide humanity into saved and not saved. And it is God who alone who knows the way out. Through love and mercy God chooses humanity. God who chooses those who truly cannot be righteous on our own, God comes to us as Christ who lives and dies, with us, with imperfect and flawed human beings, God sends us the Holy Spirit to bring us into the resurrection and into new life. 

Perhaps our prayer today should be:

“God, we thank you that we ARE like other people: Pharisees and tax collectors, sinners and saints.  We are justified by your righteousness; we are saved by your love.”

Image source: https://canadianmennonite.org/sites/default/files/article_photos/07-01A-pic-4-the_parable_of_the_pharisee_and_the_tax_collector_2017.jpg

Thanksgiving, 10 Lepers and giving thanks isn’t the point

GOSPEL: Luke 17:11-19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video

Thanksgiving has always been kind of weird Sunday to preach on. The theme of Thankfulness seems like a pretty obvious one for the church. Thankful seems like a good thing to be as people to faith. We use the term Thanksgiving regularly in worship. The greek word Eucharist, which is one of the names we use for communion, is translated as “Thanksgiving.”

And yet, Thanksgiving is a decidedly secular holiday. It is rooted in the meal shared by the pilgrims who arrived in North America with their indigenous hosts… or least the myth goes. Of course colonialism was not that at all, but is another sermon. Thanksgiving is also a harvest festival and its date was decided by an act of parliament in 1957, though it has a much longer and varied history going back to the 16th century. 

But it is not a church holy day. There is no thanksgiving story in the bible nor any commandment to set aside a day to give thanks. Maybe more difficult is that at the heart of Thanksgiving is an imperative for us to be thankful – something that we do.  Whereas the Gospel is rooted in God’s action – something that God does for us. 

Still in some kind of twist of fate, today’s Gospel lesson from the regular set of Sunday readings is all about thankfulness… and this story of the 10 lepers is centred around the return of the one to give thanks for what Jesus had done. 

So here I am, on Thanksgiving, having to preach about thankfulness!

As we pick up with Jesus, he is on the road, presumably still with his followers who were asking for increased faith last week. As comes into a village he is met by a group do 10 people with leprosy. Lepers were often segregated outside of towns and villages, even though leprosy in modern times we have discovered that it is likely not to be spread between people. The 10 lepers must have heard of Jesus before so they call out to him by name. They ask for his mercy. Now because we know the end of the story, we assume that what Jesus does next is heal them. But that isn’t so obvious. Instead, Jesus appears to redirect these lepers towards another source of healing, Jesus tells them to go to the priests. Whether the Jesus meant the priests of Jerusalem or some in this borderland town between Galilee and Samaria, the 10 turn and go.

Along the way, the 10 lepers are made clean. One of them notices that he was healed and turns back to Jesus in order to give thanks. When he returns praising God, Jesus asks why the other 9 haven’t returned along with him. Oh, and Luke mentions that this one was a foreigner, a Samaritan. 

The message here, especially on Thanksgiving Sunday, seems pretty obvious: Don’t forget to demonstrate your gratefulness. Maybe Luke was wanting to make sure we don’t forget our manners. 

Except it wasn’t good manners that allowed this Samaritan to turn back. It was that he likely didn’t know where he was actually headed to in the first place. It would have been difficult enough for these 10 Lepers to make their way through town and reach the priests being considered dangerous and unclean. But even if cleansed of his disease, the Samaritan would still have been unclean and unable to access the priests. 

Maybe what this one Samaritan recognizes is not the need for gratitude but something else. As an outsider in this borderland town, one existing on the margins, he cannot help but see that he has been healed from an unexpected place. 

The other 9 perhaps never even considered that it was Jesus who healed them, but assumed it was the cleansing rituals performed by the priests. According to their religious understanding this would make sense. They had gone and followed the commandments, they had fulfilled religious law and they had achieved righteousness. 

When we hear this story with 21st century ears, we want to learn the lesson of gratitude. We want to be the like the obedient ones who don’t just move on with life selfishly, but give thanks for our gifts. It is an easy position to take. 

Pointing to the ingratitude of others is all too common. Boomers claiming that millennials are entitled and self-centred, and millennials out of touch and unaware of their privilege. The rich giving thanks for their power to earn while slagging the poor for not doing better. The educated look down on the uneducated. Political tribes believe they are righteous while their opponents don’t get it. 

We are pretty good misidentifying the source the blessings, benefits, mercies or righteousness  that befall. Far too often we thank ourselves for our good fortune and good luck. And as people of faith it is no different. 

Like the 9 lepers who incorrectly identified the priests or their own obedience to the law as the reason for their healing and salvation, we too often forget the source of our salvation. Even as we hear and proclaim the gospel week after week, our thinking so easily flips to our salvation being because of our goodness – our being moral, loving our neighbour and doing good works.

Failing to remember who has granted us mercy, who has saved us, is all too easy.

Now if you have been paying attention the past number of weeks, you might catch some familiarity with the numbers 10, 9 and 1. Just a few weeks ago we heard the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin. The shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to find the one and the woman  10 coins who tears apart her house to find the lost one. The 10 lepers are meant to evoke connections to these stories. 

And the one leper who returns? He isn’t the point of the story, his giving thanks is only incidental to the action – he doesn’t even get any lines. 

Instead as Jesus narrates the action, we are reminded again – just as we were in the parables of the lost – of what God is up to in our world. Jesus’s healing and salvation is given whether we know it or not, whether we see it or not. The Samaritan leper’s return highlights this: unclean because of his disease, unclean because of his ethnicity he has nowhere else to turn, nowhere but to Jesus. 

And once the Samaritan returns Jesus identifies his station, “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Jesus makes it clean that this one leper who has returned is one who is still on outside, still marginalized, still excluded from the faithful and righteous community. 

Then Jesus changes all of that. “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Faith, trust, relationship to the one who is trustworthy and who grants faith… this One makes well. The God of Israel, the Messiah sent to save, the One who has been healing and teaching throughout Galilee, the one who is about to go to the cross and be raised on the third day… this One has declares the Samaritan acceptable and righteous, this One welcomes  the man into the Kingdom of Heaven.  

Whether this man was a leper or a Samaritan or a beggar – Jesus says that he is one of the faithful. This man to belongs to God… We belong to God

Then… just like the ones that Jesus has been sending out in his name throughout the book of Luke, like the Apostles on the road last week who asked for increased faith, Jesus sends this man too. Out of the borderlands, away from this place of isolation and into God’s world.

Today, Jesus says the same to us. As we come needing Jesus’ mercy, as we beg for healing and wholeness… Jesus grants us salvation whether we know it is from him or not. Jesus makes us whole even if we think it is because of something we did all on our own, or whether we have nowhere else to turn. 

And in this world that wants to convince us that we are the source of our own righteousness, Jesus brings us into God’s Kingdom. Jesus reminds us that God is the source of salvation. Jesus doesn’t wait for our gratitude or praise, but sends us into the world healed and renewed. 

Then Jesus declares that our faith makes us well also. Our trust in the One who is trustworthy, our faith granted by the One who is faithful restores us to health, returns us to community and joins us to the Body of Christ. 

On this Thanksgiving Sunday, we given the same reminder that we receive every other week. That here in this community of faith, that here gathered around the Word, here made clean in the waters of Baptism, that here fed at the banquet table of the Lord… here God is doing what God has always done. God is giving out mercy to all who are in need – God is giving salvation to us. 

Artwork: Ten Lepers by Bill Hoover, 2013