Sunday, October 10, 2010

Returning, Offering Thanks and Praise

20th Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 23) – Year C (RCL)
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19
Sunday, October 10, 2010 (8:00 service only) –
Trinity, Redlands

“Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18)

Both our Old Testament and Gospel lessons document healings of lepers who are also foreigners. In 2 King, the prophet Elisha facilitates the healing of Naaman, an Aramean soldier. In Luke, Jesus heals ten lepers, with the focus being on one who is a Samaritan. In both cases, healing is provided to double outcasts. Both Naaman and the Samaritan leper are foreigners with different religious practices from the Jews. And both men initially suffered from leprosy, effectively ostracizing them from their own communities, as well as any other. But what could the healing of a couple of foreign lepers have to do with us? More than you might think.

If we look carefully at both stories, we find that the focus isn’t really on the acts of healing. In 2 Kings, the prophet Elisha merely tells Naaman to go wash in the Jordan River seven times. No pomp. No extended ritual. Just take a long bath. Similarly, in Luke, the healing act is downplayed. Usually, there is narrative about what Jesus does to heal people – touching them, putting mud on their eyes, or at least telling them their sins are forgiven or that they are healed. But in this pericope, all Jesus says is “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Nothing more. No, the healing acts in and of themselves are not that important. What is more important in both readings is what happens after the healing events. What is more important is Naaman’s and the Samaritan leper’s response to being healed.

Upon being healed, Naaman returned to Elisha and said “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.” He was offering not only his thanks to Elisha, but also his praise to the God who had made his healing possible. And the Samaritan leper, unlike the other nine who were similarly healed, “turned back, praising God with a loud voice.” He then “prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” In both cases, these men returned and offered thanks and praise to God, the source of the healing.

When we talk about praying for healing, we often get caught in a thorny predicament. If we pray for healing and we or a loved one isn’t healed, does that mean we don’t have enough faith? Did we not do something right? This implies that having faith is about cause and effect, that it’s about having a sufficient quantity to get the job done, to achieve the desired result. But that’s not what it’s about at all. It’s not about having faith but about living it. Truly having faith means expressing it. Truly having faith means living in gratitude. And living in gratitude strengthens faith. In both our stories, the men’s gratitude is expressed through faith in the God who healed them. They live this new found faith in gratitude, through their expressions of thanks and praise. This is a cyclic phenomenon. Faith results in gratitude results in more faith results in more gratitude, and so on.

The healing of a couple of foreign outcasts resulted in each returning and offering gratitude, in “converting,” believing in and worshiping God who made this possible for them. How much more, then, should those of us who already believe in and worship God trust in his presence and healing power in our own lives? How much more should we return and offer gratitude, offer our thanks and praise for the blessings God has provided us?

That is what all of this is about. That is why we come to church. We don’t come because we have to. We come in response, out of gratitude. Offering thanks and praise is central to what we do in this place. For what is the central act of our worship but Eucharist? Eucharist, from the Greek eucharisto, meaning “gratitude, giving of thanks.” The Eucharistic prayer is also known as the Great Thanksgiving. And at the very beginning of the Great Thanksgiving, the priest says “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” to which the people respond and affirm the central purpose of our worship, “It is right to give him thanks and praise.” Every Sunday, we join with Naaman and with the Samaritan leper. We return to this place to express thanks and praise as we gather around this table.

And there’s something else about Naaman and the Samaritan leper that apply to us and to what we do here. In their healings, both Naaman and the Samaritan leper, by virtue of being cleansed, were able to return to their respective communities. Where they had been previously ostracized because of disease, they were now cleansed and could be welcomed home. Here again, this is what we do every Sunday. When we come to church, when we participate in Eucharist, we are joining Naaman and the Samaritan leper in being reunited with our community. Whatever we feel might keep us away from this place has been washed away by the grace of God’s incredible love for us. We enter this place anew each Sunday. We are given a fresh start. In this place, we are not ostracized but welcomed. We are not outcasts but community. And that community does not just exist within these walls. We are part of a community that is much larger, one that welcomes us just as readily.

At our 10:15 service, we will welcome the Right Reverend Diane Jardine Bruce, Bishop Suffragan of this diocese. As a bishop of the church, she represents the broader communities of which we are a part – the Diocese of Los Angeles, the Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion. And at that service, six members of our parish will be confirmed and two will be received – reaffirming their Baptismal Vows, affirming their commitment to Christ and his Church and a deepening of their journey into living the faith, into living lives of gratitude. Bishop Bruce will lay hands on these members on behalf of the broader church community, confirming and receiving them as members of the Church, affirming that they are part of a vast community of brothers and sisters in the faith.

In scripture, we have the examples of the likes of Naaman and the Samaritan leper, outsiders, who have chosen to live the faith out of gratitude. Throughout our long history as a religion, we have many more examples of those dedicated to offering thanks and praise to our God. And in our own community, we are blessed to have the newest witnesses to the faith, as Allysan, Amanda, Heather, Hopi, Kenneth, Laura, Susan, and Zach make that conscious decision and public affirmation to follow the one who heals and cleanses, who nurtures and sustains us all. Let them be reminders of our own commitment to the Church, and living examples to all of us of what it means to live a life of faith – continually made new, continually returning, continually offering thanks and praise, and continually welcomed by this community of faith.

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