Sermon – October 14, 2001 – Healing of the Ten Lepers

October 14, 2001

Healing of the Ten Lepers

This is the time of year when I begin to get itchy feet. It is fall, and
for much of my professional life, that meant it was campaign time, election
time. It is the time of year, each year, that the political machines are
humming along. I still feel the bug.

For the most part there is integrity in our election process, it’s how we
govern. Now, I’m not cynical about the process; I just want to note that
in many of these campaigns, particularly in the larger scale ones like
statewide races or congressional races, power is accumulated by identifying
key activists donors and those who represent larger, friendly
constituencies, themselves. It is really this core of people with their own
particular power that gets people elected to office. And so, these
politicians run the countryside, eat their rubber chicken dinners, deliver
speech after speech after speech to Joe and Jane Schmoe. But after dinner
the real work goes on. That’s when they start calling up Big Daddy and Big
Momma Schmoe because that’s where the real action is. Because the fact is,
it is often these folks who choose the politician. Truth be known, these
guys don’t spend alot of time with the people on the margins. People
seeking power don’t gain alot of advantage by spending their time with the
people on the margins, the poor, the disenfranchised, the outsiders. The
attention is put on the core, Big Daddy and Big Mamma Schmoe. Politicians
these days don’t go to the edges to do their work.

If Jesus had functioned like that, then his campaign staff would have
consisted of Pharisees, Sadducees. He would have had to compromise over
issues of forgiveness, piety, money and who’s in and who’s out. If Jesus
had functioned like that, he would have built an army to challenge the Roman
government. If Jesus had functioned like that he would not have been eating
with prostitutes and sinners and the poor, but rather with those who
moralized against such people.

But it was a unique quality of Christ which precluded that sort of campaign
as a he traveled through the countryside on his way to Jerusalem. Because
Jesus bore the distinguishing characteristic of God, . . . mercy.

The lepers in our gospel story today, somehow recognized this in Jesus.
Now, they knew all too well their condition, their outcast state. They were
forbidden by religious law from drawing near any other people. They were
forced to proclaim their condition, “Unclean”, loudly, as a warning for
people to stay away. Pragmatic people would heed that warning and a safe
distance would always remain between the leper and the rest of the world.
No one would have them.

But as Jesus passed by, their cry was not, “Unclean, stay away!” Their cry
was, “Have mercy!” They sought to draw near to this man. They recognized
the possibility of healing, and their cry was a cry of hope.

The word was out that this man not only held great power, but used it
compassionately for the outcast, for the unclean. It was power given, not
retained. Here is one who does not turn his back, but turns his power, his
mercy on those who needed mercy.

The ten lepers knew of the stories of this man Jesus and they cried, “Jesus,
up here, have mercy.”

We share the cry of the lepers. We open our worship service every Sunday,
crying “Lord, have mercy”. Kyrie Eleison. Hopefully and expectantly, we
take on the profile of the leper. Lord have mercy.

In our common prayer together, we pray “Lord in your mercy, hear our
prayer.” Each petitions lays out the needs of our community, of our
country. We give thanks, we seek intervention. Lord in your power, in
your compassion, in your justice, with your comfort, Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We who seek the mercy of God are well aware of our failings of our inability
to heal ourselves. We pray with the lepers recognizing our isolation,
shouting from the distance that sin, fear and guilt create between God and
God’s people.

And mercy comes. Steadily and persistently Jesus refuses to honor the
distances we create, refuses to accept the barriers and boundaries the world
puts up that would isolate us one from another and one another from God.
Refuses to accept the crude formula of tit for tat, of merit, “you do this
and I’ll do that.” Sometimes we can do nothing but cry, “Lord have mercy!”
And God’s mercy is cast over us like the a comforting blanket, in response
to our need, by the one who has the power to change and restore.

When God made covenant with the people of Israel, God said, “I will be your
God and you will be my people.” In other words, in this relationship, I
will do the God stuff. I will bless you with the land. I will bless an
support your generations of descendants. I will be the power and mercy and
justice in your fellowship and I will be God and I will teach you these
things.

For your part, you will be my people who respond to these blessings with
thanksgiving, who learn my ways through the commandments and the prophets,
who in turn do what I teach, justice and mercy and love and fellowship, and
who acknowledge in all ways the source of all these blessings, giving
thanks.

Now, time and again, as we know, the people failed for their part. But
rather than relinquish his place, his role, his promise, God remained God,
remained faithful, remained steadfast,. . . God remained loving in fact
that, as Paul said, even in the midst of our sin, God gave his son, his only
son that he who believes and is baptized will be saved.

The character of God’s’ mercy is unveiled in the person of Jesus Christ,
given, not earned. Gift and not payment. Steadily and persistently he
seeks us, and through him we see his mercy as forgiveness and deliverance
and restoration and grace, all of these intended to make us whole, lift us
from the margins, to draw us closely into his presence.

How do we respond to such and such mercy? In our gospel story today, one
returned. Ten were healed, one returned. Jesus said, where are the other
nine. Nevertheless go, your faith has made you well.

The faithful life is lived like the one who returns to give thanks. The
faithful life is the life lived in thanksgiving, not with the furrowed brow
of merit, wondering if you’ve earned the right to ask God for mercy. The
thankful life practices that mercy and justice and thanksgiving.

Our confirmation kids will soon study the Apostle’s Creed, and I think
Luther’s explanation of the First Article is a good guide to the Christian
life, to the one who lives under mercy.
“I believe that God has created me and all that exists; that he has given
me and still sustains my body and soul, all my limbs and senses, my reason
and all the faculties of my mind; together with food and clothing, house and
home, family and property; that he provides me daily and abundantly with
all the necessities of life, protects me from all danger, and preserves me
from all evil. all this he does out of his pure, fatherly, and divine
goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness on my part. Fore all of
this am bound to thank, praise, serve, and obey him. This is most certainly
true.”

The faithful life is a life lived with confidence and thankfulness. When
we find ourselves on the outside, when mercy seems distance, and life has
put us in a place we don’t want to be, we stand from the distance and cry,
“Lord, have mercy.” And mercy comes because God will be God.

If Jesus had been about the business of consolidating power in order to rule
in the worldly sense, those of us who need mercy, those who have sinned,
those outside the community, would have no opportunity for mercy. We give
thanks that he was not a politician, was not the one chosen by the powerful,
but rather the one who chooses us, steadily and persistently canvassing the
margins, bearing the mercy of God in our lives. And in faith we respond,
Thanks be to God!

Amen

Copyright (c) 2001 by Pastor Robert J. Rasmus