Christ Lutheran Community Church
October 13, 2019 Worship Sermon - "Journeying Through Samaria"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c, Psalm 111, 2 Timothy 2:8-15, Luke 17:11-19
If you've been attending church regularly over the past several weeks as we read through the Gospel of Luke together, you will know that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. Almost the entire book of Luke is arranged as a journey that Jesus and his disciples are making to the Holy City, where Jesus knows that he will be tried and executed, and then raised from the dead. But notice how Jesus allows himself to be interrupted along the way, stopping to teach, to heal, and to eat with both friends and enemies. Jesus allows himself to be interrupted because healing the sick and reconciling enemies are as much a part of his mission as going to Jerusalem to challenge the power structures of his day.
We too are on a journey – each of us as individuals and together as a congregation. We have goals to accomplish; things to do. It’s important to stay focused on our destination, but it’s also important to pay attention to the people we meet along the way.
Balancing these two requirements can be very tricky. If you have elderly parents or young children or anyone else in your life who needs your loving attention, you know how hard it is to balance that with the demands of your job. Or think about how we as a congregation have big plans for renovating our buildings. These plans demand our attention, but we also need to stay focused on welcoming people into the Body of Christ, because that's what we're here for. We need a vision; we need something to be working toward in life; but we also need to be open to those interruptions that are often as important as accomplishing our goal.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, but to get to Jerusalem, he has to go through Samaria. For many Jewish people in Jesus’ day, Samaria was enemy territory, kind of like Palestine and Israel today. But for us, in our journey through life, Samaria can represent any time when we are entering into unknown territory. Samaria is where we are tempted to turn back, to stay in the comfortable place, rather than persevere through the challenges we face.
Our congregation seeks to be a diverse community that serves the needs of our neighborhood. That’s our goal, but to get there we are bound to encounter people and experiences that are out of our comfort zone, people that we don’t understand, people who frighten us.
If we had to go through Samaria on our own, it would be too dangerous to continue, but the fact is, we don’t. We have each other, and we have a God who has promised to accompany us, to give us what we need to get to our destination. So instead of turning back, we proceed with caution, keeping our eyes on our goal, but also staying alert to the people God places in our path.
When Jesus enters Samaria, he encounters ten lepers. Leprosy was not only a skin disease; it was a social disease. Because the people of that time worried that leprosy was contagious, lepers were required live outside of the city walls and if they passed someone along the road they would have to shout “Unclean! Unclean!” so that everyone would know to stay away.
That’s why the ten lepers “kept their distance” from Jesus. They are isolated, cut off from their family and friends and forced to keep away even from the one who can offer them healing.
Jesus walks right into this ghetto – two ghettos really, the Samaritan ghetto and the lepers’ ghetto. He walks into these ghettos at great personal risk. But when it comes down to it, Jesus has nothing to lose. He’s knows that he’s going to die, so why not take a few risks along the way?
The lepers keep their distance and call out, “Jesus, master, have mercy on us!” They want to be healed. They want to be freed from their prison of isolation. Jesus hears them and tells them to go show themselves to the priest. The law of that time required that a leper who had been healed of his leprosy would have to show himself to a priest in order to return to his home.
We are not told that Jesus healed the lepers, but miraculously, as they go to the priest, their leprosy disappears.
One of the lepers turns around, runs back to Jesus, and throws himself at Jesus’ feet. No more keeping his distance. The barrier that had isolated him is gone along with the disease and he is free to enter into intimate contact with the one who healed him. He praises God with a loud voice and gives thanks for what Jesus has done for him.
Only to this leper, the one who returned to give thanks, does Jesus say, “Your faith has made you well.” All of the lepers were cured, but there is something different about what happened to this one Samaritan leper.
People who work as chaplains in hospitals are careful to distinguish between a cure and a healing. A person can be cured of her disease, but not healed. On the other hand, a person can die of a terminal illness, but go to her grave healed. Healing is bigger than curing. To be healed means to be made whole not only in body, but to have your social relationships restored, to be made whole spiritually and emotionally. That’s why so many people are disenchanted with Western medicine, because it seems to focus too much on curing the disease without taking into account these other essential aspects of human life.
The leper who praises God and throws himself before Jesus is healed not only because his leprosy is gone but because his spirit has been freed. He’s no longer isolated. He’s no longer turned in upon himself. And so he sings out his thanks to God.
Worship is healing. When we praise God, whether through singing or prayer or participation in a worship service, we are made whole. We become who we are created to be. We forget about ourselves and experience the joy that God created us to experience.
Jesus enters into our isolation. He walks into our ghetto, breaking through the emotional walls we surround ourselves with. That’s what this whole worship service is all about. The scriptures we hear, the bread and the wine we consume… these are Christ entering our lives to bring us healing. And because we have been touched with the healing power of Christ, we can throw ourselves into a life of praise.
Christ Lutheran Community Church