Based on Deuteronomy 8: 7-18 God will bring you to a bountiful land
Psalm 65, VU p. 782 God provides, the valleys shout and sing
Luke 17: 11-19 Ten healed, one returns to give thanks
Opening Prayer: Holy, gracious and amazing God, may the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings in our hearts and minds and bodies be acceptable in your sight as we ponder your word for us from scripture this day. Amen.
In preparing this morning’s message a few days ago, I was reminded of an experience of lectio devina. Lectio divina or divine reading of the text was an experience I had at the Taize style service held here in the chapel at Knox on Tuesday evening.
Lectio divina, as some of you may know, is a way of reading scripture that helps us discern or ascribe personal meaning from the text through deep and prayerful reading. Some people might say lectio divina is a tool for understanding what God is saying to you through scripture.
As an extrovert keen on building community, I find lection divina offered in a group where the leader invites listeners to name and share aloud a single word or a phrase that captures his or her attention, powerful and meaningful. But it can also be practiced alone. All you need is a reading along with some time and space to invite, notice, and reflect on God’s presence.
On Tuesday evening, and again, as I prepared this morning’s message, the same phrase caught my attention on both occasions and so again, I offer it again for our shared reflection this morning.
In hearing the final two verses of the psalm, “The pastures of the wilderness abound with grass and the hills are girded with joy. The fields are clothed with sheep. The valleys are decked with wheat so that they shout and sing for joy.” The words “The valleys are decked with wheat so that they shout and sing for joy” absolutely spoke to my heart and resonate with my soul.
This helps me to know that I am still integrating what I have been about these last three years. It also helps me to know that I need to set aside space and time for that noticing, for that reflecting on God’s word. Sometimes we get so busy, so task focussed, that we forget to do that important work of integration. As we discover what it is that we will be about together in the coming days, months, and years, as our shared pastoral relationship evolves, integration of all we have been about will serve us well so that we are not repeating former patterns of behaviour that don’t serve you well here.
Just what is it, then, that we have been about these last three years that might need integrating?
For me, the last three Thanksgiving seasons have been spent serving in another Knox United Church community in an interim ministry capacity in a small rural town called Didsbury. Didsbury is located smack dab in the middle of the central heartlands of Alberta.
The central heartlands of Alberta are all about wheat, barley, and canola fields interspersed with some cattle ranches and dotted now with oil and gas plants. In my mind’s eye, I recall just how abundant and beautiful to the eye are the fields when decked with wheat, sometimes gathered in concentric circles or in rectangular bales.
I commend to you the landscape of this place of sumptuous and bountiful beauty where the sky and the land meet on the far stretches of horizon. A place of bountiful blessing I know to be as beautiful and bountiful as the elm and maple trees abounding in this neighbourhood.
In the same way, I commend to you your own experience of transitional ministry and how that has brought us to this place of shared knowing and shared planning for the future here together at Knox United in Vancouver.
All of that said, perhaps a different but equally compelling vista came to mind for you as Sandra read for us first from Deuteronomy, then we took part in the responsive psalm, and then we heard the good news from Luke’s gospel this morning.
In the 8th Chapter of the book of Deuteronomy of God’s promise for the ancient Israelites. As for me, I found the reading from Deuteronomy appropriate and equally compelling in its instruction for our lives as we celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend.
Just as God promised to bring the ancient Israelites out of bondage in Egypt through the lengthy experience of wilderness, God has brought us out of bondage to past ways of being the church. God has also brought us through a time of wilderness traversing so that we, too, now stand on our own plain of Moab, poised and ready to set down new roots in the Promised Land, and new ways of being the church in keeping with this time and this place.
What was the primary message of the reading again for those folks standing on the Plain of Moab as they listened to God’s instructions for them through the voice of Moses?
I understood it be a three-fold instruction or we might say a sermon of a sort to the people gathered, one reminding them of the need to be grateful, to remember from whence they had come, and as they anticipate a bountiful future, to celebrate and give credit, not to their own deservedness, but to God and to God alone.
How very appropriate for us as we gather as God’s fortunate ones this day. To remind one another of the need to be grateful, to remember from whence we have come, and as we anticipate a bountiful future together, to celebrate and give credit, not to our own deservedness, but to God and to God alone. Surely the foodstuffs and plants gathered and offered here today stand as witness to such gratitude?
Moving on to the gospel reading from this morning, we have another story about gratitude. This time from the author of the gospel of Luke. Luke’s gospel is my favourite gospel, I think, as its sparse and effective prose offers a straightforward account of the life and teachings of Jesus leading up to his death on the cross and to his resurrection.
I also like Luke’s gospel because of its emphasis on outsiders as being our best teachers and sometimes best models of our faith. Outsiders such as women, and children, and foreigners, especially the reviled Samaritans.
I also like Luke’s gospel for its emphasis on ministry as a shared experience where many are commissioned to ministries of teaching and healing.
In this morning’s reading, we find Jesus travelling around the edges of the countryside in an obviously less than safe location. The story is set in a village somewhere located between the Roman Occupied Jewish regions of Galilea and Judea but bordering on Samaria. Heading for Jerusalem, Jesus finds himself noticed by a group of outcasts, lepers, or people living with leprosy. They are a group of outsiders who know well their code of conduct as prescribed by Torah or Jewish law.
Keeping their distance scripture tells us, the lepers call out: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Immediately the crowd in attendance would know the lepers see Jesus as an authority and there might be an expectation of a miraculous healing.
As the story unfolds, we learn that, in seeing them, Jesus responds and advises the lepers as to how they might go about their healing. He doesn’t actually heal the ten, he simply instructs them about what is needed.
“Go, and show yourselves to the priests” he tells them.
Now this is kind of interesting to consider because Jesus’ instruction must assume them to be Jewish lepers otherwise the priests will not be able to help them. Or does it?
Seeing as the story takes place near to the border of Samaria and seeing as the one leper who throws himself in thanks at Jesus’ feet is named a Samaritan, the lepers must have a mixed ethnic group. An initial spin on this story from my previous encounters with it might be that the story is really about one who gave thanks but nine others who forgot.
In preparing the story for today however, l learned that while the other nine would be able to go to the priests for cleansing, a Samaritan could not. Hence, we are told, he prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet, giving thanks. In response, Jesus is quoted as making reference to the other nine who had not responded similarly. From there, he makes the example of a foreigner as embodying faith not only effectively but also as an example of healing.
This is not the first time we hear Jesus say these words in Luke’s gospel as we might recall stories of other healings of vulnerable ones in Luke’s gospel including a man long paralyzed, a boy whose widowed mother needs him desperately, the young daughter of Jairus, a boy with a demon, and a women bent over for 18 years.
How curious that Jesus is so often drawn to those on the margins to lift up models of faithful living as opposed to those who are so diligent about following the rubric laid out for them by their forefathers. How curious indeed.
I like this paraphrase of what Eugene Peterson in his book “The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language” p.215 has to say about the point of a sermon. “The sermon”, he says…”takes God’s words, written and spoken in the past, take human experience, ancestoral and personal, of the listening congregation, then reproduces the words and experience as a single event right here and right now...”
You are the listening congregation this morning. And, I, well sometimes I feel like I am Moses and sometimes his sister, Miriam.
Getting back to this morning’s story about the thankful man from Samaria in the gospel according to Luke, I wonder: What do you think?
What is the good news for us here and now living in a culture preoccupied with illness related to stress, addiction, environmental pollution to name a few?
What does it mean to be healed versus cured?
What is the power of being restored to community as those nine who went and did as Jesus suggested by seeking out their priests?
What can we commit to here and now as we continue the work of integrating all that you have been about and all that we are about to undertake in terms of new directions here at Knox?
What is the single nugget of the story for us to take away for this morning as we celebrate Thanksgiving Sunday?
What will you take away for your ongoing reflection?
May it be so, amen.