In today’s lectionary texts we are confronted with a whole bunch of people living in less than ideal circumstances. The Jeremiah text is written to the people of Israel who have been deported from their home and promised-land and find themselves living as exiles in the foreign land of Babylon. This is a whole community of people out of their element. In Luke we encounter 10 people afflicted with leprosy. Not only are these 10 individuals living with the pain and inconvenience of a chronic illness, they are also alienated from the community due to societal stigmas attached to the condition of leprosy. In each of these cases, life is not quite going as any of these people might have hoped.
It doesn’t take much for us to relate situations in our current world with the situations of those in the scripture texts today. There are millions of people around our world displaced from their homelands due to violence or threats of violence. There are groups of individuals in every kind of setting suffering alienation from their communities because of illnesses, ethics, or practices that are not understood and are therefore stigmatized. In our own country we have hundreds of thousands of willing and able government workers not allowed to go to work and seek the betterment of our society because of political disagreements and power struggles that have shut down our government operations, not to mention the downstream ripple of impact the shutdown is having on those whose jobs are not specifically government but are tied to government activities and on services that provide for the welfare of many in our communities. Life is not quite going as any of us might have hoped.
And yet, if we continue to look at these scriptures and figure out how we might relate to them we find that, while life may not quite be going as any of us have hoped, there is still plenty to hope for.
To the community of displaced people living in exile in Babylon, YHWH gives this command:
Build houses to live in. Plant gardens and eat what they grow. Marry and raise daughters and sons. Multiply while you are there. Do not decrease. Rather, seek the peace and the prosperity of the city to which I exiled you. Pray to YHWH for it, for if it prospers, you will prosper.
This is a call to hopeful living, to build community and to seek the peace and prosperity of that community even in the midst of less than ideal circumstances. This is a reminder that God is still present in the heart of the community and that life can be abundant in any setting. It is also a call to action, for abundant living doesn’t just come freely, it comes in collaboration with our efforts to build community. It takes effort to build houses and to plant fruitful gardens, it takes effort to be in relationship with each other and to raise children. But in the offering of those efforts we reap prosperous rewards: there is shelter and comfort in the homes that are built, there are luscious and flavorful fruits and vegetables to nourish and sustain life, there is love and friendship in community, there is the joy that comes in a community bustling with children, and a reminder that life is continuing to grow and thrive. We are active participants with God in building the community of God here on earth.
Just as we are active participants with God in seeking the peace and prosperity of our communities, the story in Luke reminds us that God is also an active participant with us in this journey. In the story, Jesus himself is on a journey and comes across a group of ten people with leprosy who ask him to have pity on them. Jesus sees their afflictions and says to them: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” The role of priests in cases of leprosy included inspections, possibly imposing quarantines on the afflicted individual, rituals and declarations of healing. On the way to the priests, the ten find themselves healed. Jesus, seeing their need, had interceded on their behalf and God’s healing power was made known. God is an active participant with us in building the community of God here on earth.
We also learn another ingredient of living in hope and active participation with God from the Luke text today: Gratitude. Of the ten that were healed, one realized what had happened, he understood the connection between Jesus’ action and the healing power of God and returned to offer thanks and praise to God. He was even vigorous in his gratitude and unabashed in his praise – the text says he came back praising God in a loud voice, then fell down at the feet of Jesus and spoke his praises. This is not just a simple thank you. This is grace-filled, spirit-driven, deep-rooted gratitude. And in this offering of gratitude, Jesus sees the readiness of this one individual to be an active participate in the community of God and assures him that his faith has made him well. This wellness extends beyond just the healing of the leprosy, this wellness is a gift of God in response to gratitude and praise. It is the gift of peace and prosperity that comes when we choose to be active participants in building the community of God and when we are active witnesses to God’s participation with us and respond with expressions of praise and gratitude.
Living gratitude takes practice. It is not always easy to be grateful and there are may be times when it feels we have little to be grateful for. Learning to live with gratitude is about opening oneself up to seeing connections between things (like the one individual who realized that Jesus’s action had brought about the healing) and then being willing to express praise and thanks for those connections. It takes practice. There were ten people healed of leprosy in the story, nine of them didn’t return. Those nine were healed of their leprosy, but in failing to practice gratitude, they missed out on the fullness of the gift that was being offered by God. When we learn to practice gratitude, we open ourselves up to the fullness of life available to us.
Gratitude is something that we can practice with God and with each other, it is available in every moment and every relationship and it is something that people of all ages can participate in. Today, we as a congregational community are taking an opportunity to practice gratitude in the form of a surprise thank you. Today, we want to spend some time acknowledging all of the work, talents, energy and gifts that our pastor, Cindy Lapp, has given to this congregation for many years. Cindy, you have been a gift to this community, you have shared your time, talents, and energy with us beyond our expectations and in most cases beyond our awareness and understanding of all the effort you extend on our behalf and for that we are truly grateful. You have been a role-model in seeking a Jesus perspective on issues in our society, culture and faith. You have encouraged, challenged and helped us to build a community that continuously strives to live out that faith with each other and the world. We are grateful.