Sunday, October 9, 2016
How has God shown you mercy? In your life, where have you experienced the radical gift of God’s love, despite anything you did to recognize or deserve it? I had the opportunity last week to travel to Chicago for a continuing education conference entitled, “Why Christian?” And the whole concept of the conference was pretty simple – a variety of speakers from different denominational backgrounds, church experiences, and different parts of the country answered the question, “Why are you still a Christian?” And the answers I heard over and over again, despite the fact that these people were from very different places and life situations was, “Because God loved me first. Because God showed me mercy when no one and nothing else did.” It was a powerfully simple reminder for me about why we do what we do – why I’m a pastor, why I serve this beautiful Bethel Lutheran Church – because God has shown up in my life to accept me as I am – not some idealized perfect self, not when I was old enough, experienced enough, and ready enough, but God has shown mercy to me when I was at my worst – without expecting ANYTHING in return. This, for me, is why I am a Christian.
This gospel story of the ten lepers being healed by Jesus is just one example that we find over and over in scriptures of God showing mercy to people as they are. Lepers were outcasts – literally untouchable. They didn’t just suffer from a physically debilitating disease, they suffered from being social pariahs. The social equivalent today perhaps would be someone with AIDS, or Ebola, someone who’s gay, transgender, or homeless. A lot of us know in our hearts and in the most secret parts of ourselves why we don’t deserve God’s love because of who we REALLY are…these kinds of lepers are visibly undesirable, undeserving, unlovable. And yet, they dare to ask Jesus to show them mercy – and Jesus does. All ten are healed of their leprosy. But only one turns back to thank and praise God in Jesus Christ.
Now, often the focus of this story is on the one man who recognizes the gift of God’s mercy and responds to this gift by giving thanks. He is the model Christian – the guy who does what you are supposed to do when you receive a gift, right? Notice, though, that he is the exception, not the rule. The nine others go on living their lives, enjoying their new freedoms now free from the leprosy that gave them such physical, social, and emotional pain. And apparently, they forgot their prayer to Jesus for mercy. If we’re really honest with ourselves, and with God, we’re much more often the nine that forget to say thanks or even recognize the grace of God when it shows up in our lives than the one who does. This is the amazing thing about how God in Jesus Christ works: those nine are healed, anyway. That’s what mercy is – showing love, compassion, restoring relationships even when we don’t deserve it. We are blessed by God beyond what we can possibly comprehend, or recollect, or keep track of, and there are bound to be times when we miss it. We forget. Or we take the credit for those good things happening in our lives for ourselves, instead of giving God our thanks and praise.
Now, I’m saying this not to make you feel guilty but hopefully to help us all appreciate just how awesome, wide, and deep God’s mercy is for us! So, to make you feel better, I will admit that just this past week in fact I did this very thing! I try to meet with a spiritual director once a month, and I shared with her my guilt that I was not taking enough time to pray regularly each day like I ought to. “Maybe I should be waking up earlier?” I suggested. She basically interrupted me to tell me, “Rebecca, that’s ridiculous. You have a one-year-old. You are working full-time. You need your sleep!” She basically told me that I don’t have to pray like I’m a monk in a monastery somewhere, but I do still have to be intentional about recognizing God and thanking God for being present in my life! And then she asked me where I had seen God at work in the past week in my life. And I am not kidding you, at that moment I rattled off 5 or 6 times that it was so obvious when I thought about it that God had been showing me grace and mercy that week – but I hadn’t paid attention to any of it. I had dismissed it as just another day, because I was thinking in my head that it needed to be in a special morning prayer time that I carved out specifically to talk to God and to listen. Instead, it was when I got some unexpected time at home with Erin, when my dad dropped by to do some work for us on our house that we had ran out of time for, reading Runaway Bunny to Erin at bedtime. It was only when I looked back a week later, I recognized as God at work. God has shown me mercy – lots of it – and I try to say thank you, but part of accepting and trusting in the love of God is knowing we’re still loved when we don’t.
Hopefully this morning as you looked at your bulletin you were able to read and reflect on the bulletin insert, which is helping to kick-off a four-week series where we are focusing on stewardship. Laura Davis will be sharing with us in a few minutes more about what we hope to accomplish in these four weeks. Too often when we use the word “stewardship” we are really talking about giving financially to the church, and that IS a piece of what stewardship means. But this week’s reflection in your bulletin reminds us that stewardship is first and foremost about recognizing and appreciating all the ways God has shown us mercy through the many, many gifts God has blessed us with. That’s the first step – recognizing that all we have comes from God. We worship a God who is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love. THEN we can talk about how we can respond. How do we “steward” or take care of, the gifts that God has given us? How do we first SEE these gifts for what they are – gifts from God of time, money, our abilities and talents, who we ARE in our God-given uniqueness – and then how do we turn back to thank and praise God for these things, using them as God would love for us to do? The Samaritan leper who was healed turned back to give thanks and praise to Jesus, then Jesus asks him to get up and go on his way. He is a faithful steward, and again, he’s the ideal, the model. We can’t be as grateful or responsive as this guy all of the time – but we can still strive to follow his example.
If we use the Samaritan leper as the model for a faithful steward, then, here’s a few things I think we can take away. He takes time for worship. He returns to Jesus to give God praise and thanks, which we do every Sunday in worship. He gives back to God some of his time. He doesn’t just stay at the feet of Jesus, however. He gets up and goes on his way! He uses his voice, loudly, to share with others what God has done for him. He talks about how he has experienced God’s mercy in relatable ways to people who want to listen, to people who are also hungry for love, acceptance, and forgiveness. We don’t hear anything about money in this story – but we could consider how the healed leper uses these gifts of new strength of physical healing and his newfound social status to do ministry wherever he is – to perhaps minister to those who are still lepers or on the margins in some way.
How has God shown you mercy? What makes you want to turn back to give Jesus thanks and praise? As we talk about being more faithful stewards and disciples, let’s start this week by just naming those times and places where you have been abundantly blessed by God. Give God thanks and praise, and then get up and go on your way to share those things! Amen.