Saturday, October 13, 2007

Where Are the Nine?

The Gospel for Sunday, October 14 is the story of Jesus' cleansing of ten lepers in the region between Galilee and Samaria (Luke 17:11-19) On his way to Jerusalem - and the Cross - Jesus was met by ten lepers outside a village. The lepers kept there distance, as was required by the Law, but instead of simply warning Jesus that they were there by shouting,"Unclean!" the lepers shouted, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" They recognized in Jesus the possibility of an end to the disease and to the isolation that was caused by the disease. Jesus, rather than telling them that they were healed, sent them to the priests, to the very people who had declared them to be unclean but could now certify that they were cleansed of the disease and able to enter society again.

What happened next is, I think, remarkable - the lepers went and it was only as they went, as they obeyed Jesus, that they were cleansed. Somehow they were willing to face the possibility that they would arrive at the priests and be declared unclean again. Somehow they trusted Jesus enough to risk that disappointment.

But then something even more remarkable happened. One of them, who was a Samaritan, seeing that he was cleansed, decided to ignore Jesus' instructions and to turn back and find Jesus. As he turned back, he praised God in just as loud a voice as he had used when he begged Jesus for mercy. And finding Jesus again, he fell at his feet and thanked him.

And that act of praise and thanksgiving must have surprised Jesus, as he said "Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

All ten were cleansed of the disease, all ten had had faith enough to go when Jesus told them to go to the priests, but only one responded to his cleansing with praise to God and thanks to Jesus. And only one was told that his faith had made him well. Now the word that is translated as "made...well" is the same Greek word that is often translated as "saved." I think that in returning to Jesus, in recognizing in some way that Jesus was the One in whom God was acting to bring healing and new life, the Samaritan received an even greater gift than his cleansing, the gift of new life in a relationship of trust and faith in Jesus.

Do we trust God enough to seek daily to know and do God's will for us, especially in those situations where doing God's will is so contrary to the way the world wants us to live? Are we able to say, in the words of one of my favorite hymns, "All my hope on God is founded"? And do we receive the many gifts that God pours into our laps with praise and thanksgiving?

Truth and Reconciliation

On Sunday, October 14 I will be preaching at Evensong at Saint Paul's Cathedral. On the wall of my very messy office there is a picture of Archbishop Desmond Tutu preaching in the very same pulpit in which I will be standing.

The second lesson at Evensong will be the story of the"woman of the city" who bathed and anointed Jesus' feet while he was dining in the home of Simon, a Pharisee. (Luke 7:36-50) Simon, as one would expect, was scandalized that Jesus would permit a woman, and especially a woman whom Simon considered to be a terrible sinner, to touch him. Jesus, however, saw the woman's actions as signs that she had been forgiven. Jesus also saw that Simon had no sense that he had been forgiven, perhaps because he had no awareness of his need to be forgiven.

The woman had seen the truth about herself. She knew that she had sinned, that her life was not as God wanted it to be, not as she herself wanted it to be. She had seen in the person and teaching of Jesus an even more important truth, that she was beloved, that forgiveness was there for her, that a life that was radically different from the life that she had led was possible for her.

Simon saw no such truth about himself. He could not see, or would not see, his own sin, how his life was not as God wanted it to be, his own need for forgiveness.

Reconciliation, as our sisters and brothers in South Africa have learned, requires facing the truth. When we hide from the truth, when we refuse to face the truth, reconciliation is impossible. Something like that is happening in the Turkish reaction to the House of Representative's resolution that labels the mass killing of Armenians as genocide. But something like that is also happening, as was pointed out on of all shows "The Daily Show," in the lack of any similar resolution about our government's attempts to wipe out so many members of the First Nations that stood in the way of the westward expansion that was seen as the fulfillment of our"manifest destiny."

There is a something else about this story that intrigues and challenges me. Jesus said to Simon, "Do you see this woman?" It seems clear that Jesus knew that Simon had seen her and that Simon had been scandalized by her actions and Jesus' acceptance of them. So what did Jesus mean by that question? Perhaps Jesus was challenging Simon to see more than he had already seen, to see the woman not only as a sinner, which she undoubtedly was, but to see her as she had begun to see herself, as a beloved child of God, and as a beloved sister to Simon.

As important as facing the truth was in the process of reconciliation in South Africa, of at least equal importance was learning to see others not as hated enemies, not as members of despised racial groups, but as brothers and sisters, created in the image of God, sinners in need of forgiveness, sinners whom those whom they had injured could forgive.

Are we open - am I open - to facing the hard truths about how we have failed to live as God wants us to live? And are we ready to see others as beloved sisters and brothers, beloved children of God?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Looking Back - Looking Ahead

When the General Convention of The Episcopal Church confirmed the election of my long-time friend Gene Robinson as Bishop Coadjutor of New Hampshire, I decided that there was only one way that I could respond to those other friends who were opposed to that action, especially those who were my parishioners. My response had three parts:

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with the decision of the General Convention and rejoice that New Hampshire has such a wonderful bishop.
  2. I don't ask that you share my convictions about this.
  3. If your convictions prevent you from remaining in The Episcopal Church, a church that has a partnered gay bishop, I will respect your decision to leave.

In the four years since that General Convention decision, I have not changed my response, but now it is a response as well to brothers and sisters in other parts of The Anglican Communion, a few of whom I count as my friends. If the convictions of my friend the Primate of the Church in Kenya lead him to the decision that he cannot remain part of The Anglican Communion, a communion that has a partnered gay bishop, I will respect his decision to leave.

These responses are not made without some sadness. Some of those who have left, are leaving, or are thinking about it have been my friends for decades. I will miss being able to share the sacraments with them, miss sharing ministry with them. But I see, even more clearly now than I did in 2003, that our convictions are so deeply held that it is nearly impossible for us to remain in communion with one another. My prayer is that as separations come, we will part company with good grace, holding one another in those same bonds of affection that bind us - or should bind us - to our brothers and sisters in other branches of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.