Praising God, for God’s Work of New Life through Healing & Saving- a Stewardship Sermon for Lectionary 28C

Outside beautiful Salem Lutheran early on a crisp but clear Sunday morning in Ponca, Nebraska.

It was a joy to be with the good people of Salem Lutheran Church in Ponca, Nebraska. Thank you Pastor Kimberly Belken for the invitation and to the whole congregation for their warm welcome and engagement. Our morning together started with an hour of cross+generational stewardship and Generosity Project activities for all ages which was fantastic! I was also grateful to share the message and Children’s Sermon during worship, based largely on Luke 17:11-19, the appointed gospel for this Sunday. What follows are pictures from the day, and the majority of the manuscript that I preached from.

Grace and peace from God in Christ who is with you, for you, and loves you. Amen.

Good morning Salem Lutheran. It’s so great to be with you today. Thank you so much Pastor Kimberly and Jane for the invitation, and to all of you for the warm welcome. I bring greetings from Bishop Brian Maas, your Assistant to the Bishop, Pastor Kristen Van Stee, and from your 100,000 sisters and brothers in Christ who with you are the Nebraska Synod. I’m grateful to be with you today, to dig into today’s story and wonder what God might be up to and calling us to see, to think some about stewardship, wonder what that might all mean for us today, and what I know it means through all the ministry that you do and you’re a part of.

Some of the many disciples, enjoying the M&M game from the Generosity Project, a game of experiencing the relationship of giving and receiving.

Digging into Today’s Story
In our story today, Jesus continues his journey, with his eyes squarely on Jerusalem. He’s been teaching and doing ministry- telling parable after parable about rejoicing when things or people who are lost are found, in warning about the dangers of things and wealth that can get in the way of our relationship with God, calling us to see the Lazarus’ all around us and do what we can, and to grab hold of the faith even as small as a mustard seed. He’s been pointing to the Kingdom of God, and what is possible and will happen as distinctions and barriers pass away, and all of God’s children are seen as the equals they are at the table and banquet feast.

In today’s story, Jesus finds himself in an area between Samaria and Galilee. Two places and peoples who don’t really get along with one another. And “as he entered a village, ten lepers approached him.”[1] Jesus is pretty known at this point. Word has been spreading about this man who proclaims, teaches, serves, heals, and really saves. Hope is growing, especially among the poor, outcast and the marginalized. Might this man, really be who we hear he is? Might he be able to heal us, make us clean, and return us to our place in our community? Might our relationships be restored? These are just a few of the questions and thoughts that might have been going through the lepers’ heads.

One of the four groups engaged in a cross+generational conversation about stewardship, giving, serving, money, and more.

As we pick up from last week, when the apostles told Jesus to “increase our faith,”[2] today the lepers kept their distance but called toward Jesus, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us![3] Have mercy on us. That’s more of a plea than “increase our faith.” It’s a plea for saving their life, returning them to their station in life and relationships, restoring their place in community. It’s like what we say or sing at the beginning of the meal each week in worship, “Lamb of God, have mercy on me…”

God does God’s thing- the work of healing and saving
The text doesn’t elaborate much. We don’t know if Jesus looked at them with love, with pity, or even if he showed mercy. But we do know that he responded. When he saw and heard them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” and as they went on their walk, on their walks as Jesus commanded them, they were “made clean.”[4]

The beautiful sanctuary at Salem Lutheran, early well before worship.

In healing these ten, Jesus doesn’t reach down and heal them with his hands or with them touching the cloth of his cloak, like they might have heard as word spread had happened earlier on Jesus’ journey and in his ministry. Jesus also doesn’t send them to bathe in the water of the River Jordan, like Elisha directed General Naaman to do in our first lesson either. No. There is no grand scene here. Rather, on their journey to the priests, doing as Jesus commanded, on their walk or journey of faith, they are healed. Thanks be to God.

But that’s not the whole story, now is it? No. The story goes on. “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.”[5] We don’t know what happened to the other nine. We presume they went to the priests as they were sent, and that they were healed somewhere along the way. But we do know, that at least one of these ten people was a man from Samaria, not Galilee. The other nine might have been Jews, that we could probably assume.[6]

Another one of the groups engaged in a cross+generational conversation, including Pastor Kimberly Belken.

We do know, regardless, that one of the ten lepers, returned to Jesus to give thanks and praise. He was so grateful he couldn’t help but do this. To this, Jesus asks, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”[7] It is interesting that the story doesn’t ignore this fact. Jesus calls it out for all to see, the one who gives thanks here is the other, the foreigner, the Samaritan from ‘over there,” who is “not like them.” Jesus is pointing this out in part I think to wake us up to our sins and assumptions.

“Othering,” racism, ageism, and any human created distinction or –ism, where one is treated differently than another, is nothing new. These sins have been with us as long as there have been human communities. But today, by including this observation, perhaps Jesus is calling us to pay attention and to repent, or at least to not jump so quickly to judgment and assumptions about each other. Perhaps Jesus is calling us to confess our failures to see our neighbors, right next door, the Samaritans among us, the Samaritans in search of healing just like us, but who might just look a little different or be from a different village, region, or country?

Another one of the four cross+generational conversation groups engaged in a sharing of stories about faith, service, money, and stewardship.

And maybe in that confession, when we wake up to see each other, we grow in relationship with one another and lose the distinction of ‘other,’ and then really start to be the neighbors, sisters and brothers in Christ that we are all called and created to be? Maybe, when we start to see each other, really see each other, it’s possible that the gratitude of this one healed person might spark something. Maybe, just maybe, the Kingdom of God might be breaking into the world, just a little bit here?

To the one who returned to Jesus, Jesus says, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”[8] “Your faith has made you well.” Literally from the Greek, it’s not just the “faith has made you well,” it’s literally, “your faith has saved you.”[9] The faith like that of a mustard seed. The faith like that which brought ten lepers in a village to call toward Jesus, and then trust enough to go and see the priests as they had been told.

Joyful Response as Stewardship
It’s not that the other nine aren’t grateful. We don’t know their motivations. Perhaps they gave thanks and praise to God in their own way?[10] But we do know, from this story, that one who happened to be from Samaria, returned and gave thanks and praise. He joyfully responded to what God had done in saving him and restoring him, and to this Jesus sent him out again, but this time, as he was sent on his way, he was sent out as a witness to God’s activity and mission in the world. He was sent with a real lived story of God’s healing and saving acts for him, that he couldn’t possibly keep to himself. We can only imagine who might come to know of God’s deep love for them through this man’s story and ministry to come after this encounter with the Living Christ.

The gathered faithful singing their closing hymn, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” as the acolytes recess the light of the Holy Spirit out into the world.

I would imagine that this man, would become a disciple and steward who lived and spoke and embodied the faith. One who was so caught up in joy and gratitude for what God had done for him, that he couldn’t help but give thanks and praise, and then join in God’s work in some way through sharing about God’s love and saving work for him and living changed, as one who sees others in need like he was, and feeling moved to help where he can. He’s not all that different than you and me, friends.

God has done the hard stuff for us. God has done the work we could never do ourselves, nor ever deserve. The promises are true. God in Christ came into the world, was born, lived, died, and was resurrected for us so that we might have life, and life abundantly. So that as the writer of 2nd Timothy reminds, that through our baptisms, “If we have died with him, we also live with him.”[11]

We too, like the healed one in the story today, can’t help but give our thanks and praise, and then be so swept up in gratitude and joy, that we want to be a part of God’s work in the world in some way.

The fourth cross+generational conversation group sharing stories, including this one as together they hear how much the Tooth Fairy now gives per tooth, shocking some of the more seasoned and wiser members of the circle.

One of those ways is through living life as a steward. Understanding that all that we have, and all that we are is God’s, which God has entrusted to our care for us to manage, care for, and use, so that we might live a full and abundant life, but also so that through us, some of God’s kingdom building work for the world and people God loves so much, might be done. Now think about this. All that you have and all that you are, has been entrusted to your care by God. That means, you are to steward: your life, health, body, soul, heart, mind, presence, and relationships; your time, talents, strengths, passions, vocations, ideas, dreams, and even questions; your finances, money, treasure, and assets of all kinds; and all of creation that surrounds you and you are a part of. All of this and more, is God’s. But you have been called and entrusted with it, to care for it- to live fully, and so that your neighbor, the one in need of healing like yourself might live fully too.

It’s a great joy to know of God’s love. And the man in the story today, we can only assume went away sharing that story. But that has me wondering, how do we embody this through the way we live, serve, and share our faith? God shows up today in the healing of these ten lepers. How have you seen and sensed God showing up lately all around you and through you?

What might this mean for us and through us?
Let me share an observation friends. I deeply believe you get this. You may not quite be able to articulate something of the extreme depth of the person in today’s story for God showing up and saving them, but I suspect that you have seen people’s lives be changed and healed through God showing up in some way, shape or form, not the least of which might be through you or your sisters and brothers in Christ together.

One of the examples of stewardship in action, that is visible at Salem Lutheran is this display and invitation to participate in compiling Lutheran World Relief School Kits.

I know you get this, because you are living the life as the stewards and disciples you are called to be. Through taking time to pack meals to respond to those near and far, your neighbors in need facing food insecurity and hunger. Through building relationships and connections with your sisters and brothers in Haiti and Tanzania. Through your focus on making sure the younger children of God have what they need so that they might be able to learn and continue to grow as God calls them to, through your work to create school kits for Lutheran World Relief.

Through your hospitality for any number of things and needs here in Ponca that you see from your neighbors, a hospitality I felt this morning as we thought about what it means to give and receive with the help of some M&M’s, story sharing, and even the bucket of cookies I’m going home with. And even through your current rather unique focus, your annual Fireman Water & Gatorade Drive.

You do so much, Salem Lutheran. Thank you! Thank you for responding to the needs that you see, and serving and sharing what God has entrusted to you to meet those needs. I also know how generous you are.

As the Director for Stewardship of the Nebraska Synod, one of my great joys in visiting congregations is the ability to say thank you for your congregation’s deep partnership with the larger church. Particularly, thank you for your continued participation in mission share. Mission share is the undesignated offering that you share with the Nebraska Synod and the larger ELCA through which you do ministry that spans the globe and changes lives.

20191013_083843 (1)
Another great example of stewardship in action is Salem’s current “Water & Gatorade Drive.”

In some cases, it might even save lives like in the story we read today. Because through it, people who are hungry are fed. People who might be in danger because of mosquitoes and malaria, are provided nets for a safe night sleep. And people in danger of a loss of meaning in life, are provided resources for health, but also the example of God’s people showing up for each other, saying “I see you, I am here, and I am with you.”

Through mission share, you also support and raise up new leaders of our church- pastors, deacons, and parish ministry associates, who help tell the story of what God is up to, and invite us all to come and see that the Lord is good. Through mission share, you send missionaries around the globe, and support new and renewing ministries right here across the Big Red State. Through it, you even help youth and young adults know of God’s deep love for them, in part through supporting Lutheran Campus Ministry and Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministry. And through mission share, you make the healing work possible, through seeing your neighbor and responding to their needs through supporting church serving arm ministry partners like Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Disaster Response, Lutheran Family Services, and Mosaic.

Another beautiful picture on a beautiful morning at Salem Lutheran Church in Ponca.

There is so much more that you are a part of, and that you do. For all of this, and on behalf of your sisters and brothers across Nebraska and the whole world, please hear my deepest gratitude. Thank you! Thank you, Salem Lutheran, for being the disciples and stewards that you are, and for responding with thanks and praise to all that God does for you, in these, and so many more ways.

Awe, Gratitude, and Telling God’s Story
I imagine that the cleansed lepers in this story today, responded to God showing up and seeing them and healing them. I imagine they lived full lives of joy, wonder, and gratitude throughout their lives and walks of faith. That same gratitude and joy I share for all of you, and deeply believe you share for what God has done and is doing for you.

Just as the ten felt compelled to find Christ along the road in a village between Samaria and Galilee, Christ calls us and shows up beside us wherever we are. He invites us to this table, and reminds us that he is with us, loves us, and is for us, always. God might not always show up as we might expect, nor do what we might imagine or hope for. But God does show up and offers new life. For this, we give our thanks and praise, and can’t help but share the story of God’s saving work for God’s people with the world. May it be so. Thanks be to God, and thanks be to God for all of you, sharing God’s love and doing some of God’s kingdom building work here in Ponca. Amen.

Citations and References:
[1] Luke 17:12, NRSV.
[2] Luke 17:5, NRSV.
[3] Luke 17:13, NRSV.
[4] Luke 17:14, NRSV.
[5] Luke 17:15-16, NRSV.
[6] According to Marion Lloyd Soards, in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, ed. Michael D. Coogan, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), NOAB, page 130 New Testament. Soards notes, “The other nine were, presumably Jews.”
[7] Luke 17:17-18, NRSV.
[8] Luke 17:19, NRSV.
[9] Marion Lloyd Soards in the New Oxford Annotated Bible, page 130 New Testament.
[10] Rev. Dr. Mercedes Garcia Bachmann was one of the two keynote presenters at the 2019 Nebraska Synod TheoCon. In preaching and teaching on this text she cautioned to not simply use this text as a story about one good person who says thank you, and the others who happen to seem ungrateful. From what we see and read in the story, we can comfortably assume without reading too much into the text, that all of the ten lepers did as Jesus ordered for them to go and see the priests. She preached on this, and made this point in worship on (9 October 2019, in Kearney, Nebraska).
[11] 2 Timothy 2:11, NRSV.

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