Planting Life

Luke 17:11-19 – Break the Silence Sunday

Why do you suppose the Samaritan came back to thank Jesus? I mean, Jesus hadn’t made a formal thank you part of the bargain. He simply told them to go and show themselves to the priests. The Samaritan’s nine partners, obviously, felt no need to return. Why the Samaritan?

As I read this narrative once again this week, I was reminded of something that struck me as odd a number of years ago. You see, I accepted my first full-time call to a country church in rural Iowa. One day I picked up the local newspaper and read the following: “Mr. and Mrs. Smith enjoyed a wonderful meal and pleasant conversation as guests of Mr. and Mrs. Jones this past Saturday evening.” My first though, of course, was “isn’t there anything more newsworthy going on in the community?” But, after discussing it with some life-long residents, I came to realize that this was a part of the tradition; a part of the fabric of a dying way of life; it was an outdated practice that still served an important purpose for the older folks in Geneva: Putting this kind of blurb in the paper was the polite way of showing gratitude to your host. Yes, a thank you card was often sent or perhaps, if prearranged, a dessert was provided, but to publish a brief note of appreciation in the paper for all to read, that was the best way to say thanks.

And this might not be as archaic as you might think. Perhaps you had a mother who drummed into you the obligation to write thank-you notes for birthday or Christmas gifts. I would be willing to bet that some of you have even made writing thank-you notes a regular part of your practice of gratitude. Again, a good tradition. One that is even finding its way into the digital age; email, social media, as a matter of fact, I write the word “thanks” so much in my text messages, that it automatically comes up every time I text. Just another reminder that my I Phone is smarter than I am.

But, even though thank-you notes are become fewer and fewer, I think the sentiment of gratitude continues. And again, this is a good thing. But, clearly, more was at stake in this narrative than demonstrating polite social etiquette; more is going on here than simply saying, “thanks.” Which leads us back around to our main question: Why did the Samaritan return?

Well, part of the answer may be found in the identity of this healed man. He was a leper like the other nine. But he was also a Samaritan. And as such, he was twice scorned, twice rejected, twice removed from the community. As a leper, he was ritually unclean and, therefore, to be isolated, an object, no doubt, of revulsion and fear on the part of his neighbors. And as a Samaritan he would have been seen as an outsider, and a despised one at that, to the more orthodox Jews of Galilee.[I]

And this is key to understanding this passage. Nine lepers obediently did what Jesus told them to do and what they know the Law requires of them. They were being good, observant, faithful Jews. In the story, Jesus wondered out loud where they were, but this is a rhetorical question, he knew exactly where went, he told them to go to the Temple and get their “Good Housekeeping stamp of approval” for the priest so they can go back to their lives, and the sooner the better.

But this outsider, this Samaritan, this “them,” may have been so seized by gratitude and joy that he turned back to Jesus, but on the other hand, the Temple wasn’t a place where he would have felt welcome even if he was cured of his skin disease. There was no cure for being a Samaritan, a big-time outsider. There was no “seal of approval” to make him acceptable in polite society, and there was no ex-Samaritan program that he could have entered to change that, there was no way to “rehabilitate” his otherness. There was no thank you note, no newspaper blurb that would include him in the life and faith of the community. Unlike the nine, there was nothing awaiting the Samaritan but more rejection.[ii]

Or was there? Do you remember when I talked about borders earlier? Crossing borders, breaking barriers, these are the things that were important to Luke. Consider the parables just previous to this passage. There’s a consistent thread running through this entire section of Luke’s Gospel. And the thread that connects all of these texts is grace. And more specifically, testing the boundaries of grace. So, in this story, Luke seems to be telling us about a daring boundary crossing, daring both on the part of Jesus and on the part of the Samaritan. You see, the Samaritan would have never had the opportunity to cross that border without the healing and restoration, the grace, that Jesus demonstrated.

Which brings us to today. Today is Break the Silence Sunday. Break the Silence Sunday, and Prayer Vigil that we’ll host this evening, are intended to raise awareness and hopefully provide a space and an opportunity for healing, for restoration. And the example Jesus gave us in today’s text is perfect! When Jesus said to this man from another country, another culture, another religion, “your faith has made you well” he was providing a safe space for this Samaritan to cross a border of exclusion, a boundary of ungraciousness.

Which leads me to a question that I have for all of you and for myself. The question is this: What boundries to we unintentionally set up that prevent the healing or the restoration of others in our community? What borders do we shy away from, feel unwelcome to cross; in other words, where do we see or experience a “limited” grace in our lives; on our journey?

Well, I think there are multiple answers to each of these question and this myriad of answers are finally unique to each person. But here’s the thing. Progress begins with one step. The Church, and I’m talking about the capitol “C” Church here, the wider Church, the universal Church; The Church has been woefully inadequate in our understanding and response to issues like sexual abuse and domestic violence. We’ve been virtually silent. And, my friends, silence is an answer. Silence screams, “I don’t care about your situation” because discussing it, providing healing, giving opportunity for restoration, these things make me uncomfortable.

But Jesus never once says that “comfort” is a virtue. As a matter of fact, through his actions, he demonstrates that being uncomfortable, being vulnerable, being the one who willing to cross the border of silence, being the one who breaks the barrier of the stigma that comes with being a survivor of sexual abuse, these things are finally what expands the limits of grace. And this is important! Being the one who sets aside judgement and our human tendency toward blaming the victim, and truly provide and space and an opportunity for healing and restoration; that, my friends, is an expansive grace, a Christ-like grace, a grace challenges us to leave the comfort of silence, a raise our voice in support of our sisters and brothers who have been violated.

One final thought here. When we pray for the survivors and as we begin to provide opportunities for healing and restoration, we must also include in our prayers the perpetrators. I hadn’t really looked at it from that angle before. But in a conversation with a criminal defense attorney recently, a person who often represents these offenders in court, I was remined that often they too are victims of sexual violence. Now, please don’t misunderstand me here, this isn’t an excuse for there actions, but rather it’s a disturbing fact and another reason that the Church must be a voice, a cog in the wheel of changing the culture of violence and the cycle of sexual abuse that is far too common in our society.

Now, after our Hymn of Response we will move into a time of prayer, a litany for survivors. And when we get there, I invite you to open your minds and your hearts; your, very being, to the presence of the Spirit, and to the healing and restoration, and yes, the grace that Jesus offers all of us, the insider and the outsider alike, the survivor, the lost, the struggling; those from various faith traditions or from none at all; open your hearts to the grace that God offers the citizen and the immigrant, the asylum seeker and refugee. My siblings in Christ, I invite you to accept the gift of grace that God offers to everyone; even you…

*Hymn of Response           #554 Out of the Depths, O God, We Call

 A Litany of Healing

When I say, “As a Community of Faith Please respond with, “We have Come.”

 

Let us pray… My Siblings in Christ, we have come to listen, to hear things that will unsettle us, and make us uncomfortable, BUT we have come nevertheless; We have come to challenge the status quo.

AS a community of faith… We have come.

We have come to listen to what keeps our friends and family members up at night, to listen with compassion, and love.

As a community of faith… We have come…

We have come to be present for survivors, doing our own spiritual work, so that we might listen without judgement or casting shame.

As a community of faith… We have come…

We have come to remember that not everyone survives the violation of rape and sexual assault, and that the grief and pain overwhelm many who seek to escape through self-harm or suicide.

As a community of faith… We have come…

We come to offer prayers for the offenders; the perpetrators. NOT to offer excuses but to realize that they were often abused as well. We pray for their healing.

As a community of faith… We have come…

We have come to commit ourselves to the messy, difficult, sometimes excruciating work of making this world whole.

As a community of faith… We have come…

We have come! Amen and the people of God said, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

[i] John Thomas Gratitude Is More Than Saying Thanks (www.Day1.org) 2004

[ii] Katheryn Matthews Get Up and Go (www.ucc.org/samuel) 2019

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