Have you ever been excluded? I don’t think there is anyone here who has not had an experience of being left out a time or two or more in their life. Think about you felt when you were excluded.
It is very painful to be excluded. Perhaps you were excluded because you were a woman, as I have experienced, or are of another nationality, or because of your skin color, or because of your sexual identity, or because you are not fluent in the spoken language. Perhaps it was because of a physical challenge: being wheelchair bound, not seeing or hearing well.
I subscribe to an internet site called Nextdoor, whose function it is to connect neighboring folks so that they can help one another in various ways. This week, there was an entry that I’m going to share with you this morning. It was posted by an Hispanic man. It reads as follows:
I was born and raised in New York City. Moved from the Bronx to East Harlem around 10 years old and jumped around quite a bit while my mother tried to find the safest places to live and best public schools to attend. My wife and I moved to Lagrangeville in late July after an exhausting home search because we fell in love with the serenity of the area, the good school system and the kind people we interacted with along the way. I’ve seen a few (very few) incidences of violence or crime that sporadically pop up in the neighboring towns and often see things like “this is what happens when the city people move up here” or other comments to that effect. As a child, I had no control over where I was conceived or born. It was simply what we had and came to know. My wife and I are grateful for the opportunity to relocate to an area that provides a better quality of life for our children. The need to pour back into our community is not lost on us. We have done everything we can to engage our neighbors, who are wonderful and have responded in kind and we have made a concerted effort to integrate ourselves at our children’s schools as well. This is not a soapbox moment but just a hope that everyone gives people who move from other places, especially the ones people might deem “rough”, a fair chance at making a positive contribution to their neighborhood because we are not all criminals and low lives and people who have just come to stir up trouble. Some of us just dreamed of having a backyard, a driveway and friendly faces to wave to on the way in. Have perspective.
Evidently this family has experienced some times of judgment and exclusion along the way. I know this by his very last statement: “Have perspective.” Sad to say but true.
There are many reasons folks are excluded. In today’s gospel lesson, we learned of some lepers who were excluded because of their skin disease. Their exclusion was quite inclusive: they lost their families, their community, their jobs, their opportunity to worship God. The plight of lepers went on for many centuries. Back in Biblical days, not only were these folks excluded, removed from their communities, but they also had to ring a bell to let people know they were nearby and they had to shout out “Unclean.” It was a miserable life they led on the outskirts of the community with only one another to commiserate. Why this dread of lepers? Fear. Fear of contracting leprosy through contact with them. Reminds me of this pandemic, especially before the vaccines appeared. We still practice keeping physical distancing, especially indoors, and the wearing of masks.
The lepers Luke tells us about lived in the borderlands that lay between Samaria and Galilee. It was a no-mans-land and was really quite dangerous to pass through. We find Jesus and his disciples in this borderland on their way to Jerusalem. Strange how these ten lepers recognized who Jesus was, even calling him “Master,” and begging for his mercy. One wonders how they knew of him. We can surmise that his reputation as a healer had spread even to this remote village. His very presence offered them hope because not only did they see him but he saw them. He noticed them, he saw their condition, and his heart was stirred.
Notice that he did not touch them or pray for them or perform any type of ritual. All Jesus said was to “go and show yourselves to the priests.” Only a priest could declare a leper clean and this would then allow them to be welcomed back to their family, community, occupation, and worship.
All ten of them went and on the way, they were healed as they went. Can you imagine how they felt knowing that they would have their lives back again? Knowing that they would once more be counted among the included? I think they would have been filled with joy. While we don’t know for sure, we can assume that nine of these ten did exactly what Jesus told them to do, go to the priest, as good Jews would do, to receive their release. But this poor Samaritan could not do that because he was not allowed entry into the Temple—he was excluded there whether he had leprosy or not because he was a Samaritan. So, he returned to the one who had made him clean, Jesus. Praising God in a loud voice, he fell on his face at Jesus feet and thanked him.
The Samaritan’s physical healing was followed by a spiritual healing as well. His deep faith, his thankful heart, his praise of God had also resulted in Jesus healing his soul. His faith had made him well, his faith had saved him for all eternity.
Our country is being challenged by the incredible number of people who are seeking entry here because of persecution or because of a mere need to survive. They see this country as a beacon of hope and risk life and limb to get here, often with only what they can safely carry. Their children must be terrified as they traverse dangerous waters and deserts. They arrive at our borderlands desperately looking for help. Their great needs have set up some pretty difficult political divisions here and we just don’t know what to do with the increasing numbers arriving. What a challenge it is for our leadership. There do not seem to be many easy solutions.
And it isn’t just the US that is experiencing these challenges. Look at what’s happening in the countries around Ukraine with millions of immigrants seeking refuge within their borders. Now, Russian men are leaving Russia in the thousands to escape military duty. There are other countries who are also in the same constraints. I just heard that 25% of the world’s population are immigrants and living in camps or other harsh environments.
These desperate people look to us for help, we who are privileged to have security, food, water, shelter, and safety. They need us to see them. Just as Jesus saw the plight of those excluded lepers, we are called to see the plight of those who are excluded. How do we respond? That is a critical question and requires a prayerful answer, an answer that leads to action. And isn’t it fear that impinges on our response? Fear of the economics involved, will we have enough, will our job market be compromised, our social services systems, our health resources, how high will our taxes go, and on and on.
That is one part of the dilemma, the part that deals with the physical end of things. The second part has to do with the spiritual situation of folks because of their plight. They cling to hope, hope that they will be accepted, hope that they can make a new life in a new land. They need to experience the healing hand of God, a hand extended to them the way Jesus extended himself with those lepers. Isn’t this our calling as well as Christians?
Jesus healed those ten lepers of their life situation. However, only one returned to Jesus. Only one recognized the one who gave his life back to him and he praised God for this and he offered thanks.
How important it is for all of us to give thanks to God. So much of the time, we take what’s been given to us for granted without even thinking of all that we have is a gift from God. Oh, we may pause before we have a meal to give thanks, but do we wake up in the morning with a thankful heart just for making it through the night and be given another day? Do we offer thanks all day long for all the many ways that God has blessed us? We are a privileged people and it is sad to say that many of us don’t even recognize our blessings. We don’t praise God with the words of the doxology: Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise God all people here below. Praise God ye heavenly hosts. Praise Creator, Savior, Holy Ghost.”
And perhaps as Christians, we fail to give thanks to God for Jesus, for his life, his suffering, his death, and his resurrection. Jesus is the greatest of gifts because by his example, we know what is expected of us, his followers. As Paul reminded Timothy, let us remember that we are called to suffer and sacrifice as Jesus did so that folks will experience the truth of the Gospel, the truth that God is love. It is as we live a life of love and sacrifice, and endurance for others that others will come to know the Lord. And we also come to have life, life that is meaningful, purposeful, and hopeful, life that will never end.
So, push your fears aside, remembering Jesus’ message: Fear not, little flock. Fear not for I am with you. Fear not because the Holy Spirit will give you all that you need. Fear not. Instead step out with courage and faith. Proclaim the gospel of God’s love with your life and your actions so that all may be included. Amen.