DARING Sermon Series – I- Inspired to Say Thank You

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 29These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Psalm 111 1Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

2Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.

3Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.

4He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful.

5He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.

6He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.

7The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.

8They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.

9He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.

10The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.

2 Timothy 2:8-15 8Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, 9for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. 10Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 11The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; 13if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.

14Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

Luke 17:11-19 11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Good morning, St. Matthew. We gather on this morning in Itasca on the unceded tribal lands of the Kickapoo, Peoria, Ka-skas-kia, Potawatomi, Mya-a-mia, HoChunk, Winnebago and O-che-thi Sakowin nations, acknowledging that hard past and praying our way into a better future.

And so let us pray.

Lord – we who are gathered here this morning are the people who you have claimed for your own. Now that’s amazing, awesome, astounding and yet … we often forget to receive that amazing grace as a gift! Instead we have come to see it as our birth right, and in doing so, we reverse and infect the Divine process. We don’t thankfully receive you as coming to us with unearned love and redemption; arrogantly, we see ourselves seeking you for rubber stamped approval and easy, taken for granted justification. So today, help us to behold our brokenness, to see our overwhelming need and to realise how very, very blessed we are to receive from you wholeness and healing. Teach us to be thankful. Let us be inspired to respond with sheer gratitude for the gift of your unlooked-for grace. Inspire us to say thank you for all that we cannot do for ourselves, for all that you have done and all that we have received. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.

In the lessons today, we have lifted up for us the idea of healing. Even having walked through the last nearly three year of the pandemic, we just don’t experience the kind of terror of illness that our ancestors felt in their bones. There was no pill to take, no shot to get, nor operation to schedule. And among chief those incurable, dreaded diseases was leprosy. We must understand that to have leprosy was, for many centuries, absolutely concrete devastation. Small patches of one’s skin would become hard, lighter than the area around it, lose feeling, then they would ulcerate and become wounds in which the now dead skin would fall off. And nobody knew where it came from or how to heal it. Bad enough on your arm, or leg. But on your face? Near your eyes or ears or nose? On your mouth or tongue? On your genitalia? Let that horror sink in. Think how you would respond to finding out your neighbour, friend, mother, spouse or child had this. Do you keep them close? Reject them? And if YOU have it, you have become a terror to yourself! So how are you living that life?

We’ll turn from that for now and come back to this morning. In our DARING sermon series, we have walked through D for debts repaid, A for access being offered to all, R for receiving the promises of God and today we come to I for inspiration. Inspiration means literally being filled with the Spirit. What does that definition of inspiration mean to you? Well, for myself, to be inspired is to be Spirit filled and to have something that speaks to my spirit and lifts me from where I am to where I might be. I have experienced this in my own life in moments of creation and I have always loved watching great artists at work, whether they be writers, dancers, actors, musicians, cooks or trades people, because I can watch these folks get lifted out of themselves and they become fluid, open, and receptors for something far larger that is flowing through them. Have you witnessed that moment? When the person of the artist almost fades away and the art becomes all you are aware of?

Today, as we lift up Indigenous People’s Day, we are recalling, remembering the native people of this land. And I have never heard a better description of the process of inspired Spirit filled creation than that detailed by the Native author, Anne Cameron in her book, “Daughters of Copper Woman”. The book is a collection of the history and the stories of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation in Canada. She speaks of how she felt the Spirit of her people giving her permission to write that book and share those stories.

“I didn’t hear Granny get up, I didn’t see her refill my cup of tea, I didn’t hear her slow footsteps as she headed off to her bed. I picked up my pen, stared at it for a few minutes, then I felt my face go hard, my mouth pucker, my body go cold, and when I came back to this world, the stove was out, I was chilled and stiff, my tea was cold and my pages were covered with what might be a poem, or several poems, or a song or many songs, or maybe all of that. And I knew then, and know now, that what we have protected on this island is not complete, the knowledge is scattered, and if we offer all women what we know, the scattered pieces can start to reform, and those who need to find courage, peace, truth and love will learn that these things are inside all of us, and can be supported by the truth of women.”

Part of the poem revealed to her that night reads,

Old Woman is watching / watching over you / with her bones become a loom/ she is weaving / watching over us / weave and mend / golden circle / weave and mend / sacred sisters / weave and mend.

I am bringing this bit of poetry and artistic insight to church this morning because we need to connect this word of weaving and mending, of healing and reformation, for our Indigenous siblings in this space where so many followers of Christ have deluded themselves into thinking that Jesus was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Viking. We who have inherited that sinful breaking mistake of culture over faith need to hear the words that name our leprosy of racism and exclusion so that we can honestly come to the Lord and asked to be healed, to rewoven into the whole people we are meant to be, to cry mercy! And to understand how impossible our healing is within our own abilities – and yet to seek it all the same. In the words of Cameron, we can hear the words of inspiration and grace that the Spirit holds out to us – if we are willing to ask and receive.

Now the problem is that many of us don’t like to acknowledge the need, and so even if we receive the healing – we don’t think to say thank you. I am sure the nine who went away and didn’t return with thankfulness were telling themselves all sorts of stories. “Clearly, the diagnosis was wrong.” “Maybe I wasn’t that sick.” “I always knew I could heal myself.” “Best not to talk about what happened; no-one needs to know. Less said the better.” Even with the grace offered to them, they cannot bring themselves to recognise the Spirit that has truly swept through them, mending and weaving them back into life.

Yet the one who does come back – that one has named the miracle as a miracle. And is aware enough – is inspired enough – to recognise that he has no power of his own that has called this miracle to him. And it is written of him that he was a Samaritan – a loser in the culture wars of the times. He was not the expected recipient of grace – and because of that, he is more aware than the others how little his personhood has had to do with his healing; there was nothing in his background that told him he was entitled to the grace he received. So he recognises the Spirit when she shows up. He sees the one who has come to reweave him back into wholeness and is humbled to receive this healing as the gift that it truly is.

When we are inspired, we have paradoxically become the least important part of the story – it is why Jesus says to the Samaritan; “Your faith has made me well.” The other nine have the miracle of physical healing – and as important as that is, in this moment, the Samaritan has received far more. He has received the Spirit – precisely because he knows this a gift – a gift that has flowed through Christ to him and will not stop with him. This one will walk the rest of his days inspired, full of the Spirit, full of the awareness of the gift that he has received.

So today in this place, on this redefined holiday – which is trying to reweave a healing from some very broken history – are we going to recognise the Spirit that wants to sweep through us? Are we brave enough to recognise how very sick racism has made all of us – both those of us who have been oppressed but also in profound and terrible ways those of us who have been the oppressors? Are we ready to cry “Mercy! Heal us!” Are we ready to admit to our brokenness and receive the inspiration that comes to us? And then even more than that – are we going to be willing to say “thank you” and allow ourselves the lack of ego that will let the Spirit KEEP flowing through us and out into the world without trying to claim it as our own power?

As we turn over this question of inspiration and indwelling Spirit, as part of our DARING faith, I am going to lift up one more holiday – Yom Kippur. Channah Page wrote of her father’s experience of the holiday in this way:

Jews believe that on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, God writes down in the “Book of Life” what will happen to each person in the coming year. The book is then left open for ten days until Yom Kippur, when it is closed. But in those ten days it is possible to plead for mercy from both God and your fellow men; God can still change what is written up for you in the coming year.

Forgiving others and the need to ask for forgiveness became more crucial to my father the older he got. He sensed that it was the key to solving so much of the distress and violence in our world… he had deep regrets about the part he had played in the expulsion of the Palestinian population from a small town called Lod as a member of the Israeli Army in 1948.

…. In 1997 he had the opportunity to travel to Lod to meet a man who had been there in 1948. This man graciously accepted my father’s apology and granted him his forgiveness. This moved my father deeply and gave him hope that one small act of forgiveness could start a healing process that could spread from person to person like ripples through a pond.

My father is dead, and now I am thinking about the Book of Life; one day it will be closed for me too. Have I cleared up all my petty grudges and set straight my idle words? Have I tried to make amends for my selfish actions? And as a nation, as humanity, don’t we all need to turn back to God and plead for mercy, and then seek out those we have hurt and ask for forgiveness?

In Jesus, we who have faith in Christ are freed from having to do that work of our own salvation; but we are not freed from the call to say thank you for the gift of that freedom and to continue to live out that grace by constantly living into that attitude of gratitude. We are all broken, we are all offered healing and Jesus will provide that healing, because the nature of God is always to heal. Yet having the eyes to see, to acknowledge and to say thank you for that inspired healing – that allows the healing to reweave us into the people God intends us to be.

This morning, let us recognise our leprous wounds of racism and cry for healing. Let us allow the Spirit to heal that leprosy. Let us receive that healing as the gift it is and for that inspired grace and reweaving of our lives, let us say “thank you, Lord!”