October 13, 2013
The Rev. Eric L. Miller
I’m quite excited to be with you this morning. I’m excited and overjoyed, really, for a myriad of reasons. Last Sunday after our excellent visit with Bishop Breidenthal I drove to Virginia Seminary for a three day conference for my ten year reunion with some continuing education in the mix. While I was away, just for three nights, mind you, I was reminded that the church, God’s Church, is vastly larger than what we do here at Ascension & Holy Trinity, even bigger than the Diocese of Southern Ohio.
It’s easy for me to forget that I have a whole host of clergy colleagues. I can get a bit narrow in my thinking, from time to time. That is to say, I spend a good deal of time thinking about this place of worship, and I have the need to continually remind myself that worshiping God and serving God is something we, you and I, do together. And what WE do together is sooo much more powerful than any one thing I am capable of doing on my own. Being with seminary classmates last week reminded me of the “we” nature of ministry, that we are all in this together.
And lastly, my jaunt to Alexandria, Virginia reminded me of how much I value worshiping with you. As I was writing this sermon I was actively looking forward to Sunday morning with each of you in this sacred space.
This morning we are reaffirming our Baptismal Vows. That section in our bulletins isn’t simply left over from last week’s service with our Bishop. No, today we reaffirm our Baptismal Vows to remind us that we are ALL called to serve as ministers of Christ’s reconciling love. In a little bit we’re going to have Angela and Noel Horne come forward, and they are going to bring a basket overflowing with clean, unused toothbrushes. We are going to bless the Hornes, and the toothbrushes, and we’re going to commission Noel and Angela to go forth to the Dominican Republic as bearers of God’s love on behalf of Ascension & Holy Trinity.
Noel and Angela are traveling to the Dominican Republic to take these toothbrushes to Drs. Michael and Anita Dohn, Southern Ohio’s missionaries this parish has sponsored for fifteen years. Isn’t that amazing! This month marks the Dohn’s fifteenth year serving as healthcare givers and Gospel bearers in the Dominican Republic, and the Hornes will be our representatives for the anniversary celebration. It is good to be among you!
In a little while we’re going to bless something else. We’re going to bless our gorgeous new organ. Our old organ was in ill-repair for countless years. It would have been financially impossible to get our old organ working the way it could have worked. Through an anonymous donor we’ve been given a state of the art Phoenix organ. This organ has a beautiful sound and will serve our music ministries well into the future. Again, it is good to be among you!
We need to remember that our ministries, though, aren’t about the toothbrushes or the doctors or the musical organ. Rather, our ministry isn’t about the stuff of our lives. Ministry is how we put the things in our lives to work for the building of God’s kingdom.
This brings me to Jesus and the parable of the ten lepers. In Luke, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem when ten lepers approach him in a village between Samaria and Galilee. These lepers kept their distance and hollered out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
John M. Buchanan writes about leprosy in Jesus’ day, “It is difficult to exaggerate the social alienation and isolation of these ten men. People lived in dread of leprosy, a loosely defined term used to describe any skin blemish or eruption that looked suspicious. What we call Hansen’s disease is treatable today, but in Jesus’ time it was thought to be radically contagious. Skin blemishes could also be an indication of liturgical uncleanness. The result was that people with leprosy lived in total isolation: banished from their homes, from the loving touch of spouses, children, parents, from the faith community–so feared that even to cross the shadow of one with leprosy was to risk infection. They lived alone, away from the community. Sometimes they banded together to become a small company of misery.”
So, Jesus is in some pretty vulnerable territory, and what does he do with the ritually unclean, ostracized lepers? He instructs them to all go and show themselves to the priests, and as they obeyed his command they were all made clean.
And yet, only one of the lepers, a Samaritan, came back to thank Jesus. “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.” Jesus healed a Samaritan, someone who shouldn’t associate with Jews. Jewish folk would have maybe expected a Jew to come back and offer thanks and praise, but a no Good Samaritan? Surely not! This Samaritan’s turning around portrays a movement of the entire person, initiated by Jesus’ work of compassion, a redirection of his heart to God. For Luke, you see, wants you and me to understand that the healing of this Samaritan isn’t only a medical cure from leprosy and even restoration of his social standing, but that the healing is also a redirection of his life and faith. The Samaritan is whole not simply because his leprosy is gone, but because he possesses and expresses his gratitude. To have true faith we must live our faith, and to live this faith, we are to give thanks.
I want to close with a story from Anne Lamott’s book, “Help, Thanks, Wow.”
“Recently I was going to meet my great and amazing friends Barbara and Susie for a walk, or rather, a stroll and roll, as Barbara has Lou Gehrig’s disease. As I have pointed out to her, Lou Gehrig’s is the one disease you are supposed to actively try to avoid. But she went ahead and got a full-blown case, which has come to mean she uses a walker, feeding tubes, and a computerized speaking device called Kate that works through her iPad. So Susie drove us to see the Pacific Ocean from above San Francisco’s Moraga steps. I had not yet settled down into what is true–that Barbara is pretty sick and getting worse–so I sat in a state of jovial nervousness in the backseat, feeling alone and useless and superficial. When we arrived, the view was socked in with fog. We gamely got out of the car anyway, and on tope of everything–the Lou Gehrig’s, the vichyssoise fog, my anxious sorrow–there was one of those mean winds that prick at your body and your mind and your very being. Plus, they make your skin look terrible. Just ghastly.
It was all hopeless. I had no choice but to pray. This is all a mess, I said to God. I love these two women so much, and I had had such high hopes for connection and joy today: Help.
And I got my divine revelation: We all needed to get back into the car, immediately. This took a while, as there is not much immediately when you’re with some who has ALS. But at some point, warmth and golden sun flooded through the car windows, and Susie drove us around the neighborhood, and from inside we took in the brilliant gardens of succulents and crazy bright splashy exotic petals. We found the one perfect parking spot at the foot of the steps, where we could spend as much time as we liked looking up directly at the magical mosaic on the tall, steep steps: at the bottom, random plump fish in nursery colors swim against the deep blue of the sea, and then come creatures that are beneath the ground, spiraling to animals that walk on the earth, and then to what is above, to the sky, and birds, and clouds, and an exuberant Mexican sun, which curls up into the expansiveness of a starry, starry night.
We all got so happy. We talked about real things for an hour: life, death, families, feeding tubes, faith. I asked Barbara, who does not eat food anymore, “What are you most grateful for these days?” She typed on her iPad, and Kate’s mechanical voice spoke for her: The beauty of nature, the birds and flowers, they beauty of friends.”
This is called radical gratitude in the face of whatever life throws at you. I was so glad and so grateful to be there with them that day–euphoric.
Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides. It means you are willing to stop being such a jerk. When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and in the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back.”
As we reflect on the blessings in our lives, may we live our faith through radical gratitude. And always remember that it is good to be among one another.