Thursday, October 18, 2007

Two sermons for Pentecost 20

We have two services at St. John's--a 5 p.m. service on Saturday evening and an 11 am service on Sunday morning. I usually preach basically the same sermon at each. This past weekend was different as we had a baptism on Sunday morning and it just didn't seem to work to preach the baptism sermon on Saturday since there was no baptism. So I preached on the gospel on Saturday evening and the Old Testament reading on Sunday morning. Both are posted here. Blessings.

Sermon Year C Pentecost 20 Proper 23
Luke 17: 11-19
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Asheville, NC
Saturday, October 13, 2007


Writer Anne Lamott says there are basically two prayers:

The first prayer is HELP ME! HELP ME! HELP ME!

The second prayer is THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

We are probably a bit more experienced with that first prayer—
As we become painfully aware of our need for God’s help
during times we are in trouble or despair.

Help me find a job…
Help me sell my house…
Help me pass this test…
Help me heal from this illness, this injury, this heartbreak…
Help my children…
Help my parents…
Help the one I love…
Help me.

Our gospel reading in Luke today is about ten people who need help.
And about one person, upon receiving that help, who stops to say thank you.

These people needing help are lepers.
Lepers are not just biblical characters.
Lepers still exist today.
And leprosy is still a horrific disease,
Though, granted, there is certainly much more hope
and much better medical care today
than there was in the Middle East in the first century.

These lepers in Luke’s gospel are desperate.
They see Jesus and they cry out
“Have mercy on us!”

They cry out from a distance because leprosy is contagious
and those with this disease were ordered by law to keep a certain distance
from anyone who did not have leprosy.
It was a disease no one wanted.

Because of the contagious effects of the disease,
because of having to keep your distance from everyone—
Lepers live very isolated lives.
They lose contact with their families and their friends
and living with leprosy equals a lonely life--—
physically, mentally and emotionally—
a very lonely life.

These ten lepers in Luke’s gospel are in despair.
There seems to be no help, no cure, no way out.
They cry for mercy.

And Jesus answers their cry.
“Go and show yourself to the priests.”
He sends them to the priests because that was how one was certified
as being clean, free of disease, contamination.
And they do what Jesus says—
and immediately as they turn to go,
they are healed, made clean, made whole once more.
They do what Jesus says.
They obediently go.

Except for one.
He ,too, turns to go and is healed
but he comes back.
He stops to say thank you.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
And he is made truly well.

Now we mustn’t be too harsh on the 9 that did not remember to say thank you.
Imagine what it would be like
to find yourself healed of a disease that you thought was a death sentence.
A disease which had isolated you from everyone you loved.
Imagine the overwhelming joy when you find yourself healed.
You rush off immediately to find your wife, your husband,
your parents, your children, your dog, your cat….!!—
To share the good news,
to hug and kiss and be hugged and kissed.
Because it has been a long and lonely time.

So I don’t want to be too harsh on those nine
that did not turn back
who did not remember to say thank you.
Perhaps I don’t want us to be too harsh
Because I know that I, too, am among those who
sometimes forget to say thank you to God for my many blessings.

This gospel reading has two parts.
The first is a story about healing.
The second part of the reading is about thanksgiving
And understanding who deserves the credit for all we have,
for all we are.

One out of nine understood that.
The one who realized that his healing was a gift from God,
was a Samaritan.

The reason the person is identified as a Samaritan is not just to tell us
where this man made his home
or to identify his ethnic group.
The man is identified as a Samaritan
because Samaritans were religious outcasts.

They were considered by the faithful people of that day
as “those people,”
“those heathens,” “those pagans,”
those people who do not know God
and who are not known by God.
Jesus tells this story
God loves and includes us all in that love.
God cares for each one of us.
God does not label any of us as “those people.”

Perhaps Jesus tells this story to help us open our eyes
to “those people” we tend to disregard or disrespect
to see that “those people” may be living lives
more faithful to the gospel than we are at times.

Perhaps Jesus also tells us this story to remind us
how easy it is to take our many blessings for granted.

Perhaps Jesus tells us this story to assure us
that when we cry out,
God is listening.
God will heal us
in ways that only God can heal.

Perhaps Jesus tells us this story to encourage us
to take time
to praise God
to worship God
to give thanks to God….
Not only with our words
but with how we live our lives.


+ + +

Sermon for Year C Pentecost 20 Proper 23
The Baptism of Jared William Ray
Sunday, October 14, 2007
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Asheville, NC
The Rev. Jeanne Finan


One of my favorite movie scenes
is the opening of the film The Lion King.
It is dark, very early morning.
You hear this wonderful music
and then you see animals running across the plains of the Serengeti--
zebras and gazelles, elephants and giraffes, monkeys and leopards—
all creatures great and small--
are running and leaping and hurrying
to gather.
Something exciting, something wonderful is about to happen.

And when they arrive, as the sun rises in the sky,
up on a cliff there is a baby lion cub named Simba
and he is being nuzzled by his adoring smiling parents
(lions smile, too—at least they do in cartoon features!).
And there is the wise baboon
who anoints Simba on his forehead
and lifts the little lion cub up
and the crowd of animals goes wild with joy—
roaring and trumpeting and stomping their hooves.

And to me, that scene is what baptism is all about.
We come together.
We share the joy of a child being claimed as Christ’s own forever.
We remember the purpose and promises of our own lives.
We celebrate.
We give thanks.

Knowing we are going to baptize Wiley Ray this morning—
I cannot help but think of that scene—
This is not to say Wiley is a lion cub
and I hope you don’t think I am a baboon!

But what I do think is this:
what a joyful morning!
If we had hooves,
we would stomp.
And if we had elephant trunks
we would trumpet!

What a gift it is to gather with you,
the congregation of St. John’s
and with all our guests and visitors
and to be here this morning with Jared William Ray
on the day of his baptism.

I also thought about Wiley’s baptism
as I read the scripture passage from Ruth this week.

It is one of the most tender, heartfelt passages in all scripture.

Naomi tells her two daughters-in-law,
Orpah and Ruth,
that they do not have to go with her
as she returns to the land of Judah.
And Orpah weeps and kisses Naomi good bye and leaves.
But Ruth refuses to let Naomi go by herself, to go alone.
Ruth says,
Where you go, I will go.
Where you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people
And your God my God.

That is love.

Wiley is here this morning to be baptized because his parents love him.
And because they love each other.
And because God loves all of them! All of us, too!

Emily and Jared want all that is good and beautiful and holy for their son.
They bring Wiley to the baptismal font this morning
so that he will never be alone.
They are willing to acknowledge that, yes,
Wiley is their beloved child,
but Wiley is also God’s beloved child.

And Wiley today becomes part of St. John’s
because we are witnesses to his baptism.
Part of our work as a congregation
is to offer our love and support to Wiley
and to Emily and Jared
wherever their spiritual journey leads them.
Our work—and our joy--is to be here for them.
Your people shall be my people
And your God my God.
Holy Baptism is full initiation
by water and the Holy Spirit
into Christ’s Body the Church.

In case you haven’t noticed,
the Church is not perfect.
Far from it.
We as human beings, as Christians, are not perfect either.
Far from it.
We have a long tradition of imperfection.
Fortunately, God seems quite understanding about that.

In our gospel reading this morning
Jesus heals 10 lepers and only 1 says thank you.
1 out of 10.
Not really even a decent batting average.
Yet, one did stop.
One person did realize what a blessing he had received.
Becoming like that one who remembered to stop,
to pay attention, to be grateful,
is our hope and our prayer.

We are not perfect.
But we are trying.

We are trying to love God and to love one another.
We are the Church.
The Church is not some abstract, theological doctrine-burdened beast.
Church is us. The people of God.
It’s real and it’s messy and it’s beautiful.

And we are yours, Wiley.
Ready or not—here we are!
Forgive us when we mess up.
I hope you will find it in your heart to love us anyway.
We, as the Church of God, are here to love you—always.

We live in a world where many things, many commitments, many promises,
can be broken, can be dissolved,
can legally be made null and void.

That is not true with baptism.
The bond which God establishes in Baptism
is indissoluble.
Baptism is once and forever.
Baptism is the promise that is never broken.

And now, let us stomp our hooves
and trumpet with joy
as we gather at the font to baptize Jared William Ray.

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