18th Sunday after Pentecost: “Jesus, Master, Have mercy!”

First Reading: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c

1Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. 2Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 7When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”
8But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” 11But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! 12Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. 13But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.
15a-cThen he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”

Psalm: Psalm 111

1Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
  in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
2Great are your works, O Lord,
  pondered by all who delight in them.
3Majesty and splendor mark your deeds,
  and your righteousness endures forever.
4You cause your wonders to be remembered;
  you are gracious and full of compassion.
5You give food to those who fear you,
  remembering forever your covenant.
6You have shown your people the power of your works
  in giving them the lands of the nations.
7The works of your hands are faithfulness and justice;
  all of your precepts are sure.
8They stand fast forever and ever,
  because they are done in truth and equity.
9You sent redemption to your people and commanded your covenant     forever; holy and awesome is your name.
10The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
  all who practice this have a good understanding. God’s praise          endures forever.

Second Reading: 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.

Gospel: 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.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  Today we talk about borders.  I found on the Internet statistics about people coming to the United States.  Refugees to the USA in 2021 came from Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine. Afghanastan is not included. Which group do you think has the most people fleeing?  Share with your neighbor.

Answer:

 (“The top 5 countries of origin for recent refugees coming to the U.S.?

#5: Ukraine (7% of refugees), #4: Burma (7.5% of refugees), #3: Sudan (8.5% of refugees), #2: Syria (23% of refugees),#1: Democratic Republic of the Congo (25% of refugees)The Afghans who recently evacuated to the U.S. aren’t classified as refugees because most don’t have permanent status.”)

Let us pray.  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON:  The Borderlands

In our text today, Jesus is on the move.  He is on his way south to Jerusalem with his disciples…and us.  To get from Galilee to Jerusalem, they must pass through Samaria.  During Pentecost we talk about life in the borderlands, that space between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of heaven, or how those two worlds overlap and impact our lives.  Luke is taking us on a journey through this borderland time in our lives.  We live between worlds and like the ten lepers, we have an incurable disease, sin.  Our only hope is to cry for mercy from God.  The appropriate response is praise and thanksgiving.

“Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee”

         Borderlands are interesting places.  We think of the southern border between Mexico and the United States.  Refugees from all over the world flee to borders, hoping for a future they know is not possible in their homes. Last Saturday, after the hurricane here in Florida, I went from visiting my husband at the nursing home to Walmart for food.  I walked in and the whole fresh vegetable section was void of food!  Empty!  No milk.  No eggs.  Shelves were stripped bare and boxes were stacked around for restocking.   We were not hit directly by the hurricane but we were in a borderland impacted by the anxiety of that unknown.  I next went to the gas station where prices had dropped from $3.29 per gallon to $3.03.  I was not on empty but under a half tank.  I entered to find all the nozzles covered with plastic bags.  My debit card was of no avail.  I am in a borderland.  Resources are impacted.  My ability to function is impacted.  Sunday I returned to visit my husband who has Parkinsons only to meet the nurse who had the phone in her hand to call me to tell me that he had fallen.  Not hurt but definitely humbled.  Perhaps your borderland is not a hurricane or the impact of disease that leaves you compromised.  Maybe you live in the mortgage shadow of owning but not quite.  Perhaps you have most of that college degree done but the job market is dicey.  Borderlands are not just geographical between Galilee and Judah or ethnic between Samaritans and Jews.  We know this journey and need to open our ears this morning.  Luke is not talking about the line in the sand between Hades and Abraham’s Bosom.  He is now talking about those areas in our life where our feet straddle two worlds. We today walk in borderlands with Jesus!

         Jesus was going through.  Please note that Jesus was not just riding through in his 4WD jeep like a tourist with a camera around his neck to record his impressions of humanity.  Incarnation was not about observation, it was about traveling through.   I think we often suspect that God is up in the heavens caring about the major disasters and troubles in our world and that he has little empathy with our dilemma. How many times does the evil one whisper in our ear that our concern is so tiny compared to the issues of the universe that we best not bother God with it?  We forget what a powerful tool prayer is in the borderlands. 

         Borderlands are also similar to what we call “thin spaces.”  These are places where the spiritual can cross over into the physical and we have spiritual experiences.  These thin places or borderlands are permeable.  Interactions can take place in these places like between the lepers and Jesus.  We forget that the Holy Spirit is walking through our day, right beside us, not off in the heavenlies. 

         Jesus went through but he also entered a village.  He did not avoid people, the Samaritans.  He did not stick to the bypass or detour to go around.  I wonder how many times we think of prayer and faith as ways to go around the messes of life.  Last week our text said that with the faith of a mustard seed we can tell a mulberry tree to be planted in the ocean.  We are tempted to hear that faith resolves discomfort.  Our commercials convince us that if we take the right pill, use the right goop, see the right doctor, go to the right school or vote for the right politicians then we will return to glory and life will be comfortable.  I see no promise like that in the Bible.  Jesus walked with the disciples in the borderlands and through villages with all their problems.  Jesus walks with us today.

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

         Sure enough, in the towns of life we meet the ugliness of life.  Ten lepers approach Jesus but stand at a distance and cry, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Lepers were social outcasts with no social capital and no “right to be heard.”  We may not admit we have leprosy but perhaps we can identify with those moments of despair when we feel worthless and undeserving of whatever goodies this life is refusing us.  We sometimes call it a “moment of truth.”  What we are doing is not going to get us where we want to go.  That line in the sand just seems to keep moving out of reach.  Not all prayers are like that but when we are in the borderlands of life, that sense of struggling between two worlds impacts us.  For our ten men, it was leprosy that defined their limitations.  But other factors make us desperate too.  We stand at a distance and cry “Jesus.”

         The men cry out, “Jesus, Master.”  Hmmmm.  I suspect we are more comfortable with titles like “father,” “savior,” or “Lord.”  These men name the reality with no sugar coating or hint of relationship. There is a level of honesty in this interaction that does not sound like a formal prayer said at bedtime or mealtime.  This is a heart to heart with the God of the universe between nobodies, outcasts and their creator.  There is an approachability and transparency here that does not sound like an angry judge condemning his creation but a God who is open to relationship.

         The men did not ask for healing but mercy.  Mercy is defined on the Internet dictionary as “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.”  I suspect that often when we pray, we have decided just how God ought to answer.  These men leave the solution in Jesus’ hands.  They don’t ask for healing but for mercy.  This story is interesting also because Jesus tells the men to go to the priest as required by the law and as they are on the way, they are healed.  What!  Before the miracle occurred, the men started their journey and obeyed Jesus.  Borderlands work to grow our faith.

         We are told to forgive before the other has asked for forgiveness only because God has forgiven us.  We are told to turn the other cheek.  We are told to love our enemy.  We are told to tithe before we know we have enough money to make it through the month.  Moses stepped into the Red Sea and then it parted.  These men started to the priest and then were healed.  Friends, we are to live out our Christianity because Jesus said so, while we still have leprosy, in the midst of the borderland before we reach Jerusalem.  Calling on God’s compassion and forgiveness because he has the power, we don’t, is always a powerful prayer.  Today we pray, “Lord, have mercy on our world and on our lives!”  Did I hear an “amen!”? 

“Go and show yourselves to the priests.”

         The Jewish law from the Old Testament required that anyone with a skin disease must go to the priests who decided if they were contagious and needed to quarantine.  In the same way, the law required a return to the priests to be declared clean, cured.  Jesus tells them to do what the law required, return to the priests.  It was on the journey to the priests that the men were healed. The declaration of the priest would free these men from the geographic isolation but it would also return then to society. 

         Luther in his small catechism called this forgiveness, the Office of Keys and Confession. Catholics go to “confession” and a priest assigns a certain number of repentant acts.  Luther would say that we can go to any fellow Christian and unburden the issues weighing our hearts down.  We have the ability to tell another their sin is forgiven.  I suspect this is a forgotten aspect of modern Christianity.  We have the power to forgive or retain sin.  We pray this in the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday – forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  At the opening of our service we have a time of confession and the pastor says, “As an appointed minister of the church, I declare unto you the full forgiveness of your sins.”  At communion we kneel at the altar and receive forgiveness.  I suspect we often breeze by this but those are powerful and true words that we need to hear because we live in the borderlands between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of earth.

         Perhaps we need to do a skin test today like when we go to our annual dermatology inspection.  Do we have a spot of leprosy that needs to be frozen?  But perhaps more seriously we need to scan our memory banks to ask if we are holding someone else’s sin against them and denying them forgiveness.  As the ten men started the journey to the priest, they were lepers seeking mercy.  They did not get healed and then go to the priest.  They first asked Jesus for mercy, obeyed and were healed enroute. Is there a sickness you need to deal with today?  Jesus is the source of mercy!

“your faith has made you well”

         Luke does not end the story here.  Ten men were healed as they went but only one returned to fall at Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving.  It is indeed surprising that the man was a Samaritan but I don’t think that is the point to focus on.  God works outside our boxes.  But maybe because this Samaritan was outside the religious system, he had eyes to see.  Ten men were healed but this man was declared “well” or “whole” in some translations.  To me this man went from calling Jesus “Master” to calling him “Lord.”  He asked for mercy because of his disease and not only was he healed but he was made whole as he praised God.  He had not gone to the priest yet to be declared clean but he had seen past the law the priest represented to the giver of grace, Jesus.

         So where are we today?  We are all journeying in the borderlands between the kingdoms of heaven and earth, struggling with the diseases that plague each of us, that make us stand at a distance, separated from God and each other.  All of us are in need of mercy from God, the Master and Creator, and from each other.  We all need to step out in faith to obey Jesus’ commands for dealing with our situations.  As we help each other see and praise the hand of God on our journey, we are made well.

Let the people of God say, “Amen” Let it be so Lord!

We want to be whole, Lord!

 

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