The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s195g07 Sunday 28 14/10/2007
'except this foreigner?' Luke 17.18
I have frequently remarked on the difference between the effects of personal failings and those of institutional beliefs, like the marginalisation and alienation of people who are different. In our gospel story for today we can take the personal message that thankfulness for healing is a good thing, or we can see that God recognises the thanksgiving and faith of the unorthodox and the alien. This later perception has the possibility of acceptance of other people who are different, which has the possibility of creating peace.
The nine who were healed but didn't return to give thanks really didn't do anyone any harm by their lack of thanks. But it did mean that they could remain in the uprightness of their orthodoxy and how they were favoured over others. They could remain in their orthodoxy and continue to alienate and marginalize others, in the name of their god. They could continue to treat others like lepers, unclean, unworthy, essentially dead.
Leprosy was then treated by isolation from the community it was diagnosed by the priests and if confirmed those affected were told to leave the community. Since these ten were coming from the village, it is quite likely that they had just been diagnosed and were doing as the priests had directed them leaving it. Lepers were marginalized and alienated it was just the done thing. They were essentially dead as far as the 'healthy' community was concerned. Marginalisation, alienation and death all go hand in hand.
And Jesus turns this all around. It is the poor and marginalized who are central to the kingdom of God. Jesus treated all people as human beings and part of the kingdom of God. He associated with all and in doing so, gave people life. Inclusion, hospitality, hospitals, health and life go hand in hand as well.
Again the first murder recorded in scripture was that of Cain killing his brother Abel, because of a perception that one's offering to God was more acceptable than the other's. Even though religious discrimination, marginalisation and alienation of others might not actually kill other people, yet the effect is not far different. Women, gay and lesbian people have been considered unclean - they might as well be dead for all the notice that will be taken of them. Perhaps this is what Jesus means by the words: 'Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.' (Matthew 10.28)
Christopher Bantick is a Melbourne writer and social commentator, writing in the Herald Sun recently said: 'Banners on St Paul's (Anglican) Cathedral (in Melbourne) calling for Justice for David Hicks and Make Poverty History are unlikely to be replaced with Stop Discrimination of Gay Clergy.' (http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,22508717-5000117,00.html)
Jesus was not killed because he bid the orthodox be thankful. Jesus was killed by those who 'loved God', because he cured Samaritans and found faith in them, rather than in the orthodox.
So for all my personal failings, the sins, negligences and ignorances of a lifetime; (of which there has been many) they actually pale into relative insignificance when we consider the effect that the church's teaching on women, gay and lesbian people on everyone else who is 'different'.
The church can pontificate on things like David Hicks, things where 'others' deficiencies can be pointed out, yet remain blind to it's own prejudices and deficiencies. We can concentrate on going to confession, or trusting in the Lord that his atonement includes me, but in the end if this doesn't impact on how we treat others who are different, then they might as well be dead.
I note that 'the decade of the 1990s was declared the Decade of Evangelism by resolution of the Lambeth Conference of 1988. It called the provinces and dioceses of the Anglican Communion, in cooperation with other Christians, to make this a time of "renewed emphasis on making Christ known to the people of his world."' (http://www.episcopalchurch.org/19625_14165_ENG_HTM.htm) This might have been thought uncontroversial yet ever since the Church has been wracked by debates over just who is acceptable, and the limits of female ministry in the Church. Surely this is no accident. Surely God is here saying something to the churches! Perhaps it is only God suggesting to us that it might have been more useful to work out who is acceptable to us and who can minister fully in the church before thinking about inviting all and sundry!
I thoroughly enjoyed lunch today with a retired minister and his wife, and the course of our conversation turned to young people being confirmed without really much idea of what faith is all about. I said that now-a-days young people were taught to think for themselves and to express their opinions which is essentially inclusive, whereas the church teaches compliance to doctrines that inevitably exclude others. Is it any wonder that young people seem to not have much idea about faith, when I'm not sure that the Church is all that certain about it? This retired minister is thinking about forming a 'fingers-crossed' church where people can express their reservations about traditional church teachings :-) But I cannot say this without putting the other side to young people and their perceptions. In the book by Fynn: 'Mister God, This is Anna' Anna says: 'Them words that say to keep off the grass them words are like that church we went in this morning.' .. 'Like the flower beds, the church service has been to Anna nothing less than a notice saying 'Keep off the grass'. She couldn't get to the best bits. To be inside a church, not at a church service, but simply to be inside, was for Anna like visiting a very, very special friend .. surely a good enough reason to dance ..' (p47)
Jesus found faith in this foreigner, and Jesus will therefore continue to find faith in all sorts of people, people who recognise that all people are included by God. Of course this means not just exclusively people who come to church. It includes young people and old people, humanists as much as 'christians'. Inclusion, hospitality, hospitals, health and life is for all.
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