The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:

s195g10  Sunday 28  Hanmer Springs  10/10/2010

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter

‘the other nine, where are they?’   Luke 17.17

Over the past weeks I have been moved to say things like: ‘One of the chief characteristics of the ‘church’ is that it knows just how much other people have to do to be acceptable - how much they owe God - and how little it appreciates how much IT owes God.’  So that ‘Our service of ‘Holy Communion’ is more aptly titled ‘Unholy Excommunication’ for so many in the ordinary community outside the church ‘know’ that they really wouldn’t be welcomed here.   They ‘know’ only too well because of bad experiences in the past.’

And I thought about this, because the same thing can be said of thankfulness.   So often it is some church people who are least appreciative of their blessings.   Jesus’ remark about the nine, who were good orthodox Jews says as much.   Orthodoxy, and by this I most certainly mean ‘christian’ orthodoxy, not Jewish orthodoxy, allows the most devout worshippers to look down on other people.   Even when we ‘know’ the Jesus died for our sins, we can so quickly assume that Jesus didn’t die for someone else’s sins.   I mean it’s obvious - they don’t come to church like I do, they don’t believe like I do, they don’t live their lives like I do, and they are intimate with others of whom I don’t approve!!!

When we look at St Luke, it is the despised and heretical Samaritan who is charitable to the Jew, injured beside the road, and it is the Samaritan who is the thankful one.   When such things as these are repeated, it is repeated not to bore us, but to make sure we get the message, and the message is that care for others and thankfulness are often found outside orthodoxy rather than inside it.

I was interested to read these words in the psalm for morning prayer some days ago:
7.   Iniquity comes forth from within them:
and folly overflows from their hearts.
8.    They scoff, they speak maliciously:
indeed they speak of oppression by the Most High.
9.    Their slanders reach up to heaven:
while their tongues ply to and fro on earth.
10.    So the people turn and follow them:
and find in them no fault.
11.   They say, 'How can God know:
is there knowledge in the Most High?'  (Psalm 73)

These are the leaders of orthodoxy - people who speak of ‘oppression by the Most High’ who have others listening to them - they must be religious leaders.   And when these leaders speak of their oppression in the name of ‘god’, naturally ordinary folk are going to think that this is the truth!    The irreligious don’t speak about the Most High in any terms.   Interestingly of course, ordinary folk are now realising the truth that God wants indiscriminate charity and thankfulness, not eternal grovelling from those who proclaim themselves ‘not worthy to gather up the crumbs under (God’s) table’ thinking that this impresses the divine.

And Jesus says to the Jew, emulate the heretical Good Samaritan and to the heretical Samaritan, that it was HIS faith that had made him well, not Jesus’ power.  These things were deliberately confronting to the devout and the orthodox, and it ought to be confronting to us.   It means that forgiveness, charity and thankfulness are found in many people other than ‘christians’ and we should rejoice that this is so.  

I have seen so much sadness as good ‘christians’ and ‘Anglicans’ have sought to convert others to their faith.   Often people just want their minister to get other people into the pews so that the congregation may survive another generation, unchanged.   But the virtues that Jesus points us to are away from devotion to God and towards our neighbour, in forgiveness, charity and thankfulness.

Jesus here calls us as the church to see that the task of the church is not to marginalise women, alienate gay persons and challenge the rest of society, but to recognise that it is precisely these others who ‘naturally’ do what God would have them do, even when they don’t espouse *our* worship, *our* belief, *our* lifestyle choices.

I am not sure that ever such generalisations can ever be always true, but surely God led the ancient people of God into the promised land, and the ancient people of God had to both learn to live with those they displaced and confront un-charity.   The command to not follow other gods is surely to turn aside from un-charity themselves.   The God of the Israelites was and is surely different from these other deities, and if that difference did not extend towards how they dealt with others, then from the outsiders’ point of view, the worship of the God of the Jews was essentially identical to their worship of their idol.   Why would anyone change one idol to another?

Time and again, scripture tells us that the response of the ancient people of God to the mighty acts of deliverance wrought by the Almighty were completely wrong - so much so that this seems a constant human trait.   It can hardly be that the ancient people of God were any different to us!   So this leads me to wonder why I continue to be surprised when ‘christians’ who so frequently and fervently call upon the name of the Lord Jesus and know of God’s forgiveness through the cross and resurrection, continue to marginalise, alienate and challenge others?

Jesus heals these lepers, whether they be orthodox or heretical.   Therefore God heals people whether they believe or not, whether they believe correctly or not, indeed often whether they even ask or not!   This is God’s nature.

And the healing of these lepers means more than physical healing.   Because they were healed they were able to resume their place in ordinary society.   They were no longer to be ostracised.   Their healing was an incarnation back into society, not out of it; they were born again into society, not into a holy huddle; repentance was theirs, they rejoiced that they were found along with others, returned back into their rightful place amongst other people.

The thankful Samaritan is commended for his thankfulness which obviously is more important than his faith, whether that faith is heretical or orthodox, and he sent back home - not with any command to become a Jew or even religious.

Often we think about our faith in personal terms, that we should be more thankful, personally, for the blessings we enjoy.   And certainly, personal thankfulness is a good thing - it does make life a lot more enjoyable than being forever grumpy.   Enjoyable for those around us as well as ourselves.

But Jesus means more than this.   He is saying that our faith needs to be thankful rather than receiving blessings as a right because of our orthodoxy, devotion, faith in prayer or whatever.

Jesus did not die on the cross 2000 years ago because of my lack of thankfulness now and he certainly didn’t die on the cross to forgive, again and again, my continuing lack of thankfulness as a person.   He did die on the cross because those in religious authority were not thankful that Jesus saw worth in people other than themselves.   They would rather kill than be confronted with a God who found worth in people other than themselves.   And, of course, that is precisely what they did and why they did it.

And so the question continues to be important to us as a religious community: Do we follow a God who is interested in the devotion we give in worship, or in the worth we see in people who don’t worship like us, believe like us and live in ways of which we do not approve?  

Jesus was travelling through a region between Samaria and Galilee.   So Jesus went out of his way to make this point, that he found worth in people other than the orthodox and the devout.   Jesus continues to look for value in people other than us too, whether they come to church or not, and surely bids us do likewise.

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