Walking the Border

The sound of the car in the drive drifted through the front window, through the spotless living room, through the dining room, and into the kitchen where she was preparing light snacks. That was her cue. Judy washed her hands and carried the tray to the coffee table as her partner Celia greeted the pastor at the front door.

After twelve years in a committed relationship Judy and Celia had finally found a church home where they could be open about their love.

Celia and Judy called out to Jesus as he walked the borders. God’s church walked with Jesus welcoming and affirming the loving couple. 

“A pumpkin patch!”  Hector exclaimed,  “I came around the corner and all I could see was orange. The yard was filled with orange pumpkins.”  He had been noticing how committed the folks at First Congregational were to raising money for others but he never expected them to use pumpkins. He hadn’t seen that many pumpkins in one place since he helped his dad harvest them as a kid.

“I guess it’s time that I check that church out,” he said to himself.  On the following Sunday, he walked into a sanctuary for worship for the first time in decades.

Hector was shocked to find Jesus walking the borders. God’s church walked with Jesus, focusing on others instead of themselves. 

The sudden opening of the door surprised her. It was Saturday after all and Joni had been leaning up against it in an effort to avoid the cold fall wind. But what really surprised her was how warm the air was inside. It enveloped her, healing her near-frostbit fingers. The woman who opened the door was also warm saying,

“Stay as long as you like,” and handed her a hot cup of coffee.  Joni quietly walked in and sat in the back of the sanctuary as the woman who opened the door returned to quietly practicing the piano.  Joni warmed her hands on a cup of coffee as she sat in the back of the sanctuary.

The homeless Joni didn’t expect Jesus to open the door on a Saturday. She didn’t expect to find Jesus and his church walking the border. 

Susan was done with men. After the sexual abuse she’d endured as a child and in her marriage, the last thing she needed to hear at her church was that malarkey about obeying her husband.  But that was what pastor George had preached…a lot! But what finally chased Susan away from the church was when she went to the pastor for help.

Pastor George told her that she must forgive her husband for the black eye he gave her. He told Susan that she must be doing something wrong…and she should try harder to be a pleasing wife.  Then he started quoting the Bible to her about women’s subservience to men.

She didn’t think she’d ever go back to ANY church after that day. But six years later, her best girlfriend had convinced her to check out the new woman pastor in town. She was relieved when the morning prayer began,

“Mothering God, We come to worship your abundant majesty today,” the pastor prayed. You see Pastor Lucy always included the feminine, the masculine, and the mystery of faith within her prayers and liturgy. And Susan noticed.

Susan didn’t expect to find a mothering Jesus walking the border. The church walked with Jesus along the border when it helped Susan reconnect with God by using nontraditional imagery for the divine. 

*****

When the ten lepers called out to Jesus, he responded. He welcomed and healed each one of them.

Jesus walked the borderlands where God’s people struggled. He healed the bodies and the souls of the disregarded and the rejected. 

But what of the ten? What of the nine and the one? In the words of Jesus,

“Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18-19 CEB)

When Jesus sent each of the former lepers off to the temple to have their purification, their healing, validated by the priests the nine went on their way.  One, however was caught between Jesus’ healing touch and the realities of the culture.

He was a Samaritan.

Within the leprous community, the distinction between Jew & gentile didn’t seem to matter but the tenth man would not have been welcomed by the priests. The tenth was not considered a full member of God’s good creation by Jesus’ own people. Despite being healed of skin disease, the Samaritan was still despised.

The Samaritan remained trapped in the borderlands. 

*****

But what of the ten? What of the nine and the one? In the words of Jesus,

“Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18-19 CEB)

Finding ten lepers, ten people with a skin disease, who were rejected by families and friends God-in-Jesus heard their cries for help.

 When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they left, they were cleansed. (Luke 17:14 CEB)

It isn’t that the nine former lepers were doing anything wrong when they headed off to the temple priests. Only the priests in society could certify that they were leprosy-free.  Jesus had told them to go to do just that. Jesus told them to go to the priests. But the tenth newly-healed man was between a rock and a hard place. He could not go to the temple because he wasn’t welcome and…

And yet, as Luke tells us, he was grateful and needed guidance to re-enter society.

The Samaritan was unable to do as Jesus instructed and so he did the one thing he could do. He turned to the savior in appreciation and gratitude. He praised not Jesus, but God. He praised God for what God had done through Jesus.

You see, because Jews and Samaritans did not interact he was only partially healed. Despite the physical healing he had received, the Samaritan was still an outsider, still an undesirable.  From the perspective of the original readers of Luke’s gospel even leprosy-free the Samaritan was an outcast. When the Samaritan returned, Jesus completed the healing.

He removed otherness from within God’s realm. Jesus affirmed by his actions that Samaritans are also loved and welcome.  Samaritans, too, are within God’s embrace.

Those who count such things, remind us that Jesus uses the phrase “your faith has saved you” — what the CEB translates as “Your faith has healed you”   — four times in Luke.  He uses it with a man, a woman, a Jew, and our Samaritan.

When we view this story in the context of the other three, we see that saving faith is open to a variety of people. In the ancient world, this was radical!  Sadly, in our world it is still sometimes a radical concept.

Jesus walks the border, welcoming all to God’s loving realm. We walk the border with Jesus when we open doors to others. 

To walk the borders, however, is not just about unlocked doors, pumpkins, or smiling faces. Walking the borders means we not only welcome all people inside our church doors but we affirm them.  We affirm their sexual orientation or gender identity, their ethnicity, their heritage, the unimaginable horrors they’ve endured, their economic struggles, and their perspective.

We walk the border when, like Jesus, we embrace the very uniqueness that has caused others to be rejected in the past. We walk the border when we see others like Jesus did, as God’s beloved children. AMEN.

***

The text for this sermon is Luke 17:11-19. 

This sermon was preached at Condon United Church of Christ on October 13, 2013.

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Tim strives to share God’s extravagant love for all–no matter what & without strings. Seeking to follow the lure of the Spirit, Tim writes about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in an era where Christianity has come to be associated with hatred and political wedge issues. “Heinous things have been said & done (& still are) in the name of the One who breathed in the Divine,” notes Tim, “but Jesus shows us that God loves extravagantly.” Following the teachings and life of Jesus is about inclusion not exclusion. It is about compassion, grace, and admitting no one has all the answers. It is about responding lovingly to the best of our human ability. It is about people not institutions. It is about social justice. It is about caring for creation. It is about being who we were each created to be. Tim is a former early childhood educator, a runner, a hiker, a devoted husband, father of two adult children and their spouses, and a grandfather of two perfect babies. The former pastor of the Condon United Church of Christ, Tim recently began serving the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Albany, Oregon. He writes from home, from the coffee shop, and wherever the trail leads him.

Posted in Luke, Luke 17, Luke 17:11-19, New Testament, Sermon

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Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

All materials by Tim Graves unless otherwise noted. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

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