Sermon–October 9, 2016


21 Pentecost—23-C

October 9, 2016

William Bradbury

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c, Psalm 111, 2 Timothy 2:8-15, Luke 17: 11-19

Do you have a bucket list? You know a list of those things you want to do before you kick the bucket? I don’t have one yet, but I’m pretty sure one thing that won’t be on it: I have no desire to jump out of a perfectly good plane at 5000 feet with a piece of cloth strapped to my back.

Now I can imagine going through the training to make a jump. I can imagine learning the physics of the thing and statistically how safe it is, and how much fun. I can imagine even climbing on the airplane with the parachute on my back but no matter how convinced I am in my head that this is a good thing to do, I simply cannot imagine myself jumping out. In other words, you could say I have an intellectual belief in skydiving but I do not have faith in skydiving.

Only the person who jumps out of the plane has the faith. Ten lepers hear Jesus is passing through their town, so they cry out: Jesus, Master, have mercy on us! They keep their distance from Jesus as required by the law and Jesus tells them what he wants them to do: go to the local priest and show him that you have been made well, so the priests can certify the cure and let the community know these men are OK.

The problem of course is they have to start walking to the priest BEFORE they are healed. They first have to jump out of the plane if they want to get to the ground of healing.

In other words they must have faith. Faith is not just beliefs a person holds about Jesus: It becomes faith when we act on what Jesus tells us do.  All ten lepers have faith enough to obey Jesus and head toward the priest. Jesus says, go to the priests, and they go. That’s faith. Their action doesn’t make them well, but their action is how they participate in the healing. Jesus says, go and they go. That’s faith. But it’s not a leap into an irrational void, but a rational step based on knowledge of Jesus.

We see the same dynamic in the first reading: Naaman, the Syrian general also has leprosy but when the prophet Elisha tells him to go wash in the Jordan seven times he refuses to go, because the Jordan is such a small, ordinary river. He doesn’t trust Elisha so no way is he going. But then his servant talks him into having the faith to act and he is healed.

To be a disciple or apprentice of Jesus is to agree to have this kind of faith: the faith to trust Jesus enough to do what Jesus tells you to do. Jesus teaches his followers that doing what he says is the easy yoke because it heals the soul and gives life. But from the world’s point of view it can look like a difficult apprenticeship, because our mental maps are so different from the one Jesus is working with.

For example our mental map tells us to run from Samaritans and foreigners, but Jesus tells us to welcome them. Our mental map tells us to hate our enemies, but Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Our mental map tells us to put ourselves first, but Jesus tells us to put ourselves last.

To follow Jesus is to move from trusting our mental map to learning to obey the one Jesus teaches. Jesus doesn’t come to tell us the minimum requirements for getting into heaven after we die, but rather he tells us how to live so that we enter heaven before we die and stay in heaven through our death and beyond to the New Creation.  

Now notice this apprenticeship does not require certainty, it only requires action. Certainty is a “product of the mind and has a feeling quality to it.” It cannot be forced, and if you try to force certainty it can damage the soul. So we preachers do great harm to people when we try to force them into a state of certainty. I’m borrowing here from  book/audio by  John Ortberg and Dallas Willard, Living in Christ’s Presence

Jesus doesn’t ask for certainty, but only asks for the faith to do what he tells us to do. We don’t have to be 100% certain it will work, we only have to act on what he says. The ten lepers were not 100% certain they were going to be made well, but they had enough faith in Jesus to do what he asks. Jesus calls us not to certainty but to action. As we act on what he says, we come to see that his view of reality is true. As we follow Christ we experience the healing of our bodies and our souls and our world.

One area that we struggle with is in Jesus views on money. Jesus says “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” This flies in the face of the world’s belief that you find life by getting, not by giving.  But Jesus asks, “What happens, though, when you get the whole world but lose your soul” Surely that is hell on earth to have everything except a life with which to enjoy it.

So we are like those ten lepers, except our disease is in the soul, not in the skin: Jesus tells us if we want to get well, we must walk toward giving. Jesus doesn’t ask for 100% certainty that this is true. He asks that we act on his word and find out for ourselves if it is true in our own lives.

Every fall we get to experiment with this word of Jesus. Our stewardship campaign which supports our yearly operating budget asks you and me to give to the church in support of our worship, Church School, fellowship, and mission. Every year as we fill out our pledge cards we are thrown into the struggle between our default mental map and Jesus’ map.

I know many of us have given generously to the Living Stones capital campaign which will help secure our physical plant. We only do capital campaigns once every 15 or 20 years. But every year we have to support the work of this parish. Usually we ask of ourselves to consider raising our pledge each year, but because of your living stones commitment, we’re asking that we give what we gave last year, and increase it only if it is possible to do so.

Now, like many of you, I pay my pledge twice a month through my bank’s online bill pay: Which means twice a month I must decide if I am willing to act once again—that is, am I willing to jump out of the plane of my security into the freedom of the Children of God? Am I willing to trust Jesus, instead of myself?

In the gospel today only one of the ten comes back to give thanks to Jesus for his healing. Always giving thanks is a great thing to keep on our bucket list. Our pledge to All Saints is one significant way we show our gratitude to Jesus for calling us to himself and calling us to the adventure of faith. And as we act, Jesus says to us what he says to the leper: “Go in peace, your faith has made you well.”