A Sermon on New Babies, Healed Lepers, Changing Leaves, and Potential Energy

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The changing leaves on the property of Merck Farms, Rupert, Vermont.

Luke 17:11-19

One of my favorite things to do as a pastor — okay, maybe even my favorite thing — is to go and pray over newborns. When Ken and Bonnie called me separately a several weeks ago to proudly tell me that their new grandson had arrived, it was great to be able to go to the hospital to visit the brand new baby Pueschel and his parents. It was a beautiful experience to hold baby Bodhi, less than twelve hours old, with his entire life before him. Only God knows what that tiny one will grow up to be and do — and that’s the beauty of holding a new baby.

And I think of this, my first autumn here in South Hadley, as the trees that I have come to know around here, one by one, show me what color they will become in their fall brilliance.

And I think of us, just getting to know one another in these nine months (to the day, actually) that we’ve spent together. We are just beginning to discover what we will be together, and all we know at this point is that God has put us together and is with us for the time that we will spend together. God began something new by putting us together, and now? What we will be is up to us.

It reminds me of the lepers that Jesus heals in this story today — he gives them entirely new lives by healing them, and it’s entirely their choice what they will do after they show themselves to the priests.

One of my mottos for ministry comes from the musical Hamilton: “If you’ve got skin in the game, you stay in the game.” As I thought about these texts about lepers being healed, skin was a common theme that led me to think about that motto quite a bit.

Because the Gospel story is about Jesus healing ten lepers — leprosy being a skin disease, after all. When these folks found out they had leprosy, their lives as they knew them were over. It was a skin disease that, in those days, rendered a person an outcast, unable to be part of society, having to call out “Unclean, unclean!” as a warning if they got too close to healthy people. But when these lepers see Jesus, who’s on his way to Jerusalem, they call out something else.

The story goes like this: “As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean.”

It would seem that their skin was transformed as they walked.

And there was one particular leper who was so overcome with joy by this that it seems he didn’t make his way to the priests at all, but came back to Jesus, thanking him.

And he, Jesus tells us (and his Jewish audience, meaningfully), was a Samaritan.

A Samaritan. The folks the Jews hated. They were heretics. Half-breeds. Outcasts. Jews, we are told over and over in the Gospels, did not associate with Samaritans.

It seems to me that from the Samaritan leper’s perspective, there are two miracles here, of which the healing is the second. The first miracle is that Jesus, the famous Jewish rabbi, a rock star of his time, stopped to care about this Samaritan leper at all. Though they all received a gift, it seems the Samaritan received a gift twice over.

If you’ve got skin in the game, you stay in the game.”

Now, Jesus heals all ten of them. Their reactions to that healing, and their newfound lives afterwards, were entirely up to them. Practically speaking, they were born again, with a new lease on life. The ones who went to show themselves to the priests were following Jesus’ instructions: they would show themselves to the priests and be declared clean and be able to re-enter society.

(As evidenced in the Old Testament, priests had the not-so-great role of getting to examine people’s skin for infectious disease. Let’s just say I’m not sad that this role in our age has fallen to dermatologists instead of clergy.)

The other lepers follow Jesus’ instructions, are healed on the way, and get a new lease on life, their certificate of clean-ness, declared by the priests. Assuming that the others were all Jewish, they would be able to re-join the Jewish community and live productive lives.

But the Samaritan turns back. He turns back, I think, because he is overcome with awe for this Jewish rabbi who, against all odds, saw him — really saw him, and cared. He turns back because he wants to know this Jewish rabbi. He wants community. The stakes are higher for this guy.

The Samaritan had more on the line than the others. He was twice-ostracized, a Samaritan and a leper. And Jesus has given him a new lease on life, a newfound humanity, first by seeing him, then by healing him. And so before he begins his new life, he turns back and gives thanks. He’s not finished with Jesus just yet.
“If you’ve got skin in the game, you stay in the game.”

Every single Sunday at this table we go through what is called the Great Thanksgiving, the prayer before we take the Eucharist together. You can find it, each Sunday, noted in your bulletin.

Every single Sunday, we turn back to give thanks. The Great Thanksgiving changes by the season, but it always swirls back into history from the dawn of creation to the coming of Jesus, giving thanks for God’s love and presence at our table, inviting the Holy Spirit to fall anew onto us and the Holy Supper. Every single Sunday after gathering and hearing God’s Word, we turn back together to give thanks.

God became flesh and bone and skin for all people, giving each of us a new lease on life, leaving it entirely up to us what we would become. And some of us turn back to give thanks and some don’t, but all are loved and healed. But some of us aren’t finished with Jesus just yet, so here we are.

It’s at this point that you might be expecting the sermon to talk about how we should become thankful people. Regardless of how you feel, I’m here to tell you that your presence here signals that you already are.

“If you’ve got skin in the game, you stay in the game.”

You’re not done with Jesus, and Jesus ain’t done with you.

You may not feel like it now or all the time, but you’ve got skin in the game.

You are here because there’s something at stake for you. You are here because something in you wanted or needed or felt like you had to be here.

You may not feel like it, but you — we — have turned back, come here, taken the time to give thanks. We have all felt ostracized, a little weird, a little out of step with the world at some point. We’re here because we’re amazed that Jesus cared — or maybe we’re still wondering if he could. But we all have skin in the game, and “if you’ve got skin in the game, you stay in the game.” And here we are, staying in the game, Sunday by Sunday and days in between.

I see it in you all the time: the way that your actions tell me that you have skin in the game, and that you’re staying in the game. All the time, and every single Sunday, you come here and you pull your cars into the parking lot and tell the world: “We’re still here! Hallelujah!”

Paul, when he stays for hours to work on the property. Deb, when she spends countless hours on the bulletin and the other business of the church. Bruce and Marty, who are here so often with food and cheer. Marge and Bob, for their constant service and smiles. Barb, taking so much of her time to lead members of the community and our own members in the Financial Peace University program and spending even more time on our many outreach projects, and Margit when you organize our meals for Cathedral in the Night and do our financial stuff, and Howie as he continues to organize our finances, and Sue and Beverly when they meet for prayer — praying for me and for you guys, by name, each and every week — and I could go on and on and on with this list for days, naming each and every one of you. There is something special here, in this small but mighty congregation of people who are so full of gratitude that you can’t help turning back to show it, over and over and over again.

It’s your love, your dedication that flows out of your gratitude to God that makes me want to be a part of this church’s legacy — this future, full of potential, that we get to build together or however long God keeps us together. We are here together and we will change each other forever, and God only knows what we will become.

And just like the new babies that pastors have the high privilege of praying over, and just like the leaves that are transforming into a myriad of brilliant colors that I’ve never seen before, and just like lepers who get a new lease on life, we get to see together what we will become, because we’re not done with Jesus just yet.

So let us together, like we do every week, turn back to thank God. Let us pray together in hope for healing, let us marvel at God’s grace so apparent here among us, and let us say the Great Thanksgiving together, like we do every week, sharing in the Holy Feast together, like we do every week. And then let us go into the world in gratitude, knowing that the God that started this good work among us will bring it to completion.

God has given us all a new lease on life, free of charge, and it is up to us what we will become. And so let us get up and go on our way: regardless of the states of our bodies, let us be confident — what Jesus says to the leper he also says to us: our faith has made us well. Amen.

One thought on “A Sermon on New Babies, Healed Lepers, Changing Leaves, and Potential Energy

  1. This is one of those sermons that keeps me going. Thanks so much for putting it out there. It’s important to hear when spirits are lagging.

    Like

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