20th Sunday of Trinity: Jeremiah 29, 1 & 4-7, 2 Timothy 2, 8-15 & Luke 17, 11-19
I don’t know if it has ever happened to you? I am talking about that light bulb moment when suddenly it makes sense, the moment when you get something that has hitherto been a bit of a struggle. Teachers certainly report this happening in the classroom and it’s good to know that perseverance is frequently rewarded.
For me the reading we have heard from Jeremiah was a lightbulb moment; it came at a time when I was trying to work out what it really means to be a person of faith. Hearing the reading and listening to a sermon about it, changed my whole faith perspective. Previously I had thought of faith as a system of personal beliefs, albeit beliefs shared with others, reinforced through church attendance and worship. Of course this is an important and foundational aspect of faith. But, what I have come to believe is that to be a person of faith must mean transcending personal beliefs, however strongly held. Faith is not just about me, or even a small group of folk who happen to believe pretty similar things to me; it is also about how we relate to the wider community. The central question is: ‘are we as a faith community a blessing for others; even those who don’t hold the same set of beliefs?’ This is the question Jeremiah is asking? Are the Israelites in exile to be a blessing to the people of Babylon, or are they going to retreat into themselves and become ever more inward looking? These, I would want to suggest, aren’t just historical biblical questions, but also contemporary biblically inspired questions. They are also questions of Holiness, for holiness is an outward facing characteristic.
Jeremiah suggests to the Israelites that they need to commit themselves to the wider community for the common, good. They are also told to pray for the welfare of the city; ‘for in its welfare you will find your welfare.’ I would like to suggest that in Winslow’s welfare we, at St. Laurence, find our own welfare, security and wellbeing. Serving the community prayerfully and materially is part of our DNA but we must always look for new ways to relate, engage and serve. It’s something we need to think about. This week’s pew sheet offers two opportunities for service: helping at the school and prison visiting.
The Church must always also be a placing of healing; that is the message of the gospel reading. Healing is of course, one of our three aspirations. Our hope is that through this church lives can be patched back together and affirmed. That those who feel unclean will feel cleansed. Our challenge is to welcome the unclean, odd, ill and plain different. This is what it means to be hospitable.
This brings me back to another question: has anyone ever said to you ‘after all I have done for you?’ Or have you ever said it? If you haven’t said it have you thought it?
I suspect that Jesus was tempted to ask this question of the nine lepers who didn’t come back to say thank you. Interestingly the one man who came back to say thank you was doubly unclean. There were two reasons why he was an outcaste. First, he was a leper. Secondly, he was a Samaritan. Jesus, under the Jewish codes of exclusion, really had no business engaging with lepers and he certainly shouldn’t have bothered healing, affirming and including a Samaritan Leper. But he did. Jesus was, and is, inclusive. It is interesting isn’t it? The ultimate outcast – as prescribed by a human and religiously inspired system of ranking - expressed his gratitude and remained a member of Jesus’ new faith community. The others? Well, they received what they thought they were entitled to. And, it may well be that as we seek to widen our net of engagement and inclusion we will be constantly surprised by those who choose to say thank you and stick with us, as faithful members of our, St Laurence, community. Amen.
Rev Andrew Lightbown