Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Sermon at Parish Mass Trinity 20 2016

2 Kings 5:14-17
2 Timothy 2:8-13
Luke 17:11-19
Theresa May last week said that “if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere”. That’s a comment that could be discussed extensively. I’m not going to do that in a sermon, but it might make us think, where do we really belong, and what must it be like if you feel you don’t belong anywhere?
That’s a question of some importance to the ten lepers whom Jesus meets in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus is walking with his disciples. Where? He was going “through the region between Samaria and Galilee”.  It’s a sort of no-man’s land, neither Jewish nor Gentile, probably not a place where anyone would be comfortable living. Not a place where anyone belongs.
And he meets there ten lepers. Leprosy in the Bible covers a range of disfiguring skin diseases, and people who suffered from such a disease was an outcasts from their communities, shunned by religious laws which decreed that they were unclean.
One of these ten lepers was a Samaritan, the other nine presumably are Jewish, as we infer from Jesus’ instruction to them to show themselves to the priests. All ten are outcasts from their own communities.  Curiously this brings the Jews and the Samaritan together in a way they wouldn’t have been otherwise.
Jews and Samaritans ordinarily regarded each other as outcasts, because of their religious differences. But now they are all outcasts together from their own communities. And the only place they can find to live together is this no-man’s land that neither of their communities would call home.
Then they are healed by Jesus, as they had asked. What happens then? Well, the Jewish law said that if you had been cured of leprosy you had to be examined by a priest who would certify that you were once again ritually pure, so you could rejoin your community. And this is exactly what the Jewish former lepers do – as Jesus told them to. Where do they belong? They think, back in their old safe way of belonging, with people like them. They can leave the no-man’s land behind.
But not the Samaritan. He couldn’t show himself to a Jewish priest; even if he was no longer a leper he would still have been an outcast Samaritan. Perhaps he might have shown himself to a Samaritan priest instead. But he does not. Instead, he turns back to Jesus, praising God in a loud voice, and falls at his feet.
Where does the Samaritan belong? With Jesus. Even though that means coming back to where Jesus is, in the no-man’s land, the place where seemingly no-one belongs. And having found Jesus there, he discoveres a new belonging that he had never dreamed of before.
God in Jesus is working for radical inclusion of all those who have found themselves on the outside of the boundaries that humanity draws.
But this has a goal. The story of  the Samaritan leper concludes in the same way as the story of Naaman the Syrian leper. Two people who are doubly outsiders, both because of ritual purity laws and because of their nationality, are brought in and healed. And the culmination of the story for both is not that they are healed but that they find faith.
Naaman says, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel”. The Samaritan leper prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet – that is, he worships him as God, and believes. Jesus says to him “your faith has made you well”.
God’s inclusiveness is about bringng people from the margins into the centre, yes. But even more it is about bringing people from alientaion into relationship – the living relationship with God that is offered through faith in Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel, “inclusiveness” means so much more than just being nice to people who are different, or being good neighbours. That’s fine as far as it goes, but God’s inclusiveness is so much more than that. It is about all people discovering that their belonging together is God’s gift.
Inclusion is not then a favour I extend to someone else, but God’s action in which both I and the other person find ourselves included by God in a completely new way. It is a radical change in belonging, and it is entirely God’s gift.
Once we grasp that, we can see that inclusion and mission are two sides of the same coin. Mission is the sending of the holy faithful people of God into the world; inclusion is the gathering of the world into the holy faithful people of God.
It follows from that that a church that is inclusive is also missional. Gospel inclusion requires that we be missional, and Gospel mission requires that we be inclusive. We have to go out into the places where the outsiders are, walk in the no-man’s land, take the risk of not belonging in any of the ways that human society constructs. Then, we can find ourselves and the people we encounter caught up in God’s embrace, included by grace in the new way of belonging that is his holy faithful people.
There will be no shortage of ways of doing that in the years ahead. Alienation and exclusion seem to be growing forces in our society. The need for all God’s people to be ambassadors for Jesus Christ is urgent. The Diocese of London, of which we are part, sees that very cleary. As Anglicans, we are quite good at welcome and gathering in. But we’re not always so confident about going out and being actively missional in inviting people in.
We are all ambassadors for Jesus Christ already of course, in virtue of our baptism. But living that out is something we learn and grow into, to gain confidence in order to be equipped for the work of mission. The Diocese is rolling out more of its ambassadors programme to help with this, and we will be engaing with that programme here.

It is a privilege and a gift for us to be included by grace in God’s holy faithful people. And it’s a gift that comes with a “bring a friend for free” offer. The question for us is not whether we are going to share it with others, but how. And that is all part of our discovering, with joy, with thankfulness, that God in Jesus has found us and saved us, and given us a new way of belonging that we could never have dreamed of before.

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