October 14, 2001
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Reading

Luke 17:11-19

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" 14 When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well." (NRSV)

Psalm 66:1-12

1 To the leader. A Song. A Psalm. Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth; 2 sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise. 3 Say to God, "How awesome are your deeds! Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you. 4 All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name." Selah 5 Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds among mortals. 6 He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There we rejoiced in him, 7 who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations -- let the rebellious not exalt themselves. Selah 8 Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, 9 who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip. 10 For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. 11 You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; 12 you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place. (NRSV)

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On September 11 we kept hearing people say, our world will never be the same – and today a month later we are just beginning to understand what that means. take a minute, right now and think about what has changed – for you, for your family and for our nation.

We have a lot in common with the main character in our first reading this morning – a leper, a Samaritan that came back to Jesus after he was healed and said thank you. We also have a lot in common with the other 9 lepers who just kept going on their way – and never looked back. Let me explain -

A leper in Jesus’ time was anyone with any kind of disease that didn’t respond to treatment. By religious law all “lepers” were isolated – considered unclean.

Leviticus 13:45-46

45 The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, "Unclean, unclean." 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (NRSV)

Before they were sick, they had their families and their jobs, and after they were ill, they lost everything that they valued. They were banished by a force that they had no control over. They were exiles, their work and its fulfillment replaced by begging and shame. Their life of freedom and happiness and love - gone. In its place would be sadness, grief, depression, and frustration. They would just be trying to go on, day after day, just trying to hold it together in the absence of their old life. Life would never be the same.

In a way this nearly describes where we are as a nation. One day we were happy, independent, secure, and self-assured. The next day, September 11, we were anxious, sad, angry and suspicious – you can fill in the blanks. Our lives changed – and will never be quite the same. It is difficult to live as we had before that day –because we in many ways, are like the lepers. We are in exile even though we are in our own country. We look out at our world and barely recognize it. Our exile is being caught in our anxiety, our concern for the future, our fears for our children, our wondering, and our waiting. It is in our unwillingness to travel, our uneasiness about crowded cities – innocent looking mail, strangers – the list goes on and on. Now, Where do we find our salvation?

The president says to us, go back to your life – get back to normal…

The prophet Jeremiah has the same advice for the people of Israel when they were sent into exile in Babylon by Nebuchanezzar.

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

4 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (NRSV)

It sounds familiar – go about your business - get your life back. Don’t let this get you down. Seek your own salvation.

That’s God’s advice to us today, just as it was to the people of Israel long ago. But how do we accomplish that? How do we seek our own salvation?

Think about this, all ten of the Lepers were healed, but only one found his salvation.

The Samaritan – the foreigner – goes back to Jesus – with his heart brimming with thanksgiving… he was a stranger to the faith of the culture that he was in, so he was surprised when he found that he had been healed. He goes back to offer his gratitude and finds that his salvation.

Nine others – familiar with Jesus - expected that they would be healed – and went on their way to the priest. They were obedient, but not overwhelmed with gratitude and praise. Ten Lepers were healed, one leper was saved.

Salvation is offered to us through our appreciation of all that God can do for us. Our salvation is linked to eyes that see and ears that hear. Our salvation, our peace, and sense of wholeness returns when we notice that God’s blessings – the grace of Jesus Christ is all around us everyday.

And in the past month we have had ample opportunities to react as the stranger – the one in exile – to be surprised and grateful for the grace that has entered our lives. We found no problem in saying thanks for the firefighters or police or rescue workers, or the cross that appeared out of the ruins or the many many miracles that we have seen. It is easy to be grateful when we are surprised by grace.

Jesus knew that – and still he asked, why did only one come back?

The temptation is to become numb to the glory of God’s everyday grace, like the 9 who went on their way. There are blessings all around us, that we take for granted… like a baby to baptize this morning, and a whole gaggle of small children in our Church school. Or a roof over our heads and food on the table. Jobs where we can find fulfillment and schools that we can send our children to. Sunday morning worship and Bible study classes. Friends and loving family. Just going to the grocery store or the gas station – our freedom as a nation that believes in liberty and is willing to risk everything to protect it. All blessings - all easy to take for granted.

Jesus says, If you want your life back then be like the one who came with his eyes filled with grateful tears. Recognize the wonder in what you least expect and in what you assume to be a part of every day life. And know where it came from - for God is the one who provides for our daily needs, who can bring good out of evil and blessings out of trials and pain. … God is the one who can lift our fear, our suspicions, our hesitations, our anger and our pain. God is the one who will save us from a sense of being exiled in our own land. God is the one who offers us freedom and who sustains our faith.

Every detail of every life here is worth our deepest gratitude, and that is our challenge – if we want to get on with our lives - marry and have families, baptize our infants, celebrate the marriages of our daughters and sons, build our homes and grow our gardens, send our children to school, and go to our jobs. We had better be about the business of saying thank you for all that we have - every moment of every day. Before every meal, when we put our heads on the pillow, as we are driving to work or listening to the news… we have to thank God for all that we have. For it is in the recognition of those blessings that we will find ourselves like the leper, face to face with God, ready to receive our salvation.

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