Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Sermon for 10/9/16: Borderlands

(NRSV) Luke 17:11 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.”

Election Day cannot come soon enough. Every time it seems a though it really can't get worse or more bizarre, it does. This last few days have been horrifying. I am so tired of it all but I’m also afraid it will never quite be behind us. Something has changed.

The general election has been bad enough but part of what makes it so awful is that our tolerance for vitriol was so tested and expanded by the primaries. Up until this weekend, the war of words and actions between the Republican and Democratic candidates is nothing compared to the battles of mud and blood that took place within the Republican and Democratic primaries. That was meaner and dirtier. Many Democrats who were sure what it meant to be a Democrat and many Republicans who were sure what to it meant to be a Republican could not believe who their fellow Republicans and Democrats were supporting. Friendships and family relationships were already torn apart and it’s become worse.

This has brought out the worst in us and set any commitments to an already eroded civility back years. I’m afraid we’ve established the new norm in the way we relate to each other for awhile.

At more than one moment this has felt like more than a simply an erosion of civility and the first stages of what could the precursor to civil war. There are lots of good reasons to be angry about the state of the world and our relationships and sometimes all it seems like it needs to turn into something even worse is the wrong lit match meeting the wrong gasoline at just the wrong time. When our self-interests don’t even match up with the self-interests of those we feel closest to, all hell can break loose.

We’ve seen this play out again and again in families, within communities, within countries and between countries. The battles between those we somehow see ourselves as completely different from are one thing but the battles and conflicts between those we share the most with tend to be the worst. The repercussions of our Civil War still aren’t over. The countries that were a part of the former Yugoslavia continue to be in a tense relationship. The Rwandan Genocide in which as many as one million were killed over the period of just 100 days. The hot war between North and South Korea may have ended but they are still countries at war. The voting public in Columbia just voted against a peace treaty in that country’s long running civil war. The list goes on.

In today’s scripture, it might be the themes of gratitude, healing that stand out or maybe the fact that there were 10 lepers that really stands out to you. The piece about the Samaritan might seem like a smaller piece of the story. The idea of the Good Samaritan is so common that we may only hear it as The Story of the Good Person. Those of us who might have been part of the church for awhile may also be familiar with other stories of other Samaritans. We might know that there was some tension there and that they Samaritans were considered to be unclean and disliked but we might not have a clear idea about the depth of enmity that was present in this relationship.

The Samaritans are Jewish. There are only a little less than 800 in the community right now but they are recognized as Jewish by the Israeli government. During Jesus’ time, they were in their golden years with about a million people. Hundreds of years previous to this time, during the rule of King Solomon, they were part of a united kingdom with those who came to be called the Samaritans in the northern part of the kingdom. There were clearly ways some of their beliefs differed and their claims of who were the “true Jews” never seems to have ended. After Solomon was no longer King, they broke into separate kingdoms and during future wars and attempted conquests frequently took differing sides from each other. On more than one occasion, violence even broke out.

Each side taught that the other side was unclean and they shouldn’t talk together, be together or visit each other. Systems of institutionalized ethnocentric hatred were developed, strengthened and supported. They weren’t just competing for land or treasurer they were competing to claim their beliefs, identities and realities were legitimate while simultaneously trying to delegitimize the other. At this point, this wasn’t a story of one group trying to oppress another group as much as two groups of people - close to equals - who just hated each other.

When, in today’s scripture, Jesus healed the 10 lepers it doesn’t seem as though he knew a Samaritan was among them. Sure, he was in the border lands but, but by what was said, he didn’t seem to know a Samaritan was among the lepers until the Samaritan turned back to thank him. At the moment he did, it was more than simply words of gratitude that was were being shared. It was highlighting the graciousness of “the enemy.” It was humanizing “the enemy.” It was celebrating “the enemy” in the borderlands some of the most dangerous ground to inhabit. The borderlands can always potentially be contested.

There is something about being about healing in the borderlands... Following Jesus means we go to the borderlands. Sometimes that might be the margins or sometimes those contested places but we go to the borderlands. Sometimes that may mean we seek out the wounded; sometimes the ostracized; and sometimes the warriors but we follow Jesus to the borderlands.

This is where the church needs to be present so that we can do the work of justice, alleviate suffering, and deepen our faith while sharing the Gospel. We live in a world that seems to be enamored with the destruction of the world and finding someone else to blame and punish for it. We are convinced of the irredeemable nature of some. We don’t always understand how what we do externally also turns back on us internally and we end up having to suppress that part of us that turns our self-blame into deep shame; that turns punishment of others into the diminishment of ourselves; that turns our certainty of others worthlessness into uncertainty or our own self-worth. It’s killing us all.

So, Jesus calls us to the borderlands where we can find each other and recognize our mutual sickness that causes us to shed our skin and become someone else we no longer recognize. This is where Jesus meets us and heals us, together, not a part. This is where we become community and, together, transform the borderlands in to a bond. This is where we risk being faithful. This is where we risk being compassionate. This is where we risk doing justice. This is where we risk opening ourselves up to One who through our own healing calls us to risk being part of the healing of others and the world.

These days are rough ones and, like many of you, I feel beat down by them, too. But the same God of miracles and resurrections is the same God who is just not done with us, yet. Some may tell us the borderlands are frightening and dangerous and full of risk but we have to be courageous enough to seek healing there and ask aloud if some of those who insist on these borders might be the same ones who are trying to benefit from them the most…

There is healing to be found in the borderlands...