Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Meeting our Master in Neediness

As the new girl in town I was blessed to preach the Thanksgiving Eve ecumenical service- what a blessing!

I’d like to start out by asking a question: How many of you are planning on flinging yourself on the ground, with your face in the dust as the way of saying thank you tomorrow at your Thanksgiving meal? Any takers? No, me either. It’s not exactly our way of giving thanks. It doesn’t seem like us. Yet in a lot of ways we’ve made being thankful fit our needs. From turning to Hallmark to find the right words for us to funding research to show being thankful is worth it. Studies show that being thankful improves our health, and relationships, and business success. So we can feel good. And Lord you know we’re busy,it’s hard to find time to be thankful. So we hope it’s OK to offer perfunctory words to a God who’s just pleased we say thanks, who just wants a minute of our time. Right?

The leper’s response is fundamentally different, profound and worshipful. Heartfelt. Many of us will say thanks tomorrow, many of us have a usual prayer. I confess I too am not agonizing over the prayer nearly as long as the preparations for the meal. We’ve been busy trying to outdo ourselves. Making sure we get it right. Have the meal at a time that allows me to go to yours AND the other side of the family too. To do the expected things. But we are hurrying to meet our schedule and of course, football. With the table groaning with the weight of the food and we remember Wait! Someone should say grace, but Hurry up while it’s all hot. Hurry before it conflicts with our scheduled lives. When I was gorwing up I remember years when grace sounded like this: “Blessusolordforthesethygiftswhichweareabouttoreceivethroughyour bountyinchristsnameamen.” 48 years of living have shown me a few Thanksgivings like that. Thanks that’s not too deep or needy.

The lepers were needy. That’s not a word we like. We don’t like to think about neediness. Their community was built on neediness. The disease they had in common drew them together. But all of the really important relationships had been cut off. Then they meet Jesus, who tells them it’s all changing and go and do what restores you. Seeing the priests would restore them to community and more importantly, from God’s perspective, to worship. But I wonder was their first thought was about being glad to worship in the temple or about their other rights and privileges-to eat and drink and socialize? I’m not sure, but for nine former lepers, they could now wake up and say the expected morning prayer of thanks they used to:” I give you thanks God, that I am not one of THEM!” I’m chosen.

For nine this works.

But for the tenth, the Samaritan, he’s one of those people the other nine will resume giving thanks they are NOT. Going back to this status quo doesn’t work. Going back to the way it was is still being left out. Going home meant picking up the same old labels, limits, violence and prejudice. It would after all, be expected. To stand with a different idea would take more than faith in the status quo. Yet, he’s been healed by a man who should never have had anything to do with him even if he weren’t a leper. So who would do this? And why? It must mean something more. Who is this man for whom distinctions don’t matter? It has to be about something more that liberates and restores in a larger way than the status quo. That’s not just healing that’s salvation. He ponders this I think because what Jesus does and brings forth is a game changer.

For most of us being able to gather together and eat tomorrow is expected, not a game changer. Most of us will thank God for blessings of loved ones and family and the mashed potatoes. I doubt we’ll sit down and speak of our neediness and of being saved from the status quo by Christ. I doubt we’ll sit down to dinner and think about THAT when we say the words of thanks we call “grace.”

That would be a real leap of faith. Our holiday of Thanksgiving began after a gut wrenching time in this country, nail-biting existence. A community galvanized by fundamental neediness who realized the status quo had not been enough. That was true in the later 1700’s and again in 1863 when Abraham Lincolnn issued the proclamation on our bulletins. But that’s all been co-opted in our world, both on the official day and in daily living. But turn on the news again today and see than in this world, this country and this city as we look at the collapse of the status quos and people’s general dis-ease today, perhaps we really are called to stop and ponder more deeply.

It really is about something more. What happens in the Gospel BEFORE this story of the ten lepers is that the disciples have asked Jesus to increase their faith. Not to give them faith, but to deepen it.

Jesus first asks them if a servant should be thanked for getting his master a meal. “Of course not!

The servant is just doing his job.” Doing what is expected. That’s not a deep concept.

This is when we hear of Jesus and the ten lepers. Nine saw they were healed and responded with what was expected. The tenth, responded with deeper faith, beyond his condition, with insight into a glimpse of the power of Christ. He wasn’t just healed, he was saved. Which is not about fixing our status quo, or keeping it. The key to understanding how Jesus is about more than this is the word the lepers call him- “Master.” Every time we hear it, something profound happens. Throughout the Gospel of Luke, when someone cries out Master, here is what happens:

When we’ve tried every strategy, used all of our energy, and all of our time, we’re exhausted and we think there is nothing more to be expected-. “Master!” And Jesus tells the skeptical – “try again. Put in the net the way I say” It defies our methods, but the result is beyond comprehension. When things seem dangerously choppy, and perilous, and we feel alone in the churning and uncertainty-“Master!” Out of chaos, Jesus stills the storm. When we think something is too big to be changed, too overwhelming to be reversed, and there is nothing we can do“ Master!” And Jesus brings healing. When we think we know how the world is structured-our Master brings reversal. None of these seem easy or possible and by our hand they are not. That’s right- they’re NOT. This is what the words from our reading from Deuteronomy tell us. No matter how much intellect, or desire or strength we have. Saying “Thank you for ourselves and our status quo” isn’t deepening faith. It’s about seeing ourselves in our neediness and where Jesus meets us. We are all needy.

It takes strength to see our neediness and to respond with more than complacency or civic gratitude. It’s a challenge to see God as Master and go beyond approaching God superficially. But this is where Jesus calls us go- deeper into our hearts. To seek greater understanding of who Jesus is. Jesus is the Master. This is blessing and it’s a challenge because this gospel, this good news, will call us to do more than decry the systems that cause oppression and pain. And calls us to do more than brag about how those problems don't happen in our neighborhood, or in our churches. To see that they do. And to turn to the Master for guidance to do something about it. This gospel calls us to worship and live lives of praise that respond in true recognition of the needs of all us and to respond in true gratitude for God’s power and reversal. It’s a distinct and new way of living. That begins with the realization that only in faith and through Jesus Christ can our world receive what we really need.

To hold in our hearts this profound truth-Our Master changes lives. This is worthy of our thanks and praise!

It’s a struggle to follow Christ in the face of a culture built upon industry and ingenuity as the source and where people tell us systems can’t be changed. Grasping the in-breaking of Christ allows us to proclaim that that there’s no chance for growth and new life if all we are about is token thanks and falling back on our systems. Instead to embrace and proclaim this we really will need the Master. Thanks be to God this is where Jesus meets us, in our need, just like the lepers. Tomorrow when you gather may your heartfelt thanks to the Master be a prayer rooted in this grace.

I close with a prayer for all of us from the Masai people in Tanzania. Let us pray:

For your blessing we thank you, God: faith in you.

Increase it we beg, so that we no longer doubt.

Drive out our miserliness, so that we do not refuse you anything.

Increase our faith, for the sake of those without faith.

Make us instruments of your faith, for those with only a little.

Fill our bodies with your faith, our bodies that work for you all our days.

Help us to avoid the enemies of our faith, or to overcome them.

You are with us in confrontations, this we believe.

In your hands we place ourselves and are secure.

Make haste to enter our hearts, make haste.


“Make us Instruments of your Faith” from An African Prayer Book, by
Desmond Tutu, p.  94.

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