The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Gracious God, from whom every good gift comes, send your spirit into our lives and by the flame of your wisdom open the horizons of our minds. Loosen our tongues to sing your praise in words and to go beyond speech praising you in the silence deep within our hearts. Amen.
Well here we all are. We got up this morning, we got dressed, and we came to church to gather together to give God thanks. But in the midst of getting dressed and coming to church did you give any thought to why? Why are you here? For some of us I expect it is absolutely that; we have come together in gratitude to give God thanks. Some of us are probably here because the person sitting next to us asked us to come, and we knew it was important to them for us to be here. And so out of love for them – I see some heads nodding – you’re here. It may not have been your first choice this morning, but regardless, you’re here. Some of you may be here because you were kicked out of the house by the person who was preparing your Thanksgiving meal; it was much easier for you to get out of the kitchen and come to church. And for some of you perhaps you’re here because you didn’t want to be alone today. You knew that if you came here you would be in community. Regardless of why you came, we’re so glad that you’re here and that we’re here together as a gathered community of faith.
But the next question logically is: what do you expect to have happen in this roughly hour that we’re together? What are your expectations? Say some prayers? Sing some hymns? Have the Eucharist or a blessing? Well I can assure you that all of those expectations will be met this morning. It’s not Thanksgiving unless we sing “We gathered together to ask the Lord’s blessing.” What if God has something in mind for you that you didn’t expect? We have a God of surprises. And what if God was prepared to exceed your expectations this morning?
In the gospel lesson you just heard, it is a story of yes, meeting expectations and hopes, but also, in a surprising and unexpected way, exceeding them. You heard the story; Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and along the way he encounters ten lepers. In that day lepers were outcasts of society. They literally had to live outside of community because they were unclean. And the laws of that day were that if a person approached a leper, the leper was required to say in a loud voice, “Unclean, unclean,” lest anyone get too close. Can you imagine what that would do to you to live day by day, with anyone who came near you, to proclaim not your name, not a greeting, but “unclean, unclean.” That becomes your identity. It’s hard to even imagine. Jesus, in response to the lepers who proclaim “Jesus, Master have mercy on us”—the gospel lesson says very clearly—sees them. He sees them. How often in our own time, in our day, do we not see the outcasts of society around us?
Jesus then does something really interesting. He tells them to go and show themselves to the priest. In that day, if they believed that they had been made clean after having had leprosy, they would go to the priest and it would be the priest’s responsibility to declare them clean which meant that they could resume life in community; they could take on a real human identity. Jesus says this in a way that one would expect that they had already been healed. As the story goes on we hear that they do exactly as Jesus instructed them to do. They proceed to go to the priest and along the way they are healed. Everyone proceeds except one—and a Samaritan no less. A Samaritan was the penultimate outsider; someone who was considered truly “other,” a religious heretic in that day, if you will. It was an ancient racism in that day. The Samaritan, seeing that he is healed, praises God; turns back; praises God and then goes to Jesus and prostrates himself—face in the dirt at Jesus’ feet—to offer thanks. All ten received what they were expecting and hoping for. They were healed. And then Jesus, says specifically to the Samaritan, “Get up and go on your way; you have been healed.”
Well, if that were the end of the story it would be an amazing story—a miraculous healing of someone who was penultimately “other.” But the story is actually much richer than that because the Greek word that is translated for us in this translation “you have been healed” is the Greek word sozos which better translates as “saved.” Jesus tells the penultimate outsider that not only has he been healed; he’s been saved- way beyond anything that he could possibly have imagined that would be his for the receiving.
Our God is a God of surprises. I don’t know what you came expecting this morning, but hold open the possibility that our God, a loving and generous God, may intend more for you—more than you could possibly ask or imagine. In a few minutes we will enter into a time of preparing for the Holy Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the mass. For those of us who are Christians it is our reminder of a sacred meal that’s way beyond anything that you may be having today as a Thanksgiving meal. It’s food and life that will not perish, that fills us, restores us, and makes us whole way beyond our imagination. In her book, The Sacred Meal, Nora Gallagher writes about communion and she makes the following observation. She writes, “It’s dangerous when you open your hands; you don’t know what will end up in them. I think that it may have been the smartest thing that Jesus ever did. He must’ve thought, ‘How can I get them to step into the unknown? How can I get them to be open to receive a surprise? I know, I’ll figure out a way for them to put their hands in front of them-empty.’”
We have the opportunity to be open, empty, ready to receive all that our generous and gracious God intends for us, maybe even this day, maybe even in this service. Keep an open mind, an open heart, an open spirit for all that God intends for you. Happy Thanksgiving. Amen.