Kahu's Mana‘o

Keawala‘i Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika

“Thankful Hearts”
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 & Luke 17:11-19

To say to the people of Judah that they should have thankful hearts after being deported to Babylon in 597 BCE following the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem is to obscure, ignore, and deny the depth of their anger and sorrow. Yet that is what the prophet Jeremiah seems to be saying to them in our reading this morning.

To “those who survived the deportation the message is to not resist Babylonian domination, but to accept it.” (Seasons of the Spirit, Congregational Life/Pentecost 2, Wood Lake Publishing, Kelowna, BC, Canada, 2010, page 58) The prophet Hananiah had earlier predicted that the exile would come to an end “within two years” and so he encouraged the exiles to rebel against the Babylonians. (Jeremiah 28:3)

But for Jeremiah, the horizon of time was longer (Jeremiah 29:10) and so it made no sense for the people to rebel. Instead, he encourages them build houses and live; plant gardens and eat; get married and have children. (Jeremiah 29: 5-6)

This is not to say that Jeremiah did not empathize with the suffering of the people. He understood and felt their anger and sorrow but he also understood that they had a choice. They could, out of their anger and sorrow, choose to rebel or to live and to grow in their faith.

By choosing to live and to grow in their faith they would ensure their survival and in time, future generations would receive their freedom and God’s blessings. Although they were exiled in Babylon, “the Babylonians did not sell them into slavery; families and communities were allowed to remain together. Public gatherings were permitted and so was worship.” (Op. cit.)

Jeremiah also encourages them to “seek the welfare of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7) through prayer, and in doing so they would also benefit. Despite being uprooted, the exile proved to be an important time for the people to clarify their identity and relationship with God. “Jeremiah believed that God led the people into Babylon and God would lead them out.” (Op. cit.)

It is Jeremiah who counsels the exiles against listening to prophets like Hananiah and to the “good news” of other prophets who insist that they will soon return to Jerusalem. It is Jeremiah who counsels them to “settle in for the long haul, and be patient with respect to the timing of the return. God has promised that they will be returned to their land, so sit back and trust the promise.” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2010, page 149)

Jeremiah’s words imply that God will be present and active in their daily lives even as they live among people they could call their enemies. Jeremiah makes clear that God is also concerned about the well-being of the Babylonians among whom they now live.

God is concerned not only about the welfare of the exiles. God is also concerned about the welfare of a pagan city and people. It may be a matter of speculation but I imagine Jeremiah may have been concerned about the safety of the exiles; that it may have been out of self-interest and self-preservation that he encouraged them to pray, in effect, for their enemies.

There was no need to spill more blood. They were to sing a new song in a strange land. (Psalm 137) It is for the healing of the nations – of Judah and Babylon – that they are to sing and to pray and to trust in God’s promise.

So it is that we have come to this hour of worship to sing and to pray and to trust in God’s promise of healing not only for the nations but for one another. In whatever circumstances we may find ourselves we come with thankful hearts.

That is the lesson that comes to us from our reading from The Gospel According to Luke. On the way to Jerusalem one day, near Samaria, Jesus and the disciples come upon ten men with leprosy (sic).

For those of us familiar with the settlements at Kalawao and Kalaupapa on Makanalua peninsula on the island of Moloka‘i where over 8,000 men, women and children were exiled beginning in the fall of 1865 because they had contracted Hansen’s disease, it is not difficult for us to understand the social alienation and isolation of the these ten men. (Kalaupapa: A Portrait, Wayne Levin & Anwei Skinsnes Law, Arizona Memorial Museum Association & Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, Special Publication Number 91 1989)

Then and now, people lived in fear of leprosy (sic). It was a term that was used to loosely describe any skin blemish, including what we know as Hansen’s disease. Whether or not the ten men were contagious did not matter because any skin blemish was looked upon with suspicion.

In any case, the ten men like those who were exiled to Kalawao and Kalaupapa were “banished from their homes, from the loving touch of spouses, children, parents, from the faith community – so feared that even to cross the shadow of one with leprosy (sic) was to risk infection.” (Feasting on the Word, Ibid., page 167) As Jesus passes by that day on the way to Jerusalem they call out to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” (Luke 17:13)

Jesus responds by telling them to go and show themselves to the priests. There is no description in the story of a physical healing by Jesus. It is on the way to the priests, after they leave Jesus, that they are healed.

Nine of the men go on their way. Only one returns to thank Jesus. Remarkably it is a Samaritan man - a foreigner, someone who is despised for being culturally and religiously inferior. By emphasizing that the Samaritan leper (sic) is the one who returns, Luke shows us that Jesus’ message reaches beyond the borders of Judea and that the good news is to all people.

After inquiring about the other nine men, Jesus says to the Samaritan man: “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:19) Jesus seems to have no interest in the man’s religion. But he does respond to the man’s gratitude.

Biblical scholars tell us that the phrase, “Your faith has made you well,” may also be translated “Your faith has saved you.” Both are acceptable translations, but the second seems to suggest something more than a physical healing.

It may be that the other nine were cleansed and healed of their leprosy (sic), but the story seems to imply that something more has happened to the Samaritan man who returned to Jesus. He returns with a thankful heart.

So it is that we come with thankful hearts. We come with gratitude: “gratitude for the gift of life, gratitude for the world, gratitude for the dear people God has given us to enrich and grace our lives . . . gratitude for God’s love in Jesus Christ and the accompanying gift of hopeful confidence and wholeness and wellness that comes with it, regardless of the worldly circumstances in which we find ourselves.” (Feasting on the Word, Ibid., page 169)

In a moment we are going to invite those of you who wish to come forward to receive the laying of hands and the anointing of oil to do so – not with fear and trembling, not with guilt or dread – but with a thankful and grateful heart. You may wish to name the person or persons for whom you wish to offer a prayer. It may be a prayer for yourself. It may also be a prayer for a particular concern.

The Rev. John Buchanan is the pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Illinois. He offers the following thought that I want to share with you in preparation for what is to follow: “Writer Anne Lamott says her two favorite prayers are, in the morning, ‘Help me. Help me. Help me,’ and at bedtime, ‘Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.’ For me,’ Buchanan adds, ‘it is that and the weekly ritual of standing and singing, ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow.’” (Feasting on the Word, Op. cit.)

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