Friends, it is very good to be back here with all of you at St. James after six long months away.
There’s a verse from Psalm 84 that gives perfect expression to the fulfillment of our yearning: My soul hath a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the LORD: / my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
I am most thankful for your patience and understanding throughout our closure, for your continued loyalty and participation in the life of this church, for your ongoing financial contributions, and for your presence here today despite the various protocols which I admit are a bit awkward, though necessary. And I also want to thank those who are continuing to join us remotely online and by telephone.
Some of you told me that the thing you missed most was worshipping the LORD in the beauty of holiness in this sanctuary. Again, in the words of our Psalm: O HOW lovely are thy dwellings, / thou LORD of hosts! […] Blessed are they that dwell in thy house; / they will be alway praising thee.
Certainly it’s good and necessary to give thanks and praise to God at all times and in all places – and I hope the pandemic has been an opportunity for you to sharpen that skill - but it is particularly special and fitting to give thanks and praise to God in such a place as this: a sanctuary dedicated to the glory of the LORD and designed so as to facilitate our praise and thanksgiving.
The Gospel story we just heard is about someone who returns to give thanks and praise to God after a long time away. We can see ourselves in the figure of the one thankful leper here this morning. He stands for all of us.
In biblical times, those suffering from leprosy were a quarantined group. They had to practice social distancing and self-isolation. Apparently they were able to form a bubble of ten people, but only because they all had leprosy together! By their disease, they were exiled from the temple and all forms of communal worship.
This social bubble of ten lepers meets Jesus, who is on His way to Jerusalem, the home of the temple. The lepers observe the protocol and stand at a safe social distance; and they lift up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’
That cry for mercy is one I’m sure we’ve all made during this pandemic with its many challenges. So friends, ask yourself this morning: where in your life are you most in need of mercy, relief or restoration?
What happens next in our story? The ten lepers recognize they are healed as they carry out their faithful obedience to Christ’s command. And friends, the same will be true for you in your life: you will find healing as you fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).
But only one of the ten returns to give thanks to the Great Physician. And we are told that he was a Samaritan – that is, someone who, in those days, was a despised racial and religious outsider.
Over these past months, as if the pandemic weren’t enough, our world has also been fraught with racial tensions. And just as Jesus heals the ten of their leprosy, so do we see here the beginning of His mission to heal these social divisions by breaking down the dividing wall of hostility in His flesh through His cross (Eph. 2:14-16).
The Samaritan was a double-outsider on account of both his leprosy and his Samaritan identity. Even without his leprosy, he would never have been welcome to worship God in the temple. But this foreigner, this stranger, now worships Jesus, overcome with gratitude.
And Jesus says to him: Arise and go your way, your faith has made you well, or has saved you, or has made you whole.
All ten of them were cleansed or physically healed, but only one, having established right relationship with Jesus is fully reconciled to God. The other nine were no less healed, but they were less grateful, it might seem. Or, perhaps more likely, they were indeed grateful but failed to express their gratitude to the source of their healing.
Praise and thanksgiving are a vital part of the Christian life – and it’s not just about being polite to God. In the words of C.S. Lewis: ‘I think we delight to praise [and give thanks for] what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; […] the delight is incomplete until it is expressed.’
You see, that’s what makes us whole: turning back to give thanks and praise to God for His mercies and blessings in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So friends ask yourself again, despite the hardships of this pandemic, what do you have to be thankful for in your life? Whatever it is, I invite you to express your gratitude this morning as you return to Christ in this Holy Communion.
And you will hear Jesus say to you in your heart: Arise and go your way, your faith has made you whole. This is not faith-in-general, but the particular belief that the God who makes all things new is at work in your life through Jesus Christ.
Arise and go your way. What way would that be, you might ask? How can we know the Way (John 14:5)?
That brings us to our reading from Galatians where St. Paul tells us to keep in step with the Spirit. Now that you have turned back to Jesus in thanksgiving, now that you have been raised by your faith and the Spirit of Jesus, keep walking in that same spirit of reconciliation and newness of life.
What does this involve specifically?
Paul says: Let us not become conceited, that is, you no longer have to try to prove your worth in this life. You no longer have to seek approval and honour from others or evaluate your life according to the standards and values of the world. You no longer have to live with that insecurity which results either in a proud sense of superiority or a shameful, envious sense of inferiority to others.
Like the Samaritan leper, you have been made worthy and whole in Christ.
And therefore, as Paul ges on to say, each will have to bear his own load. Again, because you are freed from comparing yourself to others, you can now see that you are responsible only to God and only for your own unique set of life circumstances, difficulties, dispositions, opportunities and weaknesses.
And knowing this, with this deep sense of security and purpose, you can then fulfill the command of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens.
I don’t have to tell you that people have all sorts of burdens, troubles and sufferings in this broken world. Start by thinking of the burdens borne by those closest to you in your life. Make their struggle your struggle too. Because you know that you are loved and made whole by Jesus, you are then able to love and make others well.
That is the meaning of your redeemed life in Christ: First, to receive God’s mercy for yourself, to be healed and strengthened by His grace. Then, to allow your heart to be moved with the spirit of thanksgiving, in which we find the overflowing desire to minister the same goodness to our neighbour.
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)