Mercy for the in-between – a sermon on Ferguson and Thanksgiving

Author’s note: I don’t usually post my sermons on this blog, mostly because I don’t write anything down when I preach, but if you are interested in what an inner-city pastor preaches on Thanksgiving (with Ferguson in the headlines) then here you go. Word of warning: I can in no way guarantee this is exactly what I said.

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Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

I want to talk to you today about being “in-between” and where we find our God. 

I’ll be honest… I’m a secret perfectionist. It may not seem like it (especially if you have ever seen my office), but my attitude is usually “do it well” or “don’t do it at all.” So being “in- between” is not easy for me. I want people to choose one way or another, but not to choose both. I want people to do one thing or another, but not to try and do both. I want people to be one thing or another, but not to do both.

In our gospel lesson today Jesus is going “through the region between Samaria and Galilee.” Between Samaria and Galilee is not an easy place to be. Good Jews from Galilee don’t associate with those Samaritans… those half breeds, those unclean people and Samaritans can’t stand those people from Galilee who always look down their noses at them.

Sound familiar yet.

Here is little fact: geographically, there is no place “between Samaria and Galilee.” Galilee and Samaria are right next to each other.

Luke could just have no clue about geography, but I think he is trying to make a point.

The honest truth of the matter is this: We don’t like the “in-between” place. We want things to be one or the other, but not both. For the love of God be good or evil, but not both. For the love of God be right or wrong, but not both. Through all of that it is hard to admit that our beliefs are a little more “in-between” then we really want to admit.

Daren Wilson has to be right or wrong, but he can’t be both. Michael Brown has be right or wrong, but he can’t be both. The protesters are good or evil, but not both. The police are good or bad, but not both. Through all of this it is hard to admit that our side might be a little more “in-between” then we think.

It’s hard to admit that the things we might be giving thanks for this Thanksgiving, our luxuries and comforts, might be not be as clearly good as we think. As wonderful as my Xbox is, or as wonderful as it is for me to able to afford to fly to see family it is hard for to admit that perhaps those things are also signs of my wealth and power. In the holidays we are forced endure images of perfect families, perfect meals, and perfect people. It’s hard to admit that our whole lives might be a little more in-between Galilee and Samaria than we want

In our story we happen upon ten lepers. There is no real in-between for the lepers; they are true outcasts. Neither Galilee nor Samaria will have them. No one will welcome them and no one wants them.

Yet the gospel of the matter is this: it is precisely in this in-between place that these lepers find God. It is preciously in this place, this place where we really don’t want to be with these people who nobody really wants, that the living and loving God is found.

It is precisely in this place, and precisely by these outcasts, that the best response to all that going in our world, our nation, and our community is uttered: “Jesus, master, have mercy on us.”

Healing is found in this in-between place. The Word of God is found in this in-between place. Between Samaria and Galilee the lepers find God. And not an angry God, not the God of fire and brimstone, not the God who declares victors and losers. Instead these lepers find God in Jesus Christ. The God who truly listens and truly sees them. The God who truly heals instead of a God who ignores them. The God who is found not just on Zion or any other hill, but in the in-between places. In the burned and destroyed places. In the rough and dirty places.

I am absolutely convinced of this: in the place between protesters and police we will find God.

I am absolutely convinced of this: We will find God in the place between our imperfect famlies

The only question then is this: where do you claim to be? 

Do you claim to be on the right side? On the clean side?

Or do you claim to be in the in-between place? Do we, as a church, dare be in that place where no one wants to be?

Because I can absolutely assure you that God is there. I can absolutely assure you that the healing and love of God is in that in-between place. I can absolutely assure you that God calls us to truly listen and to truly see just as Jesus did when he was walking between Galilee and Samaria.

And I can also guarantee that the people of God have age after age done their best work when they have been in that place uttering that same cry of the lepers:

“Jesus, master, have mercy on us.”

Amen.

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