First Lutheran Church
November 19, 2017 + Thank Offering Sunday
Luke 17:11-19; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Today I would like to share two “words” with you in regard to our gospel story about the ten lepers, those words are Geography and Gratitude. We begin with “Geography” …
The geography of a story is important because it helps provides us with context, and context often provides us with insights and understanding that allow us to discover the deeper meaning of a story.
In today’s Gospel Jesus can be found traveling through the region between Samaria and Galilee. Jesus is wandering through some kind of “no man’s land,” an uncomfortable place between two peoples who don’t care for each other, a place populated by lepers, the unclean and untouchable people of his day, a place that most people probably avoided. Yet that tends to be the pattern of Jesus, it’s not unusual to find Jesus in this kind of place. In story after story Jesus goes to borders, physical and social borders, and crosses over them, traverses back and forth, challenging their existence and redefining their nature, while proclaiming the Kingdom of God. And Jesus seems particularly interested in the people who have been forced to the margins of society, people who must find a way to survive life between borders and at the expense of borders.
Borders, by nature, seem to make people “uncomfortable.” While there is always an excitement when you are traveling to another country, there’s always a little anxiety when you pass through an armed check point, when you need to present documents and pass inspections, when things suddenly and often dramatically become very different. However the most “uncomfortable” borders we experience are probably not the borders we cross when we travel but the borders we encounter in our day to to day life. These borders are not made up of brick, steel, or barbed wire but rather are shaped by other things, things that make us uncomfortable, things that are different, things shaped by prejudice, things formed by social conditions, things instigated by doubt and fear. And these are the kinds of borders we usually try to avoid at all costs. We prefer to stay in our comfort zones rather than risk being in such places. It’s human nature to avoid places and situations that might bring about conflict in our life.
Yet today we are reminded that these are the kinds of places where we find Jesus, where Jesus is at work healing people and ushering in the Kingdom of God. On his way to Jerusalem Jesus wanders off the main road and puts himself in that uncomfortable place that most people seek to avoid. And that puts him into contact with the Ten Lepers. They must have been surprised to see him, surprised that he was in their neighborhood, and even more surprised that he did not keep his distance from them but rather was willing to engage them. Jesus shows them the mercy they desire, he sends them off to the High Priest and as they go they are healed. And as the healing process begins, as the love and mercy of God is manifest, only one of the Lepers returns to say thanks.
Which leads me to our second word for today, “Gratitude.” In today’s Gospel Jesus plays the role of your mother, reminding us, “Don’t forget to say thank you.” And Jesus and your mom are right! It’s the right thing to do and according to psychologists the benefits of practicing gratitude are numerous. Studies show that people who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect and act upon the things for which they are thankful - experience positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, and have stronger immune systems. They also tend to be more compassionate and kind. They seem to be those people who experience the depth of “joy” and that “peace that passes all understanding.” They have a way of being able to see in the ordinary - the extraordinary. “Don’t forget to say thank you,” it’s not only polite but it is healthy.
Today as we celebrate “Thank Offering Sunday” here at First Lutheran “Geography” and “Gratitude” come together. We give thanks that 78 years ago on this very spot, a group of ordinary people took the time to reflect on the many many ways that God had blessed their life, and they took extraordinary action dedicating their prayers, time, and resources to build this church. This group of people left behind the comforts of being part of an established church and took on the challenges of starting a new church for the sake of the gospel here in this new place.
And so it is that today we give thanks for their faithful witness, and so it is that today we reflect on how we might continue that faithful tradition, how we might participate in the extraordinary action of dedicating our prayers, our time, our gifts and talents, and our resources in order that the good work they began many years ago might continue into the future.
And the future will be shaped by the new geography. The “landscape” around here has dramatically changed since 1939! And as the “landscape” continues to change, the context for our ministry is changing. In may ways First Lutheran has found itself in place where many different borders come together. Many of our neighbors live on the other side of socio-economic borders, there are cultural divides all around us, across the street and just down the street young people are going to college, and business seems to be booming for restaurants in the other direction. Lots of interesting things come together all around us, things that are exciting, things that are uncomfortable, things that are in conflict with each other. In many ways we are a border ministry. And for that opportunity we give thanks, knowing that Christ is present in such places.
And it all begins with giving thanks, a “thank offering.” That’s how it began in 1939, and that’s how 2018 will begin! In the New Testament, St Paul always begins his various letters with a word of gratitude. In the book of Philippians he writes, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
I’d like to end my sermon today with similar words.
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Fullerton, on the corner of Lemon and Wilshire: I thank God every day for you, you are always in my prayers, because of your bold willingness to share in the gospel of Christ. I am confident that the one who began a good work among you, and those who first dreamed of a church in this place, will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. I continue to be amazed at your graciousness in welcoming The Table into your space and into your hearts, I amazed at your openness to imagine new ways of being church in times of uncertainty and change, and I am humbled by your vision to be a church that feeds people body and soul. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve a faith community that shares my passion for being the heart of Christ for those who suffer in poverty and for those who are experiencing homelessness. I am thankful for a faith community that wants to reach out to the many college students in our city creating opportunities for them to worship, live out their faith in service, and to discover their calling life. I am thankful for a faith community that acknowledges its fear yet is willing to follow the leading of the spirit into the uncomfortable places where the transforming power of Christ is present. I give thanks to God for all of you because of the grace of God that has been given to you in Christ Jesus, a grace that makes you bold and confident in love, a grace that fills you with hope, a grace which you freely share with others. I give thanks to God always for the many ways you hold me in your heart with your prayers and support. And now with the concluding words St. Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus.” Amen.