We come to Christ together, wounded, seeking healing and love, and are bound together in Christ in our salvation and life, and to the whole of the creation.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 28 C
Texts: Luke 17:11-19; 2 Kings 5:1-15c
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
There were ten lepers. That’s the wonderful thing.
Leprosy was a terrible disease. It maimed your body, filled you with pain, took away flesh. It was horrible suffering. It was also contagious, so you couldn’t live with your family, those who could love and support you. Since leprosy’s destruction was so visible, there was no hiding and hoping to stay in your life.
But there were ten lepers in this village. Ten people who found each other, walked with each other, made community with each other. Ten people who understood suffering and pain, loneliness and rejection, sadness and fear, and who shared that life with each other when no one else could.
Naaman also had a community. Maybe because he was rich and important, maybe because his religion didn’t have the same taboos on uncleanness that Judaism had, it appears he was still in his household, and with people who loved him. He didn’t travel to Israel alone, either, but with people who cared for him.
But these communities did more than support. They carried each other to the healing love of God.
Naaman’s servants, who could have hated him for their life, shared their suffering with his, loved him enough to want him well. Even the Israelite girl, stolen by his army from her family, wanted him to know about the power of the God whom Israel worshipped, and a prophet who could offer healing from that God. When Naaman balked at the method of healing offered, his servants gently urged him to follow the prophet’s instructions. They carried him to God’s healing with kindness and wisdom.
The ten lepers did this together, too. They banded as a group of broken, suffering people and were stronger as a result. But when Jesus came to the village, this little community did what they most needed. Together, they turned to the Son of God and asked for mercy, for healing, for hope. Together, they cried out to Christ and sought the healing of God.
There were ten lepers. Naaman wasn’t alone. This is our truth.
Like every community, our community here is made up of people suffering from many different things, people who also have joys and hopes. What is remarkable about our community is that we have a deep sense that no one here is normal. We have no expectations there are people here who have it all together, people without sin, people without pain, people here who have never suffered rejection or loss or sadness. I’ve never heard anyone say about another member of this community, “That’s just not normal.” We expect we’re all in need, and we love each other because of it.
This is remarkable because the thing about leprosy is you can always tell if someone has it. But what ails all of us isn’t always so evident. It takes years of a community learning to love those who are hurting, those who have been turned away elsewhere, those who suffer silently, to understand that one of the things that binds us is that what is normal is our woundedness. We don’t have to pretend we’ve got it together, we don’t have to lie to ourselves that people won’t love us if they knew the messes we had, we don’t have to fear that if our truths were told we’d no longer be welcome.
Those ten lepers never had to be embarrassed to look at one another, worried about how they appeared. When all are wounded, it’s not a big deal to admit one’s wounds. We are a band of lepers, gathered together in the grace that we can be of help to each other, we can love each other, we share a reality we don’t need to be ashamed of.
It’s not only our shared woundedness that binds us, though. That’s the real Gospel here.
In both these stories today, the community led those in need of healing to the healing love of God. We are, of course, members of the same family in our baptism into Christ. But often that hasn’t seemed enough in the world for Christians to love each other. Here we recognize Christ’s family as the wounded family, just like Christ Jesus himself. Our shared sense of need for God has led us to this place because here is where we are healed. Here we meet Christ at this table and are given love and life, together. Our little band of lepers shows up here on a Sunday morning and together says, have mercy on us, God! Hear our prayer, O Christ! Come to us and heal us!
And the healing we receive in this place, the welcome of God, the love and forgiveness of God, has taught us to love each other, to band together with each other, to be Christ to each other, and to always be ready to welcome others into this group of wounded, sinful, needy people who come here for healing and life.
In this community, Christ is teaching us a far deeper meaning to salvation.
“Salvation” in the Greek of the Gospels is a word that also means healing. To be saved is to be made well, made whole, healed. Our community of faith stretches back 2,000 years, and those who were wiser than we are and thought even more deeply than we yet do, have witnessed to us that being in Christ is always being in each other. They have said salvation is healing when it’s shared. They’ve witnessed that such healing and wholeness is possible even when individual pains aren’t taken away, because in Christ and in each other we find healing of our souls together.
So St. Paul can be content in any and all circumstances, even after praying that his suffering be removed and not having that happen, because he has become part of Christ, part of Christ’s family, and Christ moves in him and in those who love him, and he knows peace the world can’t give.
And so we, who know so many whose physical or mental illnesses aren’t removed, who know that each of us struggles with sin and a need for forgiveness daily, who know that everyone here is wounded, inside or out, find salvation and wholeness not as individuals but in the deeper healing of God’s love that has made us one and whole in Christ. And yes, a love that also broke death’s power and promises to restore us all into the community of the healed wounded ones who surround the throne in the life to come.
But Christ is also teaching us a deeper meaning of community.
In Christ, the Triune God would draw all people and all creation into the life and love of God. The Risen Christ whom we turn to for life wants all to be a part of this group of healed lepers. Our community is more than Mount Olive. It’s the whole creation.
Imagine we looked at everyone with the same understanding as those we know here, with the same compassion, expecting them to be wounded as well, wanting to walk with them and help and be helped. Some are so far away we can only do this in prayer and political action. Others live in our city and are part of us. Their joys and their pains are ours, as much as any here.
When we understand this breadth of God’s love, that salvation not only isn’t individual to us, but that it’s not even limited to this community, that God’s healing is meant for all, all sorts of teachings of Jesus become clear. We understand why we’re commanded to pray for our enemies. Praying for them admits they’re part of us, they belong, so they are no longer enemies. And our compassion for their pain leads us to pray for the removal of their hate, so they can be whole and healed in God as we are.
We haven’t talked about gratitude yet. Maybe we don’t need to.
Naaman overflowed with gratitude for his healing. One of the ten lepers broke from his group and ran back and gave thanks to Jesus. We don’t know about the other nine, what they did or felt, but it’s not the point.
The truth is that when we understand the amazing gift of healing and wholeness that we have by being in Christ and in each other, the last thing we need to worry about is whether we’re going to be grateful for it. Not a day goes by without me being thankful to God for all of you, for this community of wounded people who walks with me in my woundedness, and are Christ to me, who, with me, gathers at this Table seeking forgiveness and life and wholeness. I don’t need a reminder to be deeply grateful for that. And the more we understand the connectedness God has made between us and everything else in creation, the more we find joy and hope in that, too, and again, being thankful is pretty obvious.
We are blessed to be joined to each other in Christ, who heals us of our deepest need and brings a wholeness to our life together and to this world, a peace nothing else can. The more we know this, the more our gratitude to God will pour out, trust me.
In the name of Jesus. Amen