You may have noticed that there’s a whole lot of blaming and complaining and griping going on these days. “Missiles of righteousness,” to use a phrase from Eugene Peterson, are being launched from one side of Congress and one end of the Mall to the other. Op ed pieces and radio and tv commentators do not lack for material, as the drama in Washington continues day by day. But, of course, it’s not just taking place in Washington, but also here in our own community, where levels of anxiety are rising amongst those whose benefit checks are held up and in jeopardy, those whose children are enrolled in Headstart, those on furlough, those whose already meager food stamp benefits are soon to be reduced even more. Congress’s positive ratings, if you can even call them that, are hovering somewhere around 5%.

So, it’s easy to get caught up in the blame game, the fist shaking, the hair-pulling. And doesn’t that make it all better? Doesn’t that make you feel better? I have to say it’s not working too well for me. There’s a certain pit in my stomach when I wake up to the news on our clock radio alarm. There are certain voices that I just have to turn off when I hear them on the radio or TV. We hear plenty of “us” and “them” talk, words like “extremists,” even “terrorists,” the gap seems to get wider and wider and my level of frustration and even anger and disgust rises.

It was into just such a boundary region between hostile sides that Luke says Jesus and his disciples were making their way to Jerusalem, “going through the region between Samaria and Galilee,” separated by ancient and deep hostilities. And just on the edge of one of the villages, 10 lepers approached. It was a mixed group, made up of Jews and Samaritans, but they were bound together in their outsider status. The skin disease was not discriminating–it took Samaritan fingers and toes as eagerly as it took Galilean ones. With their prescribed rags and tinkling warning bells, their mouths covered with whatever was left to cover with, you couldn’t really tell the difference between a leper from Galilee or a leper from Samaria.

So, “keeping their distance, [as Torah demanded], 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.” There was no laying on of hands here, no making of spittle and rubbing it on eyes or ears, not really even words like, “You are healed.” Just the instruction to go and show themselves to the priests in the Temple, who could pronounce them clean or unclean, and give them certificates to get back to their lives, if they passed the test.

So, obediently, they did as they were told. The ten headed down the road to the Temple, and it was only then, as they were walking, that they noticed they were healed. Strength returned to limbs shriveled and shortened; hands stretched out in fullness long gone; itching, scaling skin became smooth and pink. And the nine quickened their pace, racing to the Temple to receive their clean bills of health and to get on with their lives.

But the other one realized as he ran and felt himself becoming whole that the priests in the Temple would have no clean bill for him because there was no such thing as a “clean Samaritan.” He wouldn’t even be allowed inside. He would not be given back his life through any ritual, but he knew what relationship could make him whole, and the joy of it all–the healing, the healer, the Power that had shot through his body with the words of Jesus–well, the joy of it made him leap around in the air and head back the other way, back to the Source of his healing and wholeness, and in a great, loud, slobbery show of emotion, he prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet, praising God and thanking Jesus.

It was then that Jesus wondered out loud–”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,” or, as the Greek says, “your faith has saved you.”

Where were the other nine? At the Temple, Jesus, just where you told them to go. They were being obedient. “Ten behaved like good lepers, good Jews [writes Barbara Brown Taylor]; only one, a double loser [the leper and the Samaritan] behaved like a man in love.” (Taylor, The Preaching Life, p. 110)

Taylor tells the story of her urban Episcopal Church in Georgia, where she was one of the priests on staff.

At this church

[she writes] we leave the sanctuary open five days a week from nine to five, like the banks and businesses that surround us. We like to think of it as a peace offering to our corporate neighbors…a kind of oasis in the middle of the city…But as you also know, the city is full of all kinds of people, and not everyone comes in here with godly intentions. So we have installed a closed circuit television camera to keep an eye on the place, to make sure no one runs off with the candlesticks or does anything unseemly in the pews, like drink or sleep or embrace. You have got to be sensible about these things.

The monitor sits beside the receptionist’s desk in the parish office, where the volunteer on the desk can keep watch over the altar and its furnishings. One day last fall the receptionist on duty became concerned. “There’s a man lying face down on the altar steps,” she said. “I wouldn’t bother you, but he’s been there for hours. Every now and then he stands and raises his arms toward the altar, and lies down again. Do you think he’s all right?” Four priests and several staff members conferred over the matter and elected the parish superintendent to go check on the man. As he did so, we all huddled around the monitor to watch. Our envoy appeared on the screen, walked up to the man, exchanged a few words with him, and returned to the parish office.

“He says he’s praying.”

“Aha,” we said, thanking him for this information.

It went on for days. Every morning around eleven the receptionist would look up from her desk and there he would be, prostrated before the altar, his hair in knots, his worn clothes covered with dustballs from the floor. The sexton cleaned around him; the altar guild tried not to disturb him when they came to polish the silver; the florist asked if he should leave the flowers somewhere else but we said no, just step over the man and put them on the altar where they belong.

We discussed the problem at staff meeting. “Should we do something?” someone asked. “I don’t know,” said someone else, “what do you think?

“I think I want to get on that guy’s prayer list,” one of us said, and we all laughed.

Finally it was Sunday, and my turn to celebrate communion at the early service. He was there when I arrived, blocking my path to the altar, and I did not know what to do. Maybe he was drunk, surely he was crazy–what would happen if I asked him to move? Approaching him as if I were approaching a land mine, I tapped him on the shoulder. He was so skinny, so dirty. “Excuse me,” I said, “but there’s going to be a service in here in a few minutes. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to move.’

He lifted his forehead from the floor and spoke with a heavy Haitian accent. “That’s okay,” he said, rising and dusting himself off in one dignified motion. Then he left, and he never came back. The 8 o’clock service began on time. The faithful took their places and I took mine. We read our parts well. We spoke when we were supposed to speak and were silent when we were supposed to be silent. We offered up our symbolic gifts, we performed our bounden duty and service, and there was nothing wrong with what we did, nothing at all. We were good servants, careful and contrite sinners who had come for our ritual cleansing, but one of us was missing. The foreigner was no longer among us; he had risen and gone his way, but the place where he lay on his face for hours–making a spectacle of himself–seemed all at once so full of heat and light that I stepped around it on my way out, chastened if only for that moment by the call to a love so excessive, so disturbing, so beyond the call to obedience that it made me want to leave all my good works behind. [Taylor, op cit., pp. 110-12]

“Were not ten made clean?” Jesus asked. “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. Your faith has saved you.”

Nine were obedient. One was in love. Where are we in this story? I know where I put most of my energy–it’s into being obedient. And there’s nothing wrong with that, I think, unless you find that you never do anything simply for the love of it, simply for the love of God. I am a product of those beloved “Frozen Chosen,” good Protestants who know about obedience and duty and doing things properly and in order, but I confess to sharing Janice Campbell’s complaint from last week’s ‘epistle,’ that sometimes “I just can’t stand it!” When was the last time I – or you–or any of us, were overcome by love and did something impetuous, even “wild and crazy”, for Love? How often do we turn aside from the Road of Obedience to say “thank you”? My guess is that we who are still in the institutional church are perceived at best to be obedient, but when was the last time we were accused of being in love?

“The root of joy,” writes Brother David Stendl-Rast, “is gratefulness…it is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” What if we were to notice the blessings, the beauty, in our daily lives? Noticed them and named them? Might we experience not only blessing but joy? It’s a well-proven fact–writing down 3-5 things for which you’re grateful every night for at least a couple of weeks will make you happier. Try writing a thank-you letter to someone who has made a difference in your life, and, if they’re still alive, send it to them. Better yet, if they’re within phone or physical proximity, read it to them yourself. See not just how good it makes them feel but how good it make you feel.

The one man who not only noticed he was healed but came back to name his blessing and give thanks for it received a double blessing. “Your faith has made you whole,” Jesus said. “Your faith has saved you.” Nine were healed. One was saved, made whole. That’s what the others missed.

Gratitude frees us from fear and anxiety, it connects us to something larger. “If the only prayer you make is ‘thank you,’” the mystic Meister Eckhart said, “then that is enough.” If we try to shape every prayer into a prayer of thanks–even those where the thanks seems premature or even naive– it has a way of changing us, even saving us. “Thank you, God, for already being with me when I make that presentation.” Instead of, “O God, help me make that presentation!” Feel the difference? “Thank you, God, for the healing you intend for Cindy.” Rather than, “O God, please heal Cindy.” Sometimes it’s a real challenge, especially when we know what we want to happen. Giving thanks to God for already being in the midst of our prayer concern bridges the gap between us and God.

And speaking of gaps, can you imagine what might happen if every discussion between John Boehner and Harry Reid began with each man thanking the other for something–maybe 3 things– they had done? If those on the left and right began their conversation with each other with, “I appreciate your concern for those who are without access to health care,” and “I agree that we need to build on Americans’ compassion and care for each other”? It may seem a little forced or gimmicky, but what have we got to lose?

“Were not ten made clean?” Jesus asked. “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. Your faith has saved you.”

May we–just once–and then maybe another time–get so caught up in gratitude that we do something absurdly extravagant, something even wild and crazy, that we are overcome with joy and love. People may start talking about us, you know… and we just might be saved.

Amen, and amen.

Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark

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