Sunday, October 10, 2010

first sermon at St. Mark's

As many of you know, I am the seminarian at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, in Alexandria, VA. Here's a copy of my first sermon there, given on 10/10/10 (couldn't resist). The text was Luke 17:11-19.

May the words of my mouth and the mediation of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

"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!"

Leprosy is a horrible disease. Not only can it produce disfiguration, but almost all of the cases result in numbness, the person losing the ability to sense temperature, then touch, pressure and pain. However, I imagine that even more detrimental than the physical effects is the alienation. Lepers in Jesus' time were ostracized since people regarded them as unclean, thought it was a highly contagious disease, and believed it was a sign of God's punishment. If your neighbor got sick it was because he had offended God in some way. And so the lepers, knowing their place in society, call out to Jesus from a distance, at the edges of the crowd--on the periphery.

I don't know about you, but I find it easy to identify with the lepers in this story. We hear on the news--especially recently--that many people feel alone, marginalized by friends, classmates, or even family members because of their sexuality, social or economic status, race, age, gender or religious preference, to name a few. From the taunts on the bleachers, to the whispers of co-workers, to the furtive glances in our direction--it's a dehumanizing feeling. Maybe you have felt it, too. But the thing is, even if we have felt like this, we are not the only ones to have experienced isolation.

Jesus knew what it meant to feel completely and utterly alone. This passage begins with a stark reminder that the Way is not an easy one. We hear that Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem, a road that, yes, leads to his triumphant resurrection, but not before he endures suffering and abandonment himself. He is alone in the wilderness, alone in the garden of Gethsemane--alone on the cross. He knew what the road to Jerusalem had in store for him.

And yet, he continued on this journey, intentionally reaching out to those whom society overlooked or ignored. Whom society deemed unworthy and unclean. In Luke's account, especially, we see a picture of Jesus as a champion of the outsiders. He continuously pushes against the accepted boundaries of society to welcome sinners, tax collectors, and even foreigners with different religious beliefs and practices, like the Samaritans. There is no limit to his love, and when Jesus sees the 10 lepers he has compassion for them. 

Now Jesus' command for the lepers to show themselves to the priests is interesting, because the Law stated that this action could only take place after someone had been healed and was therefore clean again. Whether they have responded to this command out of faith--or because they feel that they have nothing to lose--is unclear, but this much is clear: there is something about Jesus that has made them reach out to him. There is something about Jesus that gives them hope, and as they make their way to the temple they are healed of their disease. 

In trying to picture what this must have looked like, I visualize the lepers walking slowly, lost either in their thoughts or in conversation. Suddenly, one of them notices a tingling sensation crawling up his legs, you know, like the tingling that comes after your foot has fallen asleep?  He looks down in confusion and then amazement as he sees that the lesions that peppered his feet have disappeared! He begins jumping and shouting, alerting the others, who then notice that they have been healed as well. They laugh at being able to feel the heat of the sun on their skin again, and weep, embracing and touching their faces over and over to make sure that this is really happening. Whether or not it actually takes place exactly like this, Jesus has given them the chance to rejoin life as respected members of society. Their world, which had seemed so dark and uninviting just a moment before, has suddenly turned into a world filled with light and promise. 

We aren't told what happens to 9 of the lepers. Maybe they followed through and saw the priests; perhaps some of them ran home first to share the good news and to be reunited with their families, friends and neighbors. But we are told that one of them decides to turn around. He recognizes the source of his healing and wants to thank Jesus personally. Jesus is surprised that only one person returned--and that one a foreigner, no less. You see, all 10 lepers were healed, but only one of them was transformed. 

The opportunity for transformation can be found in the simplest of interactions. When I was in high school my youth group went on a mission trip to Nashville, TN. Our task was to serve meals in a shelter for homeless men. When we finished serving we would join the men in the dining room, sharing stories and trading jokes, amazed to discover how much we had in common. At the end of the week one of the men gave us a poem he had written about how much our group had meant to him; how much we had brightened his day and given him hope for the future. He told us that since he'd been there, we were the first youth group to have had conversations with the men; most kids served them and then left to go sightseeing downtown. He appreciated that we saw them as people, and not just as a project. This experience taught us that it doesn't take much to make a difference in someone's life. 

I think that most of us have come to St. Mark's because we are seeking something more from life than our own personal lives. We want to belong somewhere; we are hungry for experiences of God's love. And we come here to get fed by the community and by a shared meal around this table. Communion nourishes our souls and gives us the spiritual strength we need to face the rest of the week. The world outside these doors is filled with lonely, hurting and hungry people. When we reach out to them, we let them know that they are not alone; that we, too, have felt lonely, scared and rejected. When we reach out, we are following in Jesus' footsteps. When we reach out, it is our way of turning around and thanking the source of our healing and nourishment. Who knows? The next time we look into their eyes, we might just see Jesus' reflection looking back at us.


  1. Laura,

    This is a good sermon. Wish I could have heard it. Thank you.


  2. Hitting it out of the ballpark on the first swing: congrats! It's so cool that you've kept that letter from Lee for all of these years. It always feels great to freely give a hand, an ear, and kind words to people you meet.