Pentecost 18, Janet Spence – 9th October 2022

Pentecost 18
Jeremiah 29.1, 4-7 & 2 Timothy 2.8-15

May I speak in the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen.

Our readings today all speak of a universal human truth, that we live lives in which we suffer. Every person in here today, every person we pass in the street, every person we love, has experienced suffering. Some of you may be in the midst of a time of significant suffering. It is part of the human condition, and though we work hard to avoid it, to reduce it, to relieve it, nevertheless suffering remains part of our lives.

So how do we reconcile the God of love, and God’s desire for our flourishing with this truth?

Our readings this morning do not, any of them, remain trapped in suffering. Instead, they are readings of hope, readings that instruct us on how to live WITH the truth that suffering is part of the human condition, AND that offer us hope within that reality.

Our first reading today from the Prophet Jeremiah was written to the Jewish people who had been exiled to a foreign land in the6th century BC. They had lost almost everything: their community had been scattered, they’d lost homes and livelihoods, and they were a people in crisis.

God’s desire is our flourishing, and this is nothing facile, or flimsy, but in this reading the prophetic voice is very practical …

  • Build houses
    • Which can then become your homes
  • Work to create gardens
    • Which can then be your nourishment.

And then the prophet speaks of the welfare of the city. In v.7 we read ‘seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.’ This city was for them a place of suffering and exile, and yet God instructs them to seek its welfare.

One of the beautiful things I have discovered since my ordination here two weeks ago, is the tradition of the Bell Ringers’ prayer before they begin ringing the bells that sound out over the city of Edinburgh.

The bells in our tower are individually named after virtues, and the prayer is that these virtues will ring out and flourish in the city’s streets, including for example faith, humility, reverence, hope, peace, justice, love.

We are called to care not just for our own families, and for our Cathedral community, but for the place in which we live. Called to stop, and notice those who suffer. To stop, and consider those who find themselves in exile here. To stop, and ask, what might God’s desire for human flourishing in this place mean that God is asking of me? God’s desire is flourishing of all who are here; what is MY role in that?

Our Gospel today also spoke of human suffering. This Gospel passage is set in a borderland as Jesus travels between Samaria and Galilee. Jesus is approached, hesitantly, by a group of outcasts who have leprosy. They are a mixed group united only in their exclusion from society.

It is interesting to consider the difference made by the actions of the one who goes back to Jesus. It is clear that, in v.14, ‘all are made clean’. All are cured of leprosy. But God’s desire for human flourishing is not only about a physical cure, but about healing. And I think that in this man’s return to give thanks, the cure of his leprosy becomes healing which allows him to flourish.

When we are ill our bodies demand our attention, we may feel afraid, powerless, and we cry to God. In contrast, I think it is at least partially true that when we are well we take our health for granted, and perhaps forget to give thanks for our well being.

And yet, the one, the physically cured Samaritan, returns to Jesus and prostrates himself, and gives thanks.

Saying thank you changes us: we acknowledge our need of others; we recognise the giftedness of life, and name it; and in away, we are set free to go on our way. There is a spiritual practice which involves deliberately listing 10things each day for which one is thankful. The intention is that this is done daily for several weeks with a proviso that one can never repeat something for which thanks have been given any previous day.

Initially this may be helpful in terms of noticing things each day that we recognise as gift. But as the days and then weeks pass, it can lead us to a changed level of encounter with the world around us. We begin to notice the giftedness of life. And, I think, in this changed awareness and naming of thanks we flourish.

Accepting another’s thanks is also significant – how often do we reply with a dismissive ‘Don’t mention it’. But if someone has taken the bother to say ‘thank you’, might it be good to have the grace to receive those thanks?

So I invite you to notice 10 things every day in the next month for which you are thankful, and see what happens.

Or, perhaps, notice opportunities in the days ahead to both say thank you to another who has given you something (and I’m not talking about a bunch of flowers! But something that the giver might not even recognise as a gift) and on the other side of that, to hear the words when someone says thank you to you, and give that person the joy and setting free of having their thanks
accepted.

The Samaritan who returns to Jesus to give thanks is gifted so
much more than the cure of a disease. He encounters God, and
Jesus’ words to him are powerful.

‘Get up’ – translated in the gospel into the Greek, Ἀναστὰς( Anastas), is the same used by Jesus when talking of resurrection. The Samaritan is called to rise and be made new. Jesus says, Rise, and go on your way. This man who was outcast, who was not free to go on his way, is set free.

Jesus’ last words to the man are to say ‘your faith has made you well’. And again the Greek translation of Jesus’ words is powerful– coming from the root word ‘sozos’ meaning salvation. God’s desire is this man’s salvation, his flourishing; a flourishing which in this case includes bodily healing and a rising and going forth into new life in community. He is made new.

16. He prostrated himself at Jesus’s feet and thanked him. 17. Then Jesus said to him, “Rise up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”