Sermon by Pastor Paul J. Olson
October 12-13, 2019
In the classic old movie Shenandoah, Jimmy Stewart plays a hardened farmer who works his land and looks after his family. He does not have much of a religious sense, but his wife has a deep abiding faith. He promises her, as she lay dying, that he will have table grace before each meal. And so each day he would pray:
"Lord, we came here and cleared the trees. We took out the stones. We broke the sod. We prepared the fields and sowed the seed. We tended the crops and fought pestilence and weathered the storms and drought, but we thank you anyway. Amen."
The Gospel reading today gives us such a contrasting picture. Ten lepers see Jesus as he crosses the border between Samaria and Galilee. Lepers were the scourge of the land. This is not the Hansen’s disease we know as leprosy today. This disease was an illness that ostracized anyone who had it.
Leprosy first appears as nodules on your skin that grow larger until they form deep wrinkles all over your body. Then your lips, nose, and ear lobes grow thicker until your face resembles an animal’s. You have ulcers everywhere that cause your arms and legs to be horribly mutilated. You start losing your fingers and toes as the disease progresses until you are left blind. And your blindness is not just physical but socially, emotionally, and spiritually.
The social stigma of leprosy in Jesus’ time was horrible. You had to wear clothes that made you look as if you were dead. You kept your face veiled, and everywhere you went, you had to cry, “Unclean Unclean!” in order to warn others from getting near to you. You had to live in caves or pits outside of town. You spent your days begging for food and your nights waiting to die.
It is not difficult to see the parallels between leprosy in Jesus’ day and issues in our own time. Years ago a woman called the church office where I was a pastor and asked if I would pray for her son. “Is there a particular concern?’ I asked. The mother replied, “He has AIDS. And this is the fifth church I have called. The first two hung up on me, the next one said no, and the fourth said he would not pray for someone with AIDs.” I took her name, her son’s name, and put him on our prayer list and invited them to worship.
Tragedy creates community. Community develops among many that never see themselves as being connected. Certainly the nine Jews and one outcast Samaritan in the Gospel reading never saw themselves in community. But their tragedy created community.
Tragedy can also create a common enemy