13 October 2013
Chapter 17 of Luke reflects on two major Biblical themes: faith and going home. It is left up to us to reflect on what faith and homecoming have to do with one another.
Last week the disciples ask Jesus for more faith. It helps to remember that up to this point he is always telling them that their problem is that the do not have enough faith. So they ask for more. What does he say? Are you kidding me? All you really need is a teeny, tiny bit of faith – as small as a mustard seed – and you can say to this tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea.’
We may as well face it – even without any prodding from Jesus, we live in a culture that virtually worships having more of everything: more money, more food, more clothes, more shoes – whatever there is, we are meant to want more. It is our patriotic duty! It is how we keep “the economy” moving! I venture to say we put more time and energy into getting more of everything than we do into our prayer lives or following Jesus. Which is a shame since in our baptism we promise to “follow and obey him wherever he goes.” BCP 303
So look where he goes: the region between Israel and the Samaritans – a kind of no man’s land, a kind of wilderness that is meant to remind us of the 40 years experience after the Exodus, the Passover. It is also meant to remind us of exiles such as Jeremiah writes about. Exile is a new kind of wilderness. Both exile and wilderness connote a place with no power, no resources, and, perhaps most importantly, a place where we are not at home.
Huston Smith in his book, The World’s Religions, suggests that all religious traditions reflect on the most basic question, “Where are we?” That is, in fact how the Bible begins. The man and the woman disobey the Lord, they hear him approaching them in the garden. They attempt to hide from the Lord. We may as well face it, most of us try to do that too. It makes no sense, but as we can see, God plays along with us and calls out in the garden, “Where are you?”
Isn’t God supposed to know where we are? Isn’t he busy counting the hairs on our heads? So this must be some sort of rhetorical question. Philosophical really. Where are we? We often end up feeling as if we are in exile, or wandering in a wilderness of our own making, or tossed about by the winds of fate or providence depending upon our world view of such things.
The ten fellows Jesus runs across are in exile from their communities for having something like eczema, or psoriasis, or vitiligo. Their skin is scaly, irregular, not quite right. The only thing we are fairly certain is that they did not have Hansen’s Disease, or leprosy, since it did not exist in the Biblical era. Which makes their exile even more poignant really. We think this kind of ostracizing of fellow humans is incredibly inhuman and ancient, then we turn around and talk about “the heartbreak of psoriasis.” And if TV advertising doesn’t do it to us, we, like the first man and woman, try to hide it ourselves.
Then as only modern liberals will do, we try to figure out of this story is “real.” Were these 10 chaps really healed? This is based on our overlooking the simple fact that getting to go home after being ostracized to the no-man’s-land is a really really big deal. They get to go home after getting re-certified by the local priest. They get to go home. Off they go, all except one. One in ten. That has a ring to it, does it not? Tis the season of Stewardship, and just one in ten stops to say, “Thank you!” That would be a tithe of ten men with flakey skin. Beginning with Jacob back in Genesis 28 the Bible is not so subtle in working in these little episodes where 10 percent is part of the story! There’s the stewardship message for the day.
Yet, there is more. When we are honest with ourselves, we are all these ten men. That only one in ten stops to say thank you to God. That after all is what stewardship is all about: giving thanks to God. Providing God and God’s church with the resources necessary to help and heal others. We are all the first man and woman hiding behind a tree lest God “find” us! We are all wandering in exile. We are all wandering in the wilderness. We are all trying to find our way home.
Good News! We are all going home. My friend Pierre Wolfe, a former French, Jesuit priest, summed up all theology in one simple phrase: we come from love, we return to love, and love is all around. God is love. We are all on our way home. God in Christ promises in the 14th chapter of John to come and get us. He promises that even now he is preparing a place for us! All of life is a homecoming – a coming home to God. We are all going to get out of exile. We will all get out of the wilderness. If only we have a tiny, teeny bit of faith – as small as a mustard seed.
Another New Testament writer says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
A woman came to visit us at St Tim’s a few weeks ago. Among other things she said that there are certain practices that can help us to overcome stress. Mindfulness Meditation, Compassion and Hope.
Exile and Wilderness are stressful places to be – just ask the children of Israel, the sons and daughters of Jacob.
Mindfulness Meditation, or Centering Prayer, really is simply taking time to stop – stop doing, stop saying, stop thinking, and just Be – Be Here Now. Just a minute or two can make a huge difference every day. As a practice, a regular practice, it can be life changing.
Compassion is taking just a moment to focus on someone else’s problems. A smile will do. A look into another’s eyes that says, “I know” will do. A hug, a moment of silence together. You do not need much. You just need a little bit.
And Hope. Hope is what keeps us going. It is the conviction that God will take us home again. Because we come from the heart and home of God’s eternal love. That is our assurance. After all we are those who every week say we believe in all things God creates, “seen and unseen.” It is the unseen that holds the promise of our future! You need just enough hope to take one step forward after another until you find yourself out of exile and on the way home.
Perhaps you will be the one in ten who stops for a moment to say thank you.