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Fear Doesn’t Make Our Decisions — Thank You! (October 13, 2019)

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

One of my deepest fears is public ridicule. The thought of people seeing some embarrassing flaw or insufficiency in me, judging me for that, and then pointing and laughing (because in my fearful heart, that’s what always happens) strikes terror in my soul. I don’t think anyone enjoys that, but for me this fear hits the level of irrational.

Which is why December of 2011 was terrible month for me. It was that month that someone nominated me for the office of bishop of the Rocky Mountain Synod.

As it turned out, I was among the group of “pre-nominees.” In order to remain on the list of actual nominees, these “pre-nominees” were asked to submit information about why you’d make a good bishop in an online form. This information would then be publicized throughout the entire Rocky Mountain Synod.

It wasn’t official, and wouldn’t be until I filled out a 3-page form telling why I thought I’d make a good bishop. That form would be would go to every pastor, deacon, and voting member in the RMS. That caused flashbacks from when I tried out for my Middle School basketball team. “Hahaha! Moss thinks he can play basketball!” That public ridicule is my version of hell. It was in front of me again. I knew, however, that I could avoid it by simply not filling out that online form.

Up until now all this had been someone else’s doing. I hadn’t sought this out; someone else had given my name to the synod office. But if I submitted that form, I was saying in a very public way that I was open to being considered for the office of bishop. I could already hear the sneers and the laughter echoing from all corners of the four states and part of a fifth that make up this synod. Junior High basketball terror again, only now swelled to a multiple state level.

“I can’t do this,” I told my family after several sleepless nights. “This whole thing simply terrifies me. I can’t sleep, I can’t think, I have knots in my stomach. I stewed on this for a couple more weeks.

But finally, if for no other reason than avoiding accusations of hypocrisy from my three adult children (I always told them that “fear doesn’t make our decisions), I quickly filled out the form and, with trembling hand and churning stomach, I hit the enter button and submitted it the last day it could be accepted. Then I went and threw up.

My name, picture, and hastily drafted information were thrust out into uncontrolled internet space where I could already hear the mocking and laughter. “Hahaha! Moss thinks he can be a bishop!” Every molecule of self-doubt and inadequacy was rising up. There was, from this point on, no place to hide.

“As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.'”

Because of their illness, these lepers couldn’t come near to Jesus to ask for help privately. Culturally and legally. They had to stand far away and yell, hoping Jesus might have mercy and help them. Their illness was then public knowledge; and so they were seen by everyone as insufficient, lacking, unworthy, laughable. Shouting in public, they were vulnerable to ridicule.

These ten lepers have to live this way–separated, isolated, humiliated—but at least they could do that privately. They were considered broken and flawed people, and asking for help from Jesus pushed them out into the public view. The broadcasting of their embarrassing insufficiency had to be terrifying.

We all want to hide our frailties and our failures. We all want to keep them private. Lots of us have a fear of publicly exposing all the ways we don’t measure up. We want to keep our inadequacies private, thank you.

What the lepers longed to remain private was now public. But it was when their flaws became known to Jesus, they were made clean. They were restored. They were loved. This is what Jesus does. He meets us in those areas of our lives that we desperately want to remain hidden and shows us mercy there. It’s in those parts we desperately want to keep private that Jesus comes and loves us with unconditional love.

Jesus knows the deepest, most humiliating pieces of our lives, meets us there, and loves us. Day by day, Jesus continues to save us. That’s how love works. That’s how mercy works. Jesus does his most loving and gracious redemption in those parts of our lives that we desperately hope no one ever finds out about.

I didn’t win the bishop election. I didn’t make it past the first couple of rounds. But something changed for me. In the midst of my terror, the risen Christ met me. It was through that experience that I saw the presence of God as love, grace, mercy, redemption, and—yes—healing.

In the gospel reading, one leper–a Samaritan–returns and falls at Jesus’ feet giving thanks to God. One recognized the gift of salvation he had received. One saw the presence of God in love, grace, mercy, redemption, and—yes—healing.

Our response to the presence of Christ’s love and grace is up to us. Our response won’t change how God feels about us. It won’t change our forgiveness. It won’t change our worth as children of God. Regardless, Jesus is present for you. Even now he’s meeting you in the hidden and secret parts of your life. He is cleansing you. He is making you whole. He is saving you. We can recognize the risen Christ’s love and mercy that’s there. And we can give thanks to God. Amen.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Noticing, Identifying, and Moving to Wholeness (October 9, 2016)

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Noticing:

1.A—Have you ever noticed that when you’re out of town, there’s like a signal that goes out to all the businesses that throw advertising litter on your driveway and pamphlets stuck to your door to jump into action?

For various reasons I was out of town much of September, for some of that time my wife, Lois, was gone also. So of course, the “bat signal” lit up in the sky, or however they know, and our driveway was littered with pamphlets I didn’t ask for, newspapers I don’t read, and ads I don’t need. It’s just messy and annoying.

What’s worse, it also broadcasts to anyone going through the neighborhood that the house is vacant. It’s like a sign out in front of the house saying “Free TV, computer, probably some free jewelry! Come on in and help yourselves!”

Yet when Lois and I got back into town, I noticed that there were no pamphlets, ads, newspapers anywhere. Somehow, they had disappeared. I noticed they were gone.

2.A–Ten lepers, who had nothing in common except a condition that kept them socially and legally separated from their communities. They were different religions, and from different town—even different regions. But their mutual need forged them into a community of their own.

But then, Jesus came by. Together, they all asked him for mercy. Jesus sent all 10 of them to the priests so they could all be declared clean. They could all return to their families and their churches and their neighborhoods. And in the midst of this hope, this excitement, this opportunity, as they hurried to the priests, all noticed they were healed.

3.A—On the back wall are “Joyful Experiences” from 60 people (so far!) that come as a result of their association with this congregation. So far, 60 people have taken the time to share that:

  • Participating in Small Groups such as choir and Bible Study is a joyful experience here.
  • Volunteering with our youth is a joyful experience here.
  • Being an assistant at communion is a joyful experience here.
  • Going to Sky Ranch is a joyful experience here.
  • Women’s Retreat on poverty is a joyful experience here.

If you go back there and look, or better yet, if you listen to people here, you can notice that some amazing things happen within this congregational community.

Identifying the Source:

1.B—Several days later after noticing that all the ads and all the other litter had been removed from my driveway and my front door, I was talking with a neighbor who knew we had been gone. He said that he hoped it was OK that he collected all the ads and newspapers that had were on the driveway and threw them out. Did I mind, he asked?

Now I knew why the pamphlets and papers were gone. In this conversation with a neighbor, I had identified the source of this kindness. And I thanked him profusely. Of course I didn’t mind! I was grateful!

2.B—Ten lepers on their way to the priests noticed they were healed. One of the ten, however, identified the source of his healing. He knew it was Jesus. They had all asked Jesus for mercy and they had all been sent by him to the priests. It was Jesus who had healed them. This one, this Samaritan, upon receiving this healing gift, knew who had done it. He was able to identify the source of his being made well.

3.B—In the course of this congregation’s history, there are thousands upon thousands of experiences of joy! Countless lives have been changed because this congregation lives and moves. What’s amazing is that the source of these congregational experiences and changed lives is, in fact, God. The very one who binds us together despite all our good and our bad. Apart from our imperfections as a church, our differences, our occasional disagreements, and sometimes our over-zealous emphasis on the negative, God does amazing things through us and around us. As we look around, it’s pretty easy to identify the source of our joyful experiences here.

From Isolation to Wholeness:

1.C—Identifying the source of my clean driveway, I can’t help but feel more connected to this neighbor. I’m looking for ways to help him. Rather than stay hunkered down in my house ignoring my neighbors, I’m being a better neighbor. And I’m a fuller part of the neighborhood. I’m moving from isolation to wholeness.

2.C—The one former leper turned back, praising God. Fell at Jesus’ feet in thanks. Jesus stood him up and told him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you whole.” This one Samaritan, who had been isolated in a small community of lepers, is now sent by the one who made him whole out into the world. Jesus has moved him from isolation to wholeness.

3.C—When we notice and identify that God is at work in us, sometimes in spite of us, we can’t help but be changed by that.  We can’t help but live in new ways. It’s no longer just about us, be about being sent to be part of God’s joyful experiences in our workplaces, in our schools, in our neighborhoods. We are sent our way to be part of God’s work of making the world whole. We are being turned from isolation into whole people, as a whole congregation.

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2016 in Sermon

 

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When Secrets Become Public (21 Pentecost — Oct 13, 2013)

Luke 17:11-19

 “As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.'”

Because of their illness, these lepers couldn’t come near to Jesus to ask for help privately. Culturally and legally. They had to stand far away and yell, hoping someone might have mercy and help them. To everyone their illness is public knowledge; and so by everyone they are judged as insufficient, lacking, unworthy, even sinful.

These ten lepers have to live this way–separated, isolated, humiliated–and have to do so publicly. They are considered broken and flawed people, and these inadequacies are revealed publicly every day.

Can you imagine if our brokenness and our inadequacies were made public? Can you imagine if your deepest flaws and failings were out in the open for everyone to see and judge? We all want to hide our frailites, keep them private, but we all have them. Make no mistake, everyone in this room has the fear that comes from knowing we don’t measure up. And we all live with the terror that our deep fractures will become known.

That which the lepers longed to be private has become public. However, when their flaws became known to Jesus, they are made clean. They are restored. They are shown mercy. This is what Jesus does. He makes us clean, restores us. Jesus meets us in those areas of our lives we desperately want to remain hidden and shows us mercy. It’s in the hidden parts of our lives–those parts we desperately want to keep private–that Jesus knows us most deeply. It’s there that his love for us makes the biggest difference.

I think many of us would agree to that in theory. Jesus knows the innermost, private pieces of our lives, meets us there, and redeems us. Day by day, Jesus continues to save us. That’s how forgiveness works. That’s how mercy works. That’s how all the gifts of God work. Jesus does his most loving and gracious redemption in the hidden, private aspects of our lives.

And, for the most part, we’re fine with that. As long as Jesus heals us, redeems us, saves us privately.

But we have a universal terror: that our private deficiencies will become public. Can you imagine how that which you never talk about became known to everyone? Take a simple example: can you imagine, for instance, if your checkbook became available for anyone to examine? Can you imagine if we were categorized according to our credit card debt? Can you imagine if we were judged according to the percentage of our income that we give away? Like the lepers, can you imagine keeping your distance from everyone because you made too many extravagant purchases?

If the private, hidden aspects of our lives–such as our finances–became public, it would be humiliating. Yet it’s in the secrecy of our finances that Jesus comes and makes us clean, makes us whole, saves us. Just like all our flaws, we keep our finances hidden. But Jesus comes among us to save our financial selves too. That doesn’t mean more money–it has nothing to do with amounts of money. Like every other part of who we are, Jesus meets us and cleanses us, save us, so that we can be part of God’s salvation in the world.

Imagine your hidden, secret money life being redeemed by Jesus. Imagine how differently we would live if we understood our money’s primary purpose as revealing mercy and grace in the world. The more secretive we are about our money, the more Jesus meets us there to heal us.

In the gospel reading, one leper–a Samaritan–returns and falls at Jesus’ feet giving thanks to God. But all ten are made clean. One recognized the gift of salvation he had received. But all ten were made new by Jesus.

Your response to Jesus’ salvation in up to you. Your response won’t change how Jesus feels about you. It won’t change your forgiveness. It won’t change your worth as a child of God. Regardless, Jesus is present for you. Even now he’s meeting you in the hidden and secret parts of your life–including your money. He is cleansing you. He is making you whole. He is saving you. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Sermon

 

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