The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 13, 2019
It’s been a month since I got back from my sabbatical, and I’ll admit it, there are some things I miss about it. I miss spending entire days reading. I miss being able to do my grocery shopping when no one else is at HEB. But most of all, most of all, I miss my mustache. I’m telling you, it was amazing. It was blonde and squirrely, and no pictures of it will ever become public.
But even after all that time, I never quite got used to it. I would wipe my face with a napkin and be surprised at how scratchy it was. I’d drink some coffee and wonder why my lips always felt wet. I would unexpectedly catch myself in the mirror and jump. Who is that man?
To see yourself, to truly see yourself, is exhausting and demanding work. To really look at yourself in the emotional mirror, to see yourself for who you truly are is some of the hardest work you will ever do in your life. And we are usually surprised by what we see. That is the stuff of this gospel lesson this morning. Often times we read this story during pledge campaigns as a way to inspire generosity. It’s a pretty simple reading – Jesus heals ten men. Only one is grateful. The other nine are like a bunch of ungrateful college kids. Be like the grateful man and turn in your pledge card. Thank you very much.
Perhaps you can tell, that reading doesn’t sit well with me.
Notice this little phrase, buried in the passage. “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.” When he saw that he was healed. This is that moment of revelation, that “aha” moment in which the man sees two things at once. He sees himself as a new creation; clean again, able to go home again. His leprosy had ostracized him, kept him out of the villages. Kept him away from his family. Like a man committing to live a sober life, he starts new again. But he also sees the Lord. The man sees that this new edition of himself is only possible through the grace of Jesus Christ. Sure, he’s thankful, but his gratitude is just a sign of his new life in Jesus. A new life of grace.
Now, take a closer look at the ten lepers. At the beginning of the passage, the ten lepers all act together. They all speak together. Almost as if they are a chorus in an old Greek play. They approach Jesus, together. They call out for mercy, together. They all leave for the priests, together.
Until this one man, this Samaritan, this foreigner, breaks the mold. Here is a man who sees himself as a new creation and sees Jesus as the Lord of his life. He sees that he can no longer be with the other ten, he has to be something different. He breaks from the crowd, he marches to the beat of his own drummer – he does the amazing thing and turns back to God. It is a new beginning.
Yes, that is the theme for our pledge campaign this year, but it’s more than that. The idea of a new beginning runs all throughout the holy scriptures. God creates the world, and then gives it a new beginning at the flood. There is a new beginning when the Israelites cross the Red Seas. There is a new beginning when they return from exile in Babylon, back to Jerusalem. Everywhere Jesus goes he creates new beginnings – lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, the rich are given a new way of understanding life and the poor are given a new hope. Yes, this is a new beginning at Holy Comforter, but it is only modeled upon what Jesus Christ accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection. New beginnings are everywhere and they look like this – When he saw that he was healed, he turned back, praising God with a loud voice.
I now ask each of you to take a hard look at yourselves. What do you see there? Have you accepted the new beginning, the healing, the fresh start, that God in Jesus Christ has given to you? And I’m not ashamed about this, we need to talk about money. Not what we give to the church, but our relationship with money in general. You might think I’m meddling, but I’m only inviting you to see that when Jesus invites you to a new life, it must be a new beginning from stem to stern.
So, is your money giving you life, is how you use your money a sign of God’s new creation in you? Or are you marching to the beat of the same old drummer? Are you still just buying and spending your way through life?
I know what this world does to us. When my neighbors across the street both got new cars, there was part of my that wanted to get new cars, too, to be part of the crowd. I know what it’s like to drive by the signs for new housing developments, that ones that so brazenly say how much the houses cost there. I know what it’s like to see a car pull into one of those developments and quickly rank myself against them – am I worth more or less than they are? Just think how evil that thought is – “am I worth more or less than they are?” You want the best cable tv package, so you allow them to gouge you for it. You just have to have a pumpkin spice latte every day of the week – who knows why. But it’s like we live in a nuclear arms race, always competing, striving to get the best, the flashiest. A new car every two years. The new iPhone every September. The vacation selfies from Galveston, from the cruise, from the swanky dinner. Where does it end? I’ll tell you where it ends – it ends not with an empty bank account by an empty heart.
You realize, right, that our entire economic system is based upon breaking the tenth commandment, “you shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.” That commandment is in there to protect us from ourselves. That commandment is there so that we don’t kill ourselves trying to get more, because I hate to break it to you – if we are not happy with what we have, we probably will not be happy with what we want. That commandment is there to give us the courage to see ourselves for who we truly are, as worthy of God’s love. To turn around, to turn from this world that will never be satisfied no matter how much we spend on it. And to rejoice, to give praise to a god that has set you free.
A New Beginning. As part of our pledge campaign, I am inviting Ed and Katy Ziegler to join me up here. A number of years ago, Katy launched and continues to shepherd our Parenting with Grace group. Ed served as our Junior Warden for two years and was faithful on our Building Committee. In so many ways, their commitment to this parish and to God has been a sign of this new beginning.
1. Who are you and why did you start coming to Holy Comforter?
2. Our theme for the pledge campaign is “New Beginning.” How do you see yourself as a part of this new beginning?
3. Why do you support Holy Comforter financially?
There is one last thing about this story. Not only is this man created new again, but he leaves behind his old community and joins a new one. The nine lepers go off to show themselves to the priests, but this one man finds a new community. By praising God in the person of Jesus Christ, the man joins a new community that finds its meaning in Jesus Christ. This makes all the difference, because his new community, the church, formed around Jesus Christ is not concerned with your worth as the world sees worth. Because here is the good news – we already know how much you are worth. Look at yourself in the mirror, and you will see that to God, you are worth dying for.