RCL Track One, Proper 23C
Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7; Luke 17: 11-19
Good morning all, and wonderful to see you on this fall Sunday. And with a very warm welcome and much appreciation to our friends of the Heinz Chapel Choir. Wonderful to have you here this morning!
Hard to believe we’re already sailing into mid-October. I had a list of projects around the house to get to this summer, and I managed to cross a few of them off, there are, believe me, still a good number remaining.
In the weeks after Memorial Day it seems we have all the time in the world to get things done. But then before you know it the days start growing shorter and the temperature falls and the baskets of front-porch geraniums all around the neighborhood are replaced by yellow mums and Halloween pumpkins.
I mean, I love the fall, especially here in Western Pennsylvania. But it does just catch me a bit off center. The earth keeps turning, and we’re still sailing around the sun more or less once in a year, and yet still I’m never quite ready anymore. I remember when I was little my parents and grandparents would talk about how quickly Christmasses seemed to come. At the time I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about, as the interval from one to the next seemed ages of ages, an eternity. But of course I expect for all of us that does begin to change.
I don’t know if that’s entirely a relevant context, but it’s more or less where I began as I began to pray through the lessons appointed for this Sunday. Thinking about how we live “in real time,” in the seasons of our lives. As people of faith we would see before us the great framework of salvation history. God’s action in creation, the great Fall from grace and from his intention and purposes, and then the great Restoration--the Calling of Israel, Incarnation, Atonement, Cross and Resurrection, the Coming of Holy Spirit, the knowledge that even now we are standing at the starting line of New Creation, the Life of the World to Come. The grand themes, the over-arching frame, the foundation of our faith.
And yet in the midst of all that: here we are. In the midst of the ordinary and the day to day, the year to year, the season to season unfolding of our lives. Doing what we are able to do to build connections, bridges, between “Salvation History” and our many life stories. To do the work we have been given to do for Christ and his Church. We may be led to moments at least to begin to catch a glimpse of God’s great purposes, moments of vision and sacramental grace.
But we also roll out of bed in the morning to this particular day, to work or school, in the midst of family and friends and community. And one day after another, one year after another, one lifetime after another. And somehow in it all it seems important to ask, how are we supposed to live now? In the meantime? While the great story unfolds all around us, where do we find our story?
There’s a phrase that’s sometimes used by theologians when talking about this. To talk about an “interim ethic.” Which is to say, how we live in this time--between Ascension Thursday and the great Trumpet Blast that will announce his Return. What do we do now? Hunker down in our basements? Eat, drink, and be merry? Work 24/7? Climb to a mountaintop or sit in a cave? How do we live in the meantime?
A couple of hints this morning. Not the full picture of a long conversation of course. But to say that the question is very much the point of Jeremiah 29. Something has absolutely ended, with an unarguable finality. Not just one of those little political interruptions that you might have seen over the course of Israel’s history up to that point. And of course we’ve been thinking about all that for a few weeks now with readings from the earlier part of Jeremiah and last Sunday from the Lamentations. Those remnant clusters who somehow survived the catastrophe, the destruction of the Holy City. Now huddled in desert refugee camps or frightened, undocumented immigrants in the back alleys of Baghdad and Damascus and Alexandria and Persepolis and I suppose hundreds of forgotten villages and towns. Trusting in their hearts in God’s great promise of restoration. But knowing deep down as well that this would be not days or months, but years and decades and even generations. The good news, the great news, trusting in God's faithfulness, that the tide will turn again. But to know: we're probably not going to be here to see it.
We know the Salvation History. What we need is an interim ethic. And so Jeremiah: Build houses and live in them, plant gardens, nurture your families, live at peace with your neighbors, be good citizens--and remember the Lord your God in your prayers, praying not just for yourselves, but for those around you in the communities and nations where you are living now.
Which is really wonderful, I think. An inspired word to say that just because the Great Day isn’t here yet, even now in this in-between time, God desires for us a life of meaning, a life of spiritual and emotional and physical well-being, a life of abundant blessing. It’s not a completely detailed rule book or code of conduct or list of instructions, but it is a word of tenderness, and perhaps enough to get us going and to sustain us along the way.
And I’m thinking also about this story from Luke. The core value of the story of the healing of the Ten Lepers, the theme and key word, “gratitude.” What is our life supposed to be about, here and now? Because it is this Samaritan who shows us the way, who shows us how we are called to live. Again, core values. Roman Catholic Benedictine theologian David Steindl-Rast says, "it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but it is gratefulness that makes us happy.”
In fact this is really critical for the work we’ve been given to do in the meantime. To be faithful witnesses and authentic witnesses. I’m not sure we Episcopalians or we Christians generally have been doing such a great job of this in recent years. Living at peace with one another, in a spirit of generosity and kindness and affection, and above all of gratitude.
Maybe sometimes we seem more like squabbling contestants on a reality TV show or mudslinging opponents in an election primary than like disciples of the Prince of Peace. But there we are. Jeremiah to the exiles of Jerusalem, Jesus and this Samaritan leper. They can tap us on a shoulder. Encourage us to get back on track.
It is the time of “already, and not yet.” We feast at the heavenly Banquet Table and sing with all the apostles and prophets and martyrs around the heavenly throne, as we live today in this world, with all its messiness and brokenness, pain and sorrow, grief and loss. But not hiding away and holding our breath. Finding lives for ourselves and joy and peace and knowing and sharing with sincerity and enthusiasm God’s abundant blessing here in the meantime. And in it always, in the ordinary moments of our lives, giving thanks.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.