Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Jeremiah 29: 1, 4 – 7
Jeremiah’s Letter to the Exiles in Babylon
29These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
2 Timothy 2: 8 – 15
8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, 9for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. 10Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 11The saying is sure:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
A Worker Approved by God
14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God* that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.
Luke 17: 11 – 19
Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus* was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers* approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’* feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’
Palestine in the time of Jesus consisted of three areas: Judea in the south, Samaria in the middle and Galilee in the north. Samaria was the old Northern Kingdom of Israel, and Judea the old Southern Kingdom of Judah.
Samaria was of course where the despised Samaritans lived. They were the left-overs of the Northern Kingdom when in about 721BC the Assyrians deported all able-bodied people to Nineveh. They never returned. The kingdom had not had a good start under their first King Jeroboam and religiously they went from bad to worse, developing a mixed faith. The people who remained, many years later, had an unhappy relationship with their Jewish cousins in the south, and just as bad a relationship with their Jewish cousins in the northern region of Galilee.
The Jews had returned from exile in Babylon and had tried to define themselves as God’s people by very strict and literal adherence to the Law of Moses. They developed a kind of religious Apartheid and looked down on the Samaritans. And the Samaritans did get it wrong. You might remember Jesus telling the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. (John 4: 22)
Many Jews who lived in the north used to avoid Samaria on their way to Jerusalem in the south by going round it. Jesus appears to have been doing just that. 11 On the way to Jerusalem, we read, Jesus* was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. There was only one reason to go between the two, and that was to avoid the Samaritans.
Perhaps Jesus was needing a rest and was looking forward to the journey. As luck would have it 12As he entered a village, ten lepers* approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’
We don’t know what was in Jesus’ mind when he saw the lepers but his response is anything but personal because 14When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’
What I’d like us to notice is that Jesus had an official line and it was what the Law of Moses required of a leper. The priest would examine the leper and decide whether he or she was well enough to reintegrate into the community.
Jesus seems to sum up the situation and act quite quickly. In this instance he was adhering to religious requirements. We have the impression that Jesus was a rebel, but he didn’t always buck the system. In fact there were times when he sounded like a very staunch supporter of the system – and believe you me it was a system. At other times (as in the cleansing of the Temple) he took the system on head on. It depended on whether what he faced was corrupted or not.
There has always been a religious system. We sometimes like to think that there are pure ethereal and spiritual experiences which, when exposed to the corrupting influence of sinful people, calcify into religiosity. That can be true but in fact all spiritual experiences, if they are to be applicable to more than one individual, if they are to last, need a vehicle, a means of expression.
When you experience something and share it with someone else you tell them what you did. If they want the same experience they do what you did.
That is why we have liturgy. It is a vehicle for God. It carries us into God in a way that would not be possible if there was nothing but rumour of spirituality. That is why we have organised religion. God sets great store by it when it leads to God. And we’ll get onto how that happens later.
What’s more, the structure that accompanies religious form, provides an environment for mutual accountability – I am accountable to you as a fellow disciple and you are accountable to me as a fellow disciple.
But more than accountability, it provides a locus – a place, a setting – where we can love and be loved.
Now the second thing we might notice is that as the lepers conform to what is a religious directive, something remarkable happens that seems greater than the form of religion they are co-operating with – And as they went, they were made clean.
Here a miracle occurs. Something deeply spiritual happens. What a surprise! Co-operation with a crusty old religious tradition produces something exciting and miraculous.
Suddenly we enter the world of personal spiritual encounter. 15Then one of them, (one of them, notice, not the whole gang) when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’* feet and thanked him.
Then we read, And he was a Samaritan.
Jesus now responds personally, possible because he is astounded. He’s taking the normal route to Jerusalem and avoiding the Samaritans (not that he always avoided them of course but in this instance he goes with the crowd and does so) and lo and behold the only person who comes to thank him is a Samaritan!
17Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’
The Jews had grown blasé about the significance of their religious tradition. They no longer viewed it as anything special. They took it for granted.
But the Samaritan exercised faith even as he headed off to the priest, and he was filled with gratitude, a gratitude that earned him praise from Jesus. In his faith, in his expectation, and in his gratitude lies the secret to encountering God in the religious. The Samaritan was probably unused to this command from the Law of Moses and this ‘reporting to the priest’ was a novelty, possibly even exciting.
Religious form, when filled with faith – with expectation – moves God’s heart. Remember Hebrews 11: 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. The reverse of that is that God is pleased with faith!
We gather each Sunday and we go through our religious traditions – and they are fine traditions based on those handed on to us by Jesus.
I’ve heard the odd murmur about how boring liturgy is. The word liturgy consists of a combination of two Greek words “public” and “work”. When we the group work at our religious tradition it will act as a gateway to the personal spiritual revelation we so love today. Put in a more positive light, our traditions are a vehicle, a gateway to God –
- when we are not blasé,
- when we do the work,
- when are prepared to seek,
- when we are expectant in faith,
- when we engage with our tradition
something lovely happens that can be applied personally. It’s then that we avoid falling foul of Paul’s warning to Timothy about – those who have a form of godliness but deny its power.
A faith-filled religious tradition attracts God. Jesus engaged with both the tradition and the spiritual power of personal revelation.
I think it’s great that we have a tradition to work within, that we are not left to hollow yearning, that Jesus responds to our well-intentioned faith.
Because it’s all about meeting Jesus!