Sermon for 10/13/2013 from Pr. Mark T. Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Holliston, MA.
Gospel: Luke 17:11–19
11On 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."
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
Do you ever wonder why we gather each week, and experience the same thing, like almost the exact same thing, in our meal of Holy Communion? Why do we have to hear those same words of institution, do this for the remembrance of me, again, and again? Why is it that the same food is given and shed for each of us every single time? Couldn’t there be something new on the menu?
Why? Well, the obvious reason we celebrate this meal week after week, is to help us remember what Jesus has done, and also to remember that Jesus is hear in the midst of us. Loving us, calling us to love one another, and sending us back into the world to do the same. This, is the OBVIOUS answer to why we do something again, and again, and again.
But, there is some recent scientific work that has been done dealing with the phenomenon that is our human memory, which, in a way validates this practice. This work, makes it seem like Jesus actually knew what he was doing when it came to giving us this meal, and telling us to “do this.” Imagine that.
You see, according to the study, when we retrieve our memories, whatever they may be, simply in the act of retrieving them, we change them a little bit each time. As it was described on the radio program I was listening to, we can imagine our retrieval of memories, as getting a ball of play-doh out of its container, again and again. Each time, that little ball, would change just a little bit, just from our touch. Sometimes, that touch could cause a big change, and at other times, maybe a change that we can’t even perceive with our own eye, yet a little change would happen. The overarching message of the study, is that our memories are not fixed, and as we grow older, we will remember things from our past in different ways, probably, in the way we want to remember them.
So, in light of this study, it seems that Jesus really knew what he was doing, in giving us specific instructions, and specific actions to remember him by. Imagine if we didn’t have the clear means of this Holy Meal, to remember that God loves us, imagine how much could go wrong with the Church, and our faith, from the ways that memories of Jesus could change in people and how these could get then passed down through the collective memory of many people, each remembering something a little different, from generation to generation. Imagine the bickering, fighting, and downright tragedy that could happen across our human history by people perverting the name and life of our God for their own gain….ok, so maybe we don’t have to imagine that happening, maybe it has.
So, with all that has gone wrong, even with the clear instructions given to us for how to remember Jesus, even with this seemingly simple idea of experiencing grace, peace, and love, through a meal of bread and wine; it is pretty clear that without this meal, we’d really be lost. In fact, we’d have a pretty tough time experiencing the same living Christ who is with us today, and who was also with the lepers in our Gospel reading from Luke.
Yet, we’d know what it would be like, each of us, to be like these poor lepers. Maybe not suffering in the same manner, but ultimately, in the same isolation. Because of our own human sin, sin that does things like convince us into thinking our memory is infallible, we would most certainly let boundaries keep us from loving each other, just like the quarantine kept these lepers from the rest of society, metaphorically speaking.
But just as Jesus healed those 10 lepers, and released them from the captivity their disease had created, Jesus has healed us. Jesus has freed us from the sin which captivates us. The sin which loves nothing better than building boundaries and walls between all of us. Jesus, has time and time again freed us from these boundaries, and brought people together, all people, declaring that nothing can withstand the power of love.
And Jesus has shown us that the breaking down of these boundaries is not done by being “right”, but is done through compassion. Jesus didn’t just stand there and say, “I know everything”. Instead, Jesus has declared very publically, through the waters of Baptism, that I, Mark Thomas Peterson, am God’s favorite, and, each of you are also, God’s favorite, and even the people who haven’t been baptized are God’s favorite too; no matter what. I mean he even cured the Samaritan leper, showing God’s favor with him. By today’s standards this would be like someone at Fenway this evening buying a drink for the person who came to the Red Sox game in a Yankees jersey. That is how God, through Jesus, breaks down boundaries, and restores us all so that we may love each other again.
So, we’ve got Jesus, who breaks down these boundaries, we’ve got imperfect memories, and we have sin and the devil tricking us time and time again. In this light, Jesus certainly knew what he was doing when he gave us this meal to do in the remembrance of him.
Jesus gave us this meal not only to tell us that God loves us, but to remind us again when we forget. Jesus gave us this meal to remind us what God is doing through this love, when we forget, and let worry and stress over every little problem in our lives and even faith communities. Or when we forget that everyone is God’s favorite and start letting people’s stupid Tweets or Facebook post make us wish something ill upon them. Jesus gave us this meal, so that the taste of compassion, peace, and love may linger in our mouths and saturate our words with their sweet aroma, in every moment of our lives.
This meal is what Jesus has given us to remember all these things, not with our own warped sense of memory, but with the memory of Christ. The unchanging, eternal, living memory, which is not dependent on our moods, which doesn’t succumb to our illnesses, which does not waver as we persecute it, which even creates life as we crucify it on a cross.
This morning, with the whole Church, with the Saints who have died and with the saints who have not yet been born, it is to this meal, to this God, who we once again return to, together; not in a spirit of self-pity or of obligation, but in the spirit of the Samaritan leper. We will by God’s grace return in the Spirit of the Eucharist, the spirit of Thanksgiving, rejoicing that our Savior has come, the boundaries between us have been broken down, and praising God that we have been freed to love each other and all of God’s creation.
Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,