October 9, 2016

“FaithBuilding Through Our Presence”


Luke 17:11-19

11 On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him. Keeping their distance from him, 13 they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!”

14 When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they left, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice. 16 He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus replied, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18  No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” 19 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.”


As we continue on the road of building and re-building our personal faith stories, we find ourselves in parallel with another journey: the journey of Jesus as he taught and healed throughout the Galilee. Jesus is no stranger to this village. His presence is known even before he gets there.


Ten men come out to see him but keep their distance. They have skin conditions that are commonly thought to be a sign of their sinfulness. Those with visible diseases were cast out to the edge of the village. People didn’t want to “catch” their sin, I guess.


After Jesus speaks with the men, he tells them to show themselves to the priest. They had to be “approved” before they were allowed to return to the village as full citizens. When they did so, the condition left them. It had to be a big deal. Nine of them went away, presumably to go show their families and friends, and one returned.


The man who returned is important in a few ways. For one, he was the only one who returned, and that will become important later. Two, he is Samaritan. As those of you who grew up in Sunday School and church know, Samaritans were the outsiders in Judea. That is why Jesus tells a parable about the good Samaritan. Needless to say, this man was not welcome most places. It could be why he was the only one who came back – he probably had no one with whom he could share his good news.


This man is our lesson holder for the day, because of a simple exchange. In the Scripture, it says all ten men were cleansed, but the use of the word “healed” only applies to the Samaritan. The distinction is important. To be cleansed meant that you no longer had the evidence of what ailed you. To be healed is to not be affected by it anymore. Healing is a much more wholesome and full description of what we need when we seek Jesus, but it also takes a lot more effort to be healed.


Let’s talk about it in modern terms: a person is cleansed of an addiction when the substance is no longer in his or her system. That person is only healed when the temptation to return to the substance is no longer an issue. Or, if that’s too heavy, how about when we go through all of our old junk at home and start “purging.” It cleanses our closets and minds for a while, but we aren’t healed until we can say, “maybe I don’t need five pairs of the same jeans” or “maybe I don’t need a new TV just because the new ones are slightly curved now.”


So what makes this man worthy of healing when the others were simply cleansed? All of them received the benefits of no more disease, so why is the lone Samaritan healed? Jesus gives us the answer: faith. The man knew that, without Jesus’ intervention, he would still suffer. Unlike the others, who probably thought, “what do I have to lose by asking?,” this one had the faith to know that he should come back to give thanks and finish the lesson. With Jesus, there’s always a lesson behind everything.


What he understood was he needed to be made well to show glory to God. He wanted to be an agent of the kingdom of heaven. That required that he come back and show himself to Jesus as someone who understood what the healing truly meant.  In short, his healing depended on his presence with Jesus.


You’ll remember that this series is about the promises we make in our baptismal vows. The second thing we promise is to honor God with our presence. In the Scripture, the Samaritan is present with Jesus before and after he is healed. We come to church because we are told our presence makes a difference in our faith growth, but what does presence exactly mean?


It can mean being literally present in a space. When teachers call the class roll, what do kids say? “Present!” [I said ‘here’ for years until my mom told me it would sound more refined to say present] In addition to naming where we are, it also means that we recognize what we are “here” to do. Presence in body is only part of the requirement. Presence in mind is the other part. All ten of them were present bodily when they asked Jesus for help. It was the one who was mindful that came back.


When I was in my first year of seminary, I did not attend church very often nor did I pray very often. I felt like I already got plenty during the week. While I did know a lot, my spiritual life was not very good. Not only did I feel disconnected from God, I was more anxious, less optimistic, and overall not as good a person. When I returned to church and returned to my devotional life, I felt more connected with myself and others. I felt healthier mentally and spiritually. I was more open to God’s work.


We have to be present both in body and mind in three important parts of our lives: with ourselves, with each other, and with God.


When I say being present with myself, I mean I take time every day to stop and reflect on where I am mentally, physically, and spiritually. That means recognizing the good and bad I do in a day, whether it is by knowing I did or didn’t exercise, eat right, pray. It also affects how I act around others. I ask myself each day if I was the best I could have been. I want to be as peaceful and uplifting as possible.


So many people choose to be negative and life-oppressing that I must choose in every interaction to be a living example of hope. I once heard a man who said he felt it was his job to be the devil’s advocate. His associate responded, “out of all the Catholic Church, that position is held by one person. They think that’s plenty. They don’t need you.” I think he’s right. Are we being present and vulnerable with others, or are we simply trying to be the smartest or wisest one in the room? People who are present with others are better listeners than they are speakers. They give advice only when it is asked to be given. They are patient.


And, finally, the reason we are all here (hopefully) is we want to be more present with God. That’s most likely the one we focus on the least, because we see our presence in faith as something that is just ours. The problem is that isn’t true. Your faith is not your own – it affects everybody you meet. I learned that myself through experience. When we neglect to build on our faith in God, we suffer elsewhere. We get too busy to know if we are living good lives and thus forget to “check in” on our own behaviors. Back in the beginning of Methodism, preachers would often ask, “how is it with your soul?” Where we are spiritually matters to the whole community of faith.


How are you working on your presence with God in growing your faith?


One way we can build up our faiths is to be present in church in both mind and body, (read: without texting or social media through it all). We may hear the words and say the prayers, but they don’t mean anything if we aren’t focused on God. Or, put another way, having a gym membership or even going into the gym doesn’t mean squat until you actually do a squat. The same is true for church. We work out our faiths while we are here. That takes actively listening and thinking about something other than what is for lunch after this.


As we become more and more involved in other parts of our lives, whether its work or hobbies or whatever else, are we taking time to be present with God? It’s not just about being at church an hour a week. It’s also praying earnestly with an open heart and a willingness to sit and be quiet so God can speak; it’s about reading our Bibles to discern better where God is in the world; it’s about finding a small group of people who will keep your honest about your problems and your triumphs.


As we work out our faiths in these manners, we grow. God becomes more present in our lives as we become more present with God. That’s actually what grace is – faithbuilding with God’s help.


We are a busy and disconnected people. Our lives are tugged in hundreds of directions and we become so busy that we rarely take time to take stock of where we are. Are we actually in the moment in life? In church? In places that feed our soul? Or are we like the nine others, so ready to move on that we forget to stop and say “thanks” and find out what Jesus wants from us?


We all need to put the to-do list down sometimes. Maybe slim the list of activities down to a couple so we have time to stop and be present. I know that’s hard. Just with my job, I feel like I am always involved in some other thing, but I also take time each day to reflect on where God is. Sure, I may miss some TV time or have to shower a little faster, but it’s worth it to be healthier.


Are you seeking health through presence with God, or are you simply cleansed for now so you can get on to the next thing?


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