Monday, November 24, 2014

God's Love is for All

I preached this sermon at the Community Wide Thanksgiving Service. This ecumenical service was sponsored by the Dare County Ministerial Association and took place at Outer Banks Presbyterian Church.

Readings:
Deuteronomy 8: 7-18
For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. You shall eat your fill and bless the LORD your God for the good land that he has given you. Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid waste-land with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.

Luke 17: 11-19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean.Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

Sermon: God's Love is for All
“And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”  These words come from Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863, Thanksgiving Day Proclamation.  These words resonate with the words of Moses from our reading from Deuteronomy. Moses reminds the people to remain humble, to remain faithful to the covenant.  They are as relevant today as they were in 1863.

Deuteronomy is the fifth and final book of the Torah.   It is book that chronicles all of Moses instruction and teaching as the Israelite people are about to enter the Promised Land.  Just before the passage we read, Moses tells the people that God tested them in the wilderness, provided for them that even their clothes did not wear out nor their feet swell, during that entire forty year journey.  
This beautiful description of a land filled with abundance, with flowing water, plenty of fertile land and that none should be hungry, none will be in want.  I cannot help but think of the early explorers and settlers from England, France, and Spain who arrived on this new to them land, praising its abundance.  What must it had been like for those first English explorers landing at Roanoke Island seeing the beauty of this place for the first time?  Do you remember your first time to the Outer Banks?  Do you remember how you fell in love with this place?  I am a newcomer to this island and the first thing I say to anyone about this place is how beautiful it is, how breathtaking and awe inspiring.  

How much more the promise of a new land must have felt to the Israelites?  They had suffered under slavery, they had traveled for forty years in the wilderness suffering hunger, lived on a diet of Manna - a new food to them that must have gotten very tiring after a while.  How good it must have been to hear the promise of a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing. A land where you will lack nothing – Moses addressing the whole of the people of Israel and promising that not one of them would go hungry, that all would have not just enough, but abundance.

Moses also reminds the people that this abundance is not of their own making. He realizes that once they are comfortable in their fine homes with their crops and livestock that they may begin to think that what all of this is of their own making.  They will come to believe that they did it themselves and forget that they did not.  Moses reminds the people to be humble, to be grateful and to serve God, keeping God’s commandments.  What also strikes me in this passage is that the promise of abundance is made to all of the Israelite people – not a select few, not a few of the tribes but not the others – the promise of bread, figs, olive and honey is given to all of the people of Israel.  God’s love and care is abundant, freely given. 

So now let us turn to the reading from Luke.  Jesus is walking along the road and this group of ten lepers cries out to him for mercy.  They keep their distance as required by law. Leprosy is a terrible disease that causes severe physical discomfort and pain.  The skin is disfigured and painful. In Biblical times, lepers were required to live outside of cities as to not spread the condition.  It was a condition that resulted in both physical pain and social isolation, yet this group of ten calls out, asking for Jesus to have mercy on them.  They asked for mercy which for them would be rare and precious as they were feared and avoided by most.  Jesus sends them to the priest.  Along the way they are healed, the terrible pain and social isolation is to end.  It is the Samaritan, the foreigner, the despised one, the despised among the despised that comes back and offers thanks.  It is only at this point that Jesus asks any questions.  Were not all 10 healed?  Why is it only you the Samaritan that came to give thanks and praise?  

Again the message that God’s love is abundant, is for all – even the despised, even the despised of the despised.  Notice too that Jesus does not say well I am just going to un-heal those ungrateful 9.  The point of the story is that the unlikely one, the one outcast by humans that offers the thanks and praise. The point here, like in the story of the Good Samaritan is that God’s love cannot be boxed in, cannot be contained by human standards and judgments.

God’s love is universal, it is for each and every single person.  God’s love is so encompassing, so abundant, so generous that it exceeds all our human distinctions.  Jesus does not stop to ask what the lepers had done for themselves.  He doesn’t ask them to prove their worthiness, anymore than distinctions were made among the Israelites entering the Promised Land.

Lincoln in his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation lists the many blessings in the land despite being in the midst of the Civil War.  The Civil War caused all sorts of hardship, pitting families against families and tore America literally apart.  Yet in the midst of this terrible moment, Lincoln lists many blessings – good crops, successful mining, peace with foreign nations and a growth of population. Lincoln also reminds the American people that our bounty and abundance come not from ourselves, is not self-generating but rather the gift of God. It is to God we need to be humble and offer thanks. It is a call to humility.  Lincoln also talks about the effects of the war on people from both sides … he calls for compassion for all not just those on the side of Union. How often in our country today, do we focus on the divisions rather than having compassion for all? How often do we believe that we have created our own success, our own abundance? How often do we turn our backs on those who we see as less than? Today, we celebrate the Thanksgiving that reminds us to reach across our differences and to offer gratitude for the abundance that we have been gifted in this place and time. We also grieve for those who lost their land, their freedom and their lives in the process of creating the country we know today. We remember that the giving part of Thanksgiving reminds us to give back especially to those who are considered the outcast.

On this Thanksgiving Holiday may we offer humble thanks for the gifts in our lives. May we remember the generosity and abundance of God’s love. Then out of that place of humility and gratitude, may we offer the abundant love of God to a world hurting and deeply in need of healing. May we offer the love of God which passes all understanding to each and every person we meet, including the despised one.  May we follow the life of Jesus who offered mercy, offered love, offered compassion to those who asked, without question, without hesitation.  In this spirit of God’s abundant love may we offer our humble thanks whether we are spending this holiday here in the Outer Banks or away from here. May we bring a spirit of humility to our homes, to our families, our community and our world.  The world needs our humble witness to the abundant power of God’s love! 

May it be so!