Here is the sermon I preached on Thanksgiving Sunday (October 13, 2013).
TEXT: Luke 17:11-19
The actual sermon preached differs in slight ways from what I wrote here.
To listen to the sermon: 1) Go to: http://danforthmennonitechurch.ca/church-life/recent-worship-services-at-danforth-mennonite-church/
2) Click on “Recorded Worship Services at Danforth Mennonite Church” (in blue letters)
3) Click the last recording – October 13, 2013
God Called Me To Do the Uncomfortable
Many of us have been there at one time or another. Stigmatized. Put down. People look the other way – they see our pain but don’t really know how to react to it or if they should. We see the pity in their eyes. Their sad looks, yet sometimes it feels as if they aren’t seeing the person, only the situation at hand. Standing off in the distance they try to let us know they care – that they are there for us, but in the day to day grind we feel alone. Abandoned. Rejected. We wonder why God caused this disability or this tragedy to come upon us. We wonder what God’s purpose could possibly be in the midst of all of this.
We are not the only ones to feel out of place and out of touch with society. As if we are misfits or standing on the margins while life goes on around us. For some of us, this experience might have been contained solely in our junior high or high school days. The days when we had just reached puberty. Hearing the boys start to have cracked voices and worrying about growing facial hair. Hearing the girl’s concerns that they were fat or unlovable. Wondering why they were the only one not asked out for the junior prom date. Our faces riddled with pimples which even the strongest acne cream did not seem to subside.
Others of us live in this reality today and may for the rest of our lives. Visibly we look different. Perhaps a disability. Perhaps the fact that our skin tone doesn’t match that of the privileged. Perhaps it comes only in our speech – a slight impediment, but noticeable enough to those around us. It makes us want to curl up and not speak in front of our church. Maybe our marginalization comes in the form of an illness. People worry that they might be able to “catch AIDS” and so they leave us alone. People worry that a bipolar person has multi personalities and is dangerous and so they want to keep a safe distance just in case our shadow side comes out. People see us as weak and fragile, they aren’t meaning to hurt us, but they simply don’t know what to do. That not knowing, is sometimes more painful to us than having someone say something completely stupid but not meaning it. Sometimes we wish we were just like everyone else. Sometimes we question God wondering why we had to suffer this plight.
The lepers in Jesus’s time must have felt much the same way. Rejected by society, having lost their national and religious identity to a disease that was slowly eating away at their bodies. A disorder so visible that people could see it without even having to tell them. Stigmatized and having to yell out from a block away. There was no secrecy, no privacy. There was no way of hiding one’s plight. Unable to give or express love whether to a spouse or to a friend, at least not physically. Unable to maintain or gain a place in society until one was healed, if they ever were. Not able to be self-reliant. Not able to take pride in a paycheck. Not able to receive a hand up, but only a hand out.
Such was the setting Jesus found himself walking in one day on his way to Jerusalem. The territorial lines blurred because of a disease. Samaritans and Jews found together as if what set them apart no longer mattered. Before Jesus saw them, He heard them. Heard them calling out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.”
Jesus seems not to have even hesitated for a moment. He simply commands them to do their religious and legally duty of showing themselves to the priests and as they are walking they become healed. They seem to continue on with their day and with their lives. They don’t go back to what once haunted them or to the place of pain because that would be too uncomfortable. Jesus has healed them and so they go on with their day to day living leaving their past in the past.
That is except the one Samaritan leper. He returns to Christ, falls at His feet, and thanks Him for all that he has received. Jesus marvels at this man’s actions. He had healed ten. Where were the other nine? What were they doing now that they were healed? Were they using their healing to heal others or simply to keep it to themselves? Did no one want to return to the uncomfortable and unfortunate situations except for this one man, this foreigner? Jesus commands him to go. Don’t stay in this place of uncomfortableness, but go and live out your life reaching out to others who are in similar situations and letting them know that there is hope.
I have seen this text lived out by many people who had difficult realities and now are using those circumstances to serve God. One such example was a middle aged man I met on the streets of Toronto, Ontario, one cold December afternoon as a group of us from Tyndale University College were handing out sandwiches and spending time listening to the stories of the homeless. This man, named Tim, was sitting by the subway station with his dog, Shadow. Tim didn’t look like the typical homeless man, but he didn’t look like a professional either. We noticed he was talking with a group of other homeless people so we decided to approach them all and strike up a conversation with them. Tim shared with us his life story. Born to an abusive father and chronic drug user and alcoholic mother, Tim often went hungry during his childhood years. He was short statured and didn’t quite fit in with the other children. He was doing poorly in school and had no motivation to continue his studies. At 16, he fully dropped out of school, taking to the life of the streets. While on the streets, he was negatively influenced by some older men who offered him protection and brotherhood in exchange for his services. Tim needed the money and the protection so he began his life as a male prostitute in Boy’s Town (the gay neighbourhood of Toronto). This gave him a needed income for a time, but soon, Tim found himself in need of even more money. He wasn’t getting enough to eat and he wanted to find a place to live off of the streets, so Tim began to sell hard drugs. Tim’s journey into drugs started off the same way many others experience the drug culture. He started selling the drugs, never intending to become a user himself. He hated what he was doing, but he felt like he didn’t have a choice. Eventually, Tim moved from selling to experimenting with them. There couldn’t be any harm in trying them, just for once. They would make him forget about the cold, his hunger, the problems he was facing, and his lack of sleep. Soon, Tim became hooked on the drugs, unable to live a single day without them. Tim often told himself that he was in a bad state. He wanted to get help, but was unsure how to. He didn’t want to go to a clinic for fear that he would be “found out” and would have to spend time in jail. All of his friends were drug users and he didn’t belong to any church so he didn’t know where to turn. He vaguely remembered a friend from his childhood who had told him about Christ, but that memory had long since faded. He didn’t know if he believed in Christ, and if he did, he thought he was much too far gone for that. Christ had come to save sinners, but he was too deep into his sin. He felt so hopeless, abandoned, and confused. Living on the margins of society, people staying far away from him and instructing their children not to go near him because they thought he was a dangerous man. He felt like his identity of Tim, the young boy who was learning to play the saxophone who played soccer and baseball was gone. The drugs had claimed his whole identity. He was no longer Tim the person, he was now only Tim the drug user. He forgot who he was, he only knew who he was now. A man who shook and went into violent rages whenever he didn’t get his next high.
One day, fully strung out on life and high, Tim decided to end it all. His life had no meaning or purpose. No one cared about him. No one would miss him. Tim went into the subway station and began his sprint towards the railroad tracks. Until something caught his attention. A dog. The most beautiful golden retriever he had ever seen. Something in Tim dramatically changed. He forgot all about the reason he was at the subway. He searched the dog for a collar, but found none. “I’m going to have to find your master”, Tim said. He left the subway that day with the dog. He began to look all over the city for the owner. He put up signs on posts and on storefront windows. No one ever claimed the dog. After a month of searching, Tim told the dog, “If we can’t find your owner, then I will be your owner. I will become your father. I will be a good dad to you and take care of you. It will just be you and me, but everything is going to be okay.”
That day, Tim’s life dramatically changed. He quit his drugs, began intensive therapy, and started to look for work. He named his dog, Shadow. Today, he believes that Shadow was directly sent from Jesus Christ in order to save him from death and protect him from himself. Tim’s life has changed so much, that people no longer see him as Tim the drug user, but as Tim the street pastor and Tim the friend of the homeless. Tim became employed by a homeless outreach in Toronto, gave his life to Christ, and today walks the streets of downtown Toronto every day helping those who were in a similar position to his. Tim could have chosen to stay off the streets once and for all once he was healed by Jesus. But instead, he has chosen a life of being uncomfortable and continually going back to his brokenness in order to reach out to others.
I can’t help but think that it must have been similar in some ways between Tim and the tenth leper. Both having spent time on the margins of society, ashamed of who they were because of some force that was beyond them that was controlling their life. Both having cried out to Jesus and almost instantly being healed, and then both coming back to Christ to not only thank Him, but in order to be once again at the place of their brokenness and discomfort.
Who are the people in our lives that we need to reach out to? Each week, we walk past them oblivious to their needs and desires. How can we be Tim or the tenth leper to them? In what ways have our lives been broken and how can we use that brokenness to serve others as Christ? It could be in the form of volunteering with the incarcerated or at a pregnancy resource center. It could be inviting a young mother who was recently divorced over for coffee. It could be walking alongside an alcoholic family member and refusing to give up on them even when everyone else thinks they are a hopeless cause and could never kick the habit. Even if you’re only a bright spark, kindle. Kindle the light and the love you’ve received from the heart of the sun. You might even get fired up. You might blaze a trail. Stand up for others. Seek out injustice. Protest on behalf of the innocent. Demonstrate for love. Demonstrate love itself.
Our task is seldom easy. After all, we see through a glass dimly, but we can make a difference for the kingdom of God whether in big ways or small in our day to day lives and interactions. May God bless us this week as we seek to serve Christ. Amen.