Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 1 October 2023.
• First Reading: Deuteronomy 28: 1-14 (Blessings of obeying the Lord: in city and country)
• Epistle: 2 Corinthians 9: 6-15 (God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work)
• Gospel: Luke 17: 11-19 (Healing the ten lepers. One returned to give thanks: a Samaritan)
One of the effects of the pandemic of 2020-2022 was how we became aware of the ‘supply chain’ – the processes by which our consumption of food and other items depends of what people in other countries and continents do in order to meet our needs.
Failure or disruption in this could mean that we were no longer receiving the goods we consume at the prices we were used to – if at all. The supermarket shelves became thinner and even empty, while the prices went up and not down.
We became far more aware of the fragility of life – and that was before we began to see the effects of the Russian attack on Ukraine.
If the financial crises of 2008 were all down to financiers and bankers, we were now beginning to know our own vulnerability to events. Even now we wonder how to replace the munitions supplied to Ukraine and we may wonder whether our own nuclear weapons are not more a kind of marine Maginot line.
Such is the frailty of the lives we live.
Yet in the law and of custom of Israel, harvest time was and is the year’s end and the beginning of the new year. It is observed with utter seriousness as they recall their need to be reconciled with God and with one another at the Day of Atonement and they relive the fragility of their lives as they live in flimsy field shelters for a week during the Feast of Tabernacles.
Only after this do they celebrate the Law of Moses as they read the last chapters of Deuteronomy and the beginning of Genesis. In Israel, and for Jews generally, harvest is a serious business.
And so in our lesson from Deuteronomy we cheerfully read of the blessings of the Lord for keeping His commandments while carefully avoiding the gravity of forsaking them as set out in the next 54 verses. I commend them to your reading.
And yet the blessings of the Lord apply not only to the land but to the livestock of the land, the fertility of the family, victory over enemies, plentiful rain, blessings in city and countryside, security as they move around, and the respect of the nations of the world.
If they would serve and honour the Lord, then He also would provide for His people and the world would see it with wonder. Such is the all-embracing favour of the Lord towards those who hear His word and keep it.
And yes, it is far more than hearing the Word and saying, ‘Oh yes!’ It is also about living in it and letting it live in us.
This is no small order.
Looking at Luke’s story of the healing of the 10 lepers, there are several layers to it.
First, Jesus had already sent one leper to the temple in Jerusalem to be examined by the priests and readmitted to the community. This was a sign of the Messiah, and so such an event was a kind of visiting card to the High Priests. Something was already happening and they were on notice.
It evidently did not have the desired effect so Jesus sent them 10. This must be the theological equivalent of sending them a thunderflash: a military grade firework, to wake them up for real.
Then, the lepers who sought His healing evidently knew who He was, for they called to Him by name and hoped for His healing. Yet they also were so taken up with their own needs and expectations that they did not recognize their healing or turn back to thank Him.
All except one: a Samaritan who would not normally be seen dead in Jerusalem let alone the temple or with one of its priests. And yet here he was, willing to go to Jerusalem anyway, but sufficiently aware of his healing and the One who had brought it about. For him, Jesus was not only the healer but indeed One anointed by God and worthy of worship.
This man was healed not only of leprosy but from within as well. He was entering a fulness of life that he had never known before.
Jesus was not only Lord of the Sabbath, Lord of the grave, the stiller of storms and healer-extraordinaire but He was healer of that social contaminant that destroys lives and homes, and is the fear of every community.
In our time there must be two aspects to think about.
First, there is the solemn covenant between God and His people. You shall be My people and I will be your God. This applies in our own day as well.
It is seen in the quality of our lives and relationships, our attitudes and priorities. It is there above all in our relationship with Jesus Christ, and just how far we place Him at the centre of our lives when there are so many competing interests: home, family, work, recreations, and our use of time and money.
It is one thing to give thanks to the Lord for the harvest. It is another to serve Him consistently as we work for it during the rest of the year.
But then there is something else.
We may not live in fear of leprosy, but we do live in fear of social media, the effect of attitudes and loyalties in times of corrosive mistrust and anger.
When faith in the Living God is despised and when we contrive other deities to replace Him. Political creeds given religious authority, leaders who lead like clowns and entertainers but have no root or conviction.
And in all this, the Lord says: I will be your God and you will be my people. Are we in?