Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 9 October 2022.
• First Reading: Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7 (Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles)
• Psalm 66: 1-11
• Epistle: 2 Timothy 2: 8-15 (God’s word is not chained. I endure everything for the sake of the elect. Warn them against quarrelling abut words.)
• Gospel: Luke 17: 11-19 (Jesus heals ten lepers)
I am not a particular follower of sports, certainly not the track and field events. My own sporting prowess certainly never involved anything round that could be kicked, hit or propelled in any desired direction by any means available.
I did once gain a prize for dinghy sailing – and that was in the handicap section, however this is quite a different story.
Nevertheless there is something of a game of two halves in our lessons as the Old Testament and the Epistle show one aspect of faith and the gospel another.
Taking the OT and Epistle together, both involve the writer making peace with a dangerous, uncomfortable situation of constraint where few choices were available.
In Jeremiah, he was writing to the exiles who had been taken to Babylon. They expected to be home soon and were against getting too comfortable where they were.
Rather like the digging of positions during WWI: the Germans dug deep bunkers as they expected to keep the land they had occupied while the British and French bunkers were shallower as they did not expect to stay there too long.
And so Jeremiah was telling them to settle in for a long stay. Build houses because your tents will not last out. Plant gardens and eat their vegetables; allow your children to marry and have their own families.
Above all, pray for your own captors and hosts and make peace with your situations. You had been brought here for a reason and so this is the time to make the best of what you have. It may not be ideal but you will be able to live with some kind of comfort.
This was all a message about retaining their faith even in the unhappy circumstances of their lives of exile. Think about what had happened and led them to this place. Look for God’s purposes within it all, and eventually you will see them.
This is never a time for despair or apathy: they still have their faith and this is a time to practice it. The message is not about yielding to cynicism or rejection – it is still about embracing the purposes of God, even when they are not clear just what these were, despite all the warnings.
But Paul, writing in prison to Timothy, one of his younger followers and church leaders has a very similar but personal message.
Paul also has seen his life beginning to ebb away. He was in prison, supported by some faithful helpers even when others have left him for their own reasons: some good, some not.
Yet the central point of his imprisonment remained the same. He had been accused of violating the temple and of its laws, and had been brought into protective custody by the Romans in the face of a possible riot. Having no confidence of any kind of fair trial in Jerusalem he had appealed to Caesar. Now he was in prison knowing that in the capricious times of Rome, his time was now running out.
But Paul also refused to yield to despair. He was never going to abandon or deny his faith. If he was still in prison it was because the Lord had allowed it and Paul’s confidence in his Lord was unshakeable.
Paul was willing to live through this trial of imprisonment and of pointless charges, even of being a political pawn, for even here the Lord’s will enfolded him. Whatever was happening or would happen, Paul was content without become a victim of the times.
The second half of our lessons is in the healing by Jesus of 10 lepers.
These were outcasts from the settled community, depending on whatever alms they may receive. And among them there was a further outcast, a Samaritan who had no place in the community of Israel anyway.
I have commented before on the message Jesus was sending to Jerusalem by sending lepers who had been cleansed and healed.
But this time the point is different. A leper had no home, no future and certainly no hope.
They might find fellowship with other lepers, but this was far from their own homes and families. The temptation to despair would be strong and the sense that life was just wasting away would be a constant torment. Life was so unfair – why me? Why not another? And so on.
But this time there was to be a different answer. These lepers had heard of Jesus and called out for mercy. They knew of His healings and other miracles.
Here in the pit of their situations there was a glimmer of light and a hope that they would not allow to escape.
They had absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain and they might not get another chance.
Yet they came to Jesus calling on His mercy. There was no demand for rights or compensation. No complaint at the way society had treated them. It was all a simple and direct appeal, shorn of all bitterness and argument.
And so Jesus met them and they were healed.
The question for us is why do some suffer and others not? Why do some find their pleas answered and others meet delay or just silence?
Part of the answer lies within us: not so much the circumstances that assail us but the way we respond. Are we still wrestling with a memory or a hope? Are we still looking for that answer or that opportunity?
Is there still a point where we are tempted to let go and despair? To curse God and die, to quote the book of Job?
This is part of the mystery of suffering. If we knew the answers then it would not be a mystery. But perhaps it is as we spend our time waiting for the answer, that our attitudes and actions are tested. It is when we are not getting what we had hoped for that we are also been shown up to ourselves.
It is as we also continue to pray and to trust and follow the Lord that we come to find a different kind of hope and of understanding – and that is all part of the mystery of faith.