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18 Pentecost 13 - Luke 17:11-19

What Martin Luther said about individuals is also true of the church.

Together as a community we are simul justus et peccator – saintly and sinful at

the same time.

We are, Saint Paul insists, the body of Christ, the presence of Jesus now in the world.

We are also, Luther reminds us, a hospital for sinners.

We are Jesus, and we are lepers.

Especially in recent years, I have heard the body of Christ ask the same question many

times and many ways.

The other nine, where are they?

Sunday morning worship attendance continues to dwindle; now folks who come once or twice a month are considered regulars.

On any given weekend, it feels like nine out of ten people are somewhere else, and Jesus

wonders where they are.

What could be more pressing than praise?

What is more important or true than returning thanks to God?

Are they okay?

Are they lost?

The master who told the story about a woman who lost one of ten coins now asks:

Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?

The other nine, where are they?

I have some theories.

Presumably, they all take off to show themselves to the priests, doing exactly

what Jesus told them to do.

If the priests pronounce them clean, they can re-enter society.

They can hug their children again.

They can touch their lovers and enter shops and greet neighbors and live in the world

outside the prison walls of their colony of quarantine.

The possibility is almost too much to hope, much less to process.

So some of them don't even notice they are made clean on the way.

Others do notice and race even faster to the priests.

Still others notice and stop in their tracks.

Should they continue on to the priests, because that would change their life forever.

Could they handle life outside the colony?

Would they end up like Brooks, the prisoner in The Shawshank Redemption who got out

and then killed himself when freedom was too heavy to bear?

They stand now in the wilderness between slavery and the promised land and think back

to the comforts of Egypt.

Do they want to be healed?

That comes with so much change and responsibility and expectation.

Why praise God or thank Jesus for a healing they never asked for because deep down,

they know they don't want it or can't handle it.

They worry as they walk back to the leper colony whether or not they will now be

allowed to come home.

They asked Jesus for mercy, but he had done them wrong, just like the church has done to

so many people who get something different than what they were looking for.

So the body of Christ turns and blesses the one who shows up to kneel and pray and sing

thank you.

Go on your way; your faith has made you well.

There is a joy and a danger in these words.

All ten were made clean, but only one was pronounced well.

Faith makes a difference.

There is a wholeness, a wisdom, a peace, a joy, a depth of health and perspective that comes only from the grateful worship of God and the faith that fuels it.

The one has something the other nine do not, and it's so easy to become snobbish or self-

righteous about it.

So often the church has settled for the role of priests, trying to be the distant social

authority judgmentally pronouncing who is in and who is out.

The truth is that all ten are loved and healed and restored by Jesus.

All ten are made clean.

The nine who don't show up for thanksgiving—or in Greek, Eucharist—still receive

Christ's mercy and continuing concern.

The other nine, where are they?

He keeps caring, the woman keeps sweeping the house, we keep looking.

We do this, of course, as cleansed and grateful sinners.

We would not be alive or well without the extravagant generosity of God

propping us up, so we are at our best when we are prostrate at Jesus' feet,

when we are humble and honest and thankful.

In my mirror, I see an outsider who gets this about one tenth of the time.

I see a sinner who misses about nine out of ten reasons and chances to be grateful.

I have other marching orders or opportunities or fears or regrets of change distracting me.

I am worried about what the priests will say, whether I belong, if I fit in or not,

how my past constains my present, what the future beyond my control holds.

I so often don't notice or remember the ways that Jesus has healed me, or that I needed it.

I need wise and marginalized Samaritans, the stigmatized, the feared, and the

avoided, to turn back from whatever I'm doing and teach me with their faith and

praise that Jesus heals us all, including me.

I need to tape Martin Luther's last written words on my mirror for at least ten mornings

or until I see them and begin to become well:

We are beggars. That is true.

You, dear beggars, are also Christ, the one who is on his way to Jerusalem to die like a

leper, a crucified pariah, to heal and restore us all.

You are the broken, rejected, resurrected, cleansed, restored, forgiven body of Christ.

You are under-appreciated, rarely thanked hope for the world, the same hope that

you have received yourselves, somehow enough to show up here with your praise.

Come to the altar for thanksgiving, knowing that Jesus has made you clean.

Get up and go on your way, knowing that your faith as made you well.

But first, right now, get up and sing, praising God with a loud voice!

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