Lectionary 28C (October 9, 2016)

We were trying to schedule something here later this month and were hunting for an empty spot on our calendar. We had to work around the Men’s Homeless Shelter, Valparaiso Adult Education, Alcoholics Anonymous, Al Anon, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Yoga, La Leche League, Bible Study, Esther Circle, Faith in Action Team, API, Moraine House, Handbell rehearsal, Choir rehearsal, Joyful Noise rehearsal, South Shore Orchestra Rehearsal, Finance Committee, Property Committee, Hospitality Team, Stewardship Team, Stephen Ministry, Coin Club, four levels of Confirmation, Youth Group, Round Robin, and Becoming Trinity. A few of those things are social organizations that need space. More of them, though, are organizations that help, or provide a service Valparaiso needs, and can do it because we offer them space here, in the heart of town. Still more are ministries of Trinity, offered to Valparaiso, which we can offer because we have the space, the people, and the money to do it. How did we get here? We are wise to something: Christ is the source of everything. We recognize that through Jesus Christ God gives us what we have, and calls us to live for one another just as God lives for us.

The Word points the way to that conclusion. Occasionally I’m asked, “From what text will the sermon come?” And the answer is usually, “All four.” The texts in the lectionary interpret and inform each other. Our First Reading today tells of Naaman. The text is pretty clear that God uses a nameless slave girl to heal one of God’s enemies, who in turn praises God. Psalm 111 ends with that awesome line, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Singing that on the heels of the Naaman story points us to look for evidence of Naaman fearing God, to wit his praise of God. That sets the table for the Gospel, where we’re primed to look for praise of God. And we find it. The Samaritan returns to Jesus and praises God. Jesus purifies ten men. The Samaritan is the one who identifies God as the source of his healing, and moreover who identifies Jesus Christ with God. This one, Jesus says, is not only purified, but also saved.

If we can get at the difference between “purified” and “saved” we might be able to deal with the annoying question of what separates the Samaritan from the other nine, and what happens to them. They did just what Jesus told them to do. Why should they get in any sort of trouble? Well, they don’t. Jesus does not revoke their purification. They’re just as purified when Jesus is marking them absent as they were when en route to the priest. Purity had to do with fitness for life as God’s priestly people. The ten men are not only sick, but impure and cut off from the rest. Jesus restores them to normal life, and that doesn’t change when nine go ahead to the priest. Jesus lifts up the Samaritan, as one who gives praise to God.

Of him he says, “Your faith has made you well,” or, literally, “Your faith has saved you.” Being “saved” had different connotations then than it does now. It meant being delivered from physical, spiritual, or cosmic bondage, and those “areas” all kind of overlapped, more than they do for us. 2 Timothy refers to “salvation in Christ Jesus” and elsewhere calls Jesus the Savior, and probably means salvation in all three senses. Jesus saves you in a cosmic sense in that you’re flagged for resurrection; he saves you in a spiritual sense in that you are right with God and empowered to serve; and he also saves you in a physical sense in that whatever you have, whatever you possess, Jesus provides. This talk of savior and salvation stood in opposition to the Roman Emperor, who since Augustus had borne the title, “The Savior of the World.” Over the first 100 years of Christianity, Christians began identifying Jesus, and not the Emperor, as their Savior. The Christians, you could say, believed they were wise to reality. That stuff didn’t come from the Emperor; it came from Jesus.

As Christians today we are wise to whose world it is. We don’t get any say in who God loves, or, in the language of today’s Gospel, who God purifies. You might have noted I haven’t even yet raised the issue of whether the nine “go to heaven” or get raised from the dead, and that’s because I don’t think it is even something this story is interested in asking. But if you want to go there, it looks like we don’t get to decide that, either. Being Christian doesn’t give us the knowledge that we’re better than other people. Instead, we are able to live wise to whose world it is.

We live just south of the Indiana Dunes. Most of us know the state is moving toward giving liquor licenses and other concessions to businesses there, while others (among them Trinity members) have fought to keep the Dunes publicly owned and undeveloped. As Christians, we are wise to whose Dunes they are. We know that they are God’s Dunes. We know that Jesus is the Savior of the world and that the Dunes come from him and belong to him. When we have a living faith like that of the Samaritan, we are able to act regarding the Dunes as though they’re Jesus’ Dunes.

A little further away, in Ontario (and also out in Southern California), the Nestle Corporation has obtained rights to the water in major streams. For small permit fees they can take all the water, bottle it, and sell it, killing all the animals and plants downstream that depend on it and making it harder for people to obtain. In Atlantic City, NJ, the casinos are going under and the city is struggling, so they tried to file for bankruptcy. The state wouldn’t let them, but instead forced them to accept a loan the terms of which included the privatization of their water supply. As Christians, we are wise to whose streams those are. We’re wise to whose water it is. And no, it isn’t rightfully the property of the state, either. We know that Jesus is the Savior of the World and that the water is from him and belongs to him. When we act in faith like that of the Samaritan, we are able to treat the water as Jesus’ water.

We’re here this morning on the South side of Valparaiso. In our community there are all kinds of people. Some families have called the place home for generations. Others have immigrated here in the last year, fleeing war or terror. Some struggle with addiction. Some struggle with loneliness. Some just want something constructive for their kids to do. Some want to try to be healthy. Some want to make music. We are wise to whose people they are. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the World and they are his brothers and sisters. They’re Jesus’ people (like we are) even if maybe some of them wouldn’t say that about themselves. When we act with faith like the Samaritan’s, we are able to treat them as Jesus’ people, and open our doors and ourselves to them.

We are wise to whose Dunes they are, whose water it is, whose people they are. And because we’re wise to this, we give to God our time, our space, our lives, and our money. The money is God’s, too. Isn’t that the hard one to remember, sometimes! Money is so nice: you can get almost anything you want for it, and there are plenty of people eager to tell you how giving it to them will improve your life substantially, because their product will give your life meaning. You’ll be more fully human if you purchase their goods or services. We are wise to whose money it is. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. He gives our lives meaning. And it is his money. And since we’re wise to whose money it is, Jesus wants us to use it wisely. He wants us to use it for his world that he gives us and for our brothers and sisters who live here with us.

So yeah, navigating the calendar is a little hard, because God’s doing a lot of stuff. When faith like the Samaritan’s faith is present, we can do this. In the days following the passage of the HRO and the Vigil for Orlando, I was thanked a lot for what I am doing here. (And I appreciate that, by the way. It’s important that I know that, but it’s also just important because I am a human and we need to hear good news.) I told the Council this: our being Reconciling in Christ made it a lot easier to do some of the things I was doing. It is a lot easier to act and speak publicly on such matters when I can point to a congregation that embodies radical welcome and standing up for social justice than it would be to speak publicly and then say, “But don’t come to my church; we’re terrible!” The same is true when we act like the water is Jesus’ water, like the Dunes are Jesus’ Dunes, the people are Jesus’ family, and the money is Jesus’ money. Jesus has revealed who really owns the place, and when we trust what he’s telling us he makes us into a people who can offer ourselves to the world. A people who can open Christ’s building to the community. A people who can speak boldly before the powerful on behalf of others. A people who recognize that through Jesus Christ God gives us what we have, and calls us to live for one another just as God lives for us.