Sunday, October 14, 2018

"God is Available" (Luke 17:11-19)

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem and entered a village along the way. Jesus was always out and about and available to people. God is always available to us! Sometimes, Jesus would withdraw for rest and prayer, but was soon ready to engage with people all over again. And Jesus had gained a reputation for healing people with all sorts of medical problems. In this case, there were ten people suffering from ‘leprosy’ looking for help.

‘Leprosy’, in these times, was a general term for a variety of skin conditions, whether they were contagious or not. Yet, all these people with obvious skin or flesh issues were grouped together, and shunned from general society. They were forced to live in remote and desolate places, often enduring horrible conditions. These people, therefore, suffered poverty, hunger, mental anguish, and shame (even though they were not at fault).

Legally, they would have to “keep their distance”, and call out ‘unclean, unclean’, if someone who was unaffected came close to their location. So, even though these sufferers (from leprosy) did “keep their distance”, this was still a bold and brave move for them to approach Jesus like this. This also speaks of Jesus’ very public reputation … in being able to help. Given that Jesus was the incarnation of God into the world, we have here an example of the universal availability of God to address even the most complex needs … right across society.

Mercy is what Jesus trades in, and mercy is what the people of God should trade in. Why? Well God, we believe, created this world in love, and therefore is committed to its well-being, and to the well-being of all its inhabitants. We, especially living here, have a witness to God’s creative genius every day. And God continues to reach out to this world in love. And that is why we built this building – because we want to maximise our opportunities to share that message. In just a small way, this building represents God’s caring presence in the world, and availability to each of us.

In those times, when a person with such a skin condition experienced a recovery, they would need to present themselves before their priest to be declared ‘clean’ and healthy, and thereby be allowed to re-enter mainstream life. So, the assumption was, that, as Jesus had shown “mercy” to them, inevitably, they would be declared ‘clean’ and they could return to their neighbourhood. Today, in such a circumstance, people might be sent to their doctor to certify them healthy.

But the centrepiece of this story, is the one person who stopped, turned back, and returned to thank Jesus. This person left his visit to the priest for a bit later, understanding that the remarkable thing that had happened, was purely as a result of connecting with Jesus. I can just imagine this person going on their way, then suddenly realising the significance of the encounter, and the greatness of the person who brought this healing.

There was here, an opportunity, really an invitation … to come back to Jesus for a further blessing … actually for the ultimate blessing! Now feeling free of any restraint, this former “leper” … fell at Jesus’ feet in exultant excited gratitude! He realised that his life had been touched by God, and he wanted more. And with almost a throw-away line, the storyteller informs us that this person was, quote, a “Samaritan” – to remind us that even, and perhaps especially, it may be the least likely who might surprise us all … with their positive response to Jesus.

The ultimate blessing here, as a result of faith in Jesus, was not only physical healing, but also spiritual transformation, or what we often call ‘salvation’. This is where we become ‘whole’ and fully alive. This person’s life was put right! But, before this happened, this person needed to step up … in gratitude and faith, to be able to move forward in life. As we said before, the turning point of the story … is this person’s discontent with his own life situation, his realisation of who could, and who had, helped him, and his active decision to embrace the answer. This story gives us a window … into how Jesus is able to change the course of people’s lives in extraordinary ways.

God is available! If anyone has questions about faith, the Bible, Jesus, maybe even the existence of God – they can know … that we built this place for them. We seek to make our unique contribution toward the spiritual well-being of this community. Because of this, we also seek to assist with the very real and present needs of our neighbours. We want to participate helpfully and encouragingly … in what’s happening all around us. As we represent Jesus as best we can, hopefully getting better at it by the day, we want to show that God is available! Amen!

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