It is finally the very official liturgical season of Pumpkintide and I could not be happier. There is something about fall that just makes me giddy. Cool frosty mornings, big warm blankets, snuggly critters, ponies who have turned into fuzzy stuffed animals, the smell of snow on the wind somewhere (thankfully) far away, apple cider, baking (any excuse to bake).
Summer is busy. I grew up spending my summers weeding interminable rows of green beans. Winter is hard (or it was when the amount of snow was measured in feet, not inches.) But fall, fall was for fun. Play even.
I’ve said it before, and I will likely say it again: there isn’t enough play in our faith lives.
Today’s lessons might not sound much like joy, or playfulness but.
We begin with a very serious thing: leprosy. Leprosy in the ancient world wasn’t necessarily the disease that carries that name today. It generally meant any skin condition that caused certain marks or changes in the skin surface, and in the ancient Middle East it meant exclusion from the life of the community. So the lepers who call out to Jesus are exiles, forced together into leper communities as a means of survival outside the normal social structures.
In a world where survival was bound up in tribe, and family group, lepers lives were truly precarious. The lepers approach Jesus at a distance and ask for healing. And Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests (who were the arbiters of who fell under the classification of leper). All of them obey as good obedient religious folks, and set out to fulfill their obligation as Jesus commanded.
No one has said a thing about faith yet.
And as they were going, their skin was cleared and they were healed.
And one of them turned around, and went straight back to Jesus giving thanks to God: literally in Greek, eucharista.
Only then, only when comes to Jesus and is filled with joy and thankfulness do we hear anything about faith.
We could read Jesus’ words a lot of ways. But what if they read them playfully. What if Jesus, hauling he man to his feet, eyes twinkling gives him a wink and asks “if everybody else got lost on their way to the Temple?”
Maybe not. But it is only now, only in that moment of Eucharistic thanksgiving, of joyful response that Jesus mentions faith. It is only when this man comes back looking for community, and a chance to share his joy that faith even comes up. Faith, Luke implies, is less about what we believe, it is something we live. It is a choice to turn toward Christ and God, a choice for thanksgiving and joy.
And that is good news. That is something to give eucharista about.
It wasn’t that the lepers who were healed were particularly or correctly pious. The other lepers along that road that weren’t healed, it wasn’t because they lacked faith. As my favorite rabbi likes to say: God is not a giant vending machine in the sky, our prayers are not payment. In a way the physical healing isn’t even the important part of this story. What gets praised, what gets centered is thanksgiving, gratefulness, and joy.
And that is something we can all practice, when we get well, and when we don’t.
Like I told my online community, there is always beauty; if we are willing to look for it. Even when it is pouring down rain, and the dogs are barking, and nothing is going right. Then I trip over a hole in the sidewalk and look down and it is filled to the brim is moss just soaking up all that rain, green and cheery. And there is a reason to give thanks.
The runup to Advent has traditionally been the season of Stewardship campaigns, known among some as the “annual begathon.” And I know here we haven’t really talked about Stewardship a lot. But I want to do a bit of that this month as we study joy, because I think as Jesus shows us today the two are linked.
Like today’s beggars Stewardship, or our pledge to the church, is not how we make God the great Sky Vending Machine dispense the right product. You will never hear from me fantastical stories about struggling young couples who gave until it hurt and magically found their back account still covered everything. That way lies prosperity gospel and the worst sorts of exploitation.
Nope. I do want to talk about Stewardship as the Samaritan leper today.
The Samaritan, when he realizes what has happened to him turns toward God and holy community with thankfulness.
It is no mistake that Luke is sure to share this story with his congregation because it is the heart of what it means to be in Christian community: a turning toward God, a centering of what God has done for us, and the giving of thanks. The Eucharist became our primary worship in the late 70s again because our theologians realized we needed regular practice at that turning, sharing, and partaking of blessing.
Each of us was made in the heart of God, our lives are lived in the midst of God’s love and care and support, and we see that most clearly (as the leper did, and as so many in the gospels did) in sacred community. When I am with you all, I can see God moving in ways I can’t when I am alone.
Sure, we could all go walk in the woods and bathe in the beauty God has made, but if that is all we do, we miss something.
We need each other to see God’s fullness, we need each other to reveal to us the fullness of how God is active in our lives. We need each other to lift us up when we are the leper in the dirt, and to rejoice with us when we find ourselves whole.
I encourage you this October to practice turning toward God, to find practices that increase joy and thankfulness in your daily life. And together who’s to say what God might do in our midst?