Sermons 2003-2004

"It's all in the choosing", Proper 23C, 10 October 2004, Ruth 1:1-19a; Luke 17:11-19

Home | Christmas Eve A, "Are we really ready?", Luke 2: 1-20, 24 December 2004 | "Finally! Well, almost...." Advent 4A , 19 December 2004, Matthew 1:18-25 | Faith and Doubts, Advent 3A, 12 December 2004, Matthew 11:2-11 | John the Baptist, Advent 2A, 5 December 2004, Matthew 3:1-12 | Left Behind? Advent 1A, 28 Nov 2004, Matthew 24:37-44 | Some King of kings! Proper 29C, 21 November 2004, Luke 23:35-43 | "Not one thrown down", Proper 28C, 14 November 2004, Luke 21:5-19 | All Saints and for all the saints, 2004C, 31 October 2004, Luke 6:20-36 | The Lambeth Commission Windsor Report, the Pharisee, and the tax collector, Proper 25C, 24 Oct 2004 | "Lord, teach us to pray." Proper 20C, 17 October 2004, Genesis 32:3-8, 22-30; Luke 18:1-8a | "It's all in the choosing", Proper 23C, 10 October 2004, Ruth 1:1-19a; Luke 17:11-19 | "Increase our faith", Proper 22C, Luke 17:5-10, 3 October 2004 | Proper 21C 2004, 26 September 2004, "R&R: Response and Relationships", Luke 16:19-31 | Proper 19C 2004, 12 September 2004, "Lost and Found", Luke 15:1-10 | Proper 18C 2004, 5 September 2004, "Preaching or Meddling", Luke 14:25-33 | Proper 16C 2004, 22 August 2004, "The Narrow Gate ", Luke 13:22-30 | Proper 15C, 15 August 2004 | Proper 14C, 8 August 2004 | Proper 13C, 1 August 2004 | Shrinemont: "Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses", Proper 15c, 15 August 2004 | "Lord, teach us how to pray," Proper 12C, 25 July 2004, Genesis 18:20-33; Luke 11:1-13 | The Summary of the Law and the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise" Luke 10:25-37, 11 July 2004 | Independence Day 2004. "The Creative Tension of the Church: Who is to be included?" | "Now! Now! Now!", Proper 8C, 27 June 2004, Luke 9:51-62 | "Star Throwers", Proper 7C, 20 June 2004, Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24 | The more things change the more they remain the same, Pentecost 2C, 13 June 2004 | "O Holy Triune God, most Holy Trinity; here are we. Send us." Trinity C, 6 June 2004 | "Come, Holy Spirit", Pentecost C , 30 May 2004 | "That they all may be one", Easter 7C, 23 May 2004 | The Holy Spirit: Paraclete, Pneuma, Ruach, Easter 6C 2004 | Agapate Allelous: Love beyond each other, Easter 5C 2004, 9 May 2004 | The Good Shepherd and the five people you meet in heaven, Easter 4C 2004 | "The God of the Second Chance -- and of many chances", Easter 3C, 25 April 2004 | Baptizatus Sum: I am baptized, Easter 2C 2004 | It is NOT an Idle Tale: Easter Sunday, 18 April 2004 | Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday Roller Coaster: What We Want or What We Need? | Who are the Wicked Tenants, Lent 5C 2004 | The Prodigal Son -- and so much more | God, the Gardener, and the Fig Tree | "The Hen and the Fox", Lent 2C | The Comfortable Rut of Ordinary Temptation | "Getting from Uh-oh to Aha", Luke 9:28-36, Epiphany Last C, 22 February 2004 | Jesus, Jeremiah, and the Beatitudes: What to Make of it All | The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon: God working in the world | Jesus, the Archbishop, and Annual Council The Dark Abyss of Schism | The Nature of Revelation: Jesus' Sermon at Nazareth | The Miracle at the Wedding in Cana | The King of kings and the Lion King | "The Magnificat, Watching, and Waiting" | "Gaudete in Domino semper: Rejoice in the Lord always" | A Voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord." | "Standing in the Day of Battle: Isabel and the Gospel" | Dogma, Doctrine, and the Theological Enterprise | The Little Apocalypse | Jesus and theWidow's Mite | One Priest's Response to the Election of Gene Robinson | The Great Commandment: Jesus Meant What He said | Who is blind? | Eyes on Jesus and minds on mission! | Tradition or Traditionalism? | Credo: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only." | Who do YOU say that I am? | "It's about Power and Winning" | Contact Wicomico Parish Church

Proper 23C 2004 Ruth 1:1-19a; Luke 17:11-19

For almost a century now it has been the custom at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, for each graduating class to give two lancet frames of stained glass to the Cadet Chapel. One commemorates that year’s graduating class; the other commemorates the class that graduated one hundred years before. My class was 1961 and we gave the window for that class of young men who fund themselves at the start of the American Civil War the day they graduated in 1861.

But my own class window is the ten lepers window taken from this gospel story in Luke. The window is actually very beautiful. It shows Jesus standing in the foreground. The other nine lepers are shown in the far background on their way rejoicing, throwing their walking canes away, their backs toward Jesus. But the Samaritan, the social outcast of his day, is shown kneeling in front of Jesus, his hands raised in praise and thanksgiving to our Lord, his arms reaching out and upward toward our Lord. The word "yadaw" in Hebrew for praise and thanksgiving means literally "to hold out one's hands." It is both a physical attitude of supplication and of receptive thanksgiving.

I felt for many years that it was a shame always to be remembered as a member of the ten lepers class but having been on occasion a social leper myself, I came to have great empathy for the window and the story.

At the most basic level, the window and the story it represents remind me of something very important. It reminds me that during my day long conversations with God I should at the very least begin and end the day with prayers of praise and thanksgiving – to be grateful, to express simple gratitude. Being human, of course, I am more likely to petition or complain, but the reminder is always up front in my mind. Most days it works. It is an important reminder, an important image for me.

Most of us carry important images around in the photo albums of our minds and hearts. Most of us have photo albums, or collections of slides or videos, that are collections of our memories and of our lives. They are important to us. A family album can include several generations, and bring to mind relatives and places we can hardly identify. "Oh, that's my great grandmother when she was young, the one who died in her nineties," we might say. The same album may hold photos that flood us with memories. "Oh, that was the Christmas when I was eight years old and got my first Lionel train set, the one I wish I still had." To browse through the family photo album can be a moving experience for several reasons. If the album is large enough, and goes back far enough, it is sure to include at least one what we call in quotation marks “a real character“. As in “Now her or she was a real character.” Every family has some, and certain families seem to specialize in them. Our photo albums are important to us because they connect our memories to people with whom we share flesh and blood, name and ancestry, bed and board. They are not just any people; they are our people, our very own.

Like most Sundays, today we go through the family album of God's people. That album is the Bible. And it also includes some real characters and reminds us of stories happy, sad and bittersweet.

The first album page we look at today in our lections starts with Elimelech and Naomi, shortly after their move from Judah to Moab. With them are their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. But in the next page Elimelech is gone, Naomi is a widow, and the boys are fatherless. The boys grow up and marry local women, Orpah and Ruth. But Mahlon and Chilion die and now there are three widows left.

When Naomi decides to return home to Judah she advises the two younger widows to go back to their families and look for new husbands among their own people. Orpah decides to do this but Ruth insists on remaining with her mother-in-law, come what may. Ruth tells Naomi of her decision of powerful poetry in words often read at weddings and that sing to us across the centuries:

Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried.

The section of the Bible family album on Ruth ends with Ruth marrying Boaz, a wealth Judean landowner. But something more remains to be said. Many of the people in Judah looked down their noses at Moabites like Ruth. They considered a marriage between Boaz and Ruth to be not quite kosher. But the album page tells us that Ruth and Boaz had a son named Obed, who in turn had a son named Jesse. And that this Jesse had a son named David, whom God chose to be Israel's king, the king listed as an ancestor of Jesus.

The Gospel and the Old Testament lessons for today speak to us of more than the analogy of the photo album. They speak to us of thankfulness and choices. The story of Jesus and the ten lepers – and the stained glass in the chapel at West Point -- always remind me to be thankful for the merciful and gracious Lord who loves me and watches over me through god times and bad. And the story of Ruth, ancestress of Jesus, reminds us of how the choices we make in life shape our years and the lives of those who come after us.

In the abundant life we have as Americans we may not realize how many choices we make every day. I remember hearing the story of newly arrived Russian immigrants. When they were taken by their sponsors to the local Safeway grocery store the shock was almost too much. The only lines were at the checkout counter and they weren’t very long. No waiting in long lines all day for just one or two items.

But these new Americans found that they had too make choices about everything: Red Delicious or Gala apples. Quaker Oats or Safeway brand. Dial Soap or Dove. Canned, fresh, or frozen green beans. And if canned or frozen, which brand? And toothpaste alone: Crest, Colgate, Pepsodent – which flavor and what special characteristics? And not only that, miracle of miracles, and wonder of wonders, if something about Safeway didn’ please you, there was the Gian in the next shopping Center, or BiLo or Grand Union – more choices than anyone in Russia would have thought possible. It was simply overwhelming at first – although they adapted very readily.

It was an African Bishop from Uganda who reminded me once that we Americans just might have too much abundance in a world where most people have very little – if you have two pairs of shoes you are wealthier than 70 per cent of the people of the world.

Thankfulness – gratitude – and choice are more closely related than we might think. Do we not choose to be thankful? Did not the outcast Samaritan, now cured of his leprosy, not stop, choose to turn back, and made a conscious choice to thank our Lord, show his profound gratitude for being given a new life.

And one of the classic stories about the people who shape our lives as much as our parents at times, our school teachers:

Her name was Edna Miller and she was about as plain as her name implied except when she was inside the walls of a classroom with chalk in hand. She stood barely five-foot tall yet could look eyeball to eyeball with the biggest bully in the school and stare him into repentant submission. And she could really teach!

She began teaching in 1922 and taught until she was compelled to turn in her chalk at the age of 65. She taught through the Depression, making fullness in the emptiness around her. She taught through World War II and was with the children when the telegrams, "we are sorry to inform you," began to arrive with the notice of their brothers' or fathers' death.

And then through the years a middle aged woman with a growing parade of children and a husband would stop by her frame house and say, "you don't remember me, but you taught me in 7th grade and I just want to thank you for the difference you made in my life."

Letters would appear around Christmas - "you probably don't remember me but you taught me in high school and believed in me until I could believe in myself....I have a good job now and a loving family and I just want to thank you." At the 50th class reunion of 1945, there was a huge celebration in her honor. And shortly after that, at the age of 95, Miss Edna Miller quietly slipped into the arms of God. But she died with joy. She had been thanked and remembered with gratitude.

One of the troubling questions presented to us in our gospel lesson is, “But the other nine, where are they?” Jesus was surely disappointed that only one returned to give thanks, perhaps even follow him.

That lovely lancet stained glass window of the ten lepers always reminds me of the particular question for me: Where are you today – are you still among the nine?