With reference to Deuteronomy 8:7-19 and Luke 17:11-19
In this season of the church year, over the past few months we have remembered the pivotal story of the Exodus, the events of the Hebrew scripture from Joseph in Egypt, through the generations to Moses – into a time of slavery and suffering. We have celebrated the courage and tenacity of the women who helped Moses to survive and become a leader. We have walked together through the sea into a path of freedom.
That freedom had its price. The price was uncertainty, hunger and thirst, it was losing the familiar, it was having to live together in community in a new way, and now… now we watch as the long journey is nearly over. We watch as the people gather to enter a land that is already occupied by others, and we know that we are hearing history from the perspective of those who will soon over take it. There are all sorts of ethical ambiguities about that – so let’s just acknowledge it for now. In the reading from today, part of Moses’ final address to the people, he tries to bring it home to their hearts one last time – `Don’t forget the God who brought you here. Don’t forget when you’ve finally made it to easy street, when your crops and flocks and investments are doing well –that you did not do this all yourself.’
Although not specified in the reading, when you take over what someone else has built, you not only have God, but you have them to thank. The reading for today generally stops at verse 18 “Remember it is God who gives you this power and wealth as a sign of the covenant God made with your ancestors. I added the verse 19 – because it’s there. “If you forget God, I warn you that you will be destroyed.” Oh I just wreck all the fun don’t I?
The thing is, whether it’s the new generation of freed slaves about to enter the land of Canaan, or any multinational mining company, or any person or group of people that says – “this is mine – I made it, I won it, I conquered it, I get it”- then we’re in trouble. When we are in it only for ourselves, when we set ourselves up as the winners, when we don’t act with humility – we will face destruction every bit as much as those who heard the words on the edge of the promised land, for we live on a finite planet, and we ignore that to our peril.
Jim and I watched a documentary last week Call of The Forest: The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees about scientist, conservationist and author, Diana Beresford-Kroeger, on her journey to the most beautiful forests of the northern hemisphere. She tells us the amazing stories behind the history and legacy of these ancient forests while also explaining the science of trees and the irreplaceable roles they play in protecting and feeding the planet. I want to say more about that another day, but it connects with the need for humility about our place in the universe. There must be a sense of awe, a sense of interdependence, a sense of more (not more for us, but more than us), for this awareness builds gratitude.
It seems so simple to be grateful, to say Thank You, but it can go madly off in all directions as we see in the story of the healing of the 10 lepers, the return of the one and speculation about the lives of the others. There are so many other responses possible – depending on our life experience, our frame of mind, our training, and our orientation toward life. I tried to explore the various options in this song called: The Other Nine
THE OTHER NINE
Were there not ten lepers healed that day?
Were there not ten lepers who walked away?
One came back to give God praise,
What happened to the nine on the healing day?
One walked away, afraid to look back
In case Jesus found in him some lack,
Some reason to rescind this gift of grace
He didn’t want to look into that holy face.
The second was tired of getting’ down on his knees,
And beggin’ and thankin’ and sayin’ “please.”
The third didn’t think it had anything to do
With the words of Jesus who said, “I love you.”
The four was a woman who just wanted to go home
Seven years in exile is too long to roam,
The fifth was afraid of this new freedom he had.
Jesus took away his lifestyle and now he was mad!
The sixth leper felt he was duty bound
To go to the police and report what he found.
You can’t have someone messin’ with the status quo
Sayin’ “God forgives you” when it just isn’t so.
A seventh man looked – not a leperous spot.
He was so damn happy well – he just forgot!
The eight went to the priest who said, “My son,
I’ll let you back in the temple, but don’t tell anyone.”
The ninth leper saw a man who was blind.
She kissed both his eyes and her voice was kind.
She said, “I’ve been given such a gift today
I pass it on to you so you can see the way.”
Were there not ten lepers healed that day?
Were there not ten lepers who walked away? repeat and fade)
words and music by Juanita Lynn Austin – April 27th 2012
based in part on a reading by Martin Bell – in The Way of the Wolf
I hold to the hope of that ninth leper, who turns her healing into a gift and pays if forward. From what has been the wreckage of her life she offers compassion.
This past week, we heard of the unfathomable tragedy of the shooting spree in Los Vegas. And while we try to make sense of the senseless, I was struck with the beautiful gift of gratitude people expressed in the aftermath. The kindness of strangers – holding hands with the dying, rides to the hospital and staying with the wounded until they were wheeled into surgery… Our local Salmon Arm paper has a story of three women from the Shuswap who were at the event, and were helped to safety by strangers.
Little selfless acts that inspire others – even our own little act of turning the money we were going to spend on our roof repair, over to victims of the wild fires, inspired a church in Sarnia Ontario to do the same. What else have we done and could we do that can continue to inspire? What have others done that has inspired you to find the treasure of gratitude even in what seems to be the wreckage of life?