Sunday, 14 October 2007

SERMON: 14 October 2007

The Gorton Team ministry is located with the Ardwick Deanery of the Manchester Diocese. The clergy of the deanery meet together about once a month. They've been a real support to me since I've been here - I can turn to them with questions, and "cover" (a clergy substitute) for our churches when we need a priest. They've also accepted me quite well and have asked me to preach in their churches at various times. This is for the Dean's home parish. I felt a bit of pressure because it's a church that although they welcomed me to their pulpit, they have not "authorized" a woman to serve as their Rector. Since of 1992 when women were ordained as priests in CofE, there's a vote taken each time a search process is begun in a parish. Knowing how they felt about me not serving at the altar was odd - even more odd is that the Dean is married to a woman priest and SHE can't celebrate at the church of her husband ... FYI she works part time as a women's prison chaplain and is available on Sundays!!

SUNDAY 14 October 2007

St Cross Church, Clayton, Manchester

19 after Trinity Year C

TEC – Ruth 1:1-19A
COE – Jeremiah 29: 1,4-7
Luke 17:11- 19 – Jesus heals ten lepers, one says thanks

I offer these words in the name of one Triune God. Amen.

I am very happy to be here and to have been invited by Matt my dean and colleague who has really helped both my partner JD and I. I have known some of you already as it was about one year ago, that I was a part of St George’s as it was closing. I will also say that Joe and I were here for a wonderful sermon by Jacob that stayed with us for weeks. I can tell you which it was later, but I feel it set a very high standard for me this morning.

In our gospel story we hear about ten people whom Jesus heals. We also are told that only ONE of them praises God and thanks Jesus for his healing. Jesus acknowledges this man. But to the other Nine Jesus seems to be a bit upset. Jesus appears to say that they were un-grateful; that they didn’t need to thank him but the least they could have done was to give praise to God.

We all know it doesn’t go down well when you don’t say thanks to someone who has helped you, does it? Since moving here to the North, I’ve learnt that getting off the bus should include: cheers, thank you, Ta, or some combination of the three. Growing up, my mum taught me the same thing back home.
Whether we’re in England or America, we can hear a tone in Jesus’ voice that sounds a bit critical. Maybe you can see Jesus wagging his finger as well. With that in mind, it would be very easy for us to see this gospel as a lesson in being polite in either British or American society.

But it’s not quite that. We could see these words of Jesus as a reminder on how to act when someone give us something. But they’re not exactly that either.
During the time Jesus lived there WERE ways that people were expected to act toward one another. But they were different from ours. One thing that they could exchange with one another wasn’t money – it was how they ACTED.
And if you were poor and couldn’t afford to repay you also gave praise and said thanks to the person who took care of you because you had nothing else to give.
So who is this man who comes back to Jesus? We’re told he’s a Samaritan – a foreigner – someone from an area that good Jewish people avoided and someone who the non-Jewish people avoided as well. Basically, he is an outsider. He is just like the woman whom Jesus talked to at the well when no one else would. And he has nothing to give back to Jesus –– so all he can do is give praise to God and say thanks to Jesus. He has no other way to “repay” Jesus’ kindness.

I often try to put Jesus’ stories in our current world and think who around us today would play the different parts.
Who do YOU think could be the person feeling least able to give anything back?
Who is the person we might find just like this Samaritan man?

Now I might surprise you with my suggestions – because perhaps you, like me, often think of yourself as the One who gives thanks and praise – we’re here in church after all. But what IF the One --
Is a young “hoodie” lad – no longer a child not quite an adult? Or maybe a Polish immigrant, without economic well-being in his home and a stranger here?
Perhaps he would be a foreign refugee – definitely someone without a country?

Then what about the other 9? In Jesus’ day these folk must have felt able somehow to give back or repay Jesus because they didn’t give their thanks and praise. In some way, they felt themselves more on par with Jesus and less in his debt – even though being healed.
Although you may disagree with me, I believe most of us in church today are a lot more like the Nine than we are the one. Not that we’re ungrateful or not-thankful but because we probably DO feel we have some way to give back to Jesus or repay God.

Understood this way, Jesus is not wagging his finger at the Nine or at us regular church-goers. We’re not meant to feel criticized or bad or guilty for not coming back to say thanks. However, I do believe Jesus IS asking WHERE are we?
Where are we??

We are here. We live in the city and the prophet Jeremiah is talking to us. He knows us because he lives in the city as well. About 2,000 600 years ago Jeremiah lived in Jerusalem and felt called by God to stay in his city at a time when the people around him needed hope.
Jeremiah says to us: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” If we are like the Nine, then perhaps our way to give praise and thanks is to seek the welfare of the city and pray to God. Maybe this is how we can show our gratitude to God.

Where I lived in California was quite different from Manchester. I did not grow up in a proper city. Honestly, I have never lived with a bus stop outside my door nor bars on my windows. I had no experience with living in a district like Gorton. Obviously I’ve come to experience the deprivations of the inner city quickly.
Most of you know better than I how challenging the city can be – the difficulties of daily life, the frustrations when people live close together, health and safety are always “issues” and the consequences of deprivation can even lead to depression. Sometimes even changes for the good can feel less than positive.

However, since moving here, I’ve clearly come to recognize the resources I have to give back to God.
My way to say thanks and give praise to Jesus is to join Jeremiah in giving hope and to follow Jeremiah in to seeking the welfare of the city and to pray on its behalf.
To love and care for the city will take more than my prayers; it might take each one of the Nine of us – especially if we’re to reach out to that one who is outside – the refugee, the immigrant, the hoodie.

In this light, I don’t believe Jesus is criticizing us, not calling us ungrateful. We’re necessary.
AND we must go on to find our OWN way to show our thanks to Jesus and give praise to God.

The question is - Do you also see yourself as someone with enough gratitude to give back to God?
Can you show your appreciation by how you act?
IF so! Because then that all of us like the Nine can not only pray but also work toward the welfare of our city.

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