Monday, October 7, 2019


What do 10 lepers on the side of the road
            have to do with us in Carson City today?
If we take the story an inch deeper and a foot wider,
            this story is precisely about you and me.

10 lepers cried out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us”
            for a simple, obvious reason. 
They had leprosy. 
Their flesh fell off and they exuded an offensive odor.
The lepers found that condition unsatisfactory.

We may not have leprosy,           
            but we know what it is to find our lives unsatisfactory.
Gautama Buddha said, 
            “The first noble truth is this: There is suffering.”
Only he didn’t say “suffering,”
          because he didn’t speak English.
Speaking Sanskrit, he actually said, “There is dukkha.”
Suffering isn’t a good translation of “dukkha.”
Actually, it means dissatisfaction, discontent.

Robert Penn Warren said, “The earth grinds on its axis.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge called it, 
           “the tears in the nature of things.”
W. H. Auden spoke of “all the failed caresses.”
St. Augustine, George Herbert, 
             and modern theologian John Dunne
            called it “restlessness.”
Dunne set out to follow his heart’s desire and discovered, 
              in his words,
“how unfulfilled longing can be (like) an unrequited love.”

Leprosy was the specific form of dissatisfaction 
         our lepers had that day.
It was the dukkha du jour on their life’s menu.

Like the lepers, 
         we sometimes find our circumstances unsatisfactory.
I have been in circumstances so unsatisfactory, 
            that in my eyes,
            they made leprosy look like a hangnail.
I have cried “Jesus, have mercy on me” and he has done it.
Thanks be to God, the old hymn is true.
There is “power in the blood, wonder working power.”
He has brought me though the deep waters 
          and the fiery trials.
Sometimes we bring our fear and our sorrow 
           to Jesus and are redeemed. 
But after we have been redeemed, are we then satisfied?
That is the question Jesus raised 
             when one leper returned to give thanks,
            and Jesus wondered, 
            “Were not 10 made clean? Where are the other 9?”

Indeed where were they?
It takes only a little imagination to answer his question.
They were made clean. 
The priests restored them as members of society.
They saw, as they expected, it is better not to be a leper,
            and they were happy -- for a week, maybe two.

Then they noticed that they were poor.
Unless you were a high roller like the leper King Uzziah
            or dermatologically challenged General Naaman, 
            if you had leprosy, you were out of work.
Our 9 lepers were certainly destitute.
Being destitute was unsatisfactory. It still is.
 Being hungry, having no roof or walls,
            no bed to sleep in, nowhere to bathe,
                        these things are unsatisfactory.

I like to think that one or more of them 
            had a trade before they fell ill,
            resumed their trade after they were healed,
             and eventually got back on their financial feet.
Once restored to the blue collar middle class,
            they saw that it is better to be solvent 
            than impoverished.
So they were again happy – for a week, maybe two.

Then they noticed that they had no family and were lonely.
Or they noticed that they did have a family,
            and their spouse was insufficiently attentive to them,
           or their children were rebellious or indolent or slovenly.
Everyone’s children are too something.
If nothing else, they are too perfect. That is the worst.
There are two great forms of social unhappiness.
One is to have no family. The other is to have a family.
So again, their situation was unsatisfactory.

Perhaps, having been delivered 
            from the distraction of leprosy,
            they noticed, in that pre-dentistry era, 
                        that they had chronic bad breath 
                                    and intermittent toothache.
Eventually mortality manifested as a specific terminal illness.
And terminal illnesses are decidedly unsatisfactory.

Can we see our lives in this?
Perhaps we have evolved from some discontent in the 80’s,
            to a new tribulation in the 90’s,
            to whatever burr is under our saddle today.
If so, that is not too bad.

Grading our lives on the existential curve,
             that would be at least an A-.
It is better to move from one unhappiness to another,
            than to remain forever mired in the same old misery.
It is at least more interesting.
Freud said the goal of psychotherapy is to liberate us 
             from neurosis
            so we can live lives of ordinary misery.

But one leper did something different.
One leper returned to give thanks.
Instead of rushing onward into the impossible quest 
             for satisfaction
            he returned to the source of the blessing 
            he had already received.
He returned -- he turned around
          -- the Greek word is metanoia.
He repented – not of his sins but of self-seeking.
He turned from the common direction of human life 
            and gave thanks.
In Greek, the word for give thanks is “eucharist.”
It’s what we do today and every Lord’s Day.

It’s a spiritual practice in awakening something inside us .
Yesterday, in a KUNR radio interview, 
            our own Rev. Stefani Schatz  called it 
           “the heart of gratitude.”

In reflecting on his earlier life of spiritual disquietude, 
            John Dunne said, 
            “I had not yet been able to say ‘thanks’ for the past
            or ‘yes’ to the future, and so I was not yet able
            to live in the present.”

The thankful leper in our story made that leap.
He said “thanks” for his past.
Then Jesus set him free to say “yes” to the future
            and live in the present.
“Get up and go on your way,” Jesus said.
His grateful faith had set him free.

It is a good thing to enjoy our passing moments of happiness.
But it is a better thing to root that happiness 
             in its source, to turn our minds 
            from checking our own emotional temperature, 
            from measuring our lives 
             against some unachievable standard,
            from dwelling on the half-emptiness of our glass
                        toward the eternal source of our blessing.
It is better to take delight in the existence of the Blessed One
            who blesses us with reality itself.

When we awaken the heart of gratitude,
            we discover a wealth of spiritual solace and strength.
Of course, troubles still come, 
          we are still frustrated, disappointed.
Life is still what it is.

But life floats in a sea of grace.
Gratitude feels the buoyancy of that grace.
We see that in the one leper who turned around,
            who  turned his heart from seeking its own content
            to praising God for his very life.
We cannot repay God for our blessings.
But we can acknowledge the source of our good.
That’s why we give our money as a Eucharistic offering,   
            to acknowledge that our livelihood is a gift.
That’s why we perform acts of mercy,             
            to acknowledge we have received mercy.
That’s why we pray for others,
            to acknowledge that someone’s prayers 
             have carried us.

There is another poor translation in today’s Gospel lesson.
At the end, our text says Jesus told the man,
            “Get up and go on your way. 
             Your faith has made you well.”
But Greek word is not “made you well.” 
It is “Your faith has made you whole.”

Jesus cured the man’s leprosy at the beginning of the story.
At the end of the story,
            gratitude completed the job 
            of setting him free from chronic disquietude.
To give thanks, to celebrate Eucharist is, as it says in Rite I,
            “meet, right, and our bounden duty.”
But it is more than that, much more.
It is, as it says in Rite II, “a right, good, and a joyful thing.”


It is good that one should wait quietly 
          for the salvation of the Lord.

Three weeks ago, Mother Kim spoke beautifully
about things lost and things found.
Lamentations continues her theme, 
speaking of grief  and hope
-- grief for what we have lost and hope 
    for what we may yet find.
 Our lesson is about a clergy transition, 
           a prayer book revision,
          and a collapsed Church building – all at once. 
Lamentations is their kaddish, their dirge. 

The 2nd Noble Truth of Buddhism is change.
Change happens.
Churches are not exempt. 

Whenever change happens, something is lost.
There is a grief in that. 
As Joni Mitchel said,
          Something’s lost and something’s gained
          in living every day. 
Change in our Church strikes the memory chord 
of all the personal griefs still lingering in our hearts.

In the 1st Church I served, several children had died 
during the tenure of their previous rector.
When he left, the parents who had lost children
          felt themselves right back where they had been
          at the deaths of their sons and daughters. 
When a priest is called away,
          the grief is magnified by memories 
    of our personal losses. 

But isn’t that the point of being the Church?
We experience the things of life together, 
work through them together
                  so together we can grow stronger, 
      better able to work through challenges
          in the rest of our lives.
The Church is a spiritual gymnasium where we develop 
the strengths we need to live well,
a studio where we practice the art of life. 

Lamentations is 90% mourning.
But morning is a homonym.
It can mean the dark night of the soul,
          or the new day dawning.
So, in the midst of an ancient book of heartache,
          we find this gem about hope.

The thought of my affliction is wormwood and gall . . . 
But I call this to mind and (I) - have - hope. 
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases . . . .
The Lord is good to those who wait for him . . . .
It is good that one should wait quietly 
          for the salvation of the Lord.

As grief is part of life, the Church is a fitting place to grieve,
          but also to practice hope 
           -- for hope too is an essential part of life.
Philosopher Charles Mathewes asks how Christians 
can live meaningful, joyful lives
          when the world seems to be such a hopeless mess. 
He observes the core problem in today’s society 
         is a shortage of hope.
The suicide rate is markedly escalating.
The leading cause of death for Colorado youth
          is suicide -- a visible expression 
          of an insidious, widespread cultural despair.

What the world desperately needs, 
         Professor Mathewes says,
 is people with the capacity for hope.
Hope launched ships to explore the earth
          and spaceships to take us beyond it.
Hope gets us out of bed in the morning. 
It is the wind in our sails, the spring in our step,
          the capacity to dream of a better way. 

Carl Sandburg wrote,
          Hope is a tattered flag . . . 
          the shimmer of the northern lights
          across a bitter winter night . . .
          the Spring grass showing itself where least expected 
          . . .  and children singing chorals of the Christ Child.

Today’s world urgently needs
people with the capacity for hope.
Human life is possible only because of hope
          but our societal hope tank is running on empty.

Enter the Christians. Hope is our stock and trade.
        Blessed be the God and Father 
        of our Lord Jesus Christ, 1st Peter says,
         for by his great mercy we have been born anew
         to a living hope through the resurrection        
         of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Jesus is all about hope.

We can and we must take action on moral issues --
          housing, nutrition, violence, climate change.
But the first thing -- the core thing -- we can do for the world
          is to cultivate our soul’s capacity for hope. 

The author of Lamentations, in the midst of grief, 
          counsels us to wait quietly for consolation.
But his Hebrew doesn’t translate easily into English. 
Our translation reads, 
It is good that one should wait quietly 
for the salvation of the Lord.
That sounds passive like John Mayer’s 2007 hit 
Waiting for the World to Change.
The lyrics say,
It’s not that we don’t care.
We just know the fight ain’t fair
So we keep waiting for the world to change.
Mayer shrugs his shoulders saying, 
        What do you expect me to do about it?
Our text sounds like that.

But the Hebrew isn’t so passive.
The old King James version got closer saying
    It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait.
Not wait passively but persist confidently. 

Hope actually intensifies our discomfort with the status quo
Theologian Jurgen Moltmann says,
          Hope . . . is itself the unquiet heart in (humanity).

Lamentations doesn’t say just get over what you have lost
          either as a congregation or in your personal lives.
Remember our Psalm,
          If I forget you O Jerusalem,
         let my right hand forget its skill.
Our memories and our grief are part of us.
But how do we live them out?
The Bible teach to let your grief be the broken soil,
 in which new hope is planted.

When this congregation was broken and bleeding some years back,
          who could have imagined you would become
          the people of God you are today?
Around that time, the only future I could see for myself
             was shame, ruin, and a life that looked 
             considerably worse than death.
I could not have imagined standing here with you today.

But here we are, you and I. 
I know and have believed that something good is out there.
God is there. 
Our part is to wait confidently for God. 

The Bible tells us repeatedly how to move 
          through today’s losses into tomorrow.
Read Psalms, Isaiah, Micah, Romans, Titus, Timothy.
They all say the same as Lamentations. 
Hope and wait quietly, patiently, confidently.

Scripture teaches us that hope is a 2-edged sword.
It keeps us discontent with the status quo,
          but it gives us the confidence not to be rash.
Instead, we walk on deliberately
          with dignity and strength.
We step into the future like a ballet dancer,
like a Tai Chi master.

We hoist the sail of our dreams,
not driven by an agitated propeller,
but borne along by the steady breeze of the Holy Spirit.

Mother Kim’s words about finding new things recall Ulysses,
          Tennyson’s classic poem of hope and finding.
It’s about the sailors of Homer’s Odyssey 
             in their twilight years.
Ulysses summons his aging comrades 
             to set out on a new voyage.
Come my friends (he says)
          Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
          Push off . . . For my purpose holds
          to sail beyond the sunset, and the baths 
  of all the western stars until I die . . . 
  to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.