From our Luke 17 Gospel reading, these last few verses… “One of [the ten lepers healed by Jesus], when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.  He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.  Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"  Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

There were reasons, both real and exaggerated, as to why animosity existed between the Jews of Jesus’ day and the Samaritans.  They had a long and very contentious history, going back nearly two thousand years!  Yet, tragically, when you go back to the beginning of their relationship, they were a family, Abraham’s family.  They were a family, and then they were a unified nation, and then that family split, and later that nation split, became religious and political rivals, and then enemies, and then mortal enemies.  How tragic!

How tragic… and how very common.  The history of the world is replete with such stories of strife and division and growing animosity.  With the inspired writer of Ecclesiastes, we cannot help but conclude that there really is nothing new under the sun.  Yet, at the same time, with the inspired writers of the New Testament Gospels, we cannot help but conclude that everything is supposed to be new… under the S­n… under the Son of God.

There are reasons, both real and exaggerated, as to why animosity exists between blacks and whites and other ethnic and religious groups in our country.  We have had long and very contentious histories.  Are there things that have happened in the past in our country that give blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics and others just cause for feeling anger towards whites?  Of course there are.  To deny that would be a demonstration of true ignorance. 

Are there things that are happening right now in our country that are giving blacks and others just cause for feeling anger toward whites?  Yes.  Some things real, and others exaggerations.  Are there some within our law enforcement agencies and criminal justice systems that are dealing with minorities in ways that are excessively violent and unnecessary, ways that reflect true racism?  Of course there are.  And yet at the same time the majority—and I would go so far as to say the vast majority—of the white men and women who serve in these capacities are good and fair, and far from racist.  We do not hear enough about them and their excellent work.

At the same time, are there some within the minority communities in our country who’ve done, and continue to do, things that give whites just cause for anger toward them?  Of course.  Some of what we see and hear about is very real, and very wrong.  And some of it is very exaggerated. 

You know, if we step back from it all for a moment, we might come to perceive that there is someone or something out there seeking to deepen our divisions, fuel our hatred, and cause violent—even deadly—reactions.  These forces are seeking to draw our attentions to very real acts of crime and violence, while at the same time causing us to ignore all of the good in those whom we have judged as enemies.  These forces build upon some truths and realities, but even more upon outright exaggerations and untruths that fuel distrust and animosity.  This force is a three-headed beast, the “terrible trio”—the devil, the broken world, and our sinful self, all joined together for the purpose of dividing and conquering people who were once a family.

Yes, we were once a family.  Created in the very image of God, the human family was designed to live as a community, loving and serving God and loving and serving others.  Then along came Satan, and along came sin, and the world was suddenly deeply broken.  Instead of loving and serving God and others, humans instead began to love and serve themselves above all, and the family was shattered.  The family later split into nations, and the nations became filled with distrust and disdain, and ever since animosity has far too often ruled the day.  Yes, there have always been wars and rumors of wars, and ongoing examples of man’s inhumanity to man.

The evil one, the broken world, and our sinful selves have been at work through it all.  They have—and continue to—set families and nations against themselves and one another.  And, perhaps most tragically of all, they have successfully divided God’s family, God people, God’s Church, causing God’s children to focus upon specks in one another’s eyes, and differences—some real and most exaggerated—in our beliefs and practices, and in forming plans for mission and ministry.  They have divided the Church, and continue to divide churches, causing strife and division to tear apart God’s families.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is time for us to realize and take to heart this truth from the First letter of John regarding our battle with the devil, the world, and our sinful self: You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”   The One who is in us is, of course, Jesus the Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world.  The force that Jesus has brought to bear upon the evil that divides us from God and from one another is, of course, grace. 

Grace has reconciled us to God through Christ.  And grace, grace alone, has the power to bring about the sorely needed reconciliation of God’s children.  It is time to confess to God and to one another that we have sinned against each other.  We have hurt each other, and we have allowed the sins committed against us to remain in our memories, to grow and to fester and to create hatred and racism and division.  Back to First John: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Hear it again: God has forgiven our sin.  We are now one with God through Christ.  And in His grace and power, we need to heal and to celebrate and to protect the oneness we have with each other.  We have the Message, we have the Gospel, we have the Holy Spirit of God within us and among us, and we can stand together against anything—racism, political division, and anything else that seeks to divide and conquer us.

Has anyone ever heard of the term “nave” as a description of the sanctuaries in which we gather for worship?  It relates to the term “naval,” and points to the Church as being a ship.  We are gathered as one on God’s ship, His Church.  In one sense, it’s a true party boat—we gather to celebrate God’s grace and our unity in Christ.  But, at the same time, we are a rescue vessel.  We are in the search and rescue business.  There are people all around us dying in the sea of sin and death.  Sin has divided them from God and from others.

But we have in our possession the life preserver our broken and divided world, and the broken and divided people who populate it, need more than anything else.  We hold in our hands God’s grace, the message of the Gospel. 

Let’s move forward as one in celebration and in mission, letting nothing and no one divide us or throw us off course.  Let’s be instruments of peace and reconciliation, standing and speaking as one against hatred and divisiveness, calling instead for forgiveness and for healing.  And, under the guidance, inspiration, and empowerment of the Holy Spirit of God, let’s figure out together a course for this ship, this rescue vessel, through which can continue to work to heal and strengthen and extend His Kingdom, in accord with His will, and always to His glory.  Amen.

   April 2019   
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