Why the wilderness?

This is the sermon that I wrote to be preached on Lent 1, Year B, 2018.  Because of a death in the family, I will be away from the Christ Church pulpit, and so it will go unpreached.

You’ve probably seen the picture by now.  It has been posted all over social media.  Every news outlet on the planet has shown it.  It was taken by Joel Auerbach of the Associated Press and it is of the mother of a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student, sobbing, embracing another woman who is also in tears, with the familiar black mark of an ashen cross on her forehead.

Parkland School Shooting Joel Auerbach - AP

It is perhaps the most poignant portrait of anguish that I have ever seen.  Having been reminded earlier in the day of her own mortality and need for God, hours later, this faithful woman found herself standing in the wilderness, lost, and in search of hope.  It has been less than a month since western Kentucky had to endure its own wilderness moment when a fifteen-year-old student at Marshall County High School opened fire in the commons area before school began on January 23rd.  There were no ashen crosses that day, but the images are unsettlingly familiar by now.  Students running for their lives away from their school, a place that is supposed to be one of the last remaining safe havens.  And parents, their eyes somehow both keenly focused as they search for their children among the mass of humanity and yet also blankly staring into space, in shock, and unable to take in what they are seeing.

Of all the photographs I’ve seen after a school shooting, and by God, I’ve seen way too many, the image of this Parkland, Florida mother with the sign of the cross on her forehead just will not go away.  Like most priests, I ashed my fair share of people on Wednesday.  Those who came to the altar rail were in various stages of life.  Some came at 7am, eager to rush off to work.  Others came at noon, as their schedule allowed.  Some were older, a couple were so small as to be held in the arms of a parent or grandparent.  As those familiar words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” echoed through the Nave, each of us was invited in that moment to meet God in the wilderness.  For most of us, that wilderness is a creation of our own imagination.  It is the wilderness of no chocolate or red wine.  It is the wilderness of extra Bible readings or longer prayer times.  It is the wilderness of Lenten fasts and disciplines, wherein we meet God on our own terms.  The mother in that photograph began her day thinking she would be entering a wilderness of her own design, when, without warning, she found herself driven well beyond her comfort zone, out – way, way out – into a wilderness of fear, unknowing, and agony.

I’ve often wondered why it is that after his baptism, Jesus finds himself flung by the Holy Spirit out into the wilderness.  It raises all sorts of difficult theological questions that God would hand God the Son over to the Devil for 40 days of temptation.  All sorts of bad theology has come out of Jesus’ wilderness experience.  It usually rears its ugly head in the aftermath of a tragedy and sounds something like, “Everything happens for a reason.”  “God has a plan.”  “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”  All of which is absolute garbage.  Sure, nothing can happen totally without reason, but sometimes that reason has nothing to do with the people affected by the thing that is happening.  Sometimes that reason is greedy politicians or a angry young man or decades of doing nothing in the face of actual threats to our children.  Yes, God does have a plan, but I can assure you that God’s plan does not include the gunning down of 17 innocent people in a high school in Florida.  And if you look into the face of that mother, you can be damn sure that she’s smack dab in the middle of more than anyone should be asked to handle.

As she stands in the middle of the wilderness, flung there not by the Spirit of God, but rather by the devil and the powers of hell, the last thing this woman, or any of the families affected by any of the more than 270 school shootings that have happened since Columbine needs is a platitude about God’s plan.[1]  What they really need in that moment is for God to be there, walking alongside them in the grief, shock, and pain.  This is, I think, why Jesus is flung into the wilderness immediately following his baptism, so that he can be there when each of us finds ourselves in the wilderness because of illness, natural disaster, violence, abuse, harassment, degradation, or whatever else the devil and the powers of evil might throw our way.

On Thursday morning, less than 24 hours after the Parkland shooting, I was in the car early, listening to Golic and Wingo on ESPN Radio as they interviewed Stugotz, a sports radio personality who lives within walking distance of Margory Stoneman Douglas High School.  They asked him what the feeling was in the community.  His answer reminded me that because of Jesus’ time in the wilderness, God is able to understand what these families are feeling.  It also reminded me that as the body of Christ, we are invited to stand there as well, to bring the love of God to those who are lost, wandering in the wilderness.  “Some of the acts of kindness I saw yesterday,” he said, “you know… it takes something like this to get us to act like that… Where we are ok with someone cutting us off.  We are ok with a car parked in the middle of the road because it is a parent looking for their kid.  We’re ok getting out of the car, on our own, to help a kid looking for his parents, which I saw countless people doing yesterday with kids that weren’t even their own.  You’d like to think that’s how we’d always treat people… The way people acted yesterday, I wish that was the way people would act forever.”[2]

According to Mark, Jesus didn’t have any choice in whether he would enter the wilderness or not.  He was thrown there by the Spirit and spent forty days living in that godforsaken place so that the next time someone found themselves in the wilderness, it couldn’t be godforsaken.  Jesus was there, wrapping his arms of love around those two mothers, gripped in fear and sadness.  Jesus was there, helping terrified children find their families.  Jesus was there, holding the wounded and the dying in their hour of need.  Jesus was there. Jesus is here, even as we feel lost and alone in a wilderness of anger, fear, and grief.  And Jesus invites us to be the body of Christ by entering into the wilderness where others find themselves to offer God’s compassion and love.

[1] Lauren Pearle “School Shootings Since Columbine: By the Numbers” ABCNews, 2/12/2016, accessed 2/15/2018 (http://abcnews.go.com/US/school-shootings-columbine-numbers/story?id=36833245)

[2] Stugotz, interviewed on Golic and Wingo 2/15/2018, accessed 2/15/2018 (http://www.espn.com/espnradio/play?id=22451096)


God looks us in the eye and says, “I love you.”

Today’s sermon can be heard on the Christ Church website, or read here.

There is something vitally important about being looked in the eye.  We’ve all been in those conversations where it feels like the other person can’t wait to get away from you.  While they may be talking in your general direction, their eyes are scanning the room, searching for an escape route or perhaps someone more important to talk to.  It can be disheartening to be talking to someone while they look around for anything else to do.  In my pastoral care training, they shared with us that the most overlooked people in the hallways of hospitals are the patients.  Rolling around in wheelchairs and on gurneys, their eyes are well below the eyeline of others walking the halls.  While any number of people may say hello to the person pushing a patient down the hall, very rarely does the patient actually get acknowledged.

The same is true of children.  The world seems to exist above their heads, literally and figuratively, as adults discuss things three feet higher than they are.  I was reminded of this over this past week after Lainey received a pretend ice cream and hot dog stand for Christmas.  The stand has an awning at the top, that is maybe three feet off the ground, so when I approached it to order a delicious ice cream sandwich, I found myself talking to the awning rather than the eager five-year-old who was ready to take my order.  It is only when I crouch down to her level that she and I can really enjoy the experience.  Over this past week, we must have played ice-cream-hot-dog cart a hundred times, and everybody got in on the action.  I noticed the power of making eye contact especially when my sister engaged Shopkeeper Lainey.  Lisa is a special education administrator in Philadelphia.  For more than a decade now, she has been dealing with children who are often overlooked.  As Lisa crouched down to buy another Philly soft pretzel from Lainey’s Snack Stand, I could see that this was her standard posture.  While most of us looked around for something to sit on, Lisa was perfectly comfortable crouching down to look a child in the eye, making Lainey feel special, loved, and cared for.


I can’t help but see my sister crouching down to engage a child with special needs when I read the Prologue to John’s Gospel.  The language is certainly lofty, but the story it conveys is earthy and raw.  It is the story of how the God of all Creation stooped down to look humanity in the eye and share with us that we are special, loved, and cared for.  The story begins when all that existed was God.  In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were in a perfect relationship of love with one another.  The Word was with God and the Word was God, and as God spoke, the Word went forth and created.  The Word created the sun, moon, and stars, the earth and all that walks, creeps, and crawls upon it, the ocean and all that swims therein.  Finally, from the voice of God the Word created humanity, and the Breath gave us life, and the Triune God looked upon all that Creator, Word, and Breath had made and declared it very good.

From then on, God could have stayed far away and simply watched creation like a science experiment, but God didn’t do that.  God loves creation too much to leave us to our own devices, and so, throughout history, God has intervened in the hopes of keeping us in right relationship with God and with one another.  Through Abraham, he made a covenant that God would bless the whole earth.  Through Moses, he gave the law, by which we were to live in peace with one another.  Again and again, we failed to maintain those perfect relationships.  Again and again, we fell into sin.  Again and again, we proved that we needed extra help.  Through the prophets, God called us to return, but in time, it became clear that God was speaking above our heads.  The only way God could really get our attention was by crouching down, looking humanity in the eye, and saying, beyond the shadow of a doubt, “I love you.”  And so, in the fullness of time, the Word who is the light of the world, took on flesh and lived among us.  In his translation of the Bible called The Message, Eugene Peterson puts this powerful verse like this, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”  The good news of Christmas is that God’s very self was born for us. God took on flesh to live as one of us. He entered the messiness of this world, to the point of being born in a barn and laid in a feed trough. God didn’t stand aside, watching creation uncreate itself through the screen of his divine iPad. Instead, God stooped down from heaven and moved into the neighborhood so that he could look us in the eye and affirm that we are loved beyond all measure.

Over the course of our new liturgical year, we’ll journey through Mark’s Gospel and find out what it means for the Divine to stoop down to engage humanity face-to-face; for the Word that John speaks of in such lofty language to move into the neighborhood. In his haste to bring us the Good News, Mark will make us run through the details of Jesus’ life.  He will carefully focus our attention on Jesus’ ministry of service, beginning with Jesus being baptized by his cousin John in the Jordan River and being declared as “beloved Son” by both a voice from heaven and the descending of the Spirit as a dove. Many miraculous events will follow: he will drive out evil spirits, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, make the paralyzed to stand up and walk, and even raise the dead to new life.  By way of several parables, Jesus will teach us what it means to live in the Kingdom of God.  Over the course of his active ministry, Jesus will have no place to lay his head, and yet, out of an abundance of compassion, he will feed thousands upon thousands with scarce resources. He’ll find comfort in friends, be anointed by a stranger, terrorized by enemies, and tempted by the devil. Finally, he’ll be handed over by a traitor, spit upon by his enemies, tried by a coward, and killed at the hand of Rome, only to rise again on the third day. Jesus, the Word of God who took on flesh and blood, will not stand idly by while real life goes on around him, but instead he will experience the roller coaster nature of human life, taking it all into himself, redeeming the good and bad, highs and lows, joys and sorrows.

As we heard on Christmas Eve, to us is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This is the Good News of Mega Joy of Christmas. God, who could have very easily sat back and watched as the creation he spoke into being destroy itself by selfishness and jealousy, instead came to earth and lived and died as one of us so that we might know how much God loves us.  Two thousand years later, the Incarnation still means that God is present in our joys and in our sorrows. God is present as we come to the end of 2017, whether we think back on it with fondness, or hope to forget it ever happened. God is present as we prepare for what 2018 has to offer, whether it is the joy of a child or grandchild, the promise of a new career, or the cold diagnosis of disease. God is present in the joy-filled songs at 10 o’clock and in the simple recitation of the liturgy at 8am. God is present in traffic on Scottsville Road, in the waiting room, in the shopping mall, and in school. No matter where we are or what we are feeling, the good news of Christmas is that God moved into the neighborhood in order to look humanity in the eye, to look you in the eye, and make sure you know that you are special, you are cared for, and God loves you.  Amen.

Keeping it Basic

My favorite lyric right now comes from the track “Mouth of the River” on the new Imagine Dragons album Evolve.  Unfortunately, I can’t share the track with you because of copyright issues, but I promise you, if you buy the album, you won’t be disappointed.  Anyway, the lyric goes like this:

Oh I’m alkaline
I’m always keeping to the basics

I like this line for several reasons.  First, it is really nerdy, which I dig.  Second, it is really fun to sing, which I need right now.  Evolve is my running album and I hate running, so having fun things is good.  Third, it restores the word “basic” which has been co-opted of late as pejorative colloquialism to describe “middle class white women who are perceived to predominantly like mainstream products, trends, or music.” (1) or “someone devoid of defining characteristics that might make a person interesting, extraordinary, or just simply worth devoting time or attention to.” (2)  I’ve never been a fan of taking words that are commonly used and making them mean something negative or hurtful.

As I listened to that lyric this morning, I was reminded of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which we will hear read on Sunday (see point one above).  From this passage, we receive the Christ Hymn, a recounting of not just Paul’s Christology, but his Christian anthropology as well.  In this lesson, heady as it may seem, Paul invites the Christians in Philippi and, by extension, us, to keep it basic.  Rather than thinking we know it all or are living lives that are perfectly in tune with God’s will, Paul calls on disciples of Jesus to humility, which was the example of Christ.  Though he was both God and man, Jesus did not lord his power over us.  Instead, as Paul says so beautifully, Jesus “emptied himself” and “humbled himself” and is therefore “highly exalted.”  Jesus kept it basic: he loved and he showed compassion, and he invites his disciples to do the same.

At the end of this passage, Paul admonishes his readers to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  Through Christ, the Spirit continues to be present within us, helping us to keep it to the basics, not worried about what others are doing, but working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.  God at work in us is seen when we love and when we show compassion.  It may seem simple, basic (in the pejorative sense) even, but it is the way in which the Kingdom of God is built, one basic compassionate act at a time.

Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt

I’ve had Tennessee Ernie Ford’s classic “Sixteen Tons” stuck in my head all week.  I’m not really sure why my mind is replaying this old song.  It may be because of my profound sadness at the latest Taylor Swift offering.  It might be the rash of “Feed the Pig” ads on ESPN radio that decry a 2005(!) statistic about American’s spending more than they are saving.  Most likely, it is the result of Sunday’s portion of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, in which Paul admonishes his hearers that they “owe no one anything, except to love one another.”

Biblical thoughts on usury and indebtedness aside, this is helpful advice from Paul.  As I’ve said before, one of the best definitions of sin that I’ve heard came from an early elementary aged child who said that we sin when we aren’t loving.  I know this is true in my life.  Relationships, be they between me and another person or me and God, sour when my focus falls away from love.  Jesus summarized all the law and the prophets by commanding us to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.  When we fail to live by that code of love, barriers go up, relationships break down, and violence and fear enter our world.

The trouble is, as Tennessee Ernie made famous, every one of us is “another day older and deeper in debt.”  So how do we change?  How do we work toward being more loving?  How do we avoid Saint Peter calling while we still owe our souls, not to the company store, but to the love of neighbor, enemy, family, or friend?  First, we have to admit that this just isn’t possible.  Sin is a universal human condition, no matter where we find our names in the book of life, all fall short of the glory of God.  Rather than trying to muster up, by our own strength, the ability to love our neighbor perfectly, instead we must rely on God and the perfect love that God offers us.  When we live in God’s grace, nourished by the body and blood of Christ, renewed through prayer and study, then, as Psalm 23 says, our cup will overflow with love for all through generosity and service.  Simply put, the way to stay out of a debt of love is to stay in relationship with God, and the way to deepen our relationship with God is through discipleship.  With God’s grace, we can take on the debt of love for the up-building of the Kingdom of God.

The Trinity Incomprehensible

The audio for this sermon is available on the Christ Church website, or you can read it here.

In 1939, Dorothy Sayers, a novelist, playwright, poet, and Christian humanist, published a pamphlet entitled “Strong Meat.”  The odd title is based on the King James Version of Hebrews 5:14, in which the author admonishes his audience for being ready only for milk and not solid food.  “Strong meat,” the author writes, “is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.”  In her pamphlet, Sayers offers a tongue in cheek version of the strong meat of the Christian faith.  It ends with a catechism-like set of questions and answers on the basics of Christian theology.  In response to the question, “What is the doctrine of the Trinity?” Sayers writes, “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the whole thing incomprehensible.  Something put in by theologians to make it more difficult – nothing to do with daily life or ethics.”[1]

With that inauspicious beginning, we note that today the Church calendar turns to Trinity Sunday.  It is the only day on the Kalendar on which we remember a specific doctrine of the Church.  Note that Trinity Sunday isn’t a feast celebrating the Triune God.  No, that would be too easy.  Instead, today we are invited to reflect specifically upon the dense theological doctrine of the Trinity.  If my week had gone better, I would have happily preached a sermon on the doctrine of the Trinity in hopes of moving us from Sayers’ incisive understanding of the working definition of the Trinity that many of us hold, to a fuller understanding of how God can be one God, co-eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: one Lord, in Trinity of Persons and in Unity of Being.[2]  Alas, there was other work to be done this week, and the seven books on Trinitarian theology on my book shelves remained un-opened.  Rather than doing the inevitable heretical dance of the unprepared preacher, I thought that perhaps we might celebrate the doctrine of the Trinity this morning by exploring what our lessons teach us about the role we are invited to play in the ongoing relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

For the most part, it seems like the lessons for today were selected simply because they explicitly mention all three persons of the Trinity.  While that might be the case, I am also of the belief that with God, there are no coincidences.  If we dig into these lessons and pay attention to how the references to the Trinity are used, there is a whole lot to learn.  Take, for example, the short lesson from Second Corinthians.  Things in the Church in Corinth were not going well when Paul wrote his letters.  There had been quite a bit of infighting among the Corinthian Christians, and by now there were a lot of hard feelings.  In his first letter, Paul addressed the issues head on, and yet, some of the problems continued.  Here in his second letter, which he called a “letter of tears,” Paul used some strong language to draw very clear lines in the sand about what it means to claim to follow Jesus as Lord.  Our lesson comes from the end of this difficult letter, and it strikes a surprisingly hopeful tone, given all that has passed.  “Agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.  Greet one another with a holy kiss.  All the saints greet you.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

The tradition teaches us that the very nature of the Trinity is that of a perfect relationship of love.  It is out of the abundance of that love that creation happens.  There is so much love between and among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that creation is made just so God can have something else to love.  As such, we who follow Jesus and are filled with the Holy Spirit, are made to take our place in that ongoing out-pouring of love.  Agreeing with one another and living in peace is really difficult.  Anybody who has ever driven through Nashville at rush hour or gone grocery shopping on the Saturday before Easter can attest to that fact, but as beings created by God’s love, saved by Jesus, and sustained by the Spirit, the reality is that we have everything we need to live in love and peace with everyone around us.  Our very nature as Trinity-created-beings defaults to love.

This is made even more clear in our Gospel lesson for today.  After spending most of Easter season not dealing with resurrection stories, here in the Season after Pentecost, we’re back with the resurrected Jesus and his disciples.  Matthew’s famous “Great Commission” occurs several days after that first Easter Day, some seventy miles from Jerusalem.  The eleven have travelled to Galilee based on the word of the two Mary’s who were commanded by both an angel and the risen Jesus himself to tell the disciples to go to Galilee and meet him there.  Truth be told, one way or another, these men were headed back to Galilee.  Either Jesus would appear to them, as the women had promised, or they would pick up their fishing nets and return to the life they had once known.  As they slowly made their way up the mountain, I’d take the under on whether three of the disciples really believed Jesus would meet them there.  And yet, there he stood!  They worshiped even as they couldn’t believe their eyes, and Jesus began to speak.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  God didn’t wait for the disciples to get their act together.  God didn’t require them to perfectly understand what was happening.  God didn’t even ask them to stop doubting.  Instead, the authority of Father, vested fully in the Son, was handed over to the confused disciples through the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit.  Amid the doubt and the confusion; the joy and the worship; God invited the disciples to join in the love-filled work of the Trinity: creating disciples by sharing the grace of Jesus and teaching by word and example what love looks like.

In some ways, Dorothy Sayers’ definition of the Trinity was absolutely spot on.  The love of the Father is incomprehensible.  The grace of the Son is incomprehensible.  That the Triune God would invite us, in our mixture of doubt and worship, to share that love and grace with the world is incomprehensible, but that is, I think, precisely what the doctrine of the Trinity is all about.  It wasn’t made up by theologians to make things more difficult, but rather, our Trinitarian understanding of God as a loving relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is an attempt to explain how our broken humanity can even begin to receive the strength required to do the challenging work of loving our neighbor, loving our enemies, and praying for those who persecute us.  In the end, it is probably easier to understand the Trinity than it is to live into our calling as Trinitarian Christians.  It makes more sense that God is co-eternally three persons of one substance than it does to try to love the world in the way God loves you.   That kind of love is incomprehensible, but then again, so is the Trinity after which it is modeled.  None of this means that we should quit trying, however.  Instead, this Trinity Sunday, I commit, and I hope you will too, to developing a deeper understanding of the Trinity by living into it: loving the world like the Father does, sharing Christ’s grace with everyone I meet, and allowing the Holy Spirit to strengthen me to care for those in need.  It might seem to be an impossible task, but nothing is impossible with the God of incomprehensible love who is incomprehensibly Trinity of Persons in Unity of Being.  Amen.

[1] Sayers, Dorothy Strong Meat 1939, accessed 6/8/2017 http://gutenberg.ca/ebooks/sayers-strong/sayers-strong-00-h.html#ch02dogma

[2] A paraphrase of the Proper Preface for Trinity Sunday, BCP, 380.

Jesus was Tired

It is hard for me to believe, but it has been more than two years since the candidates for the 4th Bishop of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast took part in the walkabout portion of the discernment process.  Over the course of several days, the candidates traveled around the diocese attending a series of large gatherings in which they were invited to answer questions, many canned, so that we might be able to get to know them a little better.   The folks from St. Paul’s in Foley attended the event in Daphne, which was the fifth and final event in a rugged week for these candidates.  I remember being glad that I was able to attend this final walkabout meeting because I wanted to see how my future bishop might behave at the end of a long week.  “I need a bishop who can take my call at 5pm on a Friday when I’ve just learned the treasurer has been embezzling money,” I told one person.  It was a bit of an exaggeration, but the truth is that the ministry of a bishop means long hours, lots of personal interaction, and the ability to be “on” at the drop of a hat.  All four candidates seemed to handle the situation pretty well, and I left feeling like we would be in good hands with any of them at the helm.

When preaching on Sunday’s Gospel lesson, most preachers will focus on the narrative of Jesus and the woman at the well – with good reason – but this morning, still fighting through the haze of last night’s nighttime cold medicine caplet,  I’m struck by the context that John spells out for his readers.  “Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.”  Jesus was tired out by his journey.  Not only does this detail do the hard work of humanizing Jesus, a noble task in John’s lofty and cosmic Gospel, but it also gives us a lens through which we see the rest of the story.  When Jesus rather curtly demands a drink from the woman at the well, we are more apt, I think, to brush it off because he was tired.  And maybe we read the story of this deep encounter between Jesus and the woman with more awe because of how spot on Jesus seems to be, even in the midst of his exhaustion.


Just as I needed a bishop who could do the hard work of ministry when s/he was tired, so too I appreciate the Messiah who, though worn out by the journey, is still ready to show love and compassion.  It is dangerous to moralize Jesus’ behavior since we can never actually be like Jesus, but I think this detail is a helpful reminder to all of us who represent Christ in the world that even when we feel like we need to hide away for a while, even when we are tired and ready for a break, even when we would rather do anything else but be around God’s beloved and hurting people, we are called to love, to show compassion, and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ both by our words and through our actions.


In the northeast of France there is a small sliver of land known to history as Alsace-Lorraine.  Known for it industrial strength in the latter half of the 19th century, Alsace-Lorraine became a coveted piece of property for the Germans who ultimately took it from France after winning the Franco-Prussian War. For 47 years, from 1871 until 1918, it was a part of the German Empire.  For most of that time, Germany ruled Alsace-Lorraine with great attention, for fear of losing it back to France.  After World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, France reclaimed its territory, but realizing that 47 years and some continued German interest during World War was enough to establish some pretty distinct habits, the French government gives Alsace-Lorraine a lot of autonomy, allowing local law to reign.   Such is the messiness of a borderland.


While on his way from Galilee, where much of his teaching took place, to Jerusalem, where he would be betrayed, tortured, crucified, and buried, Jesus and his disciples had to pass through the unseemly territory of the Samaritans.  Like Alsace-Lorraine, Samaria was something of a disputed territory.  The Samaritans were descendants of the Jews, but were those who had been left behind in the Babylonian Exile.  They married those outside of Judaism, they adjusted their worship in light of the destruction of the Temple, and because of that, they were resoundingly hated by the Jews.  That this unclean territory existed between Galilee and Judea meant that there was a wide swath of borderland to pass through as one traveled between the two.

In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, we find Jesus precisely in that messy place; en route to Judea, he is somewhere between Galilee and Samaria.  To make matters worse, and to clarify that he really was in no man’s land, Jesus and his disciples happen upon a leper colony.  In all of history, there might be no more an in-between place than a leper colony on the border between the Jews and the Samaritans.  You might not want to waste as much time as I have on this borderland thing, but the placement of this story geographically is worth noting.  The preacher might want to help her congregation see just how “out there” Jesus is in this moment because while we read this story as being about forgiveness, if we focus on  Jesus, then this story is all about crossing boundaries.

With compassion, Jesus reaches across the boundaries of geography, of politics, of religion, in order to care for those who have been permanently placed in no man’s land.  They have been removed from society.  They no longer have an identity beyond “leper.”  Note that the tenth leper who returns to give thanks isn’t identified as a Samaritan until after his healing takes place.  These lepers weren’t even considered human beings.  And yet, Jesus sees them.  He treats them as worthy of love and care.  In that place of in-betweeness, Jesus heals them, restores their humanity, and makes them whole.