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Sunday, October 14th, 2007
Loving God, you bless us with many good gifts, including brothers and sisters in Christ from many different countries. Teach us to treat one another as partners in the gospel and to encourage one another in the faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
It might be due to a warped sense of humour, but I find it difficult to read today’s gospel without thinking of Monty Python. There’s this scene where a man in biblical clothing is dancing around with a little clay bowl in his hands crying, “Alms for an ex-leper! Alms for an ex-leper!” Of course, somebody finally asks him, “Did you say ex-leper?” “Yes sir,” he says. “It was Jesus, sir. He healed me.” And then he dances off and continues to ask people for alms.
There is more truth in this scene than what we might think at first. The man has been a leper most of his life, and all he knows how to do is beg for alms. Even after he has been healed, he continues the life that he has always known. Is this really so strange?
So – consider for a moment the lepers in today’s gospel – especially the nine who do not return to Jesus to give thanks. They might have suffered from leprosy, and they might have suffered from any number of other skin diseases. Whatever their disease, they were required by the law of Moses to keep themselves separate from the rest of society and to cry, “Unclean! Unclean!” whenever they went near other people (Lev. 13:45-46). Their survival often depended upon the charity of others.
And so, when they cried out to Jesus, “have mercy on us,” what were they expecting Jesus to do? Were they expecting to be healed, or were they expecting Jesus to give them some money? We really do not know. We also don’t know why it was that they didn’t come back to give thanks. Was it because they took it for granted – they expected Jesus to heal them and he did? Was it because they really didn’t want to be healed and had no idea how they were going to live as contributing members of the community? Was it because they were so happy that they didn’t want to waste a minute? Was it because they were simply obeying Jesus and going to show themselves to the priest?
We don’t know. What we do know is that the one who was a Samaritan – a hated foreigner – came back and worshipped at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. As with a number of stories in the gospel of Luke, a despised Samaritan becomes an example of proper behaviour. This same man would not have been allowed into the Temple at Jerusalem – yet, he is welcomed at the feet of Jesus to worship and give thanks. In Jesus, the barriers are breaking down, and all are welcomed to come and worship. And Jesus says to us and to all, “You could learn something from this foreigner!”
Perhaps it is still true that we have something to learn from foreigners. For years in North America, and in Europe as well, the mentality has been that we have something to teach the rest of the world. Missionaries were sent out, not only to preach the gospel, but often in an attempt to make other cultures “like us.” Yet, in this day and age, there is a great deal that we can learn from people of other cultures, and especially from our brothers and sisters in Christ in other parts of the world.
Many of you probably remember meeting Pastor Étienne Fomgbami when he was here for three years with his family from Cameroon. More than anything, he was here as a missionary, for we have much that we can learn from him and from his people. The church in Cameroon has very little in terms of material goods but is growing by leaps and bounds. The people are filled with enthusiasm for their faith and with love for Jesus Christ. They know how to share the good news with their neighbours, and they know how to teach the faith to others.
In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon each pastor often serves 9 or 10 congregations. However, in every congregation there are lay people who serve as evangelists and catechists. The evangelists specialize in sharing the good news, and the catechists teach the faith to young and old alike. We have much to learn from them in terms of how to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
At the same time, our relationship with the church in Cameroon as a companion synod is intended to be a mutually up building relationship. Each church has people and resources that can be shared. The current program, entitled Cameroon Companions, seeks to identify some of the ways that those of us in the MNO Synod can support our sister church in Cameroon. Many of the needs that have been identified are things that we might well take for granted: things like having a roof on the church building; or having hymnals that still have covers on them with all of the pages inside; or having hospitals where there are people there to cook for us and care for us; or having transportation for pastors to visit their congregations.
At the same time, the church in Cameroon is ministering to needs in the community that we may not even think of here. Over 300 orphans are in need of food, clothing and education, and many of these children are orphans because their parents have died of AIDS. Decent medical and dental facilities are hard to come by, and the church is working to address the physical health of the people as well as their spiritual health. And, in a country where 50% of the people live in poverty, the church is actively involved in finding ways to share the necessities with those in need. They are taking seriously their call to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world.
Now, it might be sounding to you like this is a financial appeal, and although that is obviously part of our partnership with the church in Cameroon, that is not the whole story. Finances are an obvious part of this partnership because we in North America simply have far more than our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. Yet, at the same time, our brothers and sisters in Cameroon desire a relationship with Lutherans here in Manitoba. Visits back and forth are encouraged. Congregations that wish to start a relationship with a partner congregation in Cameroon are encouraged to do so. There is so much that we can learn from one another as we strive together to be faithful disciples of Jesus.
We started out today with the gospel from Luke and the Samaritan who returned to Jesus to give thanks. And Jesus says to the people, “You could learn something from this foreigner who knows how to worship and give thanks!” We have much to learn from our brothers and sisters in Cameroon, and much to share with them, too. Is there any better way of giving thanks than to share what we have been given with others? Come and worship, and let us give thanks! Amen.
Lectionary 28(C) Luke 17:11-19
October 14, 2007 (Companion Synod Sunday)
St. Luke’s Zion Lutheran Church
Pastor Lynne Hutchison Moore
© 2007 Lynne Hutchison Moore All Rights Reserved