Beyond our Doors

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho on October 13, 2013.

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-11

Luke 17:11-21

The word “foreign” conjures up different images. It can make us think of other lands and countries. My husband flew to Haiti this weekend for his annual medical mission trip. He is in a foreign country. It is other than the one we know here. It is different. It is far away.

Foreign means unknown, unfamiliar. When people speak in languages we don’t know, or when their habits, customs, or dress are different than ours, we call them foreign.

But the word foreign doesn’t have to mean far away. You don’t have to go to Haiti to experience other-ness. The root of the word foreign is from the word door. Foreign means something that is beyond our door.

Foreign can be in the front yard.

And both of our scripture passages this morning address issues of ‘otherness’, of ‘foreignness’.

Jesus is walking between Samaria and Galilee. Except if you look at the map, there isn’t really a “between”, there is a line. They border each other. Which means Jesus was walking in the area where the two different cultures came together.

galilee
The two cultures did have much in common. Similar language, a common religious history—even if the practice of the faith was much different—and a similar geography. But their commonality wasn’t enough to help them get along when they each walked out their front doors.

The Jews and the Samaritans each saw themselves as the proper inheritor of the Abrahamic religion. The Samaritans were so opposed to the Temple in Jerusalem, that they built a temple in Gerizim. You can see the word “Samaritan” thrown around throughout the gospels as a slur.

And Jesus, headed toward Jerusalem, toward his death on a cross, walks right down the line between the two regions. Because Jesus isn’t afraid of otherness.  I’m also not that sure he is interested in our lines, our boundaries, the fences we put up, the categories we use to separate from each other.

In any case, the ten lepers see him from a distance, which is as close as people with a communicable disease were supposed to get. And they call out. “Jesus, Master. Have Mercy on us.”

And Jesus instructs them to present themselves to the priest.

He does NOT ask, “on which side of the border do you live?”

He does NOT ask, “do you worship God the same way I do?”

He doesn’t ask if they speak with an accent or if they like the same pizza toppings he likes.

He just sends them to the Priests. And on their way they are cured of their disease.

Three years ago, when I preached this text, I preached about the gratitude of the one healed leper who returns. And clearly grateful living is an important part of this text.

But this week, I kept noticing Jesus’ observations about the returning, grateful, formerly leprous man. When the other nine continue on to the priest and do exactly what Jesus instructed them to do, one returns. And Jesus asks about the others:

Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?

Even if Jesus is using air quotes around the word “foreigner”, I feel uncomfortable with his word choice. It separates the man at the same time it tries to lift him up as an illustration.

Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?

It is hard to get away from our distrust of the foreigner, our categorizing of the people outside our door.

But Jesus, even in this odd parable, pushes us out of our comfort zone, out the door and into that space where we have to encounter people we’d just as soon not.

I guarantee you that the people Jesus was traveling with to Jerusalem saw that the one leper who came back to say thanks was a Samaritan and they thought, “Oh great. We’ll never hear the end of this. Why couldn’t he have been a Jew?!

But Jesus makes us come close to those we want to avoid. He keeps on walking down the border between the familiar and the very uncomfortable, and he drags us along with him.

Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?

Jesus goes on to say ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’

We want the kingdom of God to be easily defined, by us. We want it to be inside our door, within our control.

But the kingdom of God is among us, says Jesus. And then he takes us to the borderlands just to prove his point.

Who are foreigners to you?

They might be people from actual foreign lands. But they might be people who see the religious or political world differently than you do.

Who is outside your door, waiting to be met?

Whenever Jesus welcomes the stranger, extends God’s grace and mercy to the outsider and foreigner, he joins in a tradition of such inclusion and welcome that stretches back through Scripture, even if it does so with some tension.

While God does instruct the Hebrew people to maintain their own traditions, practices, and law, God also continues to add foreigners to their family tree.

And in our morning’s passage from Jeremiah, the prophet tells the people they are about to into exile for a long time. Other prophets are trying to tell them it will just be a short exile. But Jeremiah tells them to get comfortable. To plant gardens, to buy real estate, to marry Babylonians, to have half Babylonian kids and grandkids.

They are being kicked out the doors of their comfort in Jerusalem and headed off to foreign lands, where they have to live with people they just don’t want to have to like. They will be foreigners and be surrounded by foreigners.

You can see why the people liked the false prophets. “Don’t worry. You’ll just be there for a bit. Not even enough time to have to go say hi to your neighbors. No need to pack up the patio furniture. You’ll be back before you know it.

But Jeremiah won’t tell them what they want to hear. And as if going to exile long enough to have grandchildren isn’t bad enough, Jeremiah adds this instruction:

But 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.

You don’t just have to live with these people.
You have to pray for them and seek their welfare.

It’s easy to say, isn’t it? That we’ll pray for our enemies.

But it is not easy.

A friend shared an experience this week on facebook. He said he had preached recently about a lunch meeting he had with a woman from an organization from the other “corner” of the church. John is Gay. This woman gave up her ordination in the PCUSA once we allowed people like John to be ordained.

It isn’t quite Babylon and Jerusalem, but on some days, it probably seems like it.

And I’m glad they had lunch. And I’m glad it was a good and civil conversation.

I think we need more of those and much less yelling, name calling, and leaving.

BUT

While they both claimed to be praying for each other, she wrote a blog post about their interaction and after she said she was praying for him, she said this:

“One of us is wrong. One of us is deluded. One of us is bearing false witness. One of us is leading people down a path of destruction. But both of us will stand one day before the Lord and give an account.”

And I thought—didn’t you just say you were praying for him? And now you accuse him of leading people down a path of destruction?

And I kept hearing Jeremiah in my head, telling me to pray for the welfare of the people who put me in exile.

And I confess it is hard for me to pray for her. She, and her organization have actively promoted schism in the church. You might recall the pain and loss at our sister congregation in Caldwell this past year which was aided and abetted by her organization.

And now, in this most recent blog post, she has accused a faithful man, and a friend of mine, of delusion and of lying.

And so this week, I prayed for her. I prayed that the grace of God that was sufficient enough for me was also at work in her life, even if I couldn’t see it today. I prayed for her health and her welfare.

And I didn’t like it one little bit. But I did it.

Jeremiah doesn’t tell Israel to pray for the jerks in the city, so that they’ll see the light and finally agree with us and repent of their heresy.

Jeremiah doesn’t tell Israel to pray for the destruction of the city, so our enemies will see how wrong they have been all these years.

“But 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.

I confess I sort of wish Jeremiah would give us the instruction to “ignore the welfare of the city where you are in exile. Forget to pray for them at all, for they don’t really matter to you and you can just forget about them.

But he doesn’t.

Instead we are called to pray for the welfare of the city where we find ourselves surrounded by “foreigners”, for in its flourishing and its well being we will find our well being.

And it isn’t easy.

It is so much easier to pray for our own welfare than it is to pray for the welfare of our enemies.

But Jeremiah wants us to see that the two are not unrelated.

In DC right now, both sides are jeopardizing the welfare of our cities because they don’t seem to see the connection. There seems to be some mistaken idea that they can punish their opponents without punishing themselves. So I’m praying for the welfare of John Boehner, Ted Cruz,  Harry Reid, and the rest of congress. Because in their welfare is our welfare. And I don’t like it one little bit. But I’m going to do it.

God doesn’t call us to punish, judge, or remove ourselves from the foreignness of the world. We are called to seek its welfare. SeekTheWelfare-400

Malala Yousafzai is a 16 year old Pakistani who has been an outspoken advocate for the education of girls, and is also the youngest person to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize was shot by the Taliban for her advocacy for education. Here is what she said in an interview with Jon Stewart this past week when she was asked about her reaction to the Taliban’s desire to kill her.

“I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.'”

”But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’ Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'”

This 16 year old girl realized that her welfare was to be found in the welfare of these men who were threatening to kill her. Speaking out for education mattered not just for her, but for the entire community.

And I don’t find it ironic at all that the best illustration I could find of this Jeremiah story this week involved a foreigner. If you wonder who most resembles Samaritans to most Americans, it is likely a Muslim from a place like Pakistan.

We do not, I suspect, know what it is like to be a teenage girl shot by the Taliban. And we are not in exile the same way Jerusalem was.
For most of us, living in Boise is a gift, a place we choose to be. But we still find ourselves at odds with others.

And Jeremiah’s instructions to seek the welfare of the city calls us out, beyond our doors, and into the foreignness we find there.

I try to live my life in gratitude. I try to remember to be like the healed Samaritan foreign leper and return to Jesus to give thanks for my healing.

And this morning, I am thankful for many things. One of them is for the grace of God that continues to beckon me beyond my door and into the foreignness of the world around.

As Anne Lamott says:

May we be pushed beyond the threshold of our doors this week, into the foreignness of the world, where we may seek the welfare of our city and  seek the kingdom of God, which is all around us.

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8 thoughts on “Beyond our Doors

  1. Very thoughtful.

    I have many times had people say “I’m praying for you” to me when they mean, “I’m praying for you to realize your sin / error.”

    It took a long time for me to realize for my own life that really the only prayer for an outcome that I can fully endorse anymore is “thy will be done.” I wish there were a pray like that for others — a sort of “I pray for your wellbeing and that you fulfill the end G-d has in store for you” prayer.

    • Yes. It has been hard to put into words a prayer for my ‘enemy’ (seems too strong a word). I’m afraid I will always slip past the prayer for well being and into a prayer for their comeuppance!

  2. I wonder at the woman’s use of the phrase “one of us . . .” Does it perhaps suggest the possibility of doubt? For that, we can all pray, that each of us will be guided in the work of The Lord.

  3. Pingback: The Harmony of Joy and Sorrow | Glass Overflowing

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