Sermon: “Mercy on the Border”
Lectionary Series C; The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, October 13, 2019 – Proper 24
Gospel Reading: Luke 17:11-19
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Borders. If you cross the border into from Canada to America, you better make sure you don’t have any extra walleye in your cooler. If you cross the border into California, you better not have any fresh produce in your car. If you cross the border from Kenya to another country, you better not have left the vicinity of the city of Nairobi, or prepare to be searched. I know from experience.
Borders. Over the past few years, we have heard a great deal on the news about the borders of our nation. President Trump campaigned for his presidency with the agenda of closing our southwest border with a wall that Mexico would partially pay for. Other politicians would like to see open borders with sanctuary cities. Among these dialogues back and forth on borders, we have heard more and more about the work of ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We have had reports of rising racial tensions throughout the country, and especially near the borders. And now, if you live in New York, and utter the words, “illegal alien” you can get a $250,000 fine. All of this stems from all the talk about our borders in recent years.
But before you go thinking this will be a sermon with a political statement, it is really anything but. This talk of borders is a set up for our text for today where Jesus finds himself on the border.
On the way to Jerusalem he [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee (Luke 17:11).
It sounds like such a simple verse. Jesus was on a walk, and it just happened to be on a border. What’s the big deal?
The big deal is that back in chapter nine, Jesus had set His face toward Jerusalem. But this stroll between Samaria and Galilee was hardly the direct route. If anything, it was kind of a detour. And it was a detour that took him into some unfriendly territory as a Jew.
Jews and Samaritans did not associate with one another. Jews looked down upon the Samaritans. They were half-breeds, those that came from intermarriage with other nations. They were not pure-bred Jews. They didn’t deserve to be treated with the same respect a Jew was.
This begs the question of us: How do we treat those of different ethnicities? How do we think about those that don’t walk, talk, or look like us? Do we think we are somehow better than another race? Do we think we are entitled to better treatment than others?
Jesus, however, went out of his way while journeying to His death to take some time out to have mercy on those who were in need.
And as he [Jesus] entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:12-13).
Mercy is a cry that begs that we don’t get what we do deserve. Mercy is the cry we utter every Sunday when we join in the Kyrie. “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” It is a cry for help.
These lepers were in need of help, that was a given. But oddly enough, they didn’t beg for Jesus to heal them. They begged for mercy. You see, the greater malady for a leper was not their physical condition. And that is quite striking when you think about the fact that their skin was flaking off, their nerve sensors weren’t firing correctly, and without any feeling of pain in their nerves, they were easily prone to severe injury. But no, that was not the primary concern of theirs.
A leper was a social and religious outcast. No longer could they be present in the town they once lived. No longer could they worship with their congregation. They had to evict themselves to the outer region. And should anyone get near them, they would have had to have yelled, “Unclean, unclean” in an effort to keep others away from them.
This is where Jesus finds these lepers. He finds them on the border between Galilee and Samaria, and they are begging for mercy.
What people are on the borders of our lives that could use a little mercy? Who have we treated like an outcast, be it with our thoughts, words, or deeds? Is it someone of a different race, or someone who thinks different than us or has different political views? Is it a family member that we have deemed no longer deserves our time? Is it a member of our congregation? Who is on the border in our lives that could use a little mercy?
Jesus had mercy with those who were on the border crying out for just that: mercy. When he [Jesus] saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed (Luke 17:14).
For all of the times we have failed to show mercy to others, we also are like these lepers who begged for mercy. We all know what it is like to be treated as an outcast. Maybe it was because of our race. Maybe it was because of the way we think or talk, or maybe it was because of our political views. Maybe we were left out of the game at recess, or left off the invitation list for the family gathering. Every one of us knows this hurt to some degree or another. Every one of us knows what it is like to have that cry for mercy well up within us.
See here that Jesus comes to the border and He doesn’t hesitate to go out of His way to have mercy upon you. Where this world may treat you as an outcast, Jesus welcomes you into His presence. He drenches you in your baptismal waters and claims you as His own. He says, “You are mine. You belong to me. You are not an outcast. You are my beloved child.”
This gift of faith and healing overwhelmed one of those lepers. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan (Luke 17:15-16).
The least likely one to return and give thanks did just that. The Samaritan leper. The one who had two strikes against him. He was not only an outcast because of his condition, but also because of who he was. And yet, he was the one to return and give thanks.
We return today to do the same. We come to give thanks because of who we are. We are sinners who are doomed to die if left to ourselves. There is no hope of our survival without a Savior. We are outcasts who are left for dead.
Which is exactly what Jesus came to this earth to become. He passed the border of heaven to enter into earth. And he became an outcast. He was directed outside the border walls of the city of Jerusalem, forced to carry His own cross. And there on the edge of town, He showed us what mercy really looks like and sounds like. It looks like the Son of God being treated as an outcast, getting what we deserved, yet He took our death upon Himself. It sounds like a cry that got no reply. “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani”, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” “Why have you treated me as an outcast?” And the answer is that it was the only way to show you and me mercy.
You and I were doomed to die in our sin. For all of the times we have failed to show mercy to others on the borders of our lives. For all the times we have treated others as outcasts with our thoughts, words, and deeds. For all the times we treated people poorly, those of a different race or those who think different than us or those with different political views or whatever it may be. For all the times we thought someone didn’t deserve our time, or we left out a friend or a family member or a congregational member. For all those times and more, Jesus allowed Himself to be hauled beyond the border of those Jerusalem walls to die our death…the death that should have been ours.
It’s no wonder the Samaritan returned to give thanks as He did. That is the natural response when someone saves your life, and not just this temporal life, but grants you eternal life as well.
Let us never forget to return thanks like that Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he [Jesus] said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well (Luke 17:17-19).
Like that Samaritan, in faith, we return here to the house of the Lord to give thanks that God has saved us from sin, death, and the devil. As baptized believers, we rejoice that we are chosen by God to be His own.
So, who in our lives needs to also hear of the mercy of God? Who are those on the edges and fringes of our lives, that perhaps we could extend the same mercy that we have been afforded in Christ? Let us each take time to examine our lives, and see where we might have mercy on the border. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.