Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
This past week I took a short vacation to Copenhagen. Of course, it was to see old friends, but I would like to say it was for intense language training. Danish is an impossible language to master. If they hear the slightest haltering or hesitation, Danes will quickly switch to English, so I try to hold my ground as long as possible. Norwegians generally give in and protest that Danish isn’t a language at all, but it is a throat disease. Swedes say that it is like talking with a potato down your throat. The challenge is that while the English language has 10 variations on 5 vowels, Danish has 20 variations on 5 vowels by conservative analysis and 30 variations by a less-than conservative analysis. And it isn’t necessarily just the pronunciation. Sometimes the phrases themselves are a little odd. My Danish friend’s brother-in-law came to visit from Colorado last week as well. Because of the pandemic, they hadn’t seen each other in 3 years. The next morning, I overheard my friend’s wife describing her brother as, “Han lignet paa seg selv” which translates He resembled himself. They both looked at me and said, “I bet you don’t say that in English. It means, he hadn’t aged. He looked like him himself. It is a positive thing.” I admitted that it wasn’t quite what we would say in English. Maybe, it could be translated as, “He looked the same.”
I imagine that if the priests that the ten lepers were running to see, were Danish speakers, they would have said to them. “Du ligner paa deg selv. You resemble yourself. Your leprosy is gone. You can go home.” And nine of the ten went on their way, but one returned to give thanks to Jesus, and he was not a native-born Danish speaker. He was the foreigner struggling to understand the language.
My friends, this morning as we meditate upon the healing of the ten lepers and the one who returned, I would like to share with you two convictions. The first is this: When you are standing alone or with someone you love is on the border land between health and sickness, trust that God still comes to meet you, and second, trust that God brings healing even to those on the emptiest stretches of life.
You and I, we are a generation that stands as a witness to amazing medical achievements. I remind parishioners who are preparing for surgery, miracles take place every day. Some are smaller and others are greater. Medical procedures which were unheard of 20 years ago, or 30 years, and were once a death sentence are today commonplace. And yet for some who are facing a difficult road ahead, it is easy to fall victim to skepticism, pessimism and doubt.
That is where the gospel story begins. Jesus was crossing the border land between the regions of Samaria and Galilee. It was a “no man’s land” where both Jews and Samaritans refused to live. It was also in this abandoned and neglected region, where their communities left their sick and condemned with little hope of returning to the normal patterns of life. They were those who no longer resembled themselves. There, the ten unfortunate lepers found a collective shelter. They were victims of a common disease and tragedy. Indeed, united by their pain and humiliation, they knew no distinction between race, status nor religion. They were all forgotten wayfarers, “Keeping their distance they called, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’”
Faithfulness, much less thankfulness in the face of the unknown, whether medical, spiritual or emotional is a challenge. I have known many of you who have entered into the “border land between health and sickness” and have struggled to remain hopeful. You work to understand the language, the nuance and culture of the medical world, but you just do not resemble yourself in that place. The border land is a “no man’s land” where you must stay there, while others, including your care givers, family and friends can come and go. You are captive to your own thoughts, worries, fears that no one else can really understand. In your own most desperate moments, your voice cries out, “Jesus, have master on me.” My friends, trust that God still comes to meet you.
It was into such a broken, border land that Jesus entered and where we continue to walk. That is the good news of the story. It was a border land for many, where few dare to go, but Jesus was not afraid to enter. When Jesus saw the ten, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” We do not know what possessed them to get up and go. They did not resemble themselves, or who they had been. They still saw the plague of leprosy all about, but still, they got up and went. They believed. They had faith that it was possible. Someone had spoken directly to them, and they dared to take the next step, to rise up and go. And so as they went, they were healed.
That, of course, is the initial stage of healing, and it doesn’t matter whether you are facing issues of physical or mental health or addiction. You have to believe that it is possible for you to “resemble yourself again,” first, and that you can be healed, if not cured. Nobody else can convince you to do that. You must take a chance and make a choice to believe or not. Most of the miracles of healing that we experience in our lives, and in the lives of those we love, are transformations that cannot be seen. But the same if often true of the disease. You don’t often see cancer cells in the lives of those you love. You don’t see the sickness the invades the body that is slowing them down or causing fatigue. You don’t often immediately see the physical changes that addiction causes. At the same time you don’t see the steps and stages of healing either. They often go unseen until one day someone announces to you that you are healed, that you resemble yourself once again. That is the amazing testimony of the 10 lepers in the story. Whether it was a sense of mutual accountability, peer pressure, collective will or truly a belief in Jesus’ word, they got up and went, and on their way, they were made clean. Yes, and so they resembled themselves again.
Then one of them when he saw that we was healed, turned back, praising God, with a loud voice. And he was the non-native, Danish speaker. St. Luke emphasizes that he was a Samaritan, the one who wouldn’t have known the cultural expectations and linguistic nuances. But he was the only one when he discovered that he was healed returned to Jesus and give thanks. Thankfulness is rare, even among God’s faithful and trusting peoples- especially when they want to put the past behind them and move forward. But my friends, I am convinced that for men and women of faith giving thanks is not simply an obligatory gesture waiting at the conclusion of a great victory. No, I believe that it by giving thanks to God that you are ultimately changed and healed and made whole. Yes, it is how you will one day resemble yourself again, or as the Danes say, “Du ligner paa deg selv.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.