Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sermon October 9,2016: Help me! Thank You!

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
Psalm 111
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

They tell me that the popular spiritual writer, Anne LaMott has two prayers.  Her morning prayer is: “Help me! Help me! Help me!” And they say her evening prayer is: “Thank you! Thank You! Thank You!”

I find it an interesting correlation to two Christian prayers that are expressed each week outside Lent in the Eucharist.  They are “Hosanna!” and “Alleluia!”  Hosanna means “Pray, Save!” And Alleluia means “Praise the Lord!”

These are also the two prayers we see in our gospel lesson today.  The ten lepers cry out to Jesus, “Son of man, have mercy on us.”  And then when one has been healed he comes back to Jesus and says, “Thank You.”

Help me! Thank you!

In a way we could categorize all prayer as either “Help me” or “Thank you.” In the prayers of the people we ask for help for ourselves, and for all the world.  Asking for help for all the world is a priestly ministry.  We are people who bring the good news of God to the world, and be bring the  needs of the world to God saying, “Help”.  The name of our service is the Holy Eucharist.  It means the Holy Thanksgiving.  And the prayer the priest says at the Communion is called “The Great Thanksgiving” .

I also find it interesting that the 12 step programs depend heavily on these two prayers.  Help is the prayer a person says when they realize that they are powerless to end their addiction over alcohol, drugs, food, sex, etc.  They cannot handle their problem alone.  And then to continue in this path a tool that the twelve steps people use is a gratitude list.  When things are hard, and let’s face it, unless you are in a rare number, for most of us there are hard things all the time, when things are hard we are advised to list the things for which we are thankful.  In the midst of life’s challenges it is centering and helpful to say thanks for the gifts we have received, relationships, health, our daily bread.

There was a well covered study in late 2015 that reported that a life of gratitude has many different health benefits.  It is supposed to help our relationships, help our physical and psychological and mental health, improves our sleep, enhances our empathy, reduces our aggression, and increases our self-esteem apparently. 

The thing I think that is most interesting is that neither of these prayers are easy to say.

We do not want to ask for help.  We want to feel that we are competent to solve our own problems.  We do not want to be a “burden” on anyone.  We do not want to lose “face” or “standing” before other people.  We do not want to be thought “helpless” or “unintelligent.”

When I lived next to a homeless shelter, I met many homeless people.  I often found that asking for help, and then following the simple requests of people offering help, were the two largest obstacles for people to exit homelessness.   Most of the people who are homeless fall into categories where there is help available.  Sometimes they are veterans.  Sometimes they are mentally ill.  Sometimes they are chronically addicted or disabled.  And frequently they know where they can go for help.  But they do not go, because they do not want to ask for help.  Or if they do ask for help, they have trouble following the guidelines.  Come to this appointment.  Go here to get your birth certificate.  Often that hardship is understandable, yet often it is the internal resistance to asking for help.  To ask for help is humbling.

In the Old Testament story we see a man who had trouble asking for help.  Naaman the mighty general from Ammon who suffered from leprosy, would have been willing to go through a dramatic ritualized healing with the prophet himself administering sufficient and impressive hand waving, but he was not willing to follow simple advice sent by messenger to bath in a stream.  The former would have preserved his sense of dignity and self worth.  The latter asks him to be humble and follow simple instructions.  He wanted to keep his pride intact.  But he had to receive help on the terms of the one who could help him.  He had to wash in the Jordan seven times in order to be healed.  The prophet choose not to come out and wave his hands.  The prophet preferred to do the Old Testament version of, “Take two aspirin, and call me in the morning.”

Asking for help is hard, yet a central insight of Christian teaching is that we humans find ourselves in a place where we are unable to heal ourselves.  We must ask for help if we are to be healed.  The cross and the resurrection become the medicine and the health humanity seeks.  Baptism and Eucharist are unique help that comes through Christ.  In surrendering to God’s power to save us we come to see all the deeds we do for the world as God’s act, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to show God’s gracious love.  All Good things are sent from heaven above as the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it.

The lepers prayed for help.  And it is not just the healing of disease that they seek.  They desire to no longer be outcasts of the community.  Christ showing them mercy means that they can be included once more in the congregation.  As long as they are lepers even those who touch them cannot join the community gathered to worship. 

Christ did heal them.  And he sent them to the priest so that they could be re-admitted to the community of faith.  Yet only one of the ten, the despised foreigner,  the Samaritan, came to realize the true meaning of his being healed.   The others asked for help, they received what they needed, they will be re-admitted to the community of faith, but the true meaning of what has happened to them eludes them.  They are okay for now, and in the future they will go through the process again.

But the leper who returns to give thanks is not simply rejoicing that he has escaped a difficult situation. He has mastered the hard part of thank you. He has come to see beyond the gracious act to the gracious giver.  He has come to understand that he is not alone!  He has had an awakening.  He has come to look beyond the gift into the face of the giver.  He has discovered someone who cared for him.  He has made friends with God. 

Often in the South we are taught to say “Thank You.” We have a certain amount of time to return our thank you notes or we are rude.  We get it done out of obligation, in order not to be though bad people, but that expression of thanks out of obligation, or as a form of repayment is not what I am talking about.

The leper, I believe came to understand that he is in a relationship.  He has come to see that Jesus is his friend.  He comes to understand the ability of giving to others without expectation of return.  I suspect he adds a third prayer to our set of prayers.  He has said “Help me.”  He has said, “Thank you.”  And I imagine he know says, “Help me be like Jesus, Help me Help others.”

Something deep inside him has shifted.  He has gained a depth of spirit he formerly did not know.  His prayer “Thank You” has become a deep seated peace and joy.  His prayer “Help me” has become the presence of God’s healing power in the world.  He has become friends with all humanity, with Jesus, with God.

Sermon 20161016: The Persistence is the Blessing

This sermon whose text is the Parable of the Persistent Widow, Luke 18:1-8 proposes that prayer is life with God, and the blessing of prayer is not so much the answer received as the fellowship with God prayer represents.