Sermon for Trinity 17/Proper 23, Year C - Mucknell Abbey
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Sermon for Trinity 17/Proper 23, Year C

9th October, 2022

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. He was travelling through the borderlands.

Borderlands are places that are neither here, nor there. They are places of uncertainty. They are places where questions of belonging are rife. Does anyone belong here? Does no one belong here? Who is an insider? Who is an outsider? Who can be trusted? Who should be feared? Should we build a wall? Should we tear it down?

Borderlands can be uncomfortable places to be in.

And in these borderlands Jesus enters an unnamed village.
Who lives here? Is it a hostile or a friendly place?

Jesus is approached by ten lepers who keep their distance.
Even here there is uncertainty— they approach him, but they also stay away…

Jesus, master, have mercy on us…

They are lepers – they are outcasts among outcasts… outsiders among outsiders… but they know his name and they call him master…

In the book of Leviticus the instructions of the law in relation to lepers are spelled out…

‘Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.’ – Leviticus 13.45-46

What happens here in these borderlands?
With this man named Jesus,
This miracle-maker who many are struggling to understand

And this small band of lepers,
cut-off and adrift from human community

When he saw them, Jesus said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’

‘The following instructions are for those seeking ceremonial purification from a skin disease. Those who have been healed must be brought to the priest, who will examine them at a place outside the camp. If the priest finds that someone has been healed of a serious skin disease, he will perform a purification ceremony, using two live birds that are ceremonially clean, a stick of cedar, some scarlet yarn, and a hyssop branch. The priest will order that one bird be slaughtered over a clay pot filled with fresh water. He will take the live bird, the cedar stick, the scarlet yarn, and the hyssop branch, and dip them into the blood of the bird that was slaughtered over the fresh water. The priest will then sprinkle the blood of the dead bird seven times on the person being purified of the skin disease. When the priest has purified the person, he will release the live bird in the open field to fly away.’ Leviticus 14.2-7

’Go and show yourselves to the priests.’
The instruction seems a bit premature.
You go to the priest when you have been healed…
not before.

So when they went from Jesus,
were they going in obedience to his words?
Did they go in anticipation or expectation, in faith?
Or did they go thinking they had been fobbed off?
That is a business for priests don’t bother me?
What else would you expect in the borderlands?

But as they went, they were made clean.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.

Was it only one who praised God?
Was it only one who turned back?
Was it only one who saw that he had been healed?
And he was a Samaritan.

Maybe the others were so used to calling out they never really expected they could be healed.
It had just become a habit.

The Samaritans were despised, considered unclean, practically pagan.
In their affliction the ten lepers were equals.
But in faith it was only the outsider among outsiders—
among outsiders who turned back in praise.

Surprising things can happen in the borderlands.
That place in between.
Where things are uncertain.
Where definitions are blurred.
Boundaries unclear.

This story leaves us with more questions than answers as we try to work out what is really going on.

Jesus himself is left with questions.
‘Were not ten made clean?
But the other nine, where are they?
Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’

‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

Were the other nine made clean, but not really healed.
Not made whole in the deep down way that an encounter with Jesus in the borderlands invites?

Were they too wrapped up in disappointment?
Or too focused on the ritual requirements of the law?
Or too short-sighted to see that Jesus had made them well?

This encounter in the borderlands strips away false identities and securities and prejudices that potentially separate us as human beings.
Those things that create outsiders and insiders based on race, nationality, sexuality, language, culture, food, affliction, or whatever.

This encounter in the borderlands reminds us of our common humanity.
That however we come, whoever we are we are all in need of an encounter with the Living God where we may find healing— wholeness of being.

I am sorry but I am just going to leave you with more questions.

Where then are the borderlands of our lives?

Where we move in this space of possibility?
Where we are willing to be stripped of our certainties our false securities
to be able to journey deeper into the reality of God?

We may describe these borderlands as places between earth and heaven
where we may encounter the Living God.

Jesus himself is something of a borderland for us.
By his very nature, his very being that space, place, person where God and humanity meet in their fullness and are reconciled with one another.

The experience of this borderland may indeed be represented to us a physical place.

For many, Mucknell is this kind of place.
Where people come away — seeking a liminal space where distractions, expectations, identities and patterns of daily living are stripped away and a place of encounter with the Living God is sought.

Perhaps, then, there is a question for those who live here, where this is the pattern of daily living?

Where life is intended at least, to be structured so as to allow us, to encourage us even, to be continually exploring this other strange landscape?

Is it possible to live in the borderlands?
Is this a particular part of the monastic calling?

A commitment to live continually in this uncomfortable space— continually reminded that this is not home, but a place in-between.

A place where we are to never become so settled in the routine of life that we are unable to be surprised and challenged and changed by an encounter with the Living God.

A commitment to a way of life that seeks to hold this kind of space open for others.

And what, finally, of the borderlands within us?
And perhaps this is the real space of transformation, where we explore the borderlands of the soul within ourselves

The place between belief and unbelief, knowing and unknowing.
Where faith is formed and shaken and reformed
And we are continually being recreated in the image,
the likeness, the mind of Christ.

For all the discomfort and uncertainty
— and with that often pain and confusion and questions—
that comes with this journey through such borderlands,
there is something that tells us,
as crazy as it sounds and sometimes feels,
that this is where Life in all its fullness is to be found.


Photo by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash