SCRIPTURE READING: 2 Kings 5:15, 17 (NIV) “Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God.  He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.  Please accept now a gift from your servant.”  “If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD.”

GOSPEL READING: Luke 17: 11-19 (NIV) “Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him.  They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”  When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”  And as they went, they were cleansed.  One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.  Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

As preached to Mt. Zion Congregational Church in Cleveland, OH

I bring you greetings today on behalf of my home church Manantial de Gracia in New Britain, CT; Hartford Seminary, and the Council for Hispanic Ministries:

Today, we are talking about Planting Life.  Many “traditional” churches are decorated using the color green.  A simple way to look at the color green is to say it is a color associated with growth and change.  In Connecticut green is the color that we wait for beginning at the first hint of fall.  The leaves change colors, the greens fade to burgundies, reds and yellows, and we begin the process of dreading winter and longing for spring.

In the same way, that we wait the distant spring is the way we await the coming of our Lord.  Some of us are blessed with having grown up in a home that nurtured, educated and prepared us for the arrival of God (that means we have been waiting since we could remember!).  Others met Christ later in life, and still others are still waiting to meet him.  Yet, we are all, on a personal journey as we wait for the moment of Our Messiah’s return.

What we need to ask ourselves is what are we doing in the meantime?  Between when we originally claim to have met God and when we’ll see Him again.   Between when God started to heal our broken hearts (Psalm 147:3) and when our hearts were renewed.

Today we are going to ask ourselves three questions: What are we doing?  How are we acting?  And who are we following?

The Gospel: In today’s New Testament reading, Luke 17: 11-19 we heard about a time when Jesus healed a group of ten lepers.  The Bible tells us that Jesus was traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee.  For those of us, who might not know, the Samaritans were a group of people who are said to be the descendants of Israelites who escaped the great exile and some “other” foreigners.  As a Puerto Rican woman, whose African ancestry is evident from the outside, I can relate!  You see, we Puerto Ricans are an amalgamation of three major groups of people: the Taino’s (Arawak native’s descendant from tribes in Central/South America), African slaves and Spaniard masters.

The Samaritans were a people who chose to worship the Hebrew god, for fear that He might punish them if they didn’t. BUT they also kept worshipping the gods they came with.  I imagine that their experience with god was limited.  They did not know what miracles to thank the Hebrew God for and what miracles to thank those “other” gods for.  They were not Believers.  They were simply keeping their bases covered, just in case!

The Bible says that as Jesus walked along the border between Samaria and Galilee, a group of lepers yelled to him from the distance “Master, have pity on us!”  And with no further conversation Jesus tells them to go show themselves to the priests.  I imagine that the Priests being leaders would be congregating in a public place, talking and teaching groups of people.  Now, as the lepers walked on their journey to be seen by the priests, their bodies became healed.

Jesus had told these men to go show themselves to the priests, he didn’t give them a timeline, there were no other parameters for their journey.  What would you do if along your life’s’ journey your prayers were suddenly answered?

How would you react?  Would you continue upon your journey with no deviation?  Would your energy change?  Would there be hesitation?  Rather than asking What Would Jesus Do, ask yourself, what would I do?  Be honest!

According to the Bible, one of the ten, upon seeing his healing deviated from his initial course of action. This guy turned around and went back to Jesus’ side, he threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him!  What are the odds that a person will remember to thank God in action and in deed, well according to this story 1 out of 10 take the time to be thankful.  Don’t quote me on that, I have a limited understanding of statistics.

Now we get to hear Jesus’ side.  I imagine Him looking around him and maybe waiting a little bit, maybe slowing down a little bit to give the other nine lepers time to catch up to Him…Ah but this is Jesus, NOT ELLY.   He says out loud, didn’t I heal and cleanse all ten?  Didn’t they see the change in themselves?  Didn’t others see the change in them?  Jesus says, “was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Give Thanks: We are so busy walking along “God’s Journey” for our lives that we don’t take a moment to share His miracles with others.  We are so quick to “show ourselves” that we forget to LET GOD SHOW through us.  We forget to take a moment to thank God for being the difference in our lives.

I am guilty of this.  I have had moments when I am so quick to take action that I don’t even give myself (or others) the opportunity to analyze a situation, to ask God for guidance and to thank Him for being the solution.  I need to learn to be more like the Samaritan.  The Samaritan put a pause on his trip to visit the priests to fall at Jesus’ feet and thank Him for the miracle of his restored health.

Some people might think that the reason the foreigner deviated from the plan when the others didn’t is because he didn’t know the importance of allowing the priests to be witnesses to their healing miracle.

This particular Samaritan leper is an outsider from birth, he is after all a Samaritan walking with a group of Hebrews.  Then he is separated by illness, he contracts a disease that makes him so unclean that he is not allowed to walk next to anyone other than those that are similarly afflicted.  He has to cover his body in dirty clothes, keep his hair long and be unkempt so people can see from a distance that he is different and unclean.  If he comes near people who aren’t like him, he has to warn them from a distance, yelling out “UnClean-UnClean.”

Imagine being separated like that Samaritan.  What would that kind of separation do to your psyche?  He had to be busy always.  Not by choice, but by birth.  Not by choice but by illness.  That Samaritan simply kept going, existing, moving!  He was probably tired, he was probably hungry, he was definitely poor, and the only place he was allowed to take solace and under limited circumstances was with a priest.  You see, a priest was the only person who could declare a leper healed.  And that’s where Jesus sent the lepers.  To be seen by a priest to be publicly declared healed.

And then something happened.  On the road to being declared publicly clean, the leper saw himself.  I am not sure how, they didn’t have a mirror!  (SHOW THEM THE ACT!) Here I go walking along in filth, looking down trodden and unkempt, my body is full of sores, when suddenly as I look at my hands, they look different.  As I lift up my sleeves my arms are free of sores.  As I look at my companions, they are clean.  And then what?

Here’s the thing, the road I am on will take me to the very people that can finally tell the world that I am healed.  This road will lead me to a place where I can bathe, go to the beauty parlor and even get a job.  Where life will finally become LIFE!!  And instead of taking that road, this Samaritan, no longer a leper, but still different from birth, turns around and goes back to Jesus.

Plant New Life: See, the Samaritan is still different from the others.  And now he is separated from the world by his conversion story.  On the road to meet the priests he instead met God.  And at that moment, all he could do was run back to the place where he first met God and fall down at Jesus’ feet to thank him!

How can we go out and talk to the “priests” who are already believers?  Or to people in our travels about the radical cure that we got from this Jesus character who said just “go show yourself to the priests” if we haven’t taken the time to thank Him?

A couple of years back: Before I could say out loud God called me to teach.  Before I could say those words out loud, I was invited to visit a small Latino church in New Britain, Connecticut, Manantial de Gracia.   I enjoyed the service, even though it was in Spanish.  And so I kept visiting.  And as I continued to visit I made mental notes of complaints.  I noticed that the kids were not excused for Sunday school.  Kids played games during service.  An older kid brought in a radio and listened to music during service.  All the kids seemed to come and go as they pleased.  I started praying for those kids.  I wasn’t a member of the congregation, so I prayed for them and kept my questions to myself as I continued to be spiritually fed.

After a few weeks I felt a little comfortable asking, “When do the kids have Bible study?”  I thought maybe they had classes during the week, same as the Adult’s.  I found out that the church had no Sunday school program and that the children hadn’t had classes in over a year.

I prayed harder.  I kept thinking God, how can the church expect to have adults in the future if they aren’t teaching their children who YOU are.  After a month of praying, I asked for a meeting with the Board, I asked the board what was being done to nurture the children of the church and I offered to help in any way that I could.

Listen, honestly I was a leper.  I was walking down a road with a group of other lepers, doing a lot of NOT MUCH except moving along and filling up time.  I had met Christ as a child, I had followed Him as an adult, but I was brokenhearted and was just moving along trying to be restored.  And so I prayed.  And as I prayed, I started slowing down and really looking around and what I saw made me dare.

The kids in this congregation, where just like me.  They were Samaritans and Lepers.  They were a mixed up group that had been traveling along without a home, heading toward the priests except they had no idea where the priest was.  These children had been church hopping.  They didn’t fit in.  No one had taken the time to get to know them and figure out how they fit in the puzzle of Christ’s household.

The kid that had a radio was autistic and simply wanted to be in church to hear God’s words, but he used his headset as a filter for all the background noise he heard (colors, smells, movement, etc.).  Our church cleaned up a room close to the sanctuary from where he could filter the noise and still hear God’s words.

The kids that were playing games during service, came from a tumultuous home environment they simply had never been taught that the church is not a playground.  Once they learned that lesson, they are the first ones to point that out to anyone who steps out of line in church (adult’s included).

Most of the kids, didn’t understand what was going on in the service, their Spanish was limited and they were having a hard time learning about God.  We created a Sunday school curriculum, in English and have been training church members to be teachers, so that with God’s blessing there will not be a Sunday that goes by where the children aren’t learning who God is.  And you know what, our children are healing, it takes time, and it’s not easy, but they keep returning to the sanctuary to give thanks for the issues that have been fixed and praying for the ones that are still in progress.

Remember that this week is about PLANTING NEW LIFE, before roses bloom they start off as a splash of green leaves, that with some nurturing and tender care bloom into a thing of beauty.

What are we doing?   In Manantial de Gracia, during this in-between time, between when we see Jesus and when our children have their very own personal conversion story, our children are being nurtured.

How are we acting?  Thankful for the blessings that He is giving us.

And who are we following?  Our Creator, the very same one that continues to refill our spirit.

God has made changes in our position and at times rather than thanking Him for those changes, we go out and strut our stuff like we are just that good all on our own!  God made a way for that change to be possible.  So learn to praise Him.  Praise Him for the wondrous miracles, the changes and difference that He has made in our lives.

My Pastor is fond of saying, “abriendo nuevos surcos donde no habia caminos!”  But Jesus said it different, Jesus said that “your faith has made you well!  (Luke 17:19). AMEN!!

Thank you Pastor Paul Sadler, Hermana Persida, and Mt. Zion for welcoming me today.  Be blessed!