Sermon 10/13/19: Borders

Pr. Michelle Sevig

Lectionary 28

October 13, 2019


Every time my family travels to Minnesota we make a big deal of crossing the border between Wisconsin and Minnesota. We always have, even before we had kids. As we come near the St. Croix River, we’ll stop the movie, or turn off the music, sometimes even wake them up and say, “we’re crossing over to Minnesota now!” as we move across the long bridge between the two states.

The teenagers are not as excited as the parents are for the Minnesota border crossing, but they were excited a few year ago when we used our passports to cross the border into Canada. After waiting in what seemed like an endless line of cars between here and there, once we passed through the gate we were in a whole new country. We were fascinated by the novelty of being in a new country, even though much of Canada is quite the same.

But borders are not always places of happy exchange, as we know all too well with the current crisis on our southern border as people risk their lives to enter into this country in hopes of a better life for their family. Borders are places of drama and danger in many areas of the world where there is war and terror, seen especially at the border between Turkey and Syria right now.

We live in a time when people put up walls on both literal and figurative borders. Not just between countries, but between groups of people, attempting to determine who’s on the right side and who isn’t. Maybe it’s human nature to draw lines, to separate ourselves from others: American-born citizens here, immigrants there; Republicans here, Democrats there, rich/poor, brown/white, gay/straight. But then it easily becomes us and them, and “them” are perceived as neither desirable nor good.

In today’s story from the Gospel of Luke Jesus is somewhere between Samaria and Galilee. Ten people with a devastating disease approach him and ask for mercy. They are lepers seeking healing, at the border between clean and unclean. They don’t want to be on the unclean side, they want, they need to be healed. They are tired of being separated from family and friends. They are sick of being sick and labeled as “them” as “outsider” and as “unwanted.” They are outcasts, united with one another by their suffering and their exclusion from the wider community.

And Jesus shows up at the border, heals them and sends them on their way to the priest, as was required by the law, so they could be restored to the community and restored to fullness of life. One. Only one, the despised Samaritan; the one who is double other—Leper and Samaritan—returns to Jesus, so full of joy and gratitude that he throws himself at Jesus’ feet giving thanks and praising God.

At its face value this story is about thankfulness. In fact, this story is often used Thanksgiving Eve for our worship services. We’re reminded that the practice of gratefulness blesses and restores us. The leper’s lavish display of gratitude and the commendation he receives from Jesus demonstrate that we are to recognize life as a divine gift, and to find our ultimate healing in the divine giver. 

But this gospel story is about so much more than giving thanks for our blessings once a year at Thanksgiving or being attentive to writing thank you notes for gifts. It’s about the gratitude of a foreigner who receives welcome. It’s about identity—exclusion and inclusion, exile and return. It’s a story about the kin-dom of God—who’s invited, who belongs, and who thrives where God dwells.

Jesus shows up at the borders. Where we build walls or draw lines of division, God dwells and erases anything that divides us and them. The Holy One breaks down barriers that divide and embraces everyone. Jesus hears the cries of all who call out for mercy and heals those who recognize and thank the healer and those who do not.

This past week when we recognized National Coming Out Day, I’ve been thinking a lot about people who have stood at the border of belonging/not belonging for far too long, especially trans and nonbinary folx. LGBTQ people continue to call out for mercy, even as many celebrate and give thanks. We seek healing, not from our orientation or any sort of illness, but a healing from boundaries and borders that continue to divide.

When Jesus healed the ten of their leprosy, he didn’t merely cure their bodies. He restored their identities. He enabled their safe return to what made them truly human—family, community, companionship, and intimacy. He released them to feel again—to embrace and be embraced, to worship in community, to reclaim all the social and spiritual ties that their separateness stole from them.

And Jesus continues to meet us at the borders that separate and divide us today. Maybe you too are waiting in the shadows of a border to call out to Jesus, the healer because you

·                  suffer in an abusive intimate partner relationship

·                  live with addiction and struggle with shame

·                  are hurting, lonely, depressed and sometimes suicidal

·                  have been told you’re not good enough because of your skin color, education level, mistakes you’ve made, economic level or any other reason we use to divide

Together with the lepers in today’s story we cry out, ‘Jesus, have mercy on me. Restore me to fullness of life. Break down the barriers that separate me from community and companionship. Reclaim me and embrace me as your beloved child.’

Jesus the Christ meets us at this Table of Mercy where there are no borders, where there is healing  for everyone, including you. Come be refreshed and renewed to join the one leper who returned full of gratitude and praise for everything that God has done for you.