Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Jeremiah 29:1, 4–7; 2 Timothy 2:8–15 & Luke 17:11–19
When I reflect on my life to this point in time, I would describe the years from 2007 to 2009 as the darkest period in my life. In March 2007, my role as a senior executive of a multinational food manufacturing business based in Melbourne was made redundant. I wanted to continue living in Melbourne, where my family were all located, but there were very few food manufacturers whose headquarters were in Melbourne, so similar jobs were few and far between.
It took me seven months to find a suitable new job, and throughout that seven months I was often asking myself the question, “what will I do if I can’t find another job?” To make matters worse, after six months of being unemployed, my second marriage ended, and that also resulted in me having to move house.
Psychology experts will tell you that the three biggest stresses people face in life are: (1) a relationship breakdown; (2) moving house; and (3) changing jobs. I experienced all three at the same time! But my dark times didn’t end there. Less than six months after starting my new job, the company announced a restructure, and I was informed that my role was one of several that would be made redundant as a consequence. I was given some notice to try and find a new job before then, and fortunately I was able to do so, but the job was in Sydney.
After four months of travelling from Sydney to Melbourne each weekend to see my children, the stress of being away from family, together with the trauma associated from those other experiences already mentioned, I basically suffered a mini “breakdown” in December 2008. So I resigned from my job, without having another to go to, and moved back to Melbourne in January of 2009.
Several months later, after trying to figure out what to do with my life, I used my remaining savings to open a cafe in Richmond. That proved to be a disaster. Following some heavy financial losses, I was forced to close the cafe after short period of time, breaking my lease in the process, which resulted in the landlord bringing legal action against me. I couldn’t afford to pay the rent on the apartment where I was living, and so I had to resort to sleeping on the couch in my Mum’s granny flat.
I imagine the feelings I experienced during those two years, might have been similar in some way to those of the ancient Israelites who were exiled in Babylon. I’m sure that each of you has your own story of “exile” that you could tell as well.
In today’s first reading, from the Book of Jeremiah, the prophet Jeremiah has sent a letter to those inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah who were sent into exile in Babylon. This letter, contains a message from God to the exiles. Upon receiving Jeremiah’s letter, the exiles are perhaps expecting good news from this message, because certain prophets among them have predicted the imminent doom of Babylon, thereby giving the exiles hope of a quick return to Jerusalem and Judah.
However their hopes are shattered when, instead of announcing that they will soon return to their homeland, Jeremiah gives them the message from God that they should settle in for the long haul. There is to be no quick return. God advises them to build houses and plant gardens that will produce food to sustain them. They are encouraged to marry and have children; to arrange marriages for their children; and to also pray for the welfare of Babylon and its citizens. And God reminds them that it was He who sent them into exile. This was obviously very dark and sobering news.
When I look back on my “dark days”, I can now see how the various experiences of those times helped to prepare me for a life of ordained ministry. And whilst I’m certainly not trying to compare my experience to the suffering of that of the Apostle Paul, I can relate, to some extent, to what he describes in today’s passage from the Second Letter to Timothy.
Paul’s suffering is not just the result of physical constraints, and political and religious oppression from the Romans; instead, his suffering comes from his own denial of personal pleasures and freedom, so that he can submit fully to the divine commands of his ministry. Paul’s endurance of suffering, is presented as a model for the building of personal character, especially for a prospective Christian teacher–preacher such as his student and disciple Timothy.
In addition to its emphasis on suffering and endurance, the passage also addresses issues related to discipleship, hope, and Christian instruction. The issues of faithfulness and hope are brought to the fore in verses 11–13. “If we have died with him, we will also live with him.” Paul is saying that when Christians have died to their old ways of sin in the world, they will live in the new way of discipleship with Jesus. Building upon this joy of living in Jesus, the passage also includes an expression of hope in the resurrection: “if we endure, we will also reign with him” (v. 12a). If Christians persist, they will enjoy the fullness of life with Jesus both in the present and coming kingdom of God. For that, we should give thanks to God. And it’s thanksgiving to God which is at the heart of today’s gospel passage.
Luke tells the story of Jesus healing ten lepers. Jesus does it without any fuss or fanfare. After the ten are healed, we don’t know where nine of the lepers go, but we do know that one—a Samaritan, a person despised by the Jewish people—comes back to bow down at Jesus’ feet, to worship and give thanks. It’s difficult to know what tone Jesus uses as he questions the man on the whereabouts of the other nine. Is he sad? angry? bewildered? What Jesus does make clear is that this most unlikely one, has been embraced by God’s grace. “Get up and go,” Jesus says, “your faith has made you well”.
As was the case in the parable of the mustard seed, which we heard in last Sunday’s gospel, we again hear Jesus telling us not to be concerned with the quantity of our faith, but rather with the nature of our faith. Basically, to “have faith” is to live it, and to live it, is to give thanks. It is living a life of gratitude that constitutes living a life of faith—this is the grateful sort of faith that has made this man from Samaria truly and deeply well.
The demands of living a Christian life are great, and sometimes we might think we’re not well enough equipped, but Jesus reminds us that by living out our faith—by revering God’s ways, by honouring one another, and by giving thanks in all that we do—we’re given all the faith that we require.