October 9, 2016; The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

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Proper 23, Year C

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

Did you pay attention to the words of our opening hymn? Maybe you were just trying to figure out the tune and keep up with Ivar. Maybe you generally don’t sing in public. Since it’s a fairly new hymn by a living composer, it may not have been familiar to you. And since it’s in the Lutheran Hymnal you may have never encountered it before although we have sung it at St. Luke’s a time or two. It’s a hymn I really like.

This past summer I got to work with the composer at a conference in Albuquerque. My husband Bryon and I were planning the worship and Marty Haugen, who composed the hymn was the musician. At a workshop he led, he told the story of how the hymn came to be written.

Marty is actually a member of the UCC church. He was commissioned by a Catholic parish to write a hymn for the opening of their newly renovated sanctuary. Since the construction took a long time, Marty had a chance to get to know the people of the congregation and to hear about their hopes and vision for their church. He knew that one of the primary changes they wanted to make was to open up the worship space to the entry way and the baptismal font.

The plan was to make the walls out of glass and to expand the font to an actual baptismal pool with running water. In fact, he showed us the photo of how they accomplished this.

The reason they did this was because they wanted everyone to know two things when they came to church. The first is that this congregation welcomed everyone. In fact they are one of the most diverse parishes in the city with people from every walk of life. They actively welcome people from the LGBTQ community. Their commitment to this practice brings us to the second thing they wanted everyone to know when coming to the church. The waters of baptism are central to Christian identity. It is through this new birth into the Spirit of Jesus that we are made One Body in Christ. It is in baptism that we drink the new life of God’s Spirit. And it is in baptism that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.

So Marty wrote a hymn and this is one of the verses:

Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine and wheat: 

a banquet hall on holy ground where peace and justice meet.

Here the love of God, thorough Jesus, is revealed in time and space;

as we share in Christ the feast that frees us: 

All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

We are people who want and need signs of God’s love and favor. Think of Naaman, the proud, rich and powerful commander of the Syrian army in our first lesson. He wanted and needed to be healed of his leprosy, a hideously disfiguring and debilitating disease. In fact he came to his enemy’s land, the land of Israel in order to locate the small town prophet that a young Israeli slave girl had recommended to his wife. He came expecting that he would need to do something heroic and pay an enormous sum in order to get the prophet to work a miracle for him. Because he was such an important figure and had brought such vast wealth, he expected that he would be received as more important and valuable than anyone else who came to Elisha, the man of God.

But Elisha doesn’t treat Naaman any differently than anyone else in need. He sends servants to tell Naaman to wash 7 times in the Jordan River, the river that hundreds of years later, Jesus would be baptized in. And Naaman was offended. He thought he should get more attention, more honor, special treatment. If it wasn’t for his brave and persistent servants, he would have stormed home unhealed and bitter, spoiling for a fight. Instead he follows the prophet’s directions and is completely healed. He is shocked and transformed. And the shock continues when Elisha refuses to accept any payment for the healing. All the credit goes to God. This healing is a gift from God.

Or think of the 10 lepers who came to Jesus for healing. This time, unlike many others, he doesn’t touch them but instead instructs them to head off to the priest so that they can be declared clean and restored to their community. They are healed before they even arrive. Their lives are completely changed and made new. They are no longer outcasts and objects of pity. The healing is the gift of God.  They didn’t have to do anything heroic, or beg or manipulate or pay Jesus off.

One of the ten is different from the others. All were healed but not all were transformed. One of them, a despised Samaritan whose people were considered to be religiously and culturally impure, wants more than just healing. His heart is so full of joy and amazement, he doesn’t complete the trek to the priest but instead turns around and returns to the source of the healing. He comes to Jesus full of praise and thanksgiving and throws himself at Jesus’s feet. God is working in the grateful outcast and the reluctantly obedient stranger.

So who is part of God’s family? Does it really include violent enemies and despised members from groups we disagree with? That’s one of the questions baptism and Marty’s hymn answers for us. God’s Kingdom seems to encompass all who receive the gift of God’s love and mercy and demonstrate their reception by their gratitude. It is this gratitude and worship of God that is at the heart of those who have become part of the Body of Christ.

In fact, “The root of joy is gratefulness… It is not joy that makes us grateful:  it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”  Bro. David Stendl-Rast OSB.

Here’s another verse from Marty’s hymn:

Let us build a house where hands will reach beyond the wood and stone

To heal and strengthen, serve and teach, and live the Word they’ve known.

Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face;

Let us bring an end to fear and danger;

All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

We get lots of opportunity to practice this joyful welcome here at St. Luke’s through the Edible Hope feeding ministry, our SHARE shelter, the garden and our many partnerships. In the month of October we will have two other ways to share our joy and to welcome all into the house of God.

On October 30 we will be celebrating All Saint’s Day, honoring those saints who have gone before us, the saints among us and the newest members of the communion of the saints through baptism. We welcome those families bringing children into the faith community through baptism and any adults who wish to publicly acknowledge their faith by receiving the gift of baptism. The waters in the baptismal font are at the entrance to our worship space. They remind us of the forgiveness, mercy and love of God in Christ where all are beloved and valued children of God.

We are strengthened and upheld in our baptismal identity by the testimonies of the faithful and their stories of healing and gratitude. Our Fall stewardship program has been developed to provide us “Provisions for the Journey” as we share our stories of faith and are given the opportunity to turn around and be God’s grateful, thankful people in our worship and giving. Beginning October 23, you can look forward to hearing from a diverse group of people from St. Luke’s whose lives have been touched by God’s grace.

It all reminds me of the final verse of Marty’s song:

Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard

And loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.

Built of tears and cries and laughter,

Prayers of faith and songs of grace,

Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:

All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.