Where do you live? What region are you from? No, I don’t mean just your physical address. Where does your heart live? In what region does your faith reside? “Jesus is going through the region between Samaria and Galilee,” our gospel says. It makes no sense geographically, because there is no such region between Samaria and Galilee, but it makes perfect sense theologically, in our lives of faith. Jesus lives in the boundary of every ethnic, social, religious, gender, sexual and political division there is, and invites us to take up residence with him. Jesus is always going between these regions. Here, is where faith lives, where it is tested, and where it experiences healing and salvation.
“It is indeed right, our duty and our joy, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks and praise to you, almighty and merciful God, thru our savior Jesus Christ…” I love that one of the core values of Lutheranism is to live in the tension of these dependent polar opposites! Yes, it’s both our duty, ugh!, and our joy, yea!, to give thanks to God! Which is what the priest chants in the Eucharistic, thanksgiving prayer at the table, on behalf of all the assembled worshippers. We worship in the boundary region of “duty and joy.”
Luther said, “the Christian is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; [and] a Christian is a dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.” The perfect polarity! So, at least we come by it honestly! We live also, on the boundary of freedom and service.
Quite often, this is difficult to wrap our minds around, but as disciples, learning to live by faith in the region on the boundaries, is an invaluable tool, never more so perhaps, than today. Here in this so called ‘civil society,’ living in the battle zone of the cultural wars that become more divisive by the Tweet, instill more resignation with every act of bullying, and invite increasing shallowness with every tasteless and unfulfilling sound bite, we are hungry for spiritual bread, and need faith-filled theological tools to heal us, and give us hope and vision.
Nearly two years ago now, an African-American, for the first time, became president of the USA. Some heralded it as the beginning of a post-racial society, the end of our historic divisions, and the breaking down of the color-barrier. Leading up to the election, candidate Obama gave an impassioned speech about race relations, when on the campaign trail, he was ignorantly and hatefully linked with portrayals of his pastor as anti-American. It was a speech that Obama’s senior aides had advised him against. But he stuck with his gut feeling, and reached out across the divide in a compassionate way to all, a speech he largely wrote without his handlers, and which moved me to tears. There seemed great hope that we were on the verge of something really new. But a post-racial society cannot flower and bloom overnight, it cannot be wished into existence by 51% of the people, it cannot be created until everyone has come, voluntarily, to live in the boundary region of “duty and joy,” where prejudice and conceit, sin and revenge, are surrendered and overcome by a faith in the one who is able to create and save us.
Jesus stands ready in the boundary region where a new realm is already dawning. Jesus stands ready to open the eyes of the next generation to a life of “duty and joy” beyond the rules of clean and unclean, insider and outsider. It actually was the ritually pure thing to do, as Jesus commanded, to go to the temple priest and be declared clean, when you were healed, to get an official OK so you could come back “in”. All ten lepers start off on this journey. All ten are healed as they go. ”But only one, when he saw that he was made clean, turned back,” which prompts Jesus to ask, “But the other nine, where are they?” Well, of course, they went back home, back to their old lives, to resume what they were doing before. They rejoin the old, clean-unclean, insider-outsider system, and realm of life, that we all are born into.
But Jesus opened the eyes of the next generation through this foreigner, the double outsider, this Samaritan, a religious and ethnic enemy, deemed dangerous and suspect. The Samaritan returns to the priest, Jesus, who has the power of God to make our broken lives whole. He can’t go back and join the ‘insider’ realm of life in Jerusalem, even he wanted to. So he comes to worship the new temple, in the person Jesus. “He returns, worships God, and gives thanks.” The Samaritan enters the realm of God, with gratitude, to live a life of “duty and joy,” “freedom and service.” He has come to live in the boundary region of all our ethnic, social, religious, and political divisions, the realm of faith, a new residence that Jesus invites us to. In faith, he lives with Jesus on the boundary, here, in the place where dependent polar opposites are revealed and ultimately resolved, where we are given the grace to embrace them by living lives of gratitude.
The Samaritan did not have to return to give praise God, and thank Jesus. None of us does. It is only in grasping the tension of ‘duty and joy,’ ‘freedom and service,’ that we are turned around, and opened up to the way of living a life of gratitude. Jesus tells us this, in the final exchange with the Samaritan, when he says to him, “get up and go on your way, your faith has healed and saved you.” Jesus blesses his eyes of faith, his desire and courage to live in the boundary region. Jesus recognizes his attitude of gratefulness. The other nine return to their old life. The Samaritan sees the light.
On the boundary where faith lives, Jesus teaches us many things, and satisfies our longing for spiritual food. The bible story of our Unity Vision Statement perhaps illustrates it best, the Feeding of the 5,000, where after Jesus’ long day of teaching by the Sea of Galilee, not far from Samaria, with only 5 loaves of bread and two fish, he gave thanks to God, broke the bread, and gave it away. And, there in the boundary region of faith, all were filled, with an abundance of left overs. And then in Jerusalem, on the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus gave thanks to God, broke the bread, and gave it away, as a sign of what he did with his life the next day, Good Friday.
Lives of faith return no one evil for evil, and they live in the region of faith that teaches gratitude, the Eucharistic thanksgiving life, with freedom from the fear of death, and eager duty to worship the one who is our unending source of life and salvation. Where do you live? In what region does your faith reside?