The Rev. David Gunderson’s Sermon Commentary for Oct. 13, 2013

Because the Rev. Gunderson was away at the Montana Episcopal Diocese Conference, his comments were read in church this Sunday. The Lessons and Comments are below:

Lessons for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

 The First Lesson: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

The Second Lesson: 2 Timothy 2:8-15

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David– that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

if we endure, we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, he will also deny us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.

Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

The Gospel: Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

The Rev. Gunderson’s Commentary on the Lessons:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon . . . seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Jeremiah wrote these words after Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonian army in 587 BCE and its people taken to live as slaves in Babylon. He wrote to them about a strategy for surviving a devastating situation: the loss of their homes, their city, their Temple. He gave them a strategy for adapting to their new life as slaves in a foreign country. Jeremiah’s advice anticipated the teaching of Jesus by six hundred years: Love your enemies.

This is what Nelson Mandela practiced during the 27 years of his imprisonment. The “city” to which he had been sent into exile was the prison at Robben Island. Pray for the welfare of the city to which I have sent you into exile, for in its welfare you will find your own welfare. Mandela prayed for the welfare of Robben Island. He “loved” his jailers in a deep, authentic way. In a sense, Mandela “raised them up” by what he saw in them – their humanity, their integrity. He carried himself with dignity, and recognized the dignity of his jailers.

Another word for what Mandela was practicing is Ubuntu. It is an African word that refers to a spirit of community, of belonging to each other so intimately that the well-being of all is dependent upon the well-being of each. It is characterized by peacefulness, generosity, and respect. It is clear that this sense of mutual interdependence guided Mandela in his efforts to reconcile the people of South Africa instead of further dividing them.

The underlying assumption in Jeremiah’s teaching seems to be this: wherever we are, we are in relationships with others, and that well-being is never simply a private affair. The well-being of each depends upon the well-being of all.

It is also a very practical teaching on how to cope with the feeling of “exile” in whatever situation we might find ourselves. Jeremiah’s words help convert the feeling “I don’t belong here” to “While I am here, let me do everything possible to make this situation better.” In other words, let me approach this situation with the eyes and the heart of love.

The connectedness at the heart of Jeremiah’s teaching does not extend just to the human world. We belong not just to each other, but to the living miracle of God’s creation. The circle of belonging extends yet again: seek the welfare of creation, for in its welfare you will find your own welfare.

The spiritual challenge is always to extend the circle of belonging more and more widely. As Jesus said, it’s pretty easy to love those who love you, but what about loving those whom you might think of as your enemies? Jesus was insistent about this because he knew what Jeremiah knew: that until you experience your true connectedness with the world around you – all of it, the same motley world in which God makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike – you will not find your own true self, your own true belonging. You will be in exile. And it has to be all of it – the whole world, nothing left out, not even one lost sheep.

The teaching today speaks to all of us who may be tempted to feel resentment or discouragement at our situation in life. It speaks to those of us who might experience a sense of exile, a sense of being disconnected from ourselves and what we love. Imagine how Mandela might have felt on Robben Island, sentenced to a lifetime in prison. And yet, what Mandela found, and what Jeremiah teaches, is that the way “out” of exile is always available to us. Our homecoming is as near as a change of heart: seek the welfare of others, and your own welfare is assured. And as Jesus said: If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

 

 

 

 

Categories News, Sermons | Tags: | Posted on October 18, 2013

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Reverend David Gunderson, Rector

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