2 Timothy 2:8-15

Luke 17:11-19

God’s people of Israel were exiles in Babylon, and time was drawing on. It started to seem like God might never come to redeem the people. People were holding onto their faith in a faithless land, but it kept getting harder and harder to do. They started wondering why they should keep on.

So Jeremiah, writing to the people on God’s behalf, invites them to settle in. He promises that it will be 70 years (almost to the end of the second generation, but not quite), and then God will bring the people back to their land. He suggests that they settle in, buying houses and planting gardens, marrying off their children and finding grandchildren. The letter doesn’t call them to quit being faithful, these people who have lamented over the loss of their beloved Jerusalem. But this is about faith to God, not as obviously about faith to Jerusalem as such. The invitation is to pass on their faith in a foreign land.

Thank God for the faithfulness of those who heard Jeremiah’s letter. The Lord did eventually bring the exiles back, but if they hadn’t kept on where they were, there wouldn’t have been any exiles to bring home when the time came. God built a future on the foundation laid by previous generations.

I don’t know when or how many times our ancestors wondered where God was in this foreign land. After the second or third sanctuary-destroying fire, I know I would have asked some questions. But our spiritual ancestors heard the promises of hope and knew that God had more to do here. They served and taught generations of children and their families. They heard the call to unite their resources into one congregation. They knew that God had more to do here.

These ancestors pressed on for years with ministry to these communities and the world, founded on that deepest of Presbyterian traditions, education. Individual members and groups from the congregation served heroically as community leaders. We shared our space and resources with others who are doing good work in the world. We reached out to new arrivals, inviting them to join us in worship and helping them settle into the community. Maybe our outreach has been too good, as I’m aware that we celebrate “Scottish” heritage in a church of much more varied ancestry (but no, that’s very good).

Long after Jeremiah’s promise came true, Jesus walked among Israel’s people. He passed through the northern border region, between the returned exiles and the Samaritans (that is, the foreigners among us). Jeremiah himself had spoken ill of the Samaritans, the ones who had not gone into exile with the Judeans. The sense had developed that they were not quite God’s real people. So Jesus deals with a mixed crowd: Judeans and Samaritans; Scots, Finns, Poles, and so on; a Quad Cities congregation with a bagpiper from Hibbing (scary!).

And he heals ten people with a terrible skin disease, and he sends them off to the priest for their official cleansing. Moses prescribed this process to bring lepers back into the community (whether or not this particular disease is what we know as leprosy). But one of those newly healed people realizes along the way, “The priests won’t serve me, I’m a Samaritan!” (The Samaritans wouldn’t have been recognized by the Temple, because they were “religiously incorrect.”) So he comes back to Jesus, praising the God who works through Jesus for his healing. He apparently recognizes that the direct power of God, not the religious elite, is responsible for his healing. And Jesus says, “Would you look at that? Someone here is grateful to God, and it’s not the religious insider, it’s this guy from the wrong side of town!”

Healing from this disease gives him the ability to praise God, according to the ways of the world. You weren’t allowed to participate in religious rituals with this kind of disease. The Samaritan was doubly excluded, being both unclean and heretical. But these differences are nothing to Jesus: the Samaritan was God’s child just like the others.

And the Kingdom of God showed up right there in that northern border country. The outsider was brought back into right relationship, the foreigner praised God, because Jesus was open to ministry where and when he was.

The Kingdom breaks in right here, when people without family support are welcomed at this table. When children learn God’s undying love because the religious stories come from people who do love them deeply. When we reach out to the college campus, to the Billy Bell Bakery or Partners in Caring, or through our individual efforts to serve this community.

That work has been made possible by the dedication of generations who lived faithfully here (and in the old country, whether that’s Scotland or somewhere else). God built this church – the church we are today – on the foundation others laid. They didn’t see this fulfillment, but we give thanks for their ministry. And we give thanks for the new generation of servants, responding in faith to God’s promises, building lives of faith on that foundation today.

Amen.

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