Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you: pour your love into our hearts and draw us to yourself, and so bring us at last to your heavenly city where we shall see you face to face; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Gracious God, you call us to fullness of life: deliver us from unbelief and banish our anxieties with the liberating love of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Alleluia. I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the faithful and in the congregation.
2 The works of the Lord are great,
sought out by all who delight in them.
3 His work is full of majesty and honour
and his righteousness endures for ever.
4 He appointed a memorial for his marvellous deeds;
the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.
5 He gave food to those who feared him;
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6 He showed his people the power of his works
in giving them the heritage of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are truth and justice;
all his commandments are sure.
8 They stand fast for ever and ever;
they are done in truth and equity.
9 He sent redemption to his people;
he commanded his covenant for ever;
holy and awesome is his name.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
a good understanding have those who live by it;
his praise endures for ever.
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.
2 Timothy 2:8–15
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.’
Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 17
“Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.” I wonder whether you have ever been between one place and another, travelling along the border, neither inside this place nor inside that place, just outside everywhere. This is the threshold experience, what anthropologists call “the liminal”.
That word rang bells for me. The internet came up trumps again with two definitions of liminal – First, relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process, and Second. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. It is not a place we normally inhabit, is it? Ordinarily, we are safely ensconced within the boundaries of our own world – we live in our homes, within our community, inside the borders of the country to which we have sworn our allegiance. We find ourselves within a cosmos – and we place ourselves squarely in that world over against all those others who are so very different to ourselves.
Everyone lives in the world each one of us experiences as our own. We know it as an ordered world, don’t we? What that order consists of depends on ourselves and the communal world we share with all the others who are “just like me”. I remain safely within the crowd with which I identify myself.
But Jesus does not live in the world as we do, does he? He is forever interrogating each one of us about how we live amongst all the others and the things with which we have surrounded ourselves. Jesus has divested himself of everything as he walks on that boundary, the threshold between the divine and the human. On that border he looks at all around him, at each and every one of us, and calls everything into question when he catches our eye. “The region between” is where Jesus dwells for us, he moves between earth and heaven – as intermediary between the Father and sinful humanity now redeemed, the Son of Man. But most of all because he hung there between heaven and earth on that Good Friday.
Now we raise our eyes to the cross as a symbol of salvation. We look into that middle distance, the one between the created and the creator to find our Lord, ever on guard for us, calling us forward to that final home for all existing things. Jesus guides us on to our “ownmost possibility” as the philosopher calls it. We know of that final resting place only because Jesus dwells in “the region between” – he now stands, like Saint Peter, as the old joke says, at the pearly gates.
The first week I was in Burlington Vermont (in 1970!), there was a lecture by a philosopher – I cannot remember who he was or where he was affiliated – he spoke about Ludwig Wittgenstein, a significant philosopher for the linguistic tradition of western thought, who worked with Bertrand Russell in Cambridge. (You may know Russell as one of the significant peace protestors of the 50’s and 60’s – CND and all of that. But I digress.) Of that public lecture to which all were invited I remember only the phrase “an die Grenze” – this philosopher exposed the whole of Wittgenstein’s thought in his first book through that prism of the German phrase, “an die Grenze” – which we render in English as “on the boundary”.
I have forgotten all of that talk, but the phrase “an die Grenze” has stuck with me and has surfaced today as I struggle with our very simple story from the gospel. – Jesus was wandering in that region between, neither in Samaria nor in Galilee, but there in the wilderness of the border region he is able to perform a miracle – in between Galilee and Samaria. Let’s look at the story a little closer. – He entered the village and the ten leprous men saw him. They “approached” Jesus so they could petition, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” However, they kept their distance at the same time, so Jesus replied, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” So they went, and as they approached the priests they were clean of the disease. One returned and prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet.
“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?’” Was he indignant, was he bemused, was he sad? We only know Jesus merely said this; it is not revealed how he said it, but it is important for our engagement with this story, don’t you think?
Here he stands between everything. Everyone has kept their distance, haven’t they? There is no hugging or grasping at one another. The ten were sent further away from Jesus – to the priests. Nine remained apart, only one returned to Jesus. But even then he did not touch Jesus, did he? Instead he prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet. He fell before the Lord to thank him for the healing miracle he had performed. But he was not embraced – instead he remained at the threshold between, didn’t he? I think he was imitating Jesus Christ long before Thomas á Kempis wrote about that ideal. He was doing it then just as we should be doing it now in our lives today.
We can live “on the edge” as we would say, but this is the liminal existence of people who are “saviours” – the extraordinary doctor, the hero of battle, a prophet, the person who “turned my life around” – it could be a special friend or a teacher, or even a stranger. These people do not inhabit the world we ordinarily know, they are set apart by a clarity of thought and action, and they are not afraid to act on that. Their thoughts and actions are not ordinary or worldly.
They are set apart from the ordinary person’s world of the petty. They speak to that ownmost possibility – they point to that region of meaning where the eternal verities exist and can be acted upon. This is another world, isn’t it? It is a world beyond the borders, in the wilderness of the threshold between this thing and that, the region of meaning where we all want to be.
I have been speaking of the spatial definition of the liminal, haven’t I? I seem to have forgotten about the experiential definition of the word – “a transitional or initial stage of a process.” We also can move in that transitional world, between this and that, between sin and salvation. Perhaps this is where we need to live in that imitation of Christ. Today John Henry Newman is being declared a saint. I think that should give us hope – that we can all wander between Galilee and Samaria in the hope that we too can perform miracles as modern saints, as all the saints of the past have done, just as my favourite reading, The Golden Legend, tells those stories. I can only hope a new book of golden legends will be written about our lives.