Sunday, November 22, 2020

Do not forget the Lord


Deuteronomy 8:7-18; Luke 17:11-19


Do you hear the warning Moses gave to the Israelites? He is getting them ready to cross over the Jordan River into the Promised Land. “Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God.” Moses then details all the things that may cause us to forget who provides us all that we have. When your tummies are full, and you have fine houses, when you have ample livestock and abundant gold and silver, do not exalt yourselves. Remember it was the Lord who brought you out of slavery in Egypt. So, remember …


It’s easy to take credit for what we have. Most people work hard, scrimp and save, to have what they have, a nice place to live, a decent car, good food. Many people say, “I have what I have because of my own hard work. God has nothing to do with it.” They have either forgotten the Lord, or they were never taught about God’s generosity.


It would be natural to blame them, accuse them of forgetting God and brag about how much better we are. But are we so much better? How do we remember God throughout our day? Do we even remember God beyond Sunday morning worship?


Maybe it comes down to noticing. We have to pay attention, intentionally notice what and who is around us. Jesus noticed a community of ten people with leprosy. In those days, certain skin diseases were known to be contagious. With no known cures, they were required to keep themselves apart from other people. Yes, there was social distancing thousands of years ago.


Jesus heard their pleas for mercy and sent them to the priest, who could look at their skin and declare them clean. This certificate of healing enabled them to return to their families and communities. They all headed off to see the priest, but suddenly one turned back. The Samaritan had no reason to see the Jewish priest, but he did notice that it was through Jesus that he was healed. So he turned around and gave thanks. And Jesus blessed him.


Let me give you a brief reminder of who the Samaritans are. Their origin was the same as the Israelites, but over several centuries they developed a different religion from the Jews. They believed only the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, were sacred, instead of including the writings like the Psalms, and the words of the Prophets like Isaiah. They were “other” in the eyes of the Jews. So when the Samaritan returns to Jesus to give thanks for his healing, he is honoring Jesus for not considering him to be other, and therefore not worthy of healing. He has much to be thankful for.


We all notice some things. When we open the refrigerator and the milk jug is almost empty, we notice it. When we see people with only a few items in their grocery cart, we may notice it and invite them to go ahead of us with our full cart.


Some people notice other things, small things and large things. This happens all the time with Mike. He comes in the door from running an errand and dropped off something and goes outside again immediately. “What?” I wonder.


He explains, “I noticed this beautiful flower next door and I had to get some pictures.” ‘A few pictures’ means he has spent about 20 minutes getting the angle and size and lighting just right. There are about 20 images of this flower on his camera, most of which look good to me, but they aren’t good enough for Mike. It’s not about having the perfect image, it’s about showcasing God’s creativity as well as humanly possible. Mike notices what God has given us and takes pictures so he can enjoy it again and again.


Other people notice other things. Many years ago, I was in Chicago with Mary and several other women from our synod at a seminar on poverty. We went to dinner at a restaurant which gave us all more than we could possibly eat. With no refrigerator in our rooms, we did not take the leftovers with us. Except for Mary. She grew up in India, and taught us all something that evening. She took her leftovers and looked in the alleys until she saw a hungry person and offered that person her meal. Mary notices hungry people and feeds them.


When we notice things that are not right, we are called in the noticing to do something about them. If we are followers of Jesus, we are called to notice the people whom society calls “others.” Today in the US, we can name lots of groups whom some label as others: Republicans and Democrats; Christians and Jews and Muslims; native-born and immigrant; people of different skin colors; people with different abilities and gifts; dog lovers and cat lovers.


When we label some people as “other”, we imply that they are not equal to us – mostly we imply that they are not as good as we are. We imply that we are more important to God than the others are.


And, that means we are forgetting who we are and whose we are. As Moses warned, we are forgetting that it was God who brought us all out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land. We are forgetting that God gives us all that we have.


Let us devote ourselves to noticing those people and things that God puts before us and give thanks for them. The author John Ortberg puts it like this: If you want to do the work of God, pay attention to people. Notice them. Especially the people nobody else notices.


Let’s also remember that Jesus notices the parts of ourselves that we usually hide, the not-so-pretty truths about ourselves. Jesus notices them, and does not hold them against us. Instead, Jesus offers to heal us, just as he healed those lepers.

Because we are human, there are always broken parts inside us. But our brokenness does not matter to God. Let us not forget that we are not “other” to God; we are all God’s beloved children, made in God’s own image. Let’s notice this, too, and offer our thanks. Amen