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
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
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