St. Philip Lutheran Church
9 October 2022 + Lect. 28c (Pentecost 18)
Rev. Josh Evans
“I was screaming out for help and no one was stopping to even notice and I’ve never felt more voiceless.”
When she was starting out at a new school in 7th grade, the beginning of her middle and high school career, Natalie Hampton was excited: determined she would make a lot of friends, enjoy all her classes, and graduate to go off to college. But it wasn’t long before Natalie began to wonder if she would even survive.
In her TED Talk from 2017, Natalie shares her horrifying experiences of being emotionally and physically bullied, ostracized from everyone around her, and being afraid to even go to school.
By the time she did get out two years later, it was like night and day. She had found a new school that loved her back, and from day one, her fellow students were offering to help her find her classes. It was then that Natalie committed herself to be for others what her classmates at her former school never were for her. At her new school, every time she would see someone eating alone at lunch, she would intentionally invite them to sit with her – some of whom went on to become her best friends.
Natalie’s story reminds me of the power of one. “All it takes is one person to change the world,” Natalie says. One small invitation and interaction at lunch blossomed into a friendship that saved someone’s life.
There is power in one. One drop of water doesn’t feel like much…until you’re caught in a downpour. One small candle might not light up a whole room…until another and another are added.
There is power in even just one healed leper who returns. But not because he gives praise and thanks to God or for anything he does…but for who he is.
It’s also easy for us in this story to wonder about the other nine lepers who were healed but didn’t come back. Why didn’t they return? Were they not grateful for what Jesus had done for them? We don’t know what’s going on in their minds, but I would venture to say that of course they were grateful – cured of a disease that was not only painful and life-threatening but also ostracizing. Those who had been unclean were made clean. Those who had been cut off from their communities had been restored. Of course they were grateful. So grateful, in fact, that I imagine they ran to their families and friends to be reunited, to catch up on everything they had missed, to be a part of each other’s lives again.
But enough about them. I want to focus on the one who came back. Because this one, Luke tells us, is a Samaritan.
Luke mentions Samaritans and their home region of Samaria more than any other gospel writer. To say that Jews and Samaritans had a rocky relationship is to put it gently. By Jesus’s day, the animosity between them dated back hundreds of years, and their long-rooted hostility toward one another had become so entrenched that Jews traveling from Galilee (to the north of Samaria) on the way to the temple in Jerusalem (to the south of Samaria) would go completely around Samaria, even though it added significant mileage to their journey. Samaritans were not just outsiders…they were enemies to be avoided at all costs.
So what does it mean that this enemy outsider is the only one to come back? “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Already in Luke’s gospel, we’ve heard the parable of the “Good Samaritan.” When his fellow traveler has been beaten, robbed, and left for dead, it is explicitly a Samaritan who extends love and care to his neighbor, without regard to their identity as a foreigner. Now, in today’s story, a Samaritan becomes the recipient of that same indiscriminate love as Jesus heals him.
The power of just one Samaritan who returns shows us what God’s love looks like. God’s love is indiscriminate and all-inclusive and wildly expansive. God’s love extends as far as we expect and then even a step further. God’s love goes straight through the region of Samaria and doesn’t take any detours to avoid “those people.”
The power of just one Samaritan who returns reminds us that if God’s love is even for the Samaritan, then God’s love is even for us – for us who doubt and question God’s presence, for us who are pushed aside, and for us who do the pushing aside.
Natalie’s story reminds me of another story. Maybe you’ve heard it. It’s the story of Matthew Shepard, who was a student at the University of Wyoming in 1998. He was also gay. And on the night of October 6, Matt was brutally beaten and left for dead, tied to a fence post on the outskirts of Laramie. He died 6 days later.
Every October, I remember Matt’s martyrdom. I also remember – and give thanks – that Matt’s death was not the end of his story, but gave way to the foundation that bears his name and seeks to foster a more caring and just world.
Matt’s story also inspired the emotional and moving choral work Considering Matthew Shepard, which I’ve been privileged to hear performed live twice and would go back to hear again in a heartbeat. Near the finale, after such a tragic story, the choir asks: “What could be the song? Where begin again?” And eventually answering their own question: “Only in the Love, Love that lifts us up, only all of us.”
Matt’s story too reminds us: There is power in one. One devastating October night ultimately birthed a movement to promote greater inclusion and understanding and love.
The power of one is the foundation of what it means to be the people of God who are called to love our world and all who live in it.
We know we can’t do this work alone, but our own voices and hands are needed, too. We need each other in this work.
But at the end of the day, it’s not even all about us. Just like this isn’t a story about the Samaritan who gives thanks and praise to God. This is a story about what God does for us.
This is a story about God who heals one Samaritan, the same God who searches the entire house to find one lost coin, who runs to the very edges of the wilderness to rescue one lost sheep, who rejoices at the return of one lost son/child who comes back home.
This is a story about the power of one that attests to the love of the One who loves us first and always.
This is a story about who gets to be included in the kingdom of God (spoiler alert: everyone!). This is a story about the kind of deep gratitude that comes when we know what it means to belong and be loved for who we are. This is a story of being amazed at what God has done for us and continues to do for us.
There is power in one.
There is power in the One crucified and risen for us, who pours out his love for us, and who has swallowed up death forever for us.
There is power in each one disciple, each one of us who gather together…until each one becomes another and another and another…until, as one Body of Christ, we have the power to transform the world with God’s relentless and redemptive love.