Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Diseased. Outcast. There is something terribly wrong with them. So wrong that they may not be in community with everyone else. Their only refuge? The mercy, alms, and cast-offs of passersby who take pity on their pathetic lot in life.
They groan and sigh, and hunger, and wait, together. They are isolated from the ability to support themselves and their family, from the ability to worship in the temple, from the opportunity to eat the food they desire – available only in places they may not go. They are victims of their own society’s prejudice against them, and they have no recourse.
Though the nuances are subtly different, the same experience of isolation from community exists in our contemporary context. Children and high school students struggle with social labels that result in extreme bullying. Young adults experience it as they transition from the educational environment into the work force. Single adults face it as they intermingle in coupled social circles. Family bread winners struggle with it when employment status changes and the implications of an unplanned early retirement or a job search at a later stage in life than expected. Family members experience this as they or a loved one faces a major health issue limiting energy, and opportunity for social interaction.
At some point everyone feels the impact of isolation, of separation from the “pack.” Everyone feels alone in their struggle and their own pain. At some point everyone thinks, “You don’t know how I feel.” Many of us grow in the experience of coping with the pain, and manage to not only survive, but even let go of or escape the things that cause the pain. Some, however, experience this isolation to the point of no return – with no hope for what lies beyond the struggle of today, having no skills, or adequate coping methods, they shut down entirely – completing their isolation, and the opportunity for recovery, giving up on the possibility of healing. Lately we have been surrounded by stories of the loss of life resulting from this kind of personal isolation, exacerbated by stories of intentional targeting of those in pain.
I’m speaking to you of course about the number of young people who have taken their own lives as a final resort to escape the constant pain caused by the bullying of their peers regarding their perceived (whether claimed or not) sexual orientation. These young people, were scared, struggling, targeted, abused, and in need of community -- just like all of us. Just like the lepers Jesus saw as he walked toward Jerusalem.
Jesus saw the need, a need that was apparent to anyone who walked by these lepers every single day. He saw their isolation, their affliction, he saw their need and he responded to it. He didn’t ignore it. He didn’t walk by. He didn’t leave it to someone else. He put an end to their isolation by healing that which separated them out from the community that rejected them. And he sent them on their way to receive permission to return to society.
The isolation that we are familiar with, that we struggle with ourselves, or that is taking place in the world around us is not always so obvious, nor is the gap between hurt and healing so easily bridged. We can’t wave our hands and make that which separates us from one another disappear. But there are some things we can do. There are some steps we can take. There are some bridges we can build, together, over time.
We can start by begin honest with one another. There are things we do not agree on. There are thoughtful reasons on every side of every issue, and we simply do not, and cannot and will not always agree on everything.
But it is not adequate to avoid the conversation. We have to talk about it. We have to be willing to face the things that are hurting us together. Violence hurts us. Violence that is committed in word and deed – in things done, and things left undone. When a child is tormented day in and day out – it hurts us. When a child feels that it is okay to torment another day in and day out – they do this because they learned it somewhere. It is not adequate to say children are cruel. Adults are cruel. Adults constantly criticize and attack and communicate with violent words and actions shouting over blue lines and red lines, shouting from pulpits, and press conferences. Where do children learn these attitudes and behaviors that belittle and dehumanize and demean? They learn it from us. They learn it from they way we talk at our dinner tables and in public forums about those who are other – those who are not worthy, those who have something so wrong with them they should be cast out, and left alone to die of the disease they are afflicted with.
My job here is to preach the Gospel. To point to the hope that we share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ – that what he taught, and called on us to live by and to pass on were the deepest truths about how we might come to know God, and to know his love for us. One thing I know for certain – the Jesus we receive through the Gospel believed in community. Believed that no one should be left out of community. Believed there should be none who are outcast
We are not called to agree with one another. We are called to be in community with one another. To allow ourselves to learn from one another. To listen to one another and to speak honestly with one another. We must look at that which ails us, and we must respond. What ails us today is not the fact that there are people in the world who identify themselves as Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/and Transgendered. What ails us is the fact that to admit, with vulnerability, this truth in the world is to place a target on ones head. What harms us, is not just the horror of the violence that is being done through verbal assault, physical abuse, and much worse, but the fact that there are people who are so desperately in need of something that they resort to these deathly measures. What they need – what they all need – those being harmed, and those committing the acts of violence – is community – a place where they belong, where they are heard, and where they have the opportunity to learn from those around them.
We live in a complex time and a complex place. There are so many different experiences and values and stories and teachings that shape who we are as individuals. In the Gospel this morning 10 people afflicted with disease are healed. The term leper here is a general term, one that does not necessarily refer only to a person with leprosy. 10 suffered from something, possibly 10 different ailments. And 10 were healed, and quite possibly responded with 10 different responses – only one of which was to turn and give thanks and praise to God. But it didn’t matter. Each was seen, each was in need, and each was healed, regardless of how they responded. Each was given the gift of being returned to community.
On this day, in the wake of the pain and suffering that has been inflicted on us, and on those who are so isolated, violence against themselves and this world is their only cause of action – let us pray, let us see, and let us respond to those in need of healing.
Don’t move on. Don’t ignore. Face one another. Listen. Learn. And may our faith, in the Lord Jesus Christ make us well. Amen.
Delivered Sunday, October 10, 2011
The Episcopal Church of Our Saviour