The gospel lesson this morning presents a community in an in-between space. As lepers, these ten travelers were ritually impure. We don’t really know what leprosy meant– it was likely a combination of what we consider to be many skin afflictions today– but until the afflictions were healed the persons afflicted were prohibited from certain ritual or community activities according to ancient purity laws. They were in-between.
It is important to note that this lesson is a great example for us of how Jesus was a practicing Jew, and as such observed the purity laws. Jesus sent the lepers to the priests to become ritually cleansed, which was just the thing to do in Jewish custom at the time.
But what we don’t know much about is the lepers’ state of mind as they started their journey towards the priests for ritual cleansing. We don’t know how long they had been impure, or to what extent their daily life had been affected by their ritual impurity. Whatever the impact had been, it is clear that going to the priest as Jesus asked was the step that would remove the restriction and allow full participation in community life again.
I can only imagine what that must have felt like. “I have this skin malady, but Jesus has just said that the priests will restore me to full participation?” Whoopeee! And as they went I imagine their excitement about their restoration of ritual purity grew as they walked. Then– they found that their physical bodies were healed. That, it seems to me, would be truly amazing. I think I might have double-timed it down to the priest to make sure my leprosy didn’t come back before I could get my “ritual purity card” back. What if I get sick again? I better hurry– I don’t want to miss this opportunity!
But one of the ten lepers, an outsider, a Samaritan, realized something. He realized that he must stop and turn back to the one who had brought this about, and give thanks. He realized that healing had happened there on that road in that in-between space. So he stopped and gave thanks to Jesus for it. And Jesus uses a different language to describe what happens to him as a result of his gratitude– he is “made well” for it.
God is generous in this text to all ten lepers. All of the lepers receive a generous gift– they are healed and made clean. But only one is “made well.” The Samaritan was made well only when he stopped, turned, and gave thanks for what the others took for granted from this generous God. Giving thanks makes us well at some much deeper level.
Today is the beginning of the Courageous Journeys campaign. We will, over the next six weeks, begin to give thanks together for the ways God has been generous with us at St. Paul’s Cathedral. This year we are stopping, pausing, and looking back– we are giving thanks back to God for the many ways and many times God has been generous with us, and also reflecting on how the people of St. Paul’s have been courageous enough to recognize God’s generosity in the midst of the journey.
There is so much to be thankful for at St. Paul’s! I have been amazed, for instance, to learn that the first pipe organ in San Diego was procured by this congregation in 1887. Our first land was donated by Alonzo Horton– the same Horton of Horton Plaza– who allowed the mission to become a parish with his generous donation of property; and we bought our first sound movie projector in 1948. Now we have one of the largest organs in San Diego used throughout the week to play beautiful music to glorify God in the midst of a thriving music ministry. We steward this amazing space filled with shifting light and stained glass designed by Frohman, Robb, and Little, who also designed the National Cathedral. And soon we will be able to live stream sermons as they happen thanks to the generosity of a donor, which will allow us to evangelize in whole new ways.
But this congregation’s courageous response to God’s generosity has always included the mission of God in pastoral and relational ways, too. In 1899, we offered ourselves as a place for a funeral when a policemen died, and over 2000 attended. In both World Wars, we took a position of peace while supporting our men and women in uniform, as our clergy took up regular eucharistic services in the chapel at the Naval Hospital. Realizing an emerging need for senior housing, the idea for what would become St. Paul’s Senior Services was approved by our vestry in 1953, which continues its role in housing seniors in need to this day. Our deans have supported the baptismal call to respect the dignity of every person as the movement towards Women’s Ordination moved forward in the 1970s and as the Church began to recognize the full sacramental worth of LGBT persons. We hosted the Integrity convention for LGBT inclusion in the church in 2003, and have brought thought-leaders in the Church to the city for conversation and dialogue over the years. Dorcas House, now Vida Joven, has been a vital partnership for the cathedral as we have partnered to meet the needs of children along the border of Mexico.
And now we continue in that trend as we deepen our role as Cathedral for the City– this year alone we held three memorials for a city reeling from tragedy in Orlando, including one in a gay bar. Our Showers of Blessings ministry to bring showers to homeless neighbors celebrated its first anniversary in April. The youth of the congregation began a garden and started cultivating bees, and Simpler Living started a community supported agriculture initiative to keep our environment sustainable. We continue in partnerships with Episcopal, ecumenical, and interfaith organizations throughout the city to help those who are in need, marginalized, and forgotten– and this congregation won’t stop until we have celebrated the abundance of God so resolutely that all have homes, all have the care they need, and all are loved with the respect and dignity that they are endowed with at their creation by the loving, generous God we believe in.
Yes, we have a generous God. We have a long tradition of responding courageously in gratitude to the generosity that God has poured out on us at St. Paul’s cathedral. But we aren’t finished. God isn’t done with us yet! The plans for the new building are moving along, which will give us much needed space in a few years. So next year that means we have to start preparing for construction, but that doesn’t mean we will cut back. We have big plans at the Cathedral!
The Vision for Mission plan is in full swing. Next year we plan to hire a part-time youth minister. To keep all of our members nourished and continue to nourish our newest and spiritually hungry young people, we need to make sure our youth have somebody who can support them.
We will also re-tune our Saturday night service. Our Sunday services are beautifully traditional. To meet a changing world, we will start working with our millennials to see what their worship needs are and how we might best begin preparing the church for a generation whose worship needs may be very different from our current services– without impacting our current wonderfully high Anglican liturgy.
And finally, as a Cathedral for the City, we have a distinctively outward focus. We have a dedicated core of long-time members who pour themselves into our mission, but we have to continually invest in deepening our inward relationships and constantly welcome in the stranger. We will invest next year in a small group ministry to ensure that our relationships with each other remain strong and nourishing so that we remain fed to do the work in the world we are called to do.
As we go through these weeks, pray and give thanks, I invite you to reflect on your own journey. Give thanks and reflect not only on how God has been generous in your life individually, but I ask you to reflect on our common life as well. We will have information on budgets and spending and all the reasons that secular non-profits use when they ask you to give. But the Church is not a secular non-profit. The Church is Christ’s, and you are a member of that body by nature of your baptism.
This is your community. As you pray on how much to pledge, don’t give because you should. Don’t give because of duty or guilt, even.
As we move forward, I ask you to reflect on who God calls us to be. How shall we live as a people of God? How shall we reflect the love of God and the call of Christ? How shall we carry forward the tradition of the generations before us? And then make a pledge that reflects that vision courageously so that we might turn towards the One we serve, give thanks, be made well, and continue on the journey that has already been so richly blessed and wonderfully empowered by the One who we serve.
The Rev. Jeff Martinhauk
Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 4. Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2010.